Historian Catherine Pitt looks at the men and women, all born in Bath, who have made an impact on the world throughout history

A new year is a time for new beginnings, but also to reflect on the past. We’ve selected 30 famous and interesting Bathonians (the only premise being that they must have been born in Bath itself to count as a Bathonian), who have had an impact on the wider world. Which are you familiar with?

Succa Petronia

Roman occupied Bath, c43-410AD

This three-year-old girl, whose tombstone was uncovered in the city, represents all the un-identifiable children born in Bath of Roman or Romano-British parents during the time of the Roman occupation of Britain. The descendants of those children, who, unlike Petronia, survived into adulthood, are within the DNA of Bathonians, Britons, and people all around the world today. If it hadn’t been for the Romans settling in Bath and continuing to live here over hundreds of years, the city would not have the very thing that makes it famous and gives it its World Heritage Status – The Roman Baths.

Adelard of Bath

Monk and natural philosopher, c1080-1152

Adelard was a Benedictine monk of Bath Monastery (Bath Abbey stands on the site of this once great religious community). He travelled and studied widely in Europe and the Middle East; becoming an expert in the Arabic language and is renowned for translating various Arabic and Greek texts into Latin so that they were more accessible to scholars. Adelard translated Euclid’s Elements which remained the chief textbook of Mathematical schools of Western Europe until the 16th century. He is also recognised as introducing the Islamic ideas of algebra into Europe. Adelard died in the same city that he was born in, Bath.

Alyson (or Alys), The Wife of Bath

14th century cloth maker

Although the Wife of Bath is a fictional character, created by author Geoffrey Chaucer for The Canterbury Tales; she can, like Petronia, be used as a representative of Bathonians of this medieval period. Alyson was a cloth-maker in the city and her husbands (five in total) had all been wealthy merchants in their own rights. Many Bathonians at this time were involved in the wool and cloth trade from which Bath’s wealth grew. Bath’s good transport links between London and the port of Bristol, its close proximity to the River Avon to power the mills, and being surrounded by fields in which sheep grazed, enabled the city’s success.

John Hales

Cleric, theologian and writer, 1584-1656

Dubbed the Ever-Memorable John Hales, this title has perhaps, until now, not rung true for many centuries. Hales was born in St James’ Parish and studied at Bath Grammar School, now King Edward’s School. He went on to study at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and became renowned as a lecturer in Greek. Later, while a cleric in the Netherlands, Hales was present at the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619) which attempted to resolve issues in the Dutch Reformed Church brought about by the rise in Aminianism. When he returned to England Hales wrote of his account at the Synod, and published a number of sermons. One collection called Golden Remains (published posthumously in 1659) is his best known work.

John Wood the Younger

Architect, 1728-1782

Baptised in Bath Abbey, Wood Junior followed in his equally famous father’s footsteps and became an architect under his father’s tuition. When Wood Senior died in 1754, the son completed the father’s vision for Bath, including The Circus and The Royal Crescent. He continued to extend his father’s ideas through further buildings in the city. Wood Junior also pioneered a new style of building in Bath, Neo-Classicism, which is reflected in such designs as The Upper Assembly Rooms. Wood will forever be remembered for transforming the city of his birth into the architectural wonder we see today.

John Palmer

Post office pioneer and theatre owner, 1742-1818

Eldest son of a prosperous Bath brewer and theatre owner, Palmer was instrumental in acquiring the first Royal Patent for a theatre outside of London in 1768. He also owned The Theatre Royal in Bristol and it was during one of the journeys, made between Bath and Bristol, that he noted the speed of the stagecoach compared to the mail coaches travelling the same route. It could take up to three days to deliver a letter along a route that would only be one day by stagecoach. In 1782 Palmer suggested using stagecoaches to the post office in London. His idea was initially rejected, but he was permitted an experimental run which was a resounding success. In 1785 Palmer became Surveyor and Comptroller General of The Post Office and his idea spread nationally, revolutionising the English postal service.


Elizabeth Linley

Singer (1754-1792)

The sister of the composer Thomas Linley, Elizabeth was born in Pierrepont Street into a very talented musical family. She was considered one of the most gifted soprano singers in England, and regarded as one of the greatest beauties of the age, immortalised in works by Gainsborough and Reynolds. Linley eloped to France with playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan in a scandalous manner that rocked fashionable society. Her marriage to Sheridan was a tempestuous one, ending on Linley’s death in 1792 from tuberculosis.

Thomas Linley the Younger

Composer, 1756-1778

Linley was regarded as the English Mozart, such was his talent. Although he came from a musical family, he surpassed even his father’s talents as a composer. In fact Linley Junior’s first public performance was at the tender age of seven in Bristol. Between 1768 and 1771 Linley studied violin and composition in Italy. It was here, in 1770, that he met and became friends with Amadeus Mozart. Returning to England Linley often performed both in Bath and at the Drury Lane Theatre in London. Tragically he died in a boating accident aged 22. After his death Mozart himself praised his friend as a “true genius”.

