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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 ….
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.
Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 3
Oh, dear…the unreconstructed Darcy at his worst. He didn’t make many friends that evening at the Meryton Assembly did he?
But, do you ever wonder about the nature of pubic assemblies and how they began? Assembly Rooms epitomise , for me at least, certain aspects of Georgian life which have disappeared for ever: public assemblies of the company, where local people -often of differing social classes- could socialise, dance ( in the Ballroom), gamble ( in the Card Room) and take fashionable refreshments ( in the Tea Room). If the intricacies of this type of entertainment has ever intrigued you while reading Jane Austen, then this next short series of posts is for you. Let’s look at how they began, developed, the sort of rooms they begat, their rules and the personnel involved, and the ones Jane Austen knew.(Well, that should keep us busy for the next few days….)
The fashion for public assemblies- balls where people from the genteel or trade classes in an area could meet together to socialise in an elegant environment -began in the early 18th century. The first assemblies were where genteel people met for conversation, taking tea and playing cards. Dancing was added to the agenda soon after, and during the 1720s this type of assembly became very, very popular. These first public assemblies were held in any large room or building which could accommodate a great gathering of people who wanted to dance country dances. The very nature of these dances called for a long room, that is longer than it was wide. An example of an existing building being adapted for use for assemblies, is the Guildhall in Boston, Lincolnshire. In early 18th century Boston assemblies were held not in a specially built set of assembly rooms but in “The Big Room” in the Guildhall, a building which was originally built in the 14th century. The room was newly fitted out with sash windows, it had a first floor gallery for the musicians and it had benches fitted around the walls to accommodate those not dancing. This was to become the pattern for ballrooms in sets of assembly rooms all over the country. Here, below, is an illustration by Rowlandson from my copy of The Poetical Sketches of Scarborough,(1813) and it contains many elements with which we are familiar from reading Jane Austen’s descriptions of balls. Let’s look at the print in some detail. You can see that the ballroom is separated from the tea room and the card room by arches; the musicians are above the company in a gallery, just visible to the right of the picture:
You can also see that those not dancing are promenading about, and some are sitting on benches arranged around the walls, to the rear of the picture , under the curtained windows. There are chaperones, older men and couples. Note the presence of a clergyman -dressed in black, centre front- dancing, just like Mr Collins would do at the Netherfield Ball. And also note the presence of children, to the right of the picture, exactly as Jane Austen describes in this scene from her unfinished fragment, The Watsons. The assembly scene in this fragment is full of exquisite details, and confirms that the presence of young children was a usual thing. In this scene, quoted below, the young boy, Charles, is disappointed when Miss Osbourne quite unfeelingly fails to dance with him preferring instead to dance with Colonel Beresford, despite having previously promised Charles a dance:
If the poor little boy’s face had in its happiness been interesting to Emma, it was infinitely more so under this sudden reverse; he stood the picture of disappointment, with crimsoned cheeks, quivering lips, and eyes bent on the floor. His mother, stifling her own mortification, tried to soothe his with the prospect of Miss Osborne’s second promise; but though he contrived to utter, with an effort of boyish bravery, “Oh, I do not mind it!” it was very evident, by the unceasing agitation of his features, that he minded it as much as ever.
Emma did not think or reflect; she felt and acted. “I shall be very happy to dance with you, sir, if you like it,” said she, holding out her hand with the most unaffected good-humour. The boy, in one moment restored to all his first delight, looked joyfully at his mother; and stepping forwards with an honest and simple “Thank you, ma’am,” was instantly ready to attend his new acquaintance. The thankfulness of Mrs. Blake was more diffuse; with a look most expressive of unexpected pleasure and lively gratitude, she turned to her neighbour with repeated and fervent acknowledgments of so great and condescending a kindness to her boy. Emma, with perfect truth, could assure her that she could not be giving greater pleasure than she felt herself; and Charles being provided with his gloves and charged to keep them on, they joined the set which was now rapidly forming, with nearly equal complacency…
It is very apparent that Jane Austen knew, from her descriptions of balls and assemblies in her novels, that people not only found happiness, but sometimes humiliations in these places.
Back to assemblies…It soon became clear that these assemblies were an ideal place for a marriage market to thrive. Daniel Defoe in his Tour of Great Britain (1727) was appalled by this aspect of assembly balls. In his withering comments made on the Winchester and the Dorset assemblies, you can clearly see that he was not at all impressed. With regard to the assemblies in Winchester, where the gentry and wealthy clergy mixed, he dourly and ironically noted that:
As there is such good company, so they are gotten into that new-fashioned way of conversing by Assemblies. I shall do no more than mention them here: they are pleasant and agreeable to the young people,and sometime fatal to them, of which in its place Winchester has its share of the mirth: may it escape the ill consequences…
In Dorset he noted that the ladies:
…do not want the Help of Assemblies to assist in match-making; or half pay officer to run away with their daughters…
Mrs Bennet ought, perhaps,to have taken note.
These assemblies became, quite understandably, very popular, despite Defoe’s misgivings, and soon they developed from being held in rooms in existing buildings or inns(as in the Crown in Emma) to being put on in purpose-built sets of Assembly Rooms, and these began to spring up in towns all over the country. The earliest purpose-built rooms to survive are those in Stamford in Lincolnshire, which I wrote about, here .
You can see , in the picture of the ballroom, above, the raised dais for the musicians,( a development of the late 18th century), the benches set around the walls, the fireplaces to keep people warm and the magnificent chandeliers to provide an expensive and beautiful illumination to the room. Compare it to the Scarborough picture above, and you will find many common elements. This set was first built in 1726.
Lord Burlington designed the Assembly Rooms in York, and they were built between 1728-30, but sadly they were a triumph of form over function.
The ballroom was a beautiful but rather impractical design: a recreation of an “Egyptian Hall”, which you can see here, below, hosting a modern “Georgian Ball”:
The room, though stunningly beautiful, originally had no gallery for the musicians and no heating. Chaperones and spectators had to view the dancing through the colums which lined the area for dancing, and when benches were eventually introduced to make their watch more comfortable, they made the space rather cramped. The area for dancing also disappointed: at 28 feet wide it was rather too narrow for the two parallel sets of dancers which was the norm for large assemblies.
The purpose-built assembly rooms nearly always followed a similar pattern: here is the floor-plan of the Upper Rooms at Bath, as designed by John Wood, and you can clearly see the large ballroom with its musicians gallery, the separate card room (which also had a musicians gallery),where Mr Allen in Northanger Abbey took refuge from the dancing and talk of muslins, and the tea room where refreshments could be taken. Note also the colonnade for the sedan chairs used so profusely in the Bath terrain, and the separate entrance for carriages.
Similar smaller sets of rooms were found in many provincial towns and many had impressive features, for their object was to promote not only the impression that the rooms were a place of enjoyment but, importantly, were also an elegant place for “the company” to gather together. Hertford, which we have seen was most probably the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Meryton, had the impressive Shire Hall, below:
This large building, designed by the architect, Robert Adam’s brother, James, was multi-purpose. It not only houses a ballroom where dances took place, but the courts where criminal and civil cases were (and are) heard. Very handy for Sir William Lucas,as we shall see later in this series;)
Next, how these rooms were used.
On Monday evening BBC 1’s The One Show had a typically different take on the celebrations for the bicentenary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice. They broadcast a small item, presented by the comedian Arthur Smith, about Martha Lloyd’s Household Book and the type of food eaten by Jane Austen at Chawton Cottage.
Arthur visited what is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum, and was shown the Household Book on display there.
This recipes and remedies in this book were collected by Martha Lloyd, a long-standing friend of the family and who lived with the Austen ladies after her mother’s death. She eventually married one of Jane’s brothers, Francis. She was very close to Jane , and when reading Jane’s letters to her, the evidence is that she was, in my humble opinion, “almost another sister” and worthy of the epithet.
The book is a fascinating document. It is in manuscript, and the entries are written in many different hands. The book is full of recipes, household mixes and medicinal cures, and many Austen family members and friends contributed recipes to it. As a result we have a rather good idea of the type of food that was eaten at the cottage while Jane Austen was alive.
Arthur was given three dishes to eat, which were all prepared at the Pump Room in Bath, which now houses a restaurant, and was accompanied and advised by the food historian, Holly Newton.
Appropriately, he ate White Soup, as supplied by Mr Bingley to his guests at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice
Jugged Beef Steaks with potatoes…….
and Gooseberry Tart. It was a good section of the programme, though brief, and was a welcome alternative to the diet of “wet shirt ” admiration that some programmes fed to us! it was quite seriously undertaken, and was not at all frivolous. Replete with details of Jane’s life and how differently food was prepared and eaten during the early 19th century, I confess, I enjoyed it.
You have five days left to view the item on the BBC iPlayer, here, and the item began at approximately 23 minutes and 30 seconds into the programme.
This morning, while eating my toast and marmalade, I heard this entertaining Audio Boo clip ,which was part of BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme.
Written by the witty Sue Limb and performed by Timothy West,it is a three-minute long letter, giving us Mr Bennet’s perspective on 200 years of Pride and Prejudice, Austen mania ( and the never-ending related retail opportunities that seem to follow ) plus the effects of being married to Mrs Bennet for two centuries…..Go here to listen.
Tomorrow is the start of the celebrations.I will be posting here and all over the world celebrations will be taking place. A readathon of the novel will be taking place at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath ( though do note that there will also be one at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton on the 17th May, which I will be attending)… the excitement mounts…..here we go…
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.
Jacqueline Moen of the Smithsonian Insitute has asked me to give you news of a Jane Austen tour that the Smithsonian Journeys are organising this Christmas. And as someone who completed 80 % of her Christmas shopping last week, I have no shame in mentioning this Christmas tour to you in early October!
