"Afterwards the Pump Room is amusing and crowded with people. There are public breakfasts later in the morning, sometimes with music or lectures on Art, and hot chocolate with Sally Lunn cakes smeared in butter which Aunt Ursula says undoes all the good of the baths.."
.Sophie Carey, 1726
One of the great things about visiting the Baths is participating in the ritual that accompanies them. A visit to the Pump Room is to indulge in the activities of fashionable 18th Century society, a trip back in time to the age of elegance - you can eat dinner overlooking the Roman baths, listen to the chamber orchestra or imbibe the spa water and treat your body to fifty known minerals. But best of all you can enjoy living history in what may be the quintessential Bath experience.
During the 18th Century this was the focal point of exclusive Bath. The creme de la creme of English society would visit after immersion in the healing waters but it really was a place to meet, mingle and gossip. People came here to cure their gout or respiratory problems but more came here to be seen. There was a strict dress code, enforced by "Beau" Nash where women were always elegant and men had impeccable manners. It was a world devoid from reality where women were always the 'perfect ladies' and men the 'perfect gentlemen'. It was England at it's most English.
The 'Pump Room' is in the same Georgian building as the Roman Baths. Built by Ralph Allen in the 1720's they are designed in the classical Georgian style. The main entrance is on Stall Street under a columned portico and often buskers, acrobats and a small market surround the baths to catch the eye of the tourists. The Pump Room occupies the eastern end of the complex with entrance to the Roman Baths along a corridor. The main drawcard for the room is that it overlooks the bubbling green water of the Kings Bath. A balcony next to the pump room allows visitors to gaze on the emerald waters and surrounding incorporated medieval architecture. If you partake of the Baths then you must taste the spa water for 50p. A costumed talkative yokel mans the spring and dispenses small glasses - to my surprise it is an effort to finish being very warm, and had a metallic twang.
The actual room is about 100ft long. You can enter from the 'Abbey Yard' but must wait until a waiter can seat you. Decked out in ivory decor the room sports a huge chandelier and a parquet floor. At one end is a stage for the orchestra and the other end contains column's, statues and portraits of Nash, Allen and Wood (the three main creators of Georgian Bath). There are over fifty tables covered in white tableclothes and tea and biscuits are served all day and cost £4.50. We indulged in 'Afternoon Tea' which cost £7.50 and consisted of biscuits, cakes, and scones with lashings of jam and cream not to mention a teapot the size of a football. The accompanying chamber music is free and on Sunday's there is a pianist. The effect of the music makes the diners feel even more civilised.
Best of all is the evening meal. Quite expensive at £20.00 this is a limited menu but the attraction is that the diners eat out on the terrace overlooking the Roman Bath. As night falls they illuminate the waters by lighting flaming sconces and the Roman Baths come alive once more. It is like stepping back two thousand years......