For three weeks I was on the Open Palace Programme, a heritage and museum tour of the United Kingdom. Alongside private tours, we heard from some of the leading experts in the field and had the incredible opportunity to go behind-the-scenes of Historic Royal Palaces and other heritage sites. Our tour began in the town of Bath. I arrived eagerly wanting to learn as much about the history of the town as possible, but, soon found myself completely overwhelmed. Considering the entire city (yes all of it!) is UNESCO World Heritage listed, simply walking around the streets made me feel as if I was immersed in the history. If you are looking for a little something extra hopefully this top five museums in Bath list will help you out!
I am not going to mention the Roman Baths as quite clearly they are a massive draw card. It is easy to see why, the main Bath is spectacular and offers a great insight into how the leisure town of Bath functioned during the times of the Romans. Top tip is to get there early – as early as it opens. Even in the peak of summer tourist season I found myself the only person on the free guided tour and in the museum at 10.00 am. It is worth getting up early to have that kind of experience. Instead, my top five will focus on the other histories of Bath that are definitely worth considering.
2. Museum of Fashion
Trust me, this is not just a museum for those who like fashion. If you are interested in social history or even political history, there will be something in this museum that you will enjoy. Even better, you can purchase a combination ticket from the Roman Baths with the museum included! Currently there is a 100 years of fashion exhibition that traces the development of clothing from the early 1610s to today. Think finely embroidered waistcoats on display opposite silk day dresses embellished with the finest lace imaginable. What is really the cherry on top with this exhibition are the text panels. It is here you will find social and political commentary on the textiles including who wore them and for what occasion. Take, for example, the closed robes on display. Information provided is not restricted to their design, but, explains the plight of the Huguenots to England where many settled in Spitalfields to become silk weavers. The history is just as rich as the fabrics and designs you will see.
[Opening Hours: Daily 10.30 am – 5.00 pm [except 25 and 26 December]
2. No. 1 Royal Crescent
Although the year is 2016, you can still experience what life was like in the Georgian era at No. 1 Royal Crescent. Imagined by John Wood the Elder and built by John Wood the Younger the Royal Crescent is the pinnacle of Bath architecture alongside the Circus. No. 1 Royal Crescent occupies the first building of the Crescent and tells the story of the leisure-seeking Georgians. It is a historic house that does not cut corners. What is most fantastic about it is that it is a site to engage the senses. The kitchen has been restored to handle cooking classes filling the house with the “nice” smells of the era. In the upstairs music room volunteers can play the piano on display providing visitors with an insight into the sounds of the house. You could almost imagine being at a Georgian dinner party. Although there are some text panels around the house make sure you take the time to talk to a volunteer.
[Opening Hours: 1 February – 11 December: Daily 10.30 am – 5.30 pm]
3. Museum of Bath Architecture
One for the appreciators of fine architecture, the Museum of Bath Architecture tells the story of how the city was built. From the Romans to the Georgians, the museum explores what it takes to build a city. Right down to how paint pigments were mixed and used to create wallpaper. Even if the building was not a museum it would still have an amazing history. Originally, it was the first Methodist Church in Bath established by Countess Huntingdon. Her rationale behind building the Church was to curtail the extravagant lifestyles of the Georgians and redeem them all. It is unknown exactly how successful she in her mission.
[Opening Hours: 13 February – 27 November: Tuesday – Friday 2.00 pm – 5.00 pm and Weekends 10.30 am – 5.00 pm]
4. Museum of Bath at Work
This was an interesting museum to almost literally stumble into. I was looking for somewhere to eat and saw the signs. Originally the location of the Bowler mineral water company, it is now a museum on working life in Bath. As much as I love seeing a Palace, I equally enjoy seeing this urban often hidden history. How did the majority of Bath make a living post-Georgian era? The museum was lucky enough to have photographs from the era meaning they could recreate the rooms with a great touch of authenticity. Many of the objects are original and have been transferred from the later location of the factory to the museum. I highly recommend the audio guide for this site!
[Opening Hours: 1 April – 31 October: Daily 10.30 am – 5.00 pm and 1 November – 31 March: Weekends Only 10.30 am – 5.00 pm]
5. Beckford’s Tower
The Tower is located a little outside the Town Centre. Although very small, it is a site that offers layers of history. Learn about the elusive character of William Beckford as you walk through essentially his garden retreat. I would love to build a tower where I could go and read my books but logistically and unfortunately that is not possible. The grounds are lovely to walk around as well and include a cemetery. So much history can be told from a cemetery. If you don’t already wander around them wherever you go, give it a try next time. What is great about this museum is the stories that it has and will tell in its temporary exhibition space. Not afraid to tackle issues such as the slave trade and sexuality, you will often find a refreshing and honest display.
[Opening Hours: 5 March – 30 October: Weekends and Bank Holiday Only: 10.30 am – 5.00 pm]
I hope those five museums will make it on to your list when you travel to Bath! One last piece of advice, considering it is a small town with so many stories hidden around every corner, book yourself onto a walking tour. The first day in Bath we had a fantastic guide who really brought the history to life right in front of our eyes!