Sir William Edward Parry 

Arctic Explorer, 1790-1855

Educated at King Edward’s School, Parry left Bath at the age of 13 to join the flagship of Admiral Cornwallis. In 1819 he led an Arctic expedition to find the Northwest Passage, one that was considered the most successful at that time. It was on this voyage that the Parry Channel was named after him. In 1827 he undertook one of the earliest expeditions to the North Pole, setting a record for the furthest travel North in human exploration, only broken by explorer Albert Markham in 1875-76. Due to his long Arctic voyages Parry pioneered the use of canning techniques for food preservation; he also made detailed astronomical and botanical notes during his travels which were later published.

Sir Henry Cole

Politician and inventor, 1808-1882

At the age of nine Cole was sent to the Bluecoat School in Horsham, West Sussex, which he left at 15 to become a clerk in London. By 1838 Cole was not only one of four senior assistant keepers at The Record Office, but he also worked as an assistant to Rowland Hill who was in the process of reforming the postal system. It is believed that Cole himself designed the Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp. In 1843 Cole commissioned John Callcott Horsley to illustrate a festive greeting card he had invented for the public to send, thus producing the world’s first commercial Christmas card. In later life he developed the Victoria and Albert Museum, becoming its first director, and also helped develop the Royal College of Art, Royal College of Music, and Imperial College London.

Abraham Marchant

Tailor and pioneering Mormon, 1816-1881

Marchant lived in Bath for 35 years, training and working as a merchant tailor. In 1844 he and his wife converted to Mormonism, eventually becoming the Leader of the local church. Ten years, eight children and after a move to the Midlands, Marchant and his wife made the decision to emigrate to America where the family moved around until in 1862. They then settled in what is now known as Peoa. Marchant became First Elder and later Bishop. As the area around Peoa grew, so did Marchant’s Bishopric, and he is still remembered today within the Mormon community of what is now Summit County. Abes Lake in the Uintas is named after him.

Thomas Fuller

Architect, 1823-1898

Fuller trained as an architect in Bath, but left England in 1845 for Antigua, before emigrating to Canada in 1857. From 1881 to 1896 Fuller was the Chief Dominion architect for the Government of Canada. He is known to have had an input on the design and construction of every major federal building of the country, including the Canadian Parliament buildings and military colleges. He not only leaves examples of his work abroad; but we can view his early efforts in and around Bath by visiting the Anglican Mortuary Chapel in Smallcombe Cemetery, Bathwick, or the old Stothert & Pitt building on South Quays.

CJ Phipps

Theatre architect, 1835-1897

More often than not if you’ve visited London and gone to see a show you’ve sat in one of Phipps’ theatres. Renowned as a theatre architect throughout the UK, Phipps’ first major work was in his home city, restoring Bath’s Theatre Royal in 1862–3 after a devastating fire. In London Phipps built most of the West End’s theatres – the Queen’s, Gaiety, Olympic, Vaudeville, Strand, Prince’s, Lyric, Garrick, Tivoli, Dalys, and the original Shaftesbury. His Savoy Theatre was the first in the world to be lit entirely by electric light. He also built 40 provincial theatres including the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, and the Theatre Royal in Brighton.

John Arthur Roebuck Rudge

Inventor and cinematography pioneer, 1837-1903

Rudge was a scientific instrument maker by profession, but he also put on countless early moving picture shows using his Biophantic Lantern, earning him the nickname The Wizard of the Magic Lantern. In 1880 Rudge met William Friese-Greene who had a photographic shop in The Corridor, and the pair formed a close working association. In the mid-1880s film was still in its infancy, and although Rudge developed a much improved method of moving pictures he never completed the provisional patent he took out for it in 1884. It was through his work with Rudge that led to Friese-Greene realising glass plates would never be a practical medium for film, and eventually leading to the development of celluloid. A plaque to Rudge (and Friese-Greene) can be found at the entrance to New Bond Street Place.

Image of John Rudge courtesy of the Bath in Time archive. Bathintime.co.uk 

Henry Stafford Smith

Philatelist, 1843 – 1903

Smith began collecting stamps in childhood while recovering from measles. When he turned 18 Smith advertised some of his collection for sale in a national newspaper and much to his surprise he was inundated with replies. Realising there was a market for stamps, in 1862 he and his brother set up the first stamp dealership in Bath (although not the first in the country – Stanley Gibbons pipped him to the post with that in 1856). Smith’s first shop was at 13 George Street. In 1863 he published the pioneering philatetic journal The Stamp Collectors’ Magazine.

