Numerous Georgian guide books boast of the Cross Bath’s classical origin and namesake resulting from the land’s historical conversion. Although the bath’s hotspring is a natural feature that could easily have been utilized in classical times, the earliest social location feature that distinguishes the bath is the twelfth century Hospital of St. John the Baptist. Cross Bath historian Jean Manco asserts that the hospital’s location suggests that the medieval Cross Bath was either founded with or predated the hospital but that the latter’s location was determined to make use of the hotsprings. The Cross Baths underwent numerous reconstructions and enlargements, before first attaining fashionable primacy in 1663 after the Charles II’s consort, Catherine, sought privacy to bathe in the high-walled hotsprings in an attempt to cure her infertility.
As stated in Saturday’s post in the “Miracle of Miracles” section, the next queen, Mary of Modena’s successful pregnancy attempts at the bath in 1688 and the subsequently embarrassing Melfort’s Cross. This last Cross of the Cross Bath was demolished bit by bit for nearly a hundred years, until it was completely removed in 1783, the year that Bath’s City Architect, Thomas Baldwin, submitted plans for the new Cross Bath. Redesigned by Baldwin in 1784, the isolation of this fashionable attraction had been one of the main motivations in the Bimbery’s (the Lower Town of Bath City Centre) redevelopment but the resulting neo-classical structure with a baroque north façade (now east do to reconstruction) with four columns was ill fitted in terms of its orientation and orders to its architect’s completed area redevelopment.
When efforts to rectify the Cross Bath with its surroundings in 1797 led by Baldwin’s successor John Palmer, Bath’s 1793 financial crisis had closed the chapter on ambitious redevelopment projects. Palmer’s redesign continued the structure’s long history of altercation and recycling by saving money by dismantling Baldwin’s baroque north façade and reassembling it to face east (toward Stall Street through Bath Street). Omitting Baldwin’s rusticated base, and adding a central chimney with an “ornamental feature with the vase in relied, balanced by ram’s head vases on either side,” Palmer then had Baldwin’s Corinthian capitals and other decorative details matched to fill the new north and south porticoes.
George Phillips Manner’s 1829-1830 alteration of the Cross Bath enlarged the apse into a vestibule and dressing rooms by filling in the detached colonnade, matching the three-fourth Corinthian columns with those of Baldwin’s (present) east façade, and subsequently reduced the presence of Wood’s doorway so that it could only be seen on the diagonal. A 1903 restoration removed the extensions and returned to Palmer’s original north façade design with detached columns, reinstating that design’s relationship with Wood’s doorway.
Between 1999 and 2003, Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners with conservation architects Donald Insall Associates completed a final restoration. The created the funky cantilevered elliptical lead roof, heated pool, and connection to their main project: the New Royal Baths (opened to the public in 2006.) The roof’s shape derives from Baldwin’s supposed original plan for the pump room attached to the baths. The bath beneath is the same size in plan as the roof but pushed to the south.
Facts and plans come from Jean Manco, “The Cross Bath.” In Bath History, ed. Simon Hunt (Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, 1988. 2: 49-84) and text in quotes come from page 74.