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You may recall that a few years ago I posted an article here about the White Hart Inn in Bath. This was a place Jane Austen knew, she mentioned it in her letters, and she even included it as a location in one of her novels: it was where the Musgrove party stayed while in Bath in Persuasion. Here we have Charles and Mary Musgrove arriving in Bath, visiting Sir Walter and Elizabeth who are nastily relieved once they realise they are not expecting to stay at Camden Place with them:
Surprise was the strongest emotion raised by their appearance; but Anne was really glad to see them; and the others were not so sorry but that they could put on a decent air of welcome; and as soon as it became clear that these, their nearest relations, were not arrived with any views of accommodation in that house, Sir Walter and Elizabeth were able to rise in cordiality, and do the honours of it very well. They were come to Bath for a few days with Mrs. Musgrove, and were at the White Hart. So much was pretty soon understood; but till Sir Walter and Elizabeth were walking Mary into the other drawing-room, and regaling themselves with her admiration, Anne could not draw upon Charles’s brain for a regular history of their coming, or an explanation of some smiling hints of particular business, which had been ostentatiously dropped by Mary, as well as of some apparent confusion as to whom their party consisted of.
Persuasion Chapter 22
As you can see, it was a busy, bustling place and it had an envious reputation for luxury, comfort and customer service. Sadly it no longer exists, for it was demolished in 1867.
The White Hart was distinguished by a large figure of a white hart standing proudly over the entrance to the hotel. You can clearly see it in this picture of the inn above .One of my correspondents has very kindly informed me that the original statue is now in situ on another inn of the same name. The White Hart Inn, Widcombe Hill, just on the outskirts of Bath,
During the summer, someone stole the hart’s antlers. As you can see, he is pictured sadly antler-less, and the Inn asked for whoever stole them to return them to them via their Twitter account.
Nicola M very kindly sent me this image of the hart recently and it would appear that the antlers have now been returned or replaced.
In any event it is good to know that a relict of the White Hart Inn that Jane Austen knew still exists, evening if it is in a slightly different place. I must remember to visit it next time I’m in Bath.
We have seen in our previous post that an efficient, attentive Master of Ceremonies was essential to the smooth running of the large assemblies. Someone had to maintain control of the company, constituted as it often was in spa towns and resorts, of a constantly changing group of people. In today’s post let’s look at the role of the Master of Ceremonies in some more detail.
In most spas and sea bathing places that had any pretensions to greatness and fashion, the position of Master of Ceremonies was an official one. In Bath, from the time of Beau Nash in the early 18th century there was only one Master of Ceremonies even though from 1771 there were two sets of rooms, the new Upper set and the older Lower set. However, the role was eventually split between two M.Cs in 1777 after the resignation of the sole Master of Ceremonies,Captain Wade, due to his involvement in a scandal ( see below for more details).
The decision as to who would be appointed as the Master of Ceremonies was usually taken in the form of an election, and the evidence from Bath is that they could be hotly and fiercely fought. As the Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1812) tells us:
On the resignation or abdication of this gentleman ( Wade- jfw) in 1777, no less than seven candidates started; who, however, were at last reduced to two, Mr. Brereton and Mr. Dawson; and, as neither party would yield, it was agreed on to appoint two kings with equal rights; but that the one should preside at the Lower, and the other at the Upper or New Rooms. Mr. Brereton was nominated to the former, and Mr. Dawson to the latter.
Those entitled to vote were the subscribers to a particular set of rooms, or the controlling committee. Though the role of Master of Ceremonies was therefore official, and a beautiful badge of honour was supplied to the Bath M.C.s to distinguish them ( go here to see a portrait of William Dawson, the Master of Ceremonies at the Upper Rooms from 1777-1786: wearing his bade. His badge of office is still in the collection of the City of Bath) it might interest you to note that the Bath M.Cs were not paid an official salary. Instead, they were entitled to share the receipts from four benefit balls held every year. From 1771 two benefit balls were held in the Lower and two in the Upper Rooms every year and the Master of Ceremonies kept all the receipts. It was in his best interests therefore to makes sure these assemblies were popular with The COmpany in the town and were well attended. It is quite simple equasion: more happy people at a ball, more income for the M.C.
The eventual appointment of two Master of Ceremonies in Bath meant two badges of office and again we have this description from The Guide to all the Watering places etc (1812):
Mr. Tyson’s medallion is of gold, enamelled and enriched with brilliants, on one side displaying a figure of Minerva, over which is the motto Decus et Tutamen, and under, Dulce est desipere in loco; on the reverse Arbiter Elegantiardm. Oct. 1777, decorated with leaves of laurel and palm.
Mr. King’s medallion is also of fine gold, enamelled blue, and enriched with brilliants, having on one side a raised figure of Venus, with a golden apple in one hand and a rudder in the other: the motto Venus dccens. The reverse is a wreath of laurel, with the words, Arbiter elegantiardm, Communi consensu.
So, what did being a Master of Ceremonies entail? What were his duties? The amateur Master of Ceremonies had to act in exactly the same manner as a professional one, keeping the peace in the public rooms and assemblies, enforcing the Assembly rules and making sure everything ran smoothly. He was simultaneously diplomat, judge, arbiter of fashion and policeman… Here is a contemporary take on their role by Jospeh Moser:
… introduce regularity into large assemblies, to keep order, to repress the ebullitions of passion, to banish, if possible, that contraction or thrusting out of the lips which Shakespear calls pouting; to prevent violent suffusions or flushings in the female countenance; to keep the ladies from tossing, and their noses from turning up, when precedence, partners, and people that nobody knows, with a hundred other serious circumstances, excite those emotions. He has also annexed to his office something clerical, it being his business to join hands: but he goes still farther, he frequently procures partners, who sometimes under his banners enlist for life.
( See The Sports of Ancient London. The Sporting Magazine 1807. )
The Bath Masters of Ceremonies could also supplement their incomes by becoming Masters of Ceremonies at different spas or resorts. This was due to the length of the Bath season, which ran from October to May. The seasons at the other spas and sea bathing places usually ran from June to September, though it could vary in detail from rooms to rooms in these provincial resorts. This system can be illustrated by looking at the career of James King, the Master of Ceremonies whom Jane Austen mentions by name in Northanger Abbey, and who effected the introduction between Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney. He was the Master of Ceremonies at the Lower rooms from 1785. In 1805 he became the Master of Ceremonies at the Upper Rooms. But he was also the Master of Ceremonies at another spa with which Jane Austen was familiar. He served, during their summer season, at Cheltenham in Gloucestershire from 1803 until his death in 1816.
The Bath Masters of Ceremonies were often suave and handsome figures and it was not unknown for them to be involved in affairs of the heart. Perhaps the most famous of these is Captain Wade, due to his being immortalised in this magnificent portrait by Thomas Gainsborough which hangs in the Great Octagon Card Room of the Upper Rooms:
He was the Master of Ceremonies at Bath when the new, magnificent Upper Rooms were built. As a result he became the of Master of Ceremonies of both the Lower and the Upper Rooms, and took up his post at the new rooms in September 1771 when they opened. However, he had to resign his post as Master of Ceremonies in Bath in 1777 after he was involved in
an affair of gallantry
as Pierce Egan in Walk’s Though Bath (1819) coyly describes it. What had happened was that in July 1777 Wade was named in the divorce proceedings of Elizabeth Eustatia Campbell and her husband, John Hooke Campbell. He was forced to resign his post as Master of Ceremonies at Bath due to the scandal. However, Wade’s attachment to Elizabeth Campbell continued and following the death in 1787 of his first wife, Katherine with whom he had five children, he and Elizabeth were married on 30 June 1787 at St Marylebone, London. Wade had held the post of M.C at Bath and at Brighton since 1767 and on being made to leave Bath, he became full-time Master of Ceremonies at Brighton where he reigned over the principal assemblies at the Castle and the Old Ship Inns. He also issued a set of rules intended to regulate the behaviour of the company in the town and in 1787 . for example, he prohibited the playing of games on the Steine, which was an open space in the town set just in front of the Prince of Wales’ home the Pavilion, and a scene of fashionable promenading. By 1806 he was in dispute with the Old Ship and as a result, form then on, presided only at assemblies at the Castle Inn. Wade’s last season was 1807, and he died at his home in New Street on 16 March 1809.
If the room’s committee permitted it , some provincial M.Cs could also split their duties between two sets of rooms. Charles Le Bas, shown below,
was the Master of Ceremonies of both sets of assembly rooms in the nearby towns of Margate and Ramsgate in Kent. Ramsgate was of course, the scene of Georgiana Darcy’s near disaster, the sea-bathing resort from which Wickham attempted to elope with her, an attempt that was happily, not successful.
Poor Mr le Bas. He succeeded Richard Tyson as Master of Ceremonies of the Lower Rooms in Bath in 1805. But, the Lower Rooms were becoming very unpopular, and most of the Company preferred to spend their time at the new, more fashionable, Upper Rooms in the more fashionable part of Bath. The poor attendance at the Lower Rooms made it financially impossible to support a separate Master of Ceremonies. The monies raised from the benefit balls could not support two such officials. And so, after struggling on for three years, he had to resign.
In small towns like Meryton, no official would have been paid to act as Master of Ceremonies, and in many smaller towns where everyone knew each other, it would not have appeared necessary to appoint one. But, if the rooms did need consider they needed one then often a local gentleman would be asked to preside. For example, in the small Derbyshire town of Chesterfield, the nearest town to his estate at Chatsworth, William the fourth Duke of Devonshire presided at their assemblies as Master of Ceremonies. Mrs Lybbe Powys, a friend of Jane Austen’s aunt and uncle the Leigh Perrots, described in her diary just how active he was in the role when she visited the town in the mid 18th century:
On the Wednesday, having dined early, we set off in different carriages, and seven gentlemen on horseback for the course, about three, came back to tea about eight. Sir Harry Hemloak, his two sisters, and more company returned with us, and about ten we went to the Assembly Room, where The Duke of Devonshire always presided as master of the ceremonies, and after the ball gave an elegant cold supper, where, by his known politeness and affability, it would be unnecessary for me to say how amiable he made himself to the company.
