The architect Charles Hansom, designer of fifty Catholic churches in the country and brother of Joseph Aloysius Hansom, the designer of the Hansom cab, regarded St John’s as his best and most rewarding work.
Three different churches have occupied the site of today’s abbey since 757 AD. First, an Anglo Saxon monastery which was pulled down by the Norman conquerors of England. Then a massive Norman cathedral which was begun about 1090 but lay in ruins by late 15th century; and finally, the present Abbey church as we now know it.
The first sight most visitors have of Bath Abbey is the west front, with its unique ladders of angels. The story behind this is that the Bishop of Bath, Oliver King, is said to have had a dream of angels ascending and descending into heaven which inspired the design and which also inspired him to build a new abbey church, the last great medieval cathedral to have been built in England.
After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 by order of King Henry VIII, the abbey lay in ruins for more than 70 years. It wasn’t until 1616, that much of the building we see today was repaired and in use as a parish church and over two hundred years later, in the 1830s, that local architect George Manners added new pinnacles and flying buttresses to the exterior and inside, built a new organ on a screen over the crossing, more galleries over the choir and installed extra seating.
The abbey as we know it is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott, who from 1864 to 1874, completely transformed the inside to conform with his vision of Victorian Gothic architecture. His most significant contribution must surely be the replacement of the ancient wooden ceiling over the nave with the spectacular stone fan vaulting we see today