Sidney Horstmann

Engineer and businessman, 1881-1962

The youngest son of a German clockmaker who moved to the city in the 1850s, Sidney founded Horstmann Gear in 1904 with his elder brothers. They became famous for producing a variable speed gear box for cars and motorcycles which Sidney himself had invented. In 1913 Horstmann cars was founded. The factory that opened at Newbridge in 1915 produced around 3,000 cars until its closure in 1929. In 1922 Sidney had patented a coil spring suspension system known as the Horstmann Bogie (nine years prior to Porsche’s similar system), which was used up until the 1960s in many western tanks such as the Chieftain and Centurion. Horstmann’s later became a general engineering company and today, although no longer family run, specialises in heating controls.

Arnold Ridley

Actor and playwright, 1896 – 1984

Perhaps best known today as Private Godfrey in the popular 1970s TV series, Dad’s Army, Ridley began his career as a talented writer. His biggest success was his play The Ghost Train (1923) which became a popular West End production and was later turned into a film. Ridley went to school at Clarendon School and Bath Secondary; and saw action in both the First World War at the Battle of the Somme (1916), and the Second World War. His first foray into acting came soon after he was medically discharged from the army in 1916. When medically discharged again in 1940 Ridley not only joined ENSA but also the Home Guard. His acting legacy lives on in his great-niece, actress Daisy Ridley who starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Murder on the Orient Express (2017).

Harry Patch

Last surviving First World War combat soldier, 1898 – 2009

At the time of his death Patch was not only the oldest man in Europe, but the last surviving First World War combat soldier from any country. He grew up at Combe Down and was a plumber by trade. He fought at the Battle of Passchendaele (1917) where he was wounded. During the Second World War he served as a firefighter during the Bath Blitz. Patch’s fame was coincidental – down to a twist of fate and his longevity. He only began speaking of his first-hand experience when he turned 100. At the time of his death he was seen as representing the ordinary men who went to fight in what was an extraordinary war. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral at Wells Cathedral.

“He was seen as representing the ordinary men who went to fight in what was an extraordinary war”

Alberto Semprini

Pianist, composer and conductor, 1908-1990

Semprini showed great talent for the piano and cello from an early age. Sent to Milan to study he graduated from the Verdi Conservatory in 1928. In 1938 he conducted his first radio orchestra in Italy. On returning to the UK Semprini was chosen to host a light music radio programme Semprini Serenades, which first aired in 1957 and continued for around 25 years. He also produced a prolific number of records for EMI. Perhaps his most unusual claim to fame is the fact that his name was used by the comedy team Monty Python as one of the prohibited words in their The Chemist Sketch (1971). In the sketch, anyone saying “Semprini” was arrested.

Eric Snook

Councillor, Mayor and toy master, 1921-2016

For generations of Bathonians Eric Snook was Mr Bath. He not only owned one of the longest running businesses in the city – his toy and pram emporium established in 1950 supplying generations of Bath’s parents and babies; but also served as a councillor. He later became Mayor of Bath from 1992-1993. Resplendent in a bow tie he continued working tirelessly well into his 90s. The popularity of Snooks was such that in 1980 he opened a branch in Covent Garden. Sadly after 67 years Snook’s toyshop shut its doors in Bath for the final time in 2017. A vocal supporter of local independent traders Snook helped form the Bath Independent Group (BIG) in 2008. He also supported many local events and charities including Bath in Bloom and Fight for Sight.

“Resplendent in bow tie he continued working tirelessly well into his 90s”

Alf (1921-2012), George (1924-2013), and Gordon (1933-2016)

Sparrow Crane hire specialists

These three local brothers were influenced by their entrepreneurial father, GW Sparrow, who opened one of the most successful petrol stations in the south-west. The post-war building boom saw a rise in demand for cranes across the UK and in 1948 the brothers stepped into the breach and formed Sparrow’s, where they designed and built their own cranes, becoming international pioneers in lifting technology. Operations opened up in the Middle East and USA, as well as in other countries, and they would own and operate the first 1,000 tonne capacity truck in the world. The business was sold in 1986 but still holds the Sparrow name, still has its headquarters in Bath, and also still sports the familiar crane livery known throughout the world – the Sparrow red.

Mary Berry

Cook, TV presenter and writer, born 1935

A familiar face on our televisions today Berry first presented her baking skills following catering school at Bath College at the Bath Electricity Board showroom (Churchill House). There, and in customers’ homes, she would bake the perfect sponge to demonstrate the new electric ovens. Berry’s love for cooking was encouraged by her domestic science teacher at Bath High School. After college and her stint in the electricity showroom, Berry moved to France to study at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu school. In 1966 she became editor of Housewife magazine, and her first cookery book was published in 1970. She’s gone on to become a household name, mainly as one of the judges on The Great British Bake Off (2010-2016).