Interestingly, if a committee of patronesses organised the assemblies then one of their number would be asked to preside over the running of the assemblies. Girl power, indeed.
Our friend Thomas Wilson, dancing master of the King’s Theatre in London, in the chapter, Etiquette of the Ballroom in his book The Complete System of Country Dancing (1813) and a Master of Ceremonies himself, gave explicit and minutely detailed instructions as to how an amateur master of ceremonies should conduct himself, and order the night. For example,
When the ball commences the company should not leaves their places or rest till after the second dance. Should the sets be short they may dance three dances before they rest. During the remainder of the evening it is the business of the Master of Ceremonies to direct the company as to the proper time for resting….
He also realised the Master of Ceremonies should be easily recognisable and thus :
The Master of Ceremonies should wear a sash or some other conspicuous ensignia, to distinguish him from the rest of the company
He also has this to say to prospective Masters of Ceremonies as a warning:
Persons should be very careful in taking upon themselves the office of Master of Ceremonies unless properly and fully qualifies for that office,as they take upon themselves very great responsibility
So, would Meryton have had a Master of Ceremonies at their assemblies ?Jane Austen does not mention one, but…does it not occur to you that Sir William Lucas, that civil man about that particular town, might have been the prefect candidate? He was courteous to a fault and had little to do now he had prematurely retired, “unshackled by business” as Jane Austen terms it:
Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the King, during his mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgust to his business, and to his residence in a small market town; and, quitting them both, he had removed with his family to an house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where he could think with pleasure of his own importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy himself solely in being civil to all the world. For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, his presentation at St. James’s had made him courteous.
and he does take an interest in how people dance:
At that moment Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set to the other side of the room; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy he stopt with a bow of superior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing and his partner.
”I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear sir. Such very superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Miss Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley) shall take place. What congratulations will then flow in! I appeal to Mr. Darcy — but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will not thank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of that young lady, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me.”
Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 18
I will admit that against this argument is the fact that Bingley suggested that Jane Bennet might introduce Darcy to Elizabeth at the Assembly, not the Master of Ceremonies:
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
”Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you…
Pride and Prejudice Chapter 3
But, nevertheless, I like to think that Sir William might have take this role upon himself, as I think with all his experience at court (!!) and with his ample leisure time and determined to be civil to all the world he was the prefect candidate. My opinion only…Despise me if you dare…;)
The Upper Rooms in Bath were probably the most magnificent set of rooms in England and Wales. Situated in the fashionable, upper part of the town, they were and are, quite magnificent to behold. But what went on at a winter assembly there, and how did it differ from assemblies held in provincial towns such as Meryton. Let’s find out.
The Bath Winter Assemblies, part of the Bath Winter season which ran from October each year, began at six o ‘ clock in the evening when the guests began to arrive and the musicians were scheduled to begin to play the minuets that made up the first dances of the evening. Some guests arrived by carriage but most of the company arrived either on foot ( if they were men) or by sedan chair ( or, as it was often referred to simply as a “chair”) if they were women or infirm. Because of Bath’s hilly terrain the chair was the preferred mode of transport, and in this floor plan of the Upper Rooms, below, you can clearly see the area set aside for the chairs and the chairmen to set down their passengers- a colonnade, where they would wait for the evening to end. It was rather similar to a taxi rank today, which similarly can be found near place of entertainment in towns.
Most of the attendees would have paid for their entrance ticket by way of a subscription, especially if they were staying in Bath for some time. You can see the terms upon which subscriptions ticked were issued during the season of 1811-12 below:
On arrival the guests would deposit their cloaks or coats at the Cloakroom, which you can see was situated to the right of the entrance vestibule ( where the gift/bookshop shop is now to be found ). Those not interested in dancing, or merely watching and listening to the music would make their way directly to The Card Room, as Mr Allen did in Northanger Abbey, where they could gamble the night away:
Mrs. Allen was so long in dressing that they did not enter the ballroom till late. The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. As for Mr. Allen, he repaired directly to the card–room, and left them to enjoy a mob by themselves.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 2
But those intending to dance would turn left into the magnificent ballroom. This very large, double-height room had four large fireplaces, five magnificent crystal chandeliers lit with many candles, all hanging from the high ceiling, which together with candles set into mirrored griandoles which were hung on the walls, illuminated the room. At a time when light was a luxury this must have been a magnificent sight, though probably to our modern eyes it would probably not seem very brilliant at all.
The walls were set around with benches, sometimes there were up to four tiers of them as you can see from the illustration, below:
These benches were also mentioned by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey: poor Catherine Morland mistakenly thinks she will be easily be able to get a seat in the ballroom of the Upper Rooms but, due to their late arrival, caused by Mrs Allen preoccupation with dressing for the evening, that was not to be:
…she had imagined that when once fairly within the door, they should easily find seats and be able to watch the dances with perfect convenience. But this was far from being the case, and though by unwearied diligence they gained even the top of the room, their situation was just the same; they saw nothing of the dancers but the high feathers of some of the ladies. Still they moved on — something better was yet in view; and by a continued exertion of strength and ingenuity they found themselves at last in the passage behind the highest bench. Here there was something less of crowd than below; and hence Miss Morland had a comprehensive view of all the company beneath her, and of all the dangers of her late passage through them.
From six to eight o’clock minuets danced by single couples were performed before the scrutiny of the company. In this great room between 500-600 could watch the scene but on special occasions this number could rise to over 800. Note there were no fire regulations or health and safety concerns limiting attendance numbers in those days, and the crush could have been very uncomfortable, as Catherine Morland discovered:
With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protégée, Mrs. Allen made her way through the throng of men by the door, as swiftly as the necessary caution would allow; Catherine, however, kept close at her side, and linked her arm too firmly within her friend’s to be torn asunder by any common effort of a struggling assembly. But to her utter amazement she found that to proceed along the room was by no means the way to disengage themselves from the crowd; it seemed rather to increase as they went on…Still they moved on — something better was yet in view; and by a continued exertion of strength and ingenuity they found themselves at last in the passage behind the highest bench. Here there was something less of crowd than below; and hence Miss Morland had a comprehensive view of all the company beneath her, and of all the dangers of her late passage through them. It was a splendid sight, and she began, for the first time that evening, to feel herself at a ball
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 2
At eight o’clock the country dances began and were performed by the musicians in the Musicians Gallery, which you can see on the floor plan, above . This section of the evening lasted for an hour, till nine o’clock when the company retired to the Tea Room for refreshments of tea, coffee and small items of food. The food and drink was served to the company by waiters, who served the refreshments to the company from long trestle tables set behind the columns under the musicians gallery in the room. Poor Catherine Morland’s experience of tea in this room was rather uncomfortable, socially, despite the grand surroundings :
Everybody was shortly in motion for tea, and they must squeeze out like the rest. Catherine began to feel something of disappointment — she was tired of being continually pressed against by people, the generality of whose faces possessed nothing to interest, and with all of whom she was so wholly unacquainted that she could not relieve the irksomeness of imprisonment by the exchange of a syllable with any of her fellow captives; and when at last arrived in the tea–room, she felt yet more the awkwardness of having no party to join, no acquaintance to claim, no gentleman to assist them. They saw nothing of Mr. Allen; and after looking about them in vain for a more eligible situation, were obliged to sit down at the end of a table, at which a large party were already placed, without having anything to do there, or anybody to speak to, except each other.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 2.
The company then returned to the Card Room or to the Ballroom when the dancing of country dances resumed until eleven o’clock when everything stopped. In Bath the assemblies stopped at this early hour in mid dance if necessary. The company then collected their coats from the cloakroom, and then waited at the entrance for their chair or carriage to arrive to take them home. Less formal “fancy “or “cotillion” balls were also held at the Rooms: these balls were distinguished from Dress balls by the fact that minuets were not danced at these types of balls.
In the provincial towns other than Bath the assemblies differed in that minuets were seldom, if ever, performed. Interestingly the summer was the most important time for assemblies in the provincial towns. They were larger and more prestigious, and often coincided with important local events such as fairs, the assizes or races week in the towns. The assizes was the time in the year when the Circuit judges appeared in town to hear locally important civil and criminal trials and they were a time of much entertaining and ceremony. The same held with any local horse racing meeting( without the pomp of the judges’ processions etc). Here is an advert from the Stamford Mercury of 1766 advertising two assembly balls (and a concert) during its race week:
By far the grandest of these weeks was the horse racing week in York ( now known as the Ebor meet) when the town was occupied by local aristocrats and gentry arrived from the surrounding countryside , small towns and villages and from Town, taking up residence in their smart town houses, like Fairfax House, to attend the round of racing, concerts and assemblies in the assembly room. For that week the number of the musicians in the York assembly rooms were increased from five to ten, and tickets were sold so that those who wanted to could observe the dancing etc from the gallery above the ballroom.
In the winter provincial assemblies were held monthly, coinciding with the time of the full moon so that the company could travel when there might be some natural illumination in the sky to make their journey to and form the assembly less perilous. And these assemblies often began much later than six o clock as was the norm in Bath.As a result hey continued into the small hours of the morning.
Like the Bath assemblies tea,coffee and light refreshments were provided at the provincial assemblies. A supper served with wine and other alcoholic drinks was recovered for very special occasions such as assemblies held to celebrate the King’s Birthday or for assembles held during a general election.
