Welcome to the Roman Baths Blog!

This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Lords, Land and the Law

Recently, a fascinating legal document from 1790 entered our collection (fig. 1). Found with a collection of 19th century train documents from Bath Spa Railway Station, the agreement was older, and in much better condition than many of the papers around it. It has clearly been looked after carefully, and the document is in perfect reading condition, allowing us to easily identify it as a legal agreement between Sir Thomas George Skipwith of Prewbold Prevell, and the Right Honourable Francis Seymour Conray, commonly known as Lord Viscount Beauchamp.

Fig. 1: A legal agreement dating to 1790. While the writing is very clear, it is hard to read the entire document due to its fragility.

It specifies the tenancy terms of inherited land owned by Conray, formerly leased to Skipwith. Skipwith died in 1790, and the agreement is part of a legal process which handed Skipwith’s estates to his kinsman, Sir Gray Skipworth, who was born and raised in Virginia, and was remarkably a descendant through his mother of Pocahontas.

Thomas Skipwith himself was an inconspicuous member of the House of Parliament, representing Warwickshire from 1769-1780 and Steyning 1780-1784. Despite being head of the poll for Warwickshire in 1780, Skipwith refused to stand, drawing comment from the London Chronicle. ‘The unexpected resignation of Sir Thomas Skipwith is held by the inhabitants in the number of the most paradoxical events that may have happened amongst them.’[1]

Fig. 2: Francis Seymour Conray, also known as Lord Viscount Beauchamp.

On the other side of the agreement is Francis Conray (fig. 2). Conray had a number of significant roles, including Ambassador to France (1763-5), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1765-6), Master of the Horse (1766), and Lord Chamberlain (1766-82). David Hume, the 18th century Scottish philosopher, wrote of him, ‘I do not believe there is in the World a man of more probity & Humanity, endowed with a very good Understanding, and adorned with very elegant Manners & Behaviour.’[2]

It is remarkable to find a document relating to such characters, and they feed into the larger picture of Georgian life in England. Families survived on inheritance, and there was a massive importance placed on an individual’s legacy. Their titles and achievements were just as significant as the land they owned, and it was documents such as this that ensured a family’s rich heritage endured.

If you would like to see the document in person, alongside a number of interesting documents relating to the origins and workings of the GWR in Bath, come to the Lansdown Local History Store Open Day – Wednesday 30th May.

Placement Student

[1] Namier, L. and Brooke, J., 1985. The House of Commons 1754-1790 (Vol. 1). Boydell & Brewer.
[2] Hume, D., Klibansky, R. and Mossner, E.C., 1954. New Letters, Edited by Raymond Klibansky and Ernest C. Mossner. Clarendon Press. p.77-78.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Entitled Tiles

During the late 1970s, a joint team of students and staff from Bath College of Higher Education and the University of Leeds uncovered, among other things, four complete medieval tiles from a manor house in Newton St. Loe. Striking in design and aesthetic, these tiles provide unique insight into the medieval world, and make excellent learning tools in understanding core archaeological principles. They will shed light on how we can approach a better understanding of a site.

The team at Newton St. Loe dated these tiles to 1290 – 1320, and the question I want to ask is how exactly can an accurate estimate be made? 

Fig.1 – Floor tile found at Newton St. Loe displaying the royal arms established by Richard the Lionheart, reversed.

Take the example above (fig. 1). The most obvious feature is the clear heraldry, but as is often the case with heraldry, it could prove to be a red herring. We can see it displays the royal arms established by Richard the Lionheart in 1198. In 1340, the royal arms were quartered by Edward III, incorporating the fleur-de-lis. In addition, medieval tiles in England came into production around the mid-13th century. Using this evidence, we could say the tile was made during the late 13th and early 14th century.

But what if our method is wrong? Perhaps either the artist or the patron preferred an earlier design, despite what was socially accurate. It’s possible the tile was part of a cheaper, mass produced set from the late 14th century, a result of the Black Plague severely hampering the customers’ ability to afford unique, custom-made tiles. Many cheaper tiles that re-used old designs flooded the market as a result of the plague.

Ultimately, any number of reasons can undermine even the best and most seasoned logic. The heraldry alone is only going to get us so far.

Fig.2 – Found alongside the royal arms tile, the circular, floral, design of this tile is of unknown origin or heraldry.

So how can we date an object like this, while also ignoring its most identifiable feature? The key is context. It was the manor’s family history, the interesting architecture, and the layers of archaeology, that all work towards informing the tile, and allowed the archaeologists to estimate a suitable date. It is the job of an archaeologist, a historian, even an enthusiast, to try and fit each small piece into a grand mosaic that is in the end, far bigger than the sum of its parts.

Placement Student