John Wood the Younger and the story of Bladud

Having been born and brought up in Bath, I’ve always known about the story of the discovery of the hot springs by Bladud (and his pigs) and have encountered the same individual when researching several properties (most recently in Batheaston with the story of Bladuds execution and the origin of some Swainswick pub names). I decided to look for more information on a recent trip to the central library archives and came up with John Wood the Younger’s “Essay Towards a Description of Bath” (1765) and an accompanying excerpt from Haddon’s “Portrait of Bath” which paraphrases the story.

It seems that John Wood was determined to legitimise the story of the origins of the city of Bath by giving it the authority of print. Haddon’s opinion of Wood as “a historian credulous, opinionated and fanciful, reading widely but uncritically, rejecting what did not fit his own thesis” suggests what he thought of the story interpretation but here’s a short summary of the tale;

In 744BC Brutus landed near Totnes and carved out a kingdom from the Tamar to the boundaries of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Seventh in line from Brutus came King Hudibras whose only son, Bladud, unfortunately contracted leprosy. The Court petitioned the King to banish the young man, which he did. Bladud, in his wanderings to Keynsham, became a swineherd and drove his herd up the Avon valley to feed on the acorns in the woods. Crossing the river at Swineford he passed the hot springs and had to tempt the pigs to move on before settling at Swineswick (Swainswick). When one of his best sows went missing, he found her again back at the hot springs and saw that the leprosy the pigs had contracted from him had disappeared. After flinging himself into the mud for a few days, he was cured. 

Back at Court, the prince was recognised and acclaimed but decided not to stay amongst the people who had banished him and applied to his father for study leave in Athens. This was in 505BC and he spent eleven years abroad, where he was known as Abaris (the Northern Sage), instructing the Persian Zoroaster in magic and the Greek Pythagoras in philosophy (notably teaching him the sun-centred nature of the planetary system). Abaris then assisted in the reconstruction of the temple at Delphi.

Back in Britain, Bladud succeeded his father and for his capital built in 483BC the city of Caerbrent, otherwise known as Caer Ennaint (the City of Ointment), Caer Yrn Naint Twymin (the City of the Warm Vale), Caer Palladur (the City of Pallas’s Water), Troy Novant (the Turning Valley), Caer Badon (the City of the Bath), Hatbathan (the Hot Baths) or Ackmanchester (the place of the Oak Men). The last was a reference to the Druids, for which group Bladud founded a University at nearby Stanton Drew (whose standing stones Wood “proved to his own satisfaction” were a model of the solar system).

According to Wood, Bladud came to a spectacular end – he made himself wings, cast himself off the Temple of Apollo and “was thereby dashed to pieces”. He was succeeded by his son, King Lear, in 463BC.

Chronological notes;

The date of Zoroaster is unknown. Classical writers such as Plutarch proposed dates prior to 6000 BC. Dates proposed in scholarly literature diverge widely, between the 18th and the 6th centuries BC

The ruins of the Temple of Delphi visible today date from the 4th century BC. It was erected on the remains of an earlier temple, dated to the 6th century BC which itself was erected on the site of a 7th-century BC construction attributed to the architects Trophonios and Agamedes.

Pythagoras of Samos was born in 570BC and died in 495BC.