The Meryton Assembly is seen as a perfect place for Jane Austen to introduce the rich, new-comers in the area to her cast of Merytonians, and to us. This was exactly what happened in real life. New visitors to towns or spas could meet people at assemblies, and the Master of Ceremoines( of whom more later) could be asked to make introductions. Something Mrs Allen, Catherine Morland’s useless chaperone in Northanger Abbey failed to manage at the visit to the Upper Rooms: the situation changed for the better in the Lower Rooms:
They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 3
Eliza de Feuillide, Jane Austen’s dazzling cousin, wrote of the sad state of affirms in Lowestoft in Suffolk when she was living there in 1797 with her husband Henry Austen, Jane Austen’s brother. Henry was stationed in Lowestoft, with the Oxfordshire Militia. The threat of invasion from France and the rest of Europe was real and intense at this time, and the Militia ‘s object was to defend the vulnerable low-lying East coast of England from attack. There were no assembly rooms in the town, so the opportunities for meeting new friends was limited:
This place (Lowestoft-jfw) still contains a good many families but as there are no Rooms there is no opportunity of getting acquainted with them( there is a PLay House but I have not yet been there) however I am not in total solitude for there are three families here with whom I am acquainted and what with walking, occasionally driving over to Yarmouth with which I am delighted, and plenty of Books to say nothing of dipping in the Sea ,(which) I detest, I contrive to fill up my time tolerably & for Hastings( her son’s-jfw) sake and that of my own bathing from which I mean to reap great benefit I shall remain here till ye 12th of next month, when I shall once more repair to the great City…
(See: Jane Austen’s Outlandish Cousin, by Deirdre Le Faye, page 149)
Next in this series, the Master Of Ceremonies.Who was he and what he did ….
Episode 25 of series 32 of the BBC’s Bargain Hunt programme included a section filmed at Number One, Royal Crescent which is a marvellous museum devoted to displaying and explaining the workings of a grand house in Bath in the Georgian era.
The programme had a five-minute section during which we were shown some of the items on show in the study and hall of the house. First, items that may have provided amusement -the Comforts of Bath -during the season were displayed on a green baize-lined card table:
A blue transfer decorated punch bowl, sadly denuded of its alcoholic contents…
and a twist of the Virginian tobacco which would have been smoked in them.
The bureau bookcase in the same room also had interesting items on display.
A portable, table-top celestial globe…
and two theatre tokens which were used in the theatre at Bath.
One for the cheap seats in the Gallery, above and one for the more exclusive seats in the boxes, below.
The programme gave us a rare opportunity to examine a sedan chair, a very popular form of transport in Bath due to the steep and narrow streets which made travelling by carriage somewhat difficult.
The chairs were made of a wooden frame, covered with leather which was then painted to provide a degrees of waterproofing …
The edges and corners were protected by decorative stud work…
The domed roof lifted up for ease of access, and internally there were blinds for privacy, and glazed windows…
And the all-important internal upholstery, including a down filled cushion seat, to protect the traveller from the bumps and bangs of a journey from his home to the Upper Rooms, perhaps, just like Catherine Moreland in Northanger Abbey.
The programme is still available to view via the BBC iPlayer, here, and I do urge you to look at it if you can as this section is very informative and enjoyable.
As you are all aware, Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801-1806. Her first home in the city was one she shared with her parents, the Reverend and Mrs Austen and her sister, Cassandra. It was a fine house, Number 4 Sydney Place, which was then on the outskirts of Bath. You may recall that last year I wrote about an apartment in this house that had come onto the market.
The Austens favoured living here for the situation not only had the advantage of being near to the open countryside, so necessary to such a desperate walker as Jane Austen avowedly was, but the house also overlooked the Sydney Gardens, shown below in a view from the first floor apartment :
The Sydney Gardens were a Vauxhall or pleasure garden where Jane Austen thought
It would be very pleasant to be near Sidney Gardens-we might go into the Labrinth every day…
(See: Letter to Cassandra Austen,dated 21st January 1801)
and they are now a very pleasant open air space. What was the Sydney Hotel is now the fabulous and vibrant Holburne Museum, which has recently re-opened after a marvellous programme of refurbishment and extension. The apartment on sale has now been purchased and has become available to all to rent as a holiday let from the holiday let company,Bath Boutique Stays.
It has been substantially modernised but the original feature have been kept. It sleeps four people , and has two bedrooms.
The owners have added some amusing “Austen” touches, as you can see from the photographs they have provided for me:
As you may recall from her description in her book, Jane Austen, Her Homes and Her Friends (1923), Constance Hill liked the first floor of the house very much. There was a beautiful drawing-room, which was sunny, airy and light:
4 Sydney Place has four stories plus a basement The ground floor has an entrance hall and two rooms: the front room would have been the parlour and dining room used for everyday entertainment and the rear room would most likely have been Mr Austen’s study. On the first floor there is a magnificent drawing room covering the full area of the house which looks south over Sydney Gardens; the windows are large and it is a very sunny room.
This is incorporated into the new apartment to let, and, as you can see from the photographs, it still enjoys that sunny aspect overlooking the gardens. I must admit, I’m considering re-jigging my travel plans for next year, as I would love the opportunity to actually stay, for however short a time, in a house where Jane Austen actually lived.
Racking my memory, it would appear to be an almost unique prospect…..Steventon Rectory is now demolished, Chawton Cottage is now a museum, her home in Southampton no longer exists; Stoneleigh Abbey is a now series of private homes and Godmersham is the home of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians College…I don’t think any of the places she stayed in London apart from Henry’ Austens home in Upper Berkeley Street (which is now an hotel) are available for use as lets. And as for Bath, well, you can stay in a holiday let in Trim Street, but we do not know exactly where in Trim Street Jane Austen actually lived. Her home in Gay Street is a private house, and her home in Green Park West -where her father died in January 1805- was destroyed during bombing in World War II, though it has been rebuilt. So, this really is a fabulous opportunity to live for a short while in a place where Jane Austen spent nearly four years of her life.
The BBC One programme, Bargain Hunt yesterday broadcast a small film about the Georgian Kitchen at Number One, Royal Crescent, Bath.
This building was one of the grandest houses in the Crescent, which was designed by John Wood the Younger, and it was of course here that Catherine Morland promenaded with Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey:
As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump–room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company.
The house has had many interesting residents including Frederick, Duke of York. It is now a wonderful museum run by the Bath Preservation Trust, and is always worth a visit to its fabulous restored and decorated rooms, staffed by really helpful, knowledgeable and, in some cases, very entertaining guides!
The house is decorated as it would have been in the Georgian era: below is the fabulous first floor drawing-room:
And here, below, is the ground floor dining room, the table set for a typical Georgian dessert course, with sweetmeats and nuts and decorated with some rather wonderful sugar sculpture:
But this part of the programme -a few minutes long only-was really about the Kitchen- which is rather wonderful as we do not get to glimpse inside Georgian kitchens very often. So let’s look, in some detail, at the items on show in the basement kitchen at Number One, and see how they would be used and how they would work.
From the right, on top of the scrubbed surface of the pine table you can just see the outline of some sugar nips, right next to a very typical 18th century conical sugar loaf. The nips were used to break up the sugar loaf, most likely imported from the West Indies into the nearby port of Bristol. Here is a better, clearer picture of some 18th century sugar nips, made from iron, for you to see:
In the picture below, you can see the sugar nips mounted on a piece of wood. Also on the table surface you can clearly see a wooden lemon squeezer and a brass pestle and mortar, used for pounding spices:
The kitchen has three types of spit turning devices on show: the first, the most infamous, a cage which was wall mounted and which would have held a Turnspit Dog,who would have run, hamster-like, in the case, turning the spit as required.
Here is another picture, from the book, Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales, published in 1800 of a Turnspit dog hard at work:
it is really appropriate that this cage is still installed in a kitchen in Bath for it was in Bath that the last turnspit doges were used, when other parts of the country had resorted to other, mechanical devices with which to turn their roasting meat. Mechanical devices such as this clockwork jack, below. This is an 18th century counterweight jack with a flywheel:
This works by gravity : a weight is attached to a string, which winds down the mechanism, every 20 minutes or so, then it has to be rewound. I’ve operated one of these in the food historian, Ivan Day’s kitchen, at his home in Cumbria. You can see it in my picture, below, to the right of the fireplace:
His clockwork jack had a weight made from an old cannon ball. The sound of the clockwork mechanism working, tick-tocking away, and then being re-wound every so often, must have been a very familiar sound in smaller Georgian households.
The problem with clockwork spits was that they demanded a lot of attention in order that they could be re-wound, and they were not particularly efficient. Below is the frontispiece from Martha Bradley’s book,The British Housewife (1756) showing a very well equipped Georgian kitchen…
You can see the kitchen maid pulling the chain of the clockwork jack, to help turn the spit:
Another type of jack was on view in the Kitchen at Number One: a bottle jack set above a screen or a “hastener”:
This jack would move the joint of meat clockwise and then counterclockwise in front of the fire so that it cooked evenly. Below is a bottle jack- note that it gets its name from its shape- and a hastener on show in the Georgian House Museum at Bristol:
Bottle Jacks were spring driven, wound up with a key and they ran for a fair length of time before running down, and were an improvement on the clockwork jack. The meat to be roasted hung from small hooks in the bottom of the jack. They were designed to hang inside a vertical tin, reflecting oven-the hastener- which would be set in front of the fire, facing the coal grate. This produced heat evenly up and down the suspended joint or bird. In addition to the heat radiating from the fire, the sides and roof of the tin oven further reflected heat, making for more efficient use of fuel and more even roasting.
The drip tray, set before the fire and under the meat cooking before the it, was used to collect the fat which dropped from the meat during cooking time. The large basting spoon-which you can see underneath the tray- was used to baste the meat during the cooking process.
Also on show in the kitchen are some rudimentary and rather smoky and smelly sources of light. Tallow candies, above, are notorious for the smell and the smoke that they produced, very inferior to expensive wax candles. Tallow was normally the fat obtained from beef or lamb.
In the centre of this photograph, above is an iron crusie lamp- a lamp powered by animal grease or fish oil. The fat would be put in the bowl of the iron lamp, and a wick would then rest in it, and be lit to provide a light.
