Medieval Bath

Bath became a city of trade and prospered from the woollen industry. It was ideally situated as drovers could bring their sheep in from the edge of the Cotswold Hills, the River Avon powered the mills and proximity to the port of Bristol helped the traders sell and transport their goods. The city was also well managed: the monastery was a considerable landowner, and the monks organized the locals to work efficiently and productively. Bath became famous for its tightly woven broadcloth. There were 50 broad looms in one area of Broad Street alone. The importance of the wool trade is illustrated by the occupations of MPs for Bath – three weavers, a cloth maker and a cloth merchant – while in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath is “an expert in cloth making – better than the clothmakers of Ypres and Ghent”.

King Richard I sold the merchant guilds of the City of Bath their first Charter in 1189 in order to raise funds for his crusades. It granted freedom from tolls, thereby giving Bath its first real taste of local Government. In the years to come, the City was to receive a further 26 Charters from various monarchs. For more information on the Royal Charters, click here.

In 1192 Bishop Savaric surrendered the city to the Crown and later he decided to remove the See to Wells where he would have his Cathedral. By 1245 the Pope had declared the See to be a joint one and it became the Bishopric of Bath and Wells, as it remains today.

In 1348 nearly half the population of Bath died as the plague spread across the country. The city fell into decline and the monastery into ruin. Richard II was crowned in 1379 and a Poll Tax recorded a population of 1100, listing every Bath resident by name, address and profession.