Bath Abbey Unveils New Discovery Centre

Bath Abbey has announced the opening of their new Discovery Centre, the final phase of the Footprint Project, on 7 March 2023. Located beneath the Abbey, the Discovery Centre is a unique heritage space that will allow visitors to peek behind the scenes of life at the Abbey and delve into the building’s history. Pushed back due to the effects of the pandemic, this opening marks the completion of the Footprint Project and the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the Abbey.

The Discovery Centre is a newly created accessible space designed to bring the Abbey’s history to life. Objects from the Abbey’s archives will be on display in this custom-built area constructed within the ancient vaults beneath the Abbey building. Fascinating videos, replica period costumes and exciting interactive exhibits will immerse visitors in the history of this extraordinary building and explore the stories of people connected to the Abbey.

Alongside an extensive timeline of the Abbey’s history, historical artefacts, some of which have never been seen by the public, will be on display. These include: Anglo-Saxon crosses; Medieval carved stone fragments; historic silver; and the Benefactors’ Book, a record of money and materials given to the Abbey for its reconstruction after the Reformation. The Discovery Centre is the culmination of the Abbey’s Footprint project.

The Discovery Centre is adjacent to the Abbey’s new Learning Room, which is regularly used by visiting primary and secondary schools to learn about subjects ranging from “Bath Abbey through the ages: over 1000 years of fascinating history” to “a day in the life of a Medieval Monk”. This room is at times open to the public throughout the year for special events, including activities for the Platinum Jubilee last year. The Learning Room is currently being used as part of the “warm spaces” initiative across the city of Bath and for the provision of English lessons for Ukrainian refugees.

At the same time as the opening of the Discovery Centre, the Abbey will be introducing free 30 minute guided tours for visitors throughout the day. These tours are distinct from the popular Tower Tours, which are paid guided tours to the top of the Bath Abbey tower. Additionally, bespoke guided tours for school pupils can be booked (ideal for Key Stage 1-4 classes) and will be offered by our Learning and Visiting teams.

To maintain our high standard as a leading local heritage attraction, and to remain a sustainable place for worship, the Abbey is introducing a new business model to cope with the demands of enhancing and maintaining the Abbey for current and future generations of visitors, and to help with the adverse impact that the pandemic has left upon the tourism industry. When the Discovery Centre opens the Abbey will be moving from its suggested £5 entry donation to a £6.50 admission fee. Local residents and those visiting to pray, worship and attend services will not need to pay the admission fee.

The following groups will not need to pay the admission fee:

  • No charge for those wishing to attend church services, to pray, or light a candle
  • No charge for locals in the BA1 and BA2 postcode areas, with proof of address
  • No charge for Discovery Card holders

Bath Abbey remains primarily a dedicated place of worship for its congregation and the international Christian community. Those who visit to worship will be welcomed, at no charge, and will continue to be offered access to areas for private prayer and pastoral care from chaplains. Regular prayers throughout the day will remain, as will the current roster of services, details of which can be found on the Bath Abbey website.

The stories shared in the Discovery Centre acknowledge Bath Abbey’s importance within the local and wider communities. Ensuring that this integral part of English heritage is preserved for future generations is a key consideration in the life of the Abbey. From its roots as a Benedictine Monastery, through the Saxon, Norman and Tudor eras, Bath Abbey recognises it has a duty to share this awe-inspiring building with future generations.

Every visitor can now contribute to the preservation, conservation, and continued work of an important site of living history within the city of Bath. With the Discovery Centre and guided tours offering an enriched experience and understanding of the Abbey, Bath Abbey can continue to fulfil its mission of ‘Living and Telling the Good News of Jesus with the City of Bath and its visitors’.

Nathan Ward, Manager of the Footprint Project says of the Discovery Centre:

“Opening the Discovery Centre is a huge achievement.  It is the result of many years of hard work, and we are very pleased to be welcoming people into these new spaces where we can display important artefacts for the first time and provide our visitors with a new ‘interactive’ perspective on the history of the Abbey. Getting to this point has been a huge undertaking, and we are very grateful to have received generous support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Abbey’s congregation, The Friends of Bath Abbey, philanthropists, Trusts and Foundations, and the local community. Getting to this point has been a huge undertaking and we are very grateful to our excellent team of local designers and suppliers who have contributed to create this unique and exciting new facility.”

The Revd Canon Guy Bridgewater, Rector of Bath Abbey says:

“The opening of the Discovery Centre marks an important new chapter in the life of the Abbey, and a wonderful resource as we seek to live and tell the good news of Jesus with the city of Bath and its visitors. We are keen to be a Church that is always there for our local Bath residents, and that offers a welcoming spiritual home for all who come here to pray. As our visitors from further afield gradually recover in number, we will be keeping our offer to them under careful review – and we are thrilled by the exciting upgrade that our new Discovery Centre and Abbey visitor resources will now bring to enhance their experience in Bath.”

Stuart McLeod, Director England – London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “It is fantastic news that thanks to the National Lottery players, we have been able to support Bath Abbey to ensure that their important collections are preserved and available to see for the first time. It means that local communities and visitors can learn more about the Abbey’s rich heritage and the next generation of historians can be inspired. We know that heritage can play a huge role in bringing people together and creating a sense of pride in people’s hometowns and cities and the Discovery Centre and wider Footprint Project is a fantastic example of that.”

The project has provided new spaces for learning, music and interpretation, better visitor facilities, undertaken essential conservation work, as well as opportunities for volunteer and community involvement.  Work has taken place in the Abbey itself to repair the collapsing floor and install innovative, eco-friendly underfloor heating system, and in the underground vaults and Kingston Buildings to provide new facilities and spaces. It will secure the Abbey’s physical future and improve its hospitality, worship and service to the city.