In the centre of this photograph is a wooden and iron rush nip, or rush light, typical of the early to mid 18th century. It was designed to hold a rush that had been covered in animal fat by immersing it in a trough, which was, ideally, as long as the rush to ensure the rush was well saturated with the fat. Gilbert White of Selborne, near Chawton in Hampshire tells us of the method of choosing rushes for used as rushlights, in his book, The Natural History of Selborne:
The proper species of rush for this purpose seems to be the juncus effusus or the common soft rush, which is to be found in most pastures, by the side of streams or hedges. These rushes are in the best condition in the height of summer but may be gathered so as to serve the purposes well, quite on to Auutmn….as soon as they are cut they must be flung into water and kept there for otherwise they will dry and shrink and the peel (the rind-jfw) will not run…The careful wife of a Hampshire labourer obtains all her fat for nothing for she saves the scummings of her bacon pot for this use: and if the grease abound with salt she causes the salt to precipitate to the bottom by setting the scummings in a warm oven….A good rush, which measured in length two feet four inches and a half burnt only three minutes shorter than an hour and a rush of still greater length has been known to burn one hour and a quarter. These rushes give a good clear light”
And finally, something that would have been in constant use, bearing in mind the presence of tallow fat candles and foodstuffs in the kitchen area…18th century mice traps on the pine dresser. One wooden, one iron:
You can even see some poor mice captured in the iron example to the centre right….
So, there you are, a short trip around some 18th century gadgets that would have been found in many kitchens and homes of the era. I do hope you have enjoyed it. The episode of Bargain Hunt is available to view, here, on the BBC iPlayer for the next six days for all of you living in the UK. The part of the programme that interests us begins at approximately 24 minutes in.
A very dear Austrian friend bought this to my attention today, and I found it so fascinating, I thought you’d like to see it.
This literary map was designed and made by Geoff Sawyers and is for sale via The Literary Gift Company. It is really charming: intricate and beautifully penned. I loved searching for my favourites, and checking that my local notables-John Clare and Fanny Burney- are included.(They are.)
I have to confess it took me an age to find Jane Austen as I had expected her to be in Hampshire, not far from the Isle of Wight. She is in fact to be found near Bath, which I suppose she might have objected to, and the inhabitants of Hampshire will probably be most aggrieved at this placing:
But at least she is “there”. There are other maps available: Wales
Needless to say….one has now been ordered, and I do look forward to others. Perhaps Eire might be next?
This was of course the house to which Jane Austen and her parents first moved when they quitted the rectory at Steventon to move to Bath in 1801. The Austens rented the house which was opposite the Sydney Gardens,then right at the very edge of the town.
A one bedroom apartment in the building, on the second floor, has just come onto the rental market.
This is the view looking towards the Sydney gardens from the house. Go here to see all the details of the apartment.
I have to say that it is very tempting…and if the rental agreement found its way into my Christmas stocking..I’d be a very happy woman indeed!
We know that Trim Street in Bath was the last place the Austen ladies- Jane,Cassandra and Mrs Austen- lived while they were in Bath because of the evidence from a letter sent by Mrs Austen to Mary her daughter- in -law. Here is a link to a post that I wrote about it last year.
Their Trim Street home was supposed to be very temporary accommodation in which to stay while they were looking at other properties in which to settle on a more permanent basis. They arrived there in January 1806 but were still there in April, and most probably stayed there till they finally left Bath for Clifton and on to Gloucestershire,Warwickshire and Staffordshire in the summer of 1806.
Mrs Austen’s exasperation with her situation and inability to find more suitable lodging was expressed not only in the tone of her letter but in the way she wrote her address
Trim Street Still
The letter, part of which is quoted in Deirdre Le Faye’s book, Jane Austen: A Family Record, gives some hints of the trials of searching for lodgings which suited both their social aspirations and their much reduced pockets, for at this time Mr Austen had been dead for over a year, and they were very dependant upon the charity of the Austen sons. And remember when the family were first searching for lodgings in Bath in 1801 Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra that
In the meantime she (Mrs Austen- Jfw) assures you that she will do everything in her power to avoid Trim Street although you have not expressed the fearful presentiment of it which was rather expected.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen, 3rd January 1801)
So…why was Trim Street so exasperating? Well, last summer I had the very enjoyable but slightly odd experience of staying in Trim Street, in a Georgian house rented out as holiday let by a nearby hotel, and may have found some of the reasons which explain Mrs Austen’s desperation to move away.
This view of trim street shows the house where we stayed- on the bottom left by the parked car .It is a typical small, slightly narrow, single fronted Bath town house, and it was rather plainly built with no internal architectural features of note.
But it had been altered into a wonderful suite of holiday accommodation on four floors,with a sleek modern kitchen, roof terrace, shown above, four bedrooms, excellent bathrooms and sitting room.
Above is the entrance hall…
One of the bedrooms….
And the sitting room on the first floor
This is the view from the sitting room looking out onto the most architecturally distinguished part of Trim Street, General Wolfe’s House.He was staying in Bath at this house when Pitt the elder commanded him to lead his famous expedition to Quebec.
The street that runs parallel to Trim Street contains the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, which is now the National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases. It was founded in 1738 and was known as The Mineral Water Hospital. It provided care for the many poor people who flocked to Bath desperate for a cure for their illnesses from either bathing in or drinking the famed mineral waters.This was the other side of the coin to fashionable Bath, the one that Mrs Smith in Persuasion was hovering above in genteel poverty in nearby Westgate Buildings.
As you can see from the map above, Trim Street is surrounded by other streets. When Baht is busy, this is a very busy street with many pedestrians cutting though on their way to the attractions of the main shopping area (then as now) -Bond Street
haunt of Sir Walter Elliot
and, of course…
Milsom Street, home to the status obsessed General Tilney…
are seconds away as are the Pump Room
and the Bath complex and the Abbey.
Perfect for a holiday break today in a rather funkily decorated, restored period house with all modern conveniences… except for some problems that would have been universal then as now.Do allow me to explain….
Trim Street is narrow and has rather tall buildings. As a result the rooms are sunny for a small period of time: once the sun moved over the rooms were not particularly light. Nor are there any views to be had save for other buildings. No trees, no greenery….and for someone like Jane Austen who seemed to crave the countryside, that would have been hard to endure.
And then there was the noise. The result of the tall buildings in a narrow street is that any noise is amplified and even one person walking along it echos intrusively into the house. So…if lots of people are waking around,that equates to a lot of noise. Women walking on metal patterns on the cobbled street would be heard all over the house.
We also found the modern phenomena of Hen Partys and etc meant that we heard revellers into the very early ( or late!) hours of the morning, and most nights we didn’t have any peace until at least 3 a.m. Im sure drunken revellers are not just a 21st century phenomena.
And I could imagine that in the not particularly sanitary early 19th century, the air would not be particularly good in such a confined street……Pongs would hang about.
So,while we relished the thought that we were staying On The Street Where She Lived, and indeed it may even have been in that particular house(!) what we didn’t relish were the sort of inconveniences that I am sure would have been experienced by the Austens. No wonder after four months of living there Mrs Austen was quite desperate to get away…..
The National Trust has created a city skyline walk around Bath, and this week the BBC Radio 4 Programme Ramblings, now presented by the amiable Stuart Maconie, recorded him walking along the route in the company of some local police officers. The area covered in the walk is indicated in the section from John Cary’s map of Bath and its Environs (1812) above. It covers Claverton Down, Widecombe,and passes by Ralph Allen’s Prior Park: the landscape garden there is also a National Trust property.
The walk is a circular one of about 6 miles in length,and has marvellous views across the city, and if you are in Bath you might consider doing it for yourself.
However, wherever you are in the world, if you have a look at the National Trust’s map-which you can see here -while listening to the programme, you can easily follow the route and imagine the views that Jane Austen took on her walks to Widecombe and Beechen Cliff while she lived in Bath.
It’s a jolly programme, -accessible here- and is only 23 minutes long. I’m sure,with the additional aid of the map, you will have a great idea of the terrain as they walk the path.
Most of us are familiar with the architects of Bath - John Wood senior and elder- who planned Queens Square and the development of the Upper Town. Less well-known is the man who provided the raw material for these elegant squares and crescents,Bath Stone. He was Ralph Allen, and this small but very readable book by Diana Winsor, published by Polperro Heritage Press gives us a short but comprehensive account of his life. Diana Winsor uses his extant correspondence but also invents extracts from his” diary” to fill in the blanks of his story for us.
Born in Cornwall in 1693, he moved to Bath in 1715. He had trained in the running of Post Offices at Exeter. He became Deputy Postmaster at Bath aged 19 and went on to reform the whole English postal system, winning a lucrative government contract to organise the post for many successive decades. He became Mayor of Bath in 1742, and was M.P. for Bath from 1757 untill 1764.
He invested his profits from the Post Office in the stone quarries that surround Bath high up on the downs . In conjunction with John Wood the Elder he promoted the use of Bath stone as an excellent building material, and the developments of Queens Square, Gay Street The Circus The Crescent and the Upper Town including the Assembly Rooms were built in this material. Bath stone is honey coloured when underground, but once mined and exposed to the air it becomes pale, and grayer. Anne Elliot in Persuasion disliked its pale appearance very much:
Lady Russell, convinced that Anne would not be allowed to be of any use, or any importance, in the choice of the house which they were going to secure, was very unwilling to have her hurried away so soon, and wanted to make it possible for her to stay behind, till she might convey her to Bath herself after Christmas; but having engagements of her own, which must take her from Kellynch for several weeks, she was unable to give the full invitation she wished; and Anne, though dreading the possible heats of September in all the white glare of Bath, and grieving to forego all the influence so sweet and so sad of the autumnal months in the country, did not think that, every thing considered, she wished to remain. It would be most right, and most wise, and, therefore, must involve least suffering, to go with the others.
Persuasion, Chapter 5
Ralph Allen was an entrepreneur and an innovator. He built his impressive home, Prior Park on the outskirts of Bath as a testament to the excellent qualities of Bath stone as a building material and ornamented the surrounding landscape garden, which he designed with the help of “Capability” Brown and Alexander Pope, with delicious gardens features such as the famous bridge, below. All made of Bath stone, naturally.
© NTPL / Stephen Robson
The landscape garden is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.The mansion is now a boarding school and is not.
This book though small is an interesting read, and certainly filled in many blanks in my knowledge of this important figure in Bath history. The illustrations are mainly by Diana Windsor herself and I think are best in architectural pieces, as in this illustration of Ralph Allen’s town-house in Bath,
as her figures are, for me, sadly not as convincing as the buildings she portrays:
Today for the last of Lady Russell’s Winter Pleasures posts (although there is one more tomorrow in this series,a book review) we are going to look at the Pump Room. The Pump Room in Bath was built in the lower part of the town, and was where those taking the “cure” would drink copious amounts of the warm spring water in order to effect a cure.The first PumpRom was replaced in 1797 by the one which is still in existence today.
