For connoisseurs of culture and history, one of the most important things to do in Bath is to visit the iconic Assembly Rooms. Owned by the National Trust and protected by English Heritage, the Bath Assembly Rooms are one of the country’s prime visitor attractions.
The Assembly Rooms were designed in 1769 by John Wood the Younger, an English architect who was himself born in Bath and who worked mainly in the city throughout his whole career. In the years that followed, the Bath Assembly Rooms became a hub of Georgian society. The social elite would flock to the rooms for all kinds of occasions, from simple card games to exquisite evening balls and other grand public functions. During the Blitz, the Assembly Rooms were badly damaged, but were soon restored.
Fans of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens particularly enjoy visiting the Bath Assembly Rooms, due to the attraction’s association with their favourite author. Austen temporarily resided in Bath and mentions the rooms in Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, her two novels set in the city. Dickens visited Bath several times, sometimes giving public readings in the rooms. He mentions them in the Pickwick Papers. Another literary great who mentions the rooms in his works is the diarist Francis Kilvert.
Location and Layout
One reason why visiting the rooms is one of the most popular things to do in Bath is their centrality. They are located right in the heart of the city and can easily be reached via public transportation or even by foot or bicycle. The complex consists of four main function rooms. There’s the 100ft Ball Room, the Octagon Room, the Tea Room and the Card Room. Part of the building is home to the city’s Fashion Museum. Other areas of the complex are available for private hire.
What to See
Once in the building, there is plenty to look out for. The famous portrait of Captain William Wade hangs in the Octagon Room, as it did after it was first presented to the new Assembly Rooms by its artist Thomas Gainsborough in 1771. There are many works of art on display that are not original to the rooms but are instead sourced from Bath & North East Somerset Council’s collection. The Bath Assembly Rooms are also extremely famous for their chandeliers – there are nine in total to see.
Things to Do
There is plenty to do, as well as to see. In addition to a fashion bookshop in the museum, there’s also an extensive gift shop. The café is open almost every day and serves tea, coffee and light lunches. Visitors can go on a self-guided audiotour of the rooms, using audioguides from the museum. The audioguides are available in 7 languages, including English, Spanish and Japanese. Lectures are regularly given in the museum and focus on fashion topics such as historic sportswear.
With exhibitions, study facilities and numerous family events, the Bath Assembly Rooms are much more than a visual spectacle. A trip to the rooms represents a great day out for tourists and locals of all ages. It’s both a fun and educational experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.