Ann Widdecombe

Former Member of Parliament and author, born 1947

Although born in the city, Ann’s father’s job in the MOD meant that Widdecombe spent part of her childhood abroad. The family returned to Bath for her to complete her schooling, and she attended the since closed Roman Catholic Convent School, La Sainte Union, on Pulteney Road. In 1987 Widdecombe was elected as Conservative MP for Maidstone, a seat she held until 2010. A controversial figure; even though she is now retired from politics she can still be seen on our stage and TV screens in various guises – whether tackling current affairs on panel shows and documentaries, or treading the boards in pantomime or on dance programmes.

Claire Calvert

Ballet Dancer, born 1988

Today Calvert is First Soloist of The Royal Ballet; but her passion for ballet began in her home city of Bath when her mother enrolled her in local classes. Aged seven she was encouraged to audition for the Junior Associates of the Royal Ballet in Bristol where she was successful and trained for three years. At 11 she was taught by principal ballerina Darcey Bussell at the Royal Ballet Lower School in Richmond. Calvert graduated from The Royal Ballet School in 2007. This winter Calvert plays the lead role of The Sugar Plum Fairy in the 2017-18 production of The Nutcracker at The Royal Opera House in London.

Jeremy Guscott

Bath and England rugby player, born 1965

The Prince of Centres was educated at Ralph Allen School where he excelled on the rugby pitch. He played for Bath Rugby during both the amateur era, holding down various jobs whilst also training, but also when Bath became a professional side. Renowned as one of the greatest centres in Rugby Union history, Guscott made his England debut in May 1989, winning with a hat trick of tries against Romania. He continued to play for England for ten years and also toured with the British and Irish Lions in 1989, 1993 and 1997. Today Guscott works as a rugby pundit on television.

Claire Coombs

Princess of Belgium, born 1974

Her Royal Highness was born in the city to a Bathonian father and Belgian mother. She lived in the city for the first three years of her life before moving to Belgium with her family in 1977. She trained as a land surveyor, qualifying in 1999, before meeting Prince Laurent, the younger brother of King Philippe of Belgium, at a mutual friend’s home in 2000. The couple married in 2003 and have three children. Although Princess Claire has no official role, she and her husband support many animal and environmental causes. She also serves as Patron of the Brussels Choral Society and is a member of the Board of Trustees at the British School in Brussels. Princess Claire also became the first member of the Belgian Royal family to take on a public job, as an assessor at a polling station in the 2004 regional and European elections.

Bill Bailey

Musician, comedian, actor and writer, born 1964

The multi-talented Bailey grew up in nearby Keynsham and was educated at King Edward’s School in the city centre. Trained at the London College of Music, Bailey’s musical talents are reflected in his comedy routines. After years of playing in bands and various in-between jobs Bailey began to make waves in the comedy circuit and in 1996 he narrowly missed out on winning the Perrier Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Festival. His leftfield, often dystopian, style of humour did win him Best Live Stand-up at the British Comedy Awards in 1999. He tours regularly as well as acting and is a panellist on television comedy shows.

Jason Gardener

Athlete and Olympic gold medallist, born 1975

Nicknamed The Bath Bullet, Gardener was educated at Beechen Cliff school then studied at Bath College and the University of Bath. His first success on the track was at the World Junior Championships in 1994, later taking European gold medals in 60m sprint in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2007, as well as gold in the 2004 World Indoor Championships in Budapest. This success was topped off in Athens in 2004 with his Olympic gold medal win in the 4×100 Relay. Today Gardener is a motivational speaker and sports consultant. He was given the Freedom of the City of Bath in 2004 and awarded a MBE in 2005. In June 2017 he was also awarded an honorary degree from the University of Bath in recognition of his contribution to not only athletics but in raising the international profile of the university.

Ben Rushgrove

Paralympian, silver medallist, and world record holder, born 1988

Rushgrove has had a need for speed ever since he was a teenager. Born with cerebral palsy he was not meant to survive the night, let alone into his 20s. It was at school in Hampshire that Rushgrove’s love of running was developed. He returned to study sports performance at the University of Bath and is today part of Team Bath. He competes in the T36 100 and 200 metres. Rushgrove set a world record for T36 200 metres in the 2007 Paralympic World Cup and won a bronze and a silver medal in the Paralympic Games in London 2012 and Beijing 2008 respectively.

Charlie McDonnell

Musician and vlogger, born 1990

McDonnell attended Beechen Cliff school and in 2007, while still a student, he began broadcasting on YouTube.Today he presents Fun Science vlogs and has written a corresponding book on the subject. In June 2011 he became the first YouTuber in the UK to reach 1 million subscribers. McDonnell has diversified into film making and writing and continues with his music which is frequently featured on his channel. He recently moved to Canada.

Featured image credit: Adrian Sherratt