Bath Royal Mineral Water Hospital: The Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases: Also known as “The Min” ~ a bit of history I am closely connected with




The Kings Bath, by Thomas Rowlandson from the Comforts of Bath

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 Bath Min picturecondition.


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.

WallA 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.

Bath mosaic

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 IMG_0260still 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 Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last episode in the Marlow Intrigues series



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The Passionate Love of a Rake #3

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I discovered a real gem to add to my blogs on Bath yesterday – the old Royal Theatre, Orchard Street, Bath – Jane Austen was certainly a visitor there.

Old Royal Theatre, Orchard Street, Bath

When I met a friend for coffee in Bath yesterday I happened to spot a leaflet on the Orchard Street Theatre which is still open for guided tours. I was wonderfully surprised. I have lived near and visited Bath for thirty years and never heard of it before. I knew there had been a previous theatre to the one in use now, which I have been to several times, but I thought it had been destroyed long ago. I have even tried previously to find out where it was. So what a brilliant thing to find it still existed and be able look around it and find out all about its history.

c1694 Map of Bath by Gilimore, available from Bath in Time

I spoke in my blog on The history of life in 18th Century Bath about Queen Anne’s visit to Bath in 1703 to take the waters for her health. There is an old map of Bath by Gilmore from 1694 which shows Bath before the Georgian redevelopment. It must have looked still much like this when Queen Anne visited and the city experienced its embarrassing lack of entertainments.

There was a theatre at the time but it was in a stable by the upper borough walls, where the Mineral Water Hospital stands now, the current hospital for Rheumatic Diseases. Opposite this hospital is the only standing section of the medieval wall.

The Queen had brought with her, in her entourage, the entire Drury Lane Theatre Company and they must have been sorely disgusted by the adapted stable for a stage.

After Queen Anne had  left, Bath was embarrassed enough for its wealthy occupants to raise the funds to build a theatre on this spot.But even so it was poor in comparison to its London counterparts and therefore attracted only equally poor travelling players.

A contemporary writer in ‘The Spectator’ spoke of the entertainments thus, in derision of the costumes;

Alexander the Great was acted in a paper cravat; the Earl of Sussex seemed to have no distress but his poverty; and my Lord Foppington wanted any better means to show himself a fop than by wearing stocking of different colour!

As well as this Theatre of course, as I have mentioned in my blog on the Assembly Rooms in Bath ,after Queen Anne’s visit the assembly rooms began to be established to provide entertainment for visitors to Bath and in general Bath was a growing improving and developing city.

It was at this point Beau Nash who I have been blogging about for the last few weeks began his reign.

North Parade including the Lower Assembly Rooms, 1779, available from Bath in Time

Of course the assembly rooms recognised the inadequacy of the Theatre and took advantage establishing unofficial stage plays as part of their entertainments and one of these, the Harrison’s Rooms, had by the late 1730’s built a theatre to seat 200 in its basement.

The Harrison’s Rooms, later known as the “Lower Rooms”, in comparison to the “Upper Rooms” which are still open, used to stand in the position of what is now the island in the middle of the traffic area where the tourist buses depart from.

However this basement Theatre was still no comparison to the London Theatres but its rivals, including the old stable, were closed in 1736, when an Act of Parliament was made to close unlicensed playhouses.

John Hippisley in “The Cheats of Scapin” by J H Green – The art Archive Garrick Club, London

It was finally in 1747 that  Bath was challenged to do better.

A Bristol actor, John Hippisley, raised the point that Bath needed a better theatre by addressing the ‘Nobility and Gentry of Bath’, he stated;

Plays are like mirror made, for men to see, How bad they are, how good they ought to be. Theatrical Performances, when conducted with Decency and Regularity, have been always esteem’d the most rational Amusements, by the Polite and Thinking Part of Mankind: Strangers therefore, must be greatly surpris’d to find at Bath, Entertainments of this Sort in no better Perfection than they are, as it is a Place, during its Seasons, honour’d with so great a Number of Persons, eminent for Politeness, Judgement and Taste: and where might reasonably be expected (next to London) the best Theatre in England.

Bath responded to the challenge and raised the funds for a brand new, purpose built theatre to be positioned outside of the old medieval walls near the South Gate. Nine investors contributed fifty pounds. Beau Nash, and John Wood the elder, who I have also mentioned in previous blogs on Prior Park and its Grotto and Graffiti, were included in the investors along with Hippisley and other actors.

John Wood was responsible for much of the building and the development of Bath. He chose the site. But the syndicate still had to raise further funds to complete the build and when Hippisley died before its completion a Bath brewer and candle maker took charge of the project, John Palmer. To raise the additional investment he tempted other investors with a prospectus of what they had to gain including the offer of a ‘Silver Ticket, which shall admit the Bearer into any Part of the House, every Night of Performing, except on Benefit nights.

He increased the share holders to twenty and the Orchard Street Theatre opened on the 27th October, 1750, to a prologue spoken by a good friend of John Hippisley, Mr Watts.

‘As some you Shoot, which by the Plante’s Hand, is gently mov’d into a kinder Land; If the warm Sunshine spread itsgenial Rays, Soon a fair Tree is verdant Leaves displays, And rears with Blossoms its luxuriant Head, Whilst all the Warblers’wanton in the Shade . ‘Tis Steadiness alone can fix the Root, And rip’ning Autumn gives the Golden Fruit But if nipping Blast, or dead’ning Frost Too Fierce advance, the hopeful product’s lost. So will it be with Us, whose Art and Care Have raised this Structure, to what we call fair; with ev’ry varied Art have strove to charm, If painting pleaser, or Harmony can warm. Shine forth auspicious, Endeavours crown, And Fire Us, by Success, to gain Renown.

Coming out of Country Theatre by Frederick George Byron – Said to be based on the Orchard Street Theatre, Bath

Of course the New Theatre was now in direct competition with the old one in the Lower Assembly rooms and they competed quite hotly with many arguments as they fought for actors and staff over a period of five years, but then Beau Nash in his way of orchestrating Bath for his own profit stepped in and informed the Lower Assembly rooms that their theatre, which he had no investment in, must close.

In my next blog I’ll tell you more about the new theatre and share some more pictures, stories and facts, both about the building itself, life within the theatre and those who visited it. There is still loads to tell, including details of Jane Austen’s connection, too much for one blog probably.


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