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History - Bath at War

Read about Bath at War by clicking on the bookmarks listed below or scrolling down the page:

The Civil War / Battle of Landsdown / The Monmouth Rebellion / World War II / The Baedeker Bath Blitz


The Civil War

Like many of Somerset 's fast-changing cities and towns, Bath 's population was deeply divided in the years leading up the Civil War. It was a division based on social, economic and religious grounds. The local gentry joined with Bath 's merchants and cloth-makers in their revolt against the tax-raising whims and religious edicts of an aloof and Catholic king. The Royalists were determined to prevent the Puritans from dismantling the Church and State and to stop what they saw as extreme Puritan religious reforms. By the summer of 1643, two great rival armies occupied Somerset's two Episcopal cities only twenty miles apart - the Royalist army had marched to Wells and the Puritans held Bath .


The Battle of Lansdown  


The area surrounding Bath.


In July 1643, the two armies met at Bath . A huge Royalist force had marched from Wells and taken Bradford-on-Avon. By securing Bradford's vital bridge, they threatened to encircle and destroy the smaller Parliamentary army barracked in Bath, just a few miles down-river .On the morning of July 5th, the massive Royalist army approached Parliament's forces entrenched on Lansdown Hill. Led by the 'Conqueror' Sir William Waller, Parliament's army slipped out of the city to take up a stronger defensive position on the steep slopes of Lansdown by an Iron Age hill fort. So impregnable seemed Parliament's position on Lansdown Hill that the Royalist army saw no option but to retreat. Seizing their opportunity, Parliament's cavalry charged down the hill to attack the retreating Royalist horses and routed them. Some galloped all the way to Oxford ; but the Royalist Cornish infantry stood firm. Somehow the Cornish pike men held, Parliament's charging horses, winning time for their army to turn around and re-engage. The pike men forced Parliament's cavalry back up the and then attacked. With astonishing bravery, they advanced up the steep slope into Parliament's great guns and took Lansdown. It was a Pyrrhic victory: Parliament was defeated but Royalist losses were appalling.


The Monmouth Rebellion


Just 42 years after the bloody Battle of Lansdown, the cloth-makers and merchants again rose up against taxes and royal religious edicts, supporting the Protestant Duke of Monmouth in his claim for the throne. As Monmouth marched through Somerset , his ranks swelled from the 80 men who landed with him from Holland to four whole regiments. Within two weeks his swelling Puritan army reached Bath , where the royal army was barracked. Monmouth's herald called up to the city walls for the Royalists to surrender but was quickly answered with a well-aimed bullet to the head. Monmouth skirted Bath and stayed the night of Friday June 26th in the George Inn at nearby Norton St Philip. He was surprised on the very next day with a Royalist attack. The royal army stormed the town, threatening to overrun the barricade that Monmouth had erected to protect his headquarters in the George Inn ; but in a brilliant ambush, the rebels managed to flank the royal force. Harried and surrounded on three sides, the King's troops scrambled through hedges and small lanes to where their big guns waited. Royal losses were mounting when torrential rain forced Monmouth to pull back.



World War 2  


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Although some of Bath's manufacturers were engaged on wartime production, producing gun mountings, torpedo parts, aircraft propellers and other products for military use, German Intelligence had not identified Bath as a strategic target. Similarly, although the Admiralty had moved its entire warship design operation from London to Bath, the intelligence at the time thought that just a few high ranking staff officers had decamped to Bath and were staying in hotels. Thus Bath was officially "a lesser town without specific aiming points" and to maintain that fiction Bath was deliberately undefended, having neither a balloon barrage nor anti-aircraft guns. Hostile aircraft did fly over Bath, but usually on their way to other targets such as Bristol.  


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The Baedeker Bath Blitz

During the Second World War in April 1942, Bath suffered at the hands of the Luftwaffe. In retaliation for Allied raids on Lubeck, Hitler targeted Bath as part of the Baedeker Blitz. These raids were focused on English cities of cultural significance and were selected specifically from the Baedeker tourist guides. Over 19,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged and over 400 people killed. It is a miracle that despite this Bath bears almost no sign and appears to be an elegant and intact Georgian city.

To read about Bath Blitz from Royal Crescent archives click here: The Day Hitler Tried to destroy The Royal Crescent 

The Bath Blitz Memorial Project was founded to ensure that Bath's role in World War II is not forgotten.  





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