This is the description of it from Feltham’s Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc.,(1803):
FOR those who are unable or unwilling to join in more e and expensive amusements, the new Pump-room presents attraction unrivalled…
This noble room was built in 1797 under the direction of Mr. Baldwin, architect. It is 60 feet long by 46 wide, and 31. feet high. The inside is set round with three quarter columns of the Corinthian order, crowned with an entablature, and a covering of five feet. In a recess at the West-end is the music gallery, and in another at the East an excellent time-piece, over which is a marble statue of king Nash, executed by Hoare, at the expense of the corporation. In the Centre of the South-side is a marble vase from which issue the waters, with a fire-place on each side.
The exterior is furnished in a capital stile (sic) of architecture, having its architrave charged with the following inscription from Pindar, in gold letters which may be justly rendered,
“Bath-water is better than Bath-wine ;”
literally, water is, best.
This section of the map of Bath included in John Feltham’s book shows the position of the Pump Room,just opposite what was then the White Hart Inn in Stall Street.
This Victorian photograph, taken from the position of the White Hart shows the Pump Room in all its splendour
And this view, and engraving dating from the late 18th century shows it and the colonnade, with the inn behind.
It is set in the Abbey churchyard, and you can see the marvellous Bath Abbey set at right angles to the Pump Room, above in a photograph I took last year
As you can clearly see with comparison with the 18th century print, not much has changed since the late 18th century, though the White Hart Inn is no longer there.
This is one of the ante rooms to the Pump room and is where you now gain access to the room.
The plan below again from Walter Ison’s magisterial book, The Georgian Buildings of Bath shows the setting of the Pump Room amid the complex of Bath; the Kings Bath, the New Private Baths and the Cross Bath which is situated at the termination of Cross Street, which in its turn is beautifully colonnaded, and will be recognised by fans of the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion as the street along which the reunited lovers-Anne and Captain Wentworth- strolled along once the Circus (and the infamous kiss) had gone away…..
This is the view from the Cross Bath to the New Baths and the Pump Room :
And this is a close up of the ground plan of the Pump Room.
The Pump Room was also, in the early days of Bath, where the book was kept, known as the Subscription Book. This was where new arrivals in the town would enter their names. Something Catherine Morland found useful when she was trying to ascertain if Henry Tilney was still in town:
As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump–room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company. Here Catherine and Isabella, arm in arm, again tasted the sweets of friendship in an unreserved conversation; they talked much, and with much enjoyment; but again was Catherine disappointed in her hope of reseeing her partner. He was nowhere to be met with; every search for him was equally unsuccessful, in morning lounges or evening assemblies; neither at the Upper nor Lower Rooms, at dressed or undressed balls, was he perceivable; nor among the walkers, the horsemen, or the curricle–drivers of the morning. His name was not in the pump–room book, and curiosity could do no more. He must be gone from Bath.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 5
Once new arrivals and added their names to the book, the Master of Ceremonies would then know they were in town and it was time to pay a visit of visit of ceremony to them, to inform them of the ways of Bath, should they not know of them. Having consulted this book the names of the new arrivals would also be published in the Bath newspapers. The book was kept in the early 18th century by the redoubtable Sarah Porter, shown below,
who was known for her uncanny ability to ambush new arrivals to town to ensure that their names were entered in the book(and her tip was received ).Putting ones name in the Subscription Book could also involve the outlay of serious money, for putting ones name there also “entitled ” you to subscribe to the Assemblies and concerts in the Pump Room and the Assembly Rooms, and also to the circulating libraries and bookshops.
The fashionable time to visit the Pump Room was in the morning:
Her an excellent company of musicians perform every morning, during the full season and a numerous assemblage of ladies and gentlemen walking up and down in social converse during the performance, presents a picture of animation which nothing can exceed…
(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places etc by J Feltham ,1803.
In the photographs above and below you can see the rounded apse and the musicians gallery within it:
The Pump Room is now a restaurant(and a pretty good one too!) and very often musicians play there.
This is the view towards the other end of the room….
With its magnificent Thomas Tompion timepiece
And statue of Beau Nash,the King of Bath and the original Master of Ceremonies.
Half way along the room, over-looking the Kings Bath is the King’s Spring
Where you can still purchase glasses of the water to drink,served to you by a porter. It is surprisingly warm (and no doubt that added to its purgative qualities when one was taking “the cure”)
Of course it was when she was over looking the Pump Room from the Musgrove’s Room at the White Hart Inn that Mary Musgrove discovered Mr Elliot meeting Mrs Clay in a rather clandestine manner:
They found Mrs. Musgrove and her daughter within, and by themselves, and Anne had the kindest welcome from each… with intervals of every help which Mary required, from altering her ribbon to settling her accounts, from finding her keys, and assorting her trinkets, to trying to convince her that she was not ill-used by anybody; which Mary, well amused as she generally was, in her station at a window overlooking the entrance to the Pump Room, could not but have her moments of imagining.
Persuasion Chapter 22
“Do come, Anne,” cried Mary, “come and look yourself. You will be too late if you do not make haste. They are parting; they are shaking hands. He is turning away. Not know Mr. Elliot, indeed! You seem to have forgot all about Lyme.”
To pacify Mary, and perhaps screen her own embarrassment, Anne did move quietly to the window. She was just in time to ascertain that it really was Mr. Elliot, which she had never believed, before he disappeared on one side, as Mrs. Clay walked quickly off on the other; and checking the surprise which she could not but feel at such an appearance of friendly conference between two persons of totally opposite interests, she calmly said, “Yes, it is Mr. Elliot, certainly. He has changed his hour of going, I suppose, that is all, or I may be mistaken, I might not attend”; and walked back to her chair, recomposed, and with the comfortable hope of having acquitted herself well.
Persuasion, Chapter 22
Hmm… Mr Elliot, proving himself to be quite the slippery eel…..
Here is a link to another panoramic view of the Pump Room, if you go here and look on the right,click on “View the Pump Room Tour“, it is almost as good as being there. Almost….
And that concludes this small series of Winter Pleasures posts. I do hope you have enjoyed them.
So…yesterday we had to pretend that Lady Russell was a great dancer and enjoyed spending winter evenings at the Ball-Room at the Upper Rooms. It was fun though….I do hope you agree.
Today, we do not have to pretend for we know that she attended a concert at the Upper Rooms in Persuasion,and so would have visited the Tea Room which was where the subscription concerts were held. But before we get there we should really take a look at the Card Room or Great Octagon as it was known which separates the Ball Room from the Tea Room.
In the film of Persuasion (1995) written by Nick Drear, this ,below, the Small Octagon or Octagon Anti-chamber, was where the Elliot’s stood waiting for Lady Dalrymple and her daughter and where Anne had the unexpected opportunity of meeting Captain Wentworth for a deliciously revealing conversation.
It was more likely that this meeting took place in the Octagon shown below.
When the Upper Assembly Rooms were first opened in 1771, this was used as the card room. A card room where gambling took place was one of the necessary rooms in a suite of Assembly Rooms, for gambling by those not wishing to dance was entirely acceptable practise. Indeed Mr Allen retires to play cards,after he has safely deposited Mrs Allen and Catherine Morland at the Ballroom in Chapter 2 of Northanger Abbey. A separate card room was added to this room in 1777.
The Octagon was again set out for a wedding when I visited .It would be in this room that the actual wedding was performed. A quite spectacular setting, you must admit.
The chandelier in this room was made up of the remnants of the discarded chandeliers that used to hang in the Ball Room and were made by Jonathan Collett. It is very beautiful, and it is a wonder that they were able to make something so beautiful out of wrecked pieces!
The portrait that dominates this room is one by Thomas Gainsborough of Captain William Wade . He was the first Master of Ceremonies of the Upper Rooms. He had to quit his post in 1777 after he was involved in
an affair of gallantry
as Pierce Egan in Walk’s Though Bath (1819) coyly describes it.
He had also been the Master of Ceremonies at Brighton since 1767 .After quitting Bath in 1777 he retired to Brighton where he was Master of Ceremonies till he died in 1809. Mr James King whom we know as the Master of Ceremonies at the Lower Rooms, indeed, as the very gentleman who effected the successful introduction of Henry Tilney to Miss Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, became the Master of Ceremonies at the upper Rooms in 1805 until his death at Cheltenham in 1816.
From the Octagon we can progress directly into the Tea Room. It was in this room that refreshments were served during Assemblies and where Public Breakfasts were taken. And it was also where the subscription concerts were held.
The three magnificent chandeliers in this room are the originals made by William Parker, supplier of chandeliers to the Prince of Wales at Carlton House.
This room is one of my most favourite rooms in the country. I love its restrained stone decoration.
And the gallery with its Corinthian Columns that run the length of the room,with the swags of flowers and fruit decorating the space in a quiet but very elegant way.
Again my photographs do not do justice to these wonderful chandeliers.They fail to capture the prisms of light that dart from the crystal…
The concerts in this room were first under the direction of Thomas Linley,shown below in a portrait painted by his friend, Thomas Gainsborough.
He was the father of the soprano Elizabeth Linley, seen here with her sister, again in a portrait by Gainsborough( she is on the left)
She of course was infamous for marrying teh playwright Sheridan after a scandalous elopement. Thomas Linley Junior known as the English Mozart,also performed here
seen here portrayed in a portrait by Gainsborough, above,and who perished in an untimely manner at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire in 1778.
From 1777 the Italian castrato and composer,Venanzio Rauzzini , below,was the director of the concerts. He was of course the man for whom Mozart wrote Exultate Jubilate.
In the Winter he lived in Bath in a town house Number 13 Gay Street, but in the summer he lived at nearby Widecombe and many famous musicians and composers were tempted to come to Bath to collaborate and perform with him. Possibly the most famous visitor was Joseph Haydn who on his visit in 1794 even wrote a canon in praise of Rauzzini’s deceased dog,Turk- “Turk was a faithful Dog“- while he was staying at Widecombe with the composer.
Here is an example of his work- a Sonata- Duetto, perfomred on a period instrument:
He died at his home in Gay Street, on 8 April 1810, while preparing for the Bath June music festival. Four days later the Bath Chronicle wrote:
In private life few men were more esteemed; none more generally beloved. A polished suavity of manners, a mild and cheerful disposition, and a copious fund of general and polite information, rendered him an attractive and agreeable companion. … In Mr. Rauzzini, this city has sustained a public loss.
He was buried in Bath Abbey, where there is a memorial to him erected by ‘his affectionate Pupils Anna Selina Storace and John Braham’.
Here is a copy of a programme for a subscription concert held in 1798. If you enlarge it by clicking on it you can see that the lyrics of the arias are clearly printed on the programme sheet,and this explains why Anne Elliot was able to translate lyrics at the behest of Mr Elliot and Miss Carteret much to Captain Wentworth’s annoyance.
And this concludes Lady Russell’s Winter Pleasures at the Upper Rooms..next, the Pump Room.
So..when Lady Russell ventures from her elegant lodgings in Rivers Street,what pleasures could she seek in Bath? She could go a short journey along River Street to the New Assembly Rooms for a ball. Now, today you will have to indulge me on this, for there is no evidence in Persuasion that Lady Russell visited the Assembly Rooms for a ball, but she did of course go there for a concert (more on that next time).
As you can see from this annotated section of the map of Bath dating from 1803, taken from my copy of A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places by John Feltham, The Assembly Rooms ,numbered “2″on the map,
and known in the early 19th century as the Upper Rooms in order to distinguish them from the Assembly Rooms in the older lower part of Bath near the river (the Lowers Rooms),were not far from Rivers-street.
This engraving of the imposing Upper Rooms, above, was taken from my copy of Walks though Baht by Pierce Egan (Do note all the illustrations in this post, as ever, can be enlarged by clicking on them.)
This is the floor plan of the rooms ,which were designed and built by John Wood the Younger between 1769 and 1771. This plan is taken from Walter Ison’s magisterial book on Georgian Bath, “The Georgian Buildings of Bath”, which I reviewed here.
But however reluctant Lady Russell may seem on dancing… let’s concentrate on the ballroom in this post…above is the entrance,with its severe portico…
Chairs were an important from of transport in Georgian Bath, for due to its very steep,hilly terrain, it was not easy for carriages to negotiate its steep and sometimes winding roads. So, Lady Russell may have arrived at the Upper Rooms by chair…as Catherine Moreland did, arriving at the Theatre Royal in Bath in one in Northanger Abbey.
This is a rather elegant and luxurious example which is on display in the vestibule of the Upper Rooms today.
To gain access to the ballroom, Laady Russell would first process along the vestibule having quitted her chair there, progress into the Small Octagon, and then turning left would enter the Ball Room.
When I visited the rooms to take this photographs this room was set up for a wedding reception: what a wonderful place to celebrate a marriage! However, it did limit the photographs I could take…I’ll jsut have to go back yet again(what a trial!) But if you go to the Fashion Museum website and click on the link on the bottom right here, View the Assembly Room Tours you will be able to virtually visit the Rooms,and especially to see the details of the ballroom with its wonderful musicians gallery which I was unable to photograph.
To give you some idea of the massive scale of this room, let me quote from Pierce Egan’s Walks though Bath, 1819 for a view of someone who visited it in the early 19th century:
The elegance of the ball-room astonishes every spectator, it is 100 feet 8 inches long, 42 feet 8 inches wide and 42 feet 6 inches high. ~The ceiling is beautiful ornamented with pannels(sic) with open compartments, and from which are suspended five superb glass chandeliers; and the windows from which the rooms receive daylight are on a ball night covered with boards painted with ornaments on them to correspond with the uniformity on the other side of the room. The walls are also painted and decorated in the most tasteful style; and the Corinthian columns and entablature resemble statuary marble. At each end of the room are placed in magnificent gilt frames, the most splendid looking glasses to give effect to the general brilliant appearance.
In its heyday, during the late 18th century, this room could hold as many as 800 dancers,the sort of crowds poor Catherine Morland had to contend with on her first visit there:
Mrs. Allen was so long in dressing that they did not enter the ballroom till late. The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. As for Mr. Allen, he repaired directly to the card–room, and left them to enjoy a mob by themselves. With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protegee, Mrs. Allen made her way through the throng of men by the door, as swiftly as the necessary caution would allow; Catherine, however, kept close at her side, and linked her arm too firmly within her friend’s to be torn asunder by any common effort of a struggling assembly. But to her utter amazement she found that to proceed along the room was by no means the way to disengage themselves from the crowd; it seemed rather to increase as they went on, whereas she had imagined that when once fairly within the door, they should easily find seats and be able to watch the dances with perfect convenience. But this was far from being the case, and though by unwearied diligence they gained even the top of the room, their situation was just the same; they saw nothing of the dancers but the high feathers of some of the ladies. Still they moved on — something better was yet in view; and by a continued exertion of strength and ingenuity they found themselves at last in the passage behind the highest bench. Here there was something less of crowd than below; and hence Miss Morland had a comprehensive view of all the company beneath her, and of all the dangers of her late passage through them. It was a splendid sight, and she began, for the first time that evening, to feel herself at a ball: she longed to dance, but she had not an acquaintance in the room.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 2.
At the end of the season,the rooms could be quite deserted, as Jane Austen noted in her letter to Cassandra, dated 12th May 1801:
In the evening, I hope you honoured my toilette and ball with a thought; I dressed myself as well as I could, and had all my finery much admired at home. By nine o’clock my uncle, aunt, and I entered the rooms, and linked Miss Winstone on to us. Before tea it was rather a dull affair; but then the before tea did not last long, for there was only one dance, danced by four couple. Think of four couple, surrounded by about an hundred people, dancing in the Upper Rooms at Bath.
and by the time she wrote Persuasion, in 1816,the fashion was definitely shifting towards private parties not great formal assemblies open to all and sundry. And lest we think that these elegant places were always inhabited by decourous people, in the same letter, Jane Austen also noted drunken goings on:
Mrs. B. and two young women were of the same party, except when Mrs. B. thought herself obliged to leave them to run round the room after her drunken husband. His avoidance, and her pursuit, with the probable intoxication of both, was an amusing scene.
The chandeliers as Pierce Egan noted above, are spectacular. The orignal chandeliers were supplied to the Upper Rooms Furnishing Committee by Jonathon Collett,at a cost of £400 for the five which were to hang in the ballroom. In October 1771, a month after the rooms opened a disaster concerning them was luckily avoided. One of the arms of the chandeliers in the ballroom fell, narrowly missing (and injuring) Thomas Gainsborough the artist. The chandeliers were found to have severe defects, and were replaced by five commissioned from William Parker, supplier of chandeliers to The Prince of Wales, whose trade card is shown below.
He had already provided the Furnishing Committee with chandeliers for the Tea Room, and now was commissioned to make replacements. His work is simply amazingly and breathtakingly beautiful. It cost the owners of the Rooms £556, 3 shillings and 6 pence to provide candles and oil for the lamps in the other rooms, in the first season of 1771-2.
The assembles of the 18th century were new social phenomena.They allowed, in the main, people from different classes to mingle, the Master of Ceremonies entrusted to introduce previously unknown parties. Beau Nash, the first Master of Ceremonies in Bath drew up a series of rules for governing behaviour in assemblies which were adopted, in one way or another, as a good method of keeping order by nearly all the other assemblies in England.
The rules for the Assembly changed with each successive Master of Ceremonies-and I will be writing more on them in the next post .In 1816 the were as follows:
That the Balls at these Rooms do commence at eight o’clock in the evening; a quarter o f a hour before which time the Rooms shall regularly and properly be lighted up;and that the dancing shall cease at half -past eleven o’clock precisely, except on the night of the King’s Birthday and on the nights of the two balls given for the Master of Ceremonies when the time of dancing shall be unlimited.
That every person on admission to these Rooms on ball-nights shall pay sixpence for their tea.
That the three front benches at the upper end of the room be reserved for ladies of precedence, of the rank of Peeresses of Great Britain or Ireland
That a reasonable time shall be allowed between the minuets and Country-Dances for ladies of precedence to take their own places in the dance; and that those ladies who shall stand up after the dance shall have commenced must tale their places successively at the bottom
That no lady after she shall have taken her place in the set do permit another to come above her in the dance.
That ladies are to be considered perfectly free in regard to accepting or declining partners
That it is the positive order of the Committee that no servant whatever shall be admitted into the vestibule or gallery on any occasion or on any pretence whatever on ball-nights.
That no gentleman in boots or half boots be admitted into the Ball-Room on ball-nights except Officers of the Navy or of the army on duty in uniform; and then without their swords.
Trowsers(sic)or colored pantaloons not to be permitted on any account.
There wer also rules regulating the Master of Ceremonies and his duties:
That the Master of Ceremonies do attend at a quarter of an hour before eight o’clock on ball nights to receive the company.
That the Master of Ceremonies on observing or receiving information of any persons acting in opposition to these resolutions do signify to such person that as Master of Ceremonies it is his duty to see that proper decorum be preserved, and these orders obeyed; in the proper and impartial execution of which duty he will be supported by the subscribers at large
Resolved that these regulations be printed, framed and glazed and fixed in a conspicuous part of the Room for public information; not to be taken down on any pretence whatever on order that they may remain as a pubic document.
Here is an advertisement for a series of Subscription Dress Balls for the season 1811-1812
It is the bleak midwinter, cold and dark, and, siting here in Darkest Lincolnshire what I am really desiring is a little quiet cheerfulness. I could do worse than to emulate Lady Russell of Persuasion and take a little sojourn in Bath:
When Lady Russell, not long afterwards, was entering Bath on a wet afternoon, and driving through the long course of streets from the Old Bridge to Camden Place, amidst the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newsmen, muffin-men, and milk-men, and the ceaseless clink of pattens, she made no complaint. No, these were noises which belonged to the winter pleasures: her spirits rose under their influence; and like Mrs. Musgrove, she was feeling, though not saying, that after being long in the country, nothing could be so good for her as a little quiet cheerfulness.
