Bath’s Mineral Water Hospital is about three hundred meters away from the bathing pool beside the pump room in Bath – where years ago the rich and the local of Bath sat or floated in the waters to absorb the minerals and appreciate the relief of the hot water brought from many conditions. In the 1600s Bath drew people purely for relief from ill-health. But as Bath grew in its fame as the place for everyone to visit in the 1700s it was not only the rich that flocked there, the poor increased in numbers too.
As I raised in previous blogs, a couple of years ago, Queen Anne was the initiator for drawing the increased interest of the rich to Bath, when she sought the benefits of the waters in 1703. After her visit, a young fashionable entrepreneur, Beau Nash, saw an opportunity and moved to Bath to orchestrate its development into a city people came to for entertainment and pleasure. But the comfort and pleasure of the wealthy would be ruined by streets full of the poor who came in hope of help and found themselves living on the streets and begging. So in 1716 Lady Elizabeth Hastings and Henry Hoare suggested building a hospital to support, and contain, the poor, to remove the sight of those that were sick from the streets.
Donations were gathered from the wealthy who were interested in developing Bath by Beau Nash. This funded the building of the hospital, while all the stone was given by Ralph Allen from his nearby quarries that provided the stone for most of Bath’s building at that time. The foundation stone was laid in July 1738. The original hospital consisted of a basement, ground level and a single floor above which is what is now the east wing. To be admitted entrance people had to pay £1.50 if they lived in England or £3 if they came from Scotland or Ireland; this was fee was to enable the patient to be given clean clothes and to be sent back home at the end of their treatment. If they or their family could not pay then the governors would donate this sum.
There is a picture in the main hall of the west wing, painted by William Hoare, one of the founders, that depicts the patients the hospital treated. It shows those with symptoms of paralysis, rheumatism and a skin condition.
You can see that the boy has a brass badge on the right-hand side of his coat. The brass badges were given to inpatients to make it clear to others in Bath that they were inpatients in the hospital and were tickets of admission to the Corporation Baths. However, they also were a marker to innkeepers who were not allowed to serve the patients.
A second floor was added on to the hospital in 1793, so this would have been in place in the time that Jane Austen first visited Bath in 1797. The burial ground for those who died in the hospital was opposite, on the far side of the cities medieval wall, of which a short remnant survives today. But by 1801 when Jane came to Bath when her father became ill that area had changed too and the burial ground had become shops and houses. Jane Austen, her mother and sister Cassandra lived just beyond the medieval wall for her last months in Bath, in Trim St.
It was not until 1830, though, that the Royal Mineral Water Hospital actually had its own bath. An Act of Parliament empowered the hospital governors to lay pipes to bring the mineral waters to the hospital and construct a bathing pool there. This bath was taken out years ago, but, apparently, the tunnel that takes you from the hospital to the pump room, along the route of the pipes can still be navigated. There are also closed up tunnels under the road that take you to the houses the hospital owned on the far side.
The west wing was added and in 1861 and during the digging of the foundations a Roman floor was discovered. The floor is on display in the basement of the hospital.
The west wing of the hospital became the main entrance and was given a grand staircase, as impressive as many stately homes.
The portraits of those who founded the hospital and the painting by William Hoare adorn the walls, and the charitable intent of the first hospital is declared in the sculpture depicting the parable of the good Samaritan that decorates the exterior.
The best fact about the hospital, though, is that from the point it opened in May 1742 until today it has supported and treated people with rheumatic diseases, been a focal point for research and employed some of the best physicians. It is also the hospital where I am treated. In my last stay there I took the picture of the stairs that’s above from outside the door of my room. While the outdoor mineral water pool was removed some years ago, there is still a hydrotherapy pool and through the use of that, the hospital staff have enabled many people to walk when they had thought they would not get up out of a wheelchair and stand again. It is very odd to stay in the old rooms there and walk about the halls knowing how many generations of people, who have had similar problems, have been there before me (especially at night when nurse-call lights are set off without any knowledge of the patients).
I am not sure what people thought of the hospital in its early days but I would guess it was a great relief simply to have someone who actually cared enough to help them. That still applies today. But for them to be given food when they were in care and a roof over their heads must have timesed that feeling by a hundred. And today it is still a godsend to those who attend. The team in the hospital change lives for the better on a daily basis. But in the next few years the hospital will finally shut its doors on patients. The services are having modern facilities built in the main Bath hospital farther out of the city and when those facilities are ready the hospital will close its doors and become who knows what when the building is sold.
There is a small museum in the hospital, though, so if you are in Bath on a Monday or Wednesday between 2-4 or on Friday between 10-11.30, then it is worth a quick visit.
This post on a website showing a vintage postcard of the hospital with pictures, posted in 1916, is also an interesting view.
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The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama
The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last episode in the Marlow Intrigues series
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
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- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
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Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional historical and contemporary stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark