Bath has more museums in just one square mile than most larger cities can boast altogether. To celebrate International Museums Day on Tuesday 18th May, the Bath BID Welcome Ambassadors share their favourite museums in Bath…
Bath Postal Museum
“Bath Postal Museum is a small and unique specialist museum, currently situated in the basement of 27 Northgate Street in central Bath. Though currently closed, it will reopen shortly, and I recommend that you make the time to visit and learn of Bath’s importance in the evolution of the UK postal service.
“In the current age where people communicate mainly by email, telephone and instant messaging, the era of the written letter is often forgotten and confined to history. Here, you can learn of the famous ‘Bath Worthies’, who established the infrastructure of the modern postal service, made fortunes from their efforts, and went on to even greater things.
“Ralph Allen made his first fortune establishing the Cross and Bye Post system in 1720, which removed the need for all letters to be sent via London. John Palmer was appointed the Surveyor and Comptroller General of the Post Office, and created high-speed mail coaches, pulled by horses along the coaching roads, ferrying the mail to towns and cities all over England and Wales. As Postmaster in Bath, Thomas Moore Musgrave ‘jumped the gun’ and mailed the first fixed-price postage stamped letter, featuring the Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp, two days earlier than the agreed date.
“I can’t speak highly enough of this fascinating museum, the stories of the people depicted, and all the paraphernalia assembled in this collection of postal memorabilia.”
The Herschel Museum of Astronomy
“Ten minutes’ walk from the centre of Bath is New King Street, where you will find the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. Behind the doors of the modest Georgian townhouse at 19 New King Street, an astronomical discovery was made one March evening in 1781.
“19 New King Street was the home of the German-born musician, composer and teacher Frederick William Herschel, who came to Bath in 1766 to take up the position of organist in the Octagon Chapel (now The Botanist Bath) in Milsom Street. He was later joined by his sister Caroline, who was also musical, and shared William’s keen amateur interest in astronomy.
“William built telescopes with high-quality optics, enabling him to see deep into space. On that March evening, from the garden at the rear of the house, he identified a new planet, Uranus, and became instantly famous! The museum reflects this combination of music and science, and is a little gem!”
The Holburne Museum
“Housed in a Grade I listed building at the end of Great Pulteney Street, The Holburne Museum offers a wonderful reflection of Bath in its heyday.
“The museum is home to an eclectic collection of items reflecting Sir Willian Holburne’s passion for fine and decorative art, with exhibits for all ages to appreciate and hands-on activities for the little ones. One can easily spend several hours inspecting the exhibits, or just a short time concentrating on one room or the current special exhibit. The items on display change regularly, so for those who live locally or visit Bath frequently, there is always something new to be enjoyed.
“There is an excellent café situated in the twenty-first-century extension, with access to the garden, making it an ideal location to spend as much time as one has to spare. It is also an ideal spot meet up with friends.
“I am fortunate in that I live ten minutes’ walk away, and these is hardly a week that goes by when I do not pop in – when it is open, that is!”
“The Holburne Museum is close to my home and my heart. My grandparents lived nearby for over 50 years, and would take us children into the fascinating Sydney Gardens in which it sits to watch the trains go by or play on the swings.
“Nowadays, as well as enjoying the gardens, I just love staring at the frontage of this former Sydney Hotel, and wonder what it might have been like to attend a ball there in the early 1800s, or swap gossip at one of the entertaining breakfasts where attendees – dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ – would be allocated a ‘breakfast box’ outside.
“As a private tour guide, I have done lots of research on Sydney Gardens, and discovered that The Holburne Museum was once the Bath Proprietary College, so it seems fitting that it is still a place of learning. The museum itself has so much to offer and its permanent collections are like time capsules into which you can dip at any time and always discover something new or profound.
“The fact that The Holburne is a museum, an art gallery, and a café allows every visitor the chance to experience a trio of delights every time!”
The Museum of Bath at Work
“The Museum of Bath at Work tells a unique story – it is the museum of Bath’s working, industrial and business life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
“The star of the museum is the factory and workshops of the firm of J.B.Bowler, who made carbonated soft drinks (what do you fancy? Orange Champagne? Hot Tom? Ginger beer?) and small engineering parts for builders and plumbers (need your gas lamp mended? Broken tap? A new letterbox? Head to Bowlers).
“Bowlers were in Avon Street, and closed at the end of the 1960s, when the premises was due to be demolished. They never threw anything away, and the entire contents of the factory and workshops were rescued and formed the basis of the museum, which opened in 1978.
“Other things to see include Edwardian-period photographic portraits of ordinary working people from the T.C. Leaman Studio in The Corridor, a 1914 Horstmann car, and displays about local industries. It’s completely absorbing, with lots to discover.”
“Bath has a rich architectural history, but not everyone realises it was also an industrial city. A visit to the Museum of Bath at Work provides an insight to this largely lost world.
“The core of the collection is based on the contents of one of Bath’s most fascinating nineteenth-century businesses, Bowlers Engineering Works and Ironmongery. You can enjoy a reconstructed collection of machine tools, but just as importantly, you can be fascinated by the recreated office spaces and work rooms.
“The museum also pays homage to other large engineering companies, once operating in the city. Stothert and Pitt (known throughout the world for their cranes), the Horstmann Gear Company (internationally known for their precision timing devices) Pitman Press (creators of Pitman Shorthand), and, Harbutt’s (the inventors of plasticine).”
Fashion Museum Bath
“Fashion Museum Bath has a special place in my heart, as it was the first museum I visited when I first moved to the city.
“The museum first opened on 23rd May 1963 as the Museum of Costume, and since then, it has grown and grown. Set in the National Trust’s beautiful Bath Assembly Rooms, the Fashion Museum’s exhibitions are always stunning, and can also try some clothes on at the end of your visit – I think this is supposed to be for children, but it’s also good fun for the young-at-heart!
“With over 100,000 objects to marvel at, with fashionable dress from the sixteenth-century through to the present day, this is the perfect museum for fashion-lovers.
“Once you have paid a visit to Fashion Museum Bath, be sure to explore some of the city’s other unmissable museums – there really is something for everyone!
“Rich in history, the Roman Baths sits around the well-preserved thermal hot spring, which is believed to have healing powers – you can even try the water when visiting! Although you cannot bathe there now, the museum paints such a beautiful picture of how it would have looked that you’re almost transported back in time.
“Opened in 1900 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, Victoria Art Gallery is home to over 1,500 pieces of art – a must for art-lovers!
“A popular destination for anyone visiting Bath is the Royal Crescent, and you can discover how residents would have lived in the eighteenth-century at No.1 Royal Crescent. The house transports you back in time and reveals what life would have been like for the fashionable residents of Bath.
“Literature-lovers won’t want to miss the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street. The museum tells the story of Jane Austen’s time in Bath, which is featured in two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.”