However, I can’t to do this in reality as I have duties to fulfill,and so do you, I suspect. So, shall we shall visit Lady Russell’s (and Anne Elliot’s ) winter pleasures in Bath digitally. Shall we? Yes, let’s…
Lady Russell and Anne Elliot travelled to Bath from Kellynch Lodge which was probably near to the market town of Crewkherne in Somersetshire from the evidence in the text of Persuasion .Here, below, is their most likely route, delineated in red, and which would have taken them from Crewkherne (1) to Bath (2) via Glastonbury and Wells. This map of Somerset by John Cary is taken from my copy of his Travellers Companion of 1812: (Do note you can enlarge all the illustrations here by simply clicking on them)
The market town of Crewkherne was probably the first place where Lady Russell’s carriage horses were changed on the journey. This would allow her groom or other servant to take her horses back to her stables at Kellynch Lodge. Horses could be hired at inns along the route,and were probably changed every 20 or so miles. The next change would probably take place at Glastonbury, famed now for rock concerts, but then for its fine ruined abbey. Here it is below,taken from my copy of the Somerset volume of The Beauties of England and Wales by the Reverend J Nightingale (1813):
According to Cary’s Travellers Companion(1812) there were two inns at Glastonbury : the White Hart, opposite the Abbey, which dated from the 15th century and still exists, and the George Inn in the High Street. This is a view of the centre of the town also from The Beauties of England and Wales. It shows the George Inn, which also still exists( it is the building with the sign hanging from it, on the left.
I wonder which inn Lady Russell chose ? I should imagine Anne Elliot liked the antiquity of the place…
This is a description of the town from the same volume:
THis town is situated in the Isle of Avalon so called from its apples or from Avallac a British chief said to have first pitched his residence here..Like Wells Glastonbury is indebted for its origin to its monastic institutions which claim the hour of having existed from a period nearly coeval with Christianity. According to the monkish annuals Glastonbury was first instituted by St Joseph of Arimathea who buried the body of our Saviour, and whom Phillip the apostle of Gaul sent to preach the gospel in Britain….
The next interesting place on their route would have been Wells, again the home of a famous abbey
The town of Wells situated in the hundred of Well’s-Forum, is said to have been at one time the first city in the county of Somerset. Even at this day though far inferior to Bath in splendour of appearance and fashionable elegance, it has considerable claims to the attention of the topographer and possesses many charms for the lover of social retirement…Wells is very pleasantly situated under the Mendip Hills which recede from it in the form of an amphitheatre sheltering it to the north, while fertile and extensive meadows range themselves to the south…the Cathedral is in the form of a cross…
Leaving Wells, the journey to Bath would be a distance of about 20 miles. Anne Elliot and Lady Russell would approach the city from the south, having the upper town before them as in this view taken from my copy of A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places by R. Phillips (1803).
They crossed the Old Bridge, the old medieval bridge shown below (as opposed to the new Pulteney Bridge which gave access to the new developments in Bathwick).
This is the immediate view of the bridge that they may have seen from their carriage:
Here you can se the bridge crossing the River Avon on this section of the map of Bath dating from 1803
They then made their way through the noisy lower reaches of Bath till they reached the elegant Upper Town,
where Anne Elliot was deposited at Camden Crescent , that place that held the cold welcome of her odious father, sister and the foul Mrs Clay…..
while the luckier Lady Russell went back downhill to her solitary but elegant lodgings in Rivers Street, shown here looking towards the Upper Rooms in Bennet Street.
And when we and they are rested, we will visit some of the places that constituted their Winter Pleasures in Bath.
or so the saying goes…..
I am about to confess some recent antiquarian book purchases to you. In my defence, I will, of course, be sharing the contents of them with you in due course, so I’ve not been that extravagant. In truth I haven’t …I managed to purchase these books at quite amazing prices considering the contents. Of course some of them are not in very good condition,but as it is the content that I seek, I simply don’t care about aesthetics.
The first is a very good world gazetteer, Geography Illustrated on a Popular Plan for the Use of Schools and Young Persons by the Reverend J. Goldsmith
This is fabulously intact, still illustrated with many maps and engravings of places mentioned in the text.
Above is its view Kamskatchkan travellers. Kamskatchka was of course a place with which Jane Austen was very and amusingly familiar, using it as she did in her Plan of A Novel, as possibly the furthest place from England that she could imagine. She wrote her furious and funny attack as a result partly of receiving “helpful” suggestions of plots for novels from the Reverend Stanier Clarke etc etc
At last, hunted out of civilized Society, denied the poor Shelter of the humblest Cottage, they are compelled to retreat into Kamschatka where the poor Father, quite worn down, finding his end approaching, throws himself on the Ground, and after 4 or 5 hours of tender advice and parental Admonition to his miserable Child, expires in a fine burst of Literary Enthusiasm, intermingled with Invectives against holders of Tithes.
A real find in a local second-hand bookshop was this set of five volumes of the Middlesex volumes of The Beauties of England and Wales by Edward Wedlake Brayley and John Britton (1800-1815).
Ex-Library copies, their bindings are not the best, but they contain the most detailed descriptions of the topography and history of the counties of England. Middlesex is a marvellous county to have , for it included London and most of its environs in Jane Austen’s era, and so there are detailed descriptions of most of the places in London that Jane Austen knew and wrote about in these volumes. I’m enjoying dipping into them at the moment….
Amazingly, because they command reasonable prices on the print market, most of the engravings are intact in these volumes. Here is one of the Herald’s College.
This is an immensely interesting book, delineating four excursions from the city of Bath, with very detailed and idiosyncratic descriptions of the interesting places to be found en route. Each of the four exclusions is illustrated by a charmingly naive map: this is the route of the first excursion:
It also has great significance for those of us interested in the contents of Jane Austen’s library, for she actually owned a copy of this book. David Gilson in his Bibliography of Jane Austen describes the copy now owned by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust at the Jane Austen House Museum, which was annotated bythe Reverend Geroge Austen and was probably given by him to Jane.
I shall enjoy reading these books with you here and I shall be posting about them from time to time over the next few months. Do join me, won’t you?
It might at first appear strange that I am reviewing a book that was first published in 1948, but it has recently been re-printed in facsimile foom by Spire Books Ltd in association with the Bath Preservation Trust (whose property, Number 1 The Royal Crescent, is used to illustrate the cover of this book)
Walter Ison’s book is in fact an established classic and a deserves to be read and enjoyed by anyone who has visited Bath and has fallen under the spell of its Georgian Buildings; or, indeed, by anyone who has never been lucky enough to visit but has likewise fallen under its spell after reading about the city in such books as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, where the buildings and city of Bath are essential elements of the book, the city being a character in its own right.
The first copy of this book that I owned was the edition that was revised and published in 1980 (see below) where the photographs were embedded in the text. The new edition is much more clearly set out, as was the original 1948 edition, with two distinct sections -text and line drawings in part one, then photographs and reproductions of contemporary engravings in part two: I much prefer it.
The new edition has an informative foreword by Michael Forsyth who is the Director of Studies in theConservation of Historic Buildings at the University of Bath and is also the author of another book on the architecture of Bath, the Yale Pevsner Guide to Baht, an excellent work, which was first published in 2003.
Walter Ison was born in another spa town, Leamington Spa in Warwickshire in 1908.He became a draftsman in an architectural practice in London where he first read Mowbray Green’s study of Georgian Bath, “Eighteenth Century Architecture of Bath“,which fired his imagination. It is no lie to say that he became obsessed with the city and the history of its development and its buildings. Bath degenerated as a spa town from the mid to late 19th century. It was not until the 1930s that it was realised that something had to be done to stop the city decaying completely and such treasures as the Assembly Rooms were at last recognised as being buildings of merit and, as such, were deserving of restoration and protection. In 1934 the Bath Preservation Trust was established and in 1936-8 the Assembly Rooms were restored. The Second World War then intervened and Bath was badly damaged by the so-called Baedeker offensive of 1942: 400 lives were lost and 329 buildings were destroyed in those air-raids, including the newly restored Assembly Rooms. A further 732 buildings were demolished as a result of damage in later air raids,and another 20,000 buildings were recorded by the City Engineer as having been damaged in some way as a result of the attacks.
Ison moved to Bath after his war time service with the air force ended, on the encouragement of his wife, Leonora. She also donated an important personal legacy to him, so that he had the funds with which to be able to research,write and finish his proposed book. Taking his inspiration from earlier histories of the buildings of Bath, including John Wood the Elder’s own version(see above) his resulting book is a comprehensive history of the building of the city and all its major buildings, and the architects responsible. The book was rather touchingly and appropriately dedicated to his wife.
The book is divided into chapters which deal with the development of the city, the pubic buildings,domestic buildings and representative buildings of the period 1700-1725, 1726-1750, 1750-1775, 1775-1800 and finally 1800-1830. The text of the book is also studded with magnificent plans and line drawings of the important buildings. Above is his ground plan, section and elevation of the Hot Bath where Mrs Smith in Persuasion went to receive her treatment, living close by in the lowly Westgate Buildings.
The second part of the book is filled with contemporary engravings -such as this, above of the Pump Room and the new private baths from Stall Street and photographs( all in black and white) taken mostly in the late 1940s
Now, it has to be remembered that when Jane Austen knew Bath the buildings were not yet blackened with industrial grime. This photograph of Great Pultney Street from Ison’s book shows the buildings as I first remember them from my first visit to the city aged 5 in the early 1960s. The soot and grime of the Victorian era -coal fires and grime from the nearby industrial town of Bristol- had turned most of the buildings black, and it was only from the mid 195os that a programme of cleaning and the effects of the Clean Air Acts enabled them to be returned almost to the white glare of the newly recreated limestone buildings that so distressed Anne Elliot in Persuasion. But the photographs now have a period charm of their own-the cars and sometimes the 1940s fashions of the people shown in them are now as fascinating to me as the sedan chair and muslins of the inhabitants of the 18th century prints and engravings
(My photograph of Pulteney Street taken this summer)
Interior views are also inlcuded: not only of the great public buildings like the Guildhall, but of more domestic settings as such as this first floor drawing room of number 41 Gay Street: Jane Austen, remember, lived briefly at number 25 Gay Street after the death of her father, and in Persuasion it was the home of The Crofts.
