As reported in last week’s Bath Chronicle, the sometimes controversial contenders are Jane Austen (obv), Uranus-discoverer William Herschel, painter Thomas Gainsborough, proto-postman Ralph Allen, four-minute-miler Sir Roger Bannister, singer Peter Gabriel, architect John Wood the Elder, and Georgian fashionista Beau Nash.
Now, whether or not these worthies were or are true Bathonians (born within the sound of the Abbey bells, or in the Princess Anne Wing of the RUH at a pinch) is open to endless and ultimately fruitless debate.
But there are certainly quite a few important historical heroes who are missing from the list.
In no particular order:
- Doctor William Oliver. The inventor of a very classy cheese biscuit. Bequeathed the recipe to his coachman, who got very rich on the proceeds. The biscuit-making machine was purportedly moved from Bath to Reading in the 60s. Or the 70s. Or the 80s. The Bath Oliver has never tasted as good since.
- Saint Alphege. Purportedly born in Weston Village, Bath. Saint Ælfheah to his Anglo-Saxon chums. Or Elphege, or Alfege, or Godwine. They weren’t that hot on spelling in 1006, when he became Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1012 he was clubbed to death with animal bones by a band of marauding Vikings. Most famous for having a school named after him in Whitstable, where Mrs D did her first teaching practice. There’s a spring in the hills above Weston called Saint Alphege’s Well, and tradition holds that if anyone attempts to build houses on it, the holy roller will rise from the ground and whack them round the head with a ham hock. If only.
- Bladud. Legendary King of the Britons and early animal welfare activist, he purportedly drove his leprous swine into the Avon (as you do) and discovered the hot springs, thus accidentally founding Bath’s medical tourism industry. His name is honoured to this day by the stag and hen parties who visit the city every weekend and end up getting bladdered.
- Queen Victoria. It’s all about the obelisks. Early in her reign, she pitched up in Bath and purportedly had a Hanoverian hissy fit when she discovered that Queen Square was named after her great-grandmother, Queen Caroline, rather than herself, and that the obelisk had been erected in honour of her grandfather. (Frederick, Prince of Wales, if you’re interested. Frederick, Prince of Wales, if you’re not.) The citizens tried to appease her by naming a park after her and building therein a second obelisk, guarded by three of the dopiest-looking lions ever to be rejected for service in Trafalgar Square. She was not amused.
Observant readers will have noticed four uses of the word “purportedly” in the above romp through Bath’s murky past. (Five including that last one.) Which goes to show that history is very much in the eye of the beholder.
But all claims for Greatest Bathonianhood for such luminaries as Napoleon Bonaparte, Catherine of Braganza, Albert Einstein, Attila the Hun or Elvis Presley should be treated with the greatest suspicion.
And as for that Ronnie Wood...