We Americans may have invented Santa Claus but Father Christmas was in Bath, England for many more Christmases, including mine. I caught him in 1992, alighting from his ”Bath chair” on Queen Street, on his way to the Roman sulfur baths, so I painted his picture for a Christmas Card contest that year.
When the 18th century aristocrats were thronging to these baths, Queen Elizabeth brought her beaux, Dudley and Raleigh. They all assumed that these baths, the only hot sulfur baths in the country, were medieval in origin. So they razed most of the old medieval structures and created a heavenly Georgian city of yellow “Bath stone,” a fashionable spa center for all of England, fit for all the elite who converged there to take the waters.
They were carried to and from the pool by servants in “Bath chairs” wrapped in towels, right up the stairs to their apartments. Jane Austen set several of her intrigues here. In the baths, they would have floating platters holding bits of rat hair skin to cover their small pox scars, or replace their eyebrows with the more fashionable arching rat hair. Still today, one can dine at the 18th century Pump Room. Its elegant fountain of flowing, drinkable sulfur water spurts into ceramic fish mouths, while chamber music plays.
In 1880, while digging sewers, they found a marble head of Minerva, and then uncovered a HUGE Roman bathing complex with underground heating. Originally a sacred Celtic Druidic spring, it was taken over by Emperor Claudius in 75 A.D. and added to extensively over the centuries. The Pump Room looks out over the large Roman pool below, as seen in this photo, with many more pools adjacent. It is quite a sight. And the original Roman pump still spews out 240,000 gallons of water a day.
After Steven’s first two years of study in the Caribbean, we lived in Bath, just east of Bristol on the same latitude as London, from 1991-93, where he did his clinical work at the Bath Royal Hospital, the London Hospital of Tropical Diseases, the London Homeopathic Hospital, and Canterbury Hospital. I did this painting to enter a contest held by the Royal Theatre (referred to as the most beautiful theater in England.) I’d had two one-woman exhibits of my paintings, one at their Vaults Gallery in the ancient vaults below the theater, here with Camille 13, and Adam 7. I didn’t win the Christmas card contest’s 50 pounds prize, but I did better by selling the painting and the rights to make Christmas cards to the little Canary Cafe pictured in the scene. Father Christmas is slimmer than Santa and wears a long coat of red or green. But he does just as good a job. Father or Santa-Saint, we had a great Christmas and here’s to a Transformative New Year!