Pump Room history

Discover more about the history of Bath's most iconic 18th century building.

The practice of drinking the thermal waters of Bath only began in earnest in the later seventeenth century. It became necessary to install a pump to allow patients to have access to the water directly from the spring and in the first years of the eighteenth century a doctor, William Oliver, persuaded the Bath Corporation to erect a building where the drinkers could be sheltered.  This is the origin of the first Pump Room completed in 1706.   As the popularity of the spa grew in the 18th century the Pump Room could no longer accommodate the fashionable crowds and invalids so extensions and improvements were made to the building. 

In the later eighteenth century, as more and more families came to Bath to take the waters, the Pump Room needed further work. In 1784 a lavatory was installed but then An Act of Parliament was obtained establishing Improvement Commissioners to improve the city centre and the architect, Thomas Baldwin, was appointed by them. Baldwin built New Private Baths adjacent to the Pump Room and in 1790 began work to build an entirely new one. Despite delays arising from Baldwin’s personal bankruptcy and dismissal, the project was completed by a new architect, John Palmer, in 1795 when it was opened by the Duchess of York. The wider scheme re-ordered the local streets, sweeping away medieval alleys and before his dismissal Baldwin completed Bath Street connecting the Pump Room to the two smaller springs known as the Hot Bath and the Cross Bath. 

 
Image: Pump Room Interior, 18th century
Pump Room Interior, 18th century
Image: Pump Room exterior, 18th century
Pump Room exterior, 18th century
Image: Haile Selassie in the Pump Room, 1954
Haile Selassie in the Pump Room, 1954

The Pump Room continued as a fashionable meeting place to promenade and take the waters.  Jane Austen observed people and fashions from within the Pump Room, which features in her two novels ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’.

In 1897 John Brydon built another extension to the Pump Room which housed a Concert Hall, the present day Roman Baths Reception Hall, undoubtedly the finest Victorian interior in Bath.  Mary Shelley stayed at 5 Abbey Church Yard which was demolished to make room for the Reception Hall and it is thought that this is where her novel Frankenstein was written.

During the Victorian and Edwardian periods, the Pump Room was heavily furnished and during World War II it became a restaurant and fortunately escaped damage in the Baedeker air raids on Bath in 1942. Many interesting historical figures have visited the Pump Room and taken the waters including Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Buffalo Bill and Haile Selassie, not to mention present day royalty and celebrities.

Today, the Pump Room is a very popular venue for day time refreshments, and is also used for special occasions, corporate hospitality, concerts, weddings and as a favourite rendezvous for both local people and visitors to the city.  Find out more about events or weddings at the Pump Room.

To book a private event at the Pump Room, please call 01225 477786 or complete our enquiry form.