The book is easy to read and comprehensively covers every aspect of the creation of the famed Georgian buildings in the city. Walter Ison died in 1997, and this new edition ensures that his book will live on as a classic, in his memory. I can highly recommend this magnificent book, and do hope that some of you are tempted by this review to rush out and buy it.
On my recent jaunt to Bath I paid my usual visit to the Museum of Costume which is to be found in the basement area of the Assembly Rooms. This place is always a delight to visit: the staff are helpful and knowledgeable and the collection is magnificent.
Because of its situation-in the heart of the rooms peopled by the fashionable set of 18th century Bath- there are always examples of 18th century/early 19th century costumes on show to satisfy people obsessed with our era, but there are always many other interesting clothing related exhibits too. This year the exhibits (which are constantly changing to give the dresses time to rest and to provide different points of interest to frequent visitors) have no examples of costumes prior to the 18th century on show other than a marvellous exhibit of 17th century gloves,so I missed seeing my favourite 1660s dress made of shimmering silver tissue: but there were special exhibits of The Diana Dresses showing some of the late Princess of Wales’ iconic clothes, which brought back many memories, and as ever, the fascinating Dress of the Year exhibit, a dress chosen by the staff as being most representative of that particular year.
and this beautiful Karl Lagerfeld ensemble which won the accolade in 2008.
The museum was founded in 1963 by the scholar, designer and collector, Doris Langley Moore
She favoured a phorensic approach to researching fashion history and encouraged examining real examples of clothing to discover the truth about fashion from the pst. She also encouraged the collecting of modern classics, as well as collecting and preserving clothes from the past. She was friends with Anne Buck and C. Willet Cunningham and their combined scholarship has transformed our understanding of historic clothes.
The 18th and early 19th centuries were well represented in the galleries, and I would like to show you some of the dresses that were on show.
A marvellous sack dress made with silver thread: this would have surely fascinated quietly in the candle-lit assembly rooms of Bath of the 1760 and 70s
A pair of stays circa 1775, the year Jane Austen was born. Worn over a linen sift and made of stout linen.The corset was stiffened with whalebone and a rigid busk of wood or horn or even ivory was inserted into the centre front to keep it rigid. No, thank you…..
Though wide skirts of this very rectangular shape had passed out of fashion in the early 1750s the style was retained for court dresses. This is an example of such a dress made of French silk covered with a gold strip and brocaded with coloured silks and chenille thread.
A printed cotton dress of the circa 1795, fashionable at the time Jane Austen was writing her first draft of Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions. A late example of the 18th century style of dress, of the open robe and petticoat type which was to be superseded by the type of dresses seen below, a one piece dress, put on by placing it over the head of the wearer, unlike this style, which the wearer put on like a coat, sleeves first.
These are two embroidered cotton muslin dresses, one having tambour work embroidery , both circa 1800
The dress on the left, above, is made from plain and undecorated white cotton, which reflects a shot lived fashion for severe plainness in dress in England dating from around 1800. Cotton, grown in America was imported into England and produced in mills such as those owned by Samuel Oldknow of Stockport( more on him later in the year!)
This is a stunningly simple dress, circa 1806, made of cotton muslin embroidered with tiny sliced cylinders of white glass which produced a shimmering effect: marvellous in a candle lit room, don’t you think?
Additional fabric has been pleaded into the centre of the back of the dress to create a small train and to allow the skirt of the dress to drape gently around the legs of the wearer.
These are interesting dresses date from 1815. They are both made of brown silk gauze with yellow and blue stripes. They are reputed to have been worn by the Misses Percival at the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball held in Brussels in June 1815 immediately prior to the Battle of Waterloo. There is no conclusive evidence to support this claim but the museum ‘s curator did make the point that long-sleeved dresses were fashionable as evening dresses at the time so they could quite possibly qualify as having been worn at that event. If only they could talk!!
This is a wedding dress from America made at the turn of the 19th century which took my eye…
And because the staff understand that everyone likes to dress up, children’s sporting clothes from the 1880s are available for all to use…
As are some wonderfully swish-y crinolines and different types of corsets from differing eras. We had great fun trying them out and watching other people play….
So there it is, my impressions of a trip to the Costume Museum in the summer of 2010. Do go if you ever have the chance, for you will not regret it. And of course you can also visit the Assembly Rooms at the same time. More on those next week ;-)
The Georgian Garden in Bath is a marvellous and very rare example of the type of garden that many of Jane Austen’s characters and, indeed, Jane Austen herself may have experienced while living in a Georgian town house, not necessarily only in Bath but in London too. This town house garden is now to be found situated to the rear of Number 4,The Circus ( the house is not open to the public, note).
Let’s see where in Bath this garden is to be found. Here is part of my 1802 map of Bath taken from John Feltham’s book, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places ,
showing the area of the Circus and the Gravel Walk, and here is it annotated with the approximate position of the Garden (1) and the House (2).
To gain access to the garden you have to walk along the Gravel Walk, which connects the Royal Crescent with Queen’s Square, and which was, of course, the secluded, gently rising walk that Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot of Persuasion took when they were finally reconciled, engrossed in each others revelations but not so blind as to realise that the path they were taking was the long way round to Sir Walter’s home in Camden Crescent ;-)
These insignificant doors set into the wall surrounding the gardens (seen to the left of the photograph)are the rear entrances to the gardens to the houses.
They hide many treasures and due to the benevolence of the Bath and North East Somerset Council , anyone visiting Bath can now experience what the gardens of these townhouses were like. Access to the garden is totally free of charge and the garden is open all year round. How truly admirable.
Number 4 the Circus was completed in 1761, part of John Wood the Elders scheme for the new Upper Town. In February 1754, Wood laid the foundation stone of the very first house, but, sadly, just three months later, he died. It was left to his son, John Wood the Younger, to complete and oversee the construction of the King’s Circus, as it was originally called. The frontages of the 33 houses are uniform ( though as you can see from the photograph below, the rear of the houses are an entirely different story).
Each house is decorated with elements of the three great Classical orders of architecture: the ground floor decorated in the style of the Doric order , the second in the Ionic order , and the third floor, the Corinthian.
The Circus was, as you can see from the section of the map, above, built in three segments of 11 houses.The circular area that the houses encircle was originally cobbled and had a covered reservoir which supplied water to the houses. This central island is now covered with grass and five great plane trees, which were planted in the early nineteenth century provide shade, but do block the views. Above is the view of the Circus looking towards Gay Street. Sadly no plans exist to show us how the gardens to the rear of these houses appeared in the Georgian era. As you can see from the map of the Circus above, only approximations of the gardens behind these houses were made by the then mapmaker.
However as a result of recent extensive excavations it has been possible to reconstruct how the garden would have appeared in the late 18th century. Walled on four sides, it provided a private, decorative space for the occupier of the house.
Here is a plan of the garden as it appeared when it was first built. Do note that all the photographs and plans in this post can be enlarged by clicking on them, so that you may enjoy the detail.
And here is a key of the plan showing the different elements of the garden:
The Bath Archeological Trust undertook excavations of the garden in 1985 for by then the original Georgian structure of the garden had been lost under later improvements. The walled garden that was then to the rear of Number 4 the Circus was Victorian in the main, and boasted a lawn, a rockery, a classical pavilion and a fish pond which both dated from the 1920s. This is a plan of the garden as it was before the excavation began (again, please use the same key above to discern the different elements of the garden).
The Georgian garden as revealed by the excavations had no grass or lawn at all. It was a very formal design and most of the garden was covered with a surface of gravel mixed with clay. This would have needed to have been rolled regularly to keep it in order,and was much kinder to walk on than wet grass to the fashionable fabric shoes of the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Here is a period roller, placed in the garden to remind you that while it is practical, this surface is not maintenance fee.
Here is a view of the garden of 10 Downing Street by George Lambert , circa 1736-1740,
and this close up of part of the painting showing the roller in use at that time:
As you can see from the plan and the photographs, the walled garden to Number 4, the Circus also has small flower beds around the walls, and three flower beds along the central axis of the garden. All are now edged in box. Its design was very similar to this one by J. A. Smith dating from 1807.
The geometric design of the garden was quite deliberate: it was to be seen to its best advantage when viewed from the upper windows of the house that over looked it. Around 1770 a flight of steps was added to the rear of the garden to give access to the newly created Gravel Walk.
It has now been completely renovated and planted with only shrubs and flowers that would have been available in the 18th century.Which means that at this time of the year, early August, there are few flowers available -no repeat flowering roses for example.Luckily, the structure is interesting in itself and of course the fashionable would not be in town or Bath at this time but away on their country estates ;-) An appropriate garden seat has also been added which faces the house:
We ought to perhaps recall that the small domestic private gardens of the 18th century town house were innovations. At the beginning of the 18th century, town houses often had nothing by way of a garden but a simple paved yard, but by the advent of the early 19th century a walled garden, home to flowers and shrubs was to be found at the rear of the terraced house homes of the middling and upper classes who lived in English cities. The Georgian Garden in Bath is a remarkable survivor of this type of garden, and if you are visiting Bath do not miss it. It is not advertised much at all and is almost hidden in the corner of the Gravel Walk. But do seek it out: its secluded peace is great to explore and the atmosphere is very different to the walled gardens to be found in towns today.
I won’t be posting over the next few days, but I will be Twittering, and Twitpic-ing especially. The subject? My jaunt to Bath.
So if you are on Twitter and want to accompany me to the city where Jane Austen lived, where Catherine Morland met Henry Tilney and where Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth finally came to an understanding then do join in and follow me from my Twitter page here for all the details.
If you are not on Twitter, then you can access the latest tweets on this page, under the AustenOnly icon, shown below,
which you can find in the right hand column to this page (again, if you click on the icon it will take you directly to the AustenOnly Twitter page).
I’ll be back this time next week with many Austen-related travellers tale to tell ;-) Adieu!!