The tour, A Jane Austen Christmas, does sound very tempting and a lot of fun. The very cleverly planned itinerary is here for you to study and the tour has two beautiful bases, both closely associated with Jane Austen, the cities of Winchester and Bath. It takes place from the 20th -28th December. Here is an overview of what is on offer:
This Christmas join us for a unique holiday tour with a literary theme. Delve into Austen’s 19th-century world of English society as you explore the lovely cities of Winchester and Bath, where she lived and socialized. Travel in the company of Rosalind Hutchinson, a popular Smithsonian expert for literary and holiday tours. With Ros at your side, celebrate Christmas Day services in the sublime Winchester Cathedral, where a magnificent choir will sing sacred music accompanied by a historic organ with 5,500 pipes. Gather with new-found friends to pop a Christmas cracker, engage in conversation, and enjoy afternoon tea with Christmas mince pies and mulled wine. You’ll also follow the life and works of the English novelist, visiting Hampshire villages such as Steventon and Chawton, which shaped her life and stories, and residing in Winchester, where she spent her last years. Continuing to the World Heritage site of Bath, where Austen lived for five years, experience the epitome of Georgian society in such settings as the Royal Crescent and Assembly Rooms, which housed balls and public functions during Austen’s day. Literary fans will also learn more about the Regency period through a tour of the Fashion Museum and special meetings and events with experts from the Jane Austen Centre in Bath and The Jane Austen Society in Winchester.
Who wouldn’t be tempted by this? And to add to the attraction, the price of the tour( which does not cover the cost of travel to the starting point of Winchester in the UK, do note) is now subject to a discount of $250 per person. If you want to take advantage of this offer, DO NOT BOOK ONLINE but contact their call centre on (001 )855-330-1542 to speak with a Reservations Specialist, Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Eastern Time). The call centre will be aware of the discount they are offering.
If any of you do go, please let us know how it went!
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?
Jane Austen lived at Number 4 Sydney Place in Bath from the summer of 1801 until the summer of 1804, together with her parents, the Reverend George and Mrs. Austen, and Cassandra, her elder sister. I’ve written about it in the past and you can access those posts here and here.
It was then on the outskirts of Bath and was near to the Sydney Gardens where Jane enjoyed visiting the pleasure gardens, though she was not always too keen on the music performed there, as evidenced by this comment in her letter to Cassandra of the 2nd June 1799 ;)
There is to be a grand gala on Tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens-A concert with Illuminations and Fireworks; to the latter Elizabeth and I look forward with pleasure, and even the concert will have more than its usual charm with me, as the Gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.
The garden to a house a few doors down from Number 4 is open to the public to visit on Saturday 19th may and again on the 1st July. So if you can manage to go you will get an idea of the type of garden the Austens would have enjoyed while they lived at Number 4, and also get a view of the rear of number 4 in the bargain.
The garden is opened to benefit a local charity, The Dorothy House Hospice Care, and all the details of how to ge to the garden plus opening times and price of entry can be accessed here. I do wish I could attend!
Last week I reviewed Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke and Alan Borg. That book, while fascinating, gigantic in size and scope, and well worth its price, is rather expensive and I wanted to point you in the way of a more reasonably-priced soft cover book on the same topic, The English Pleasure Garden by Sarah Jane Downing, published by Shire.
This is not a very large book, only 64 page in all, but it manages to be a comprehensive overview on the subject of those lost pleasure gardens, which were such a feature of 18th /early 19th century life. It does not concentrate on one garden, but gives the reader a clear view of the rather short history of these gardens from their Stuart beginnings to their sad Victorian end.
There are chapters on the London gardens, and you may be interested to know that Vauxhall and Ranelagh were not the only gardens to visit. There were 64 pleasure gardens in London and its environs during this period. Here is a picture of one of the more rural pleasure gardens, Sadlers Wells, in Islington, then a small village just outside the city of London.
In the 18th century it was a place to take the waters, hence the name “wells” but today it is rather more well-known as the site of a theatre famous for staging dance in all its forms.
The seedier side of 18th century life that these gardens attracted is also addressed; here is an image from the late 18th century illustrating an intoxicated woman returning home very late (or, more probably, early in the morning!) from a masquerade. This type of image illustrated the growing concern for the immoral effect of masquerades, an entertainment that Ranelagh was famous for promoting.
A fascinating section of the book is its chapters on provincial pleasure gardens. Sydney Gardens in Bath is included, of course, and we all know that Jane Austen lived opposite them at Sydney Place when she first moved to Bath from Steventon in 1801.
But is it very interesting to read of other, less famous gardens in Norwich, Liverpool, Newcastle-upon-Tyne- so at least Lydia Wickham had one to attend to enjoy its weekly concerts!-and the lost pleasure garden of Duddeston in Birmingham, seen below, in a very rare image:
In so small a book something has to give: and that is first, the size of the illustrations. However they are many and varied and very useful. And the details can be easily seen by the use of a magnifying glass. Second, citations. It would have been helpful to have more sources listed other than the occasional acknowledgement to a museum or library. But, that would had added to both the size and cost of the book. Some things we have to forgive.
Overall, it is a very useful starting point for understanding these lost but once magical places. I can throughly recommend this book to you.
The BBC FOUR TV series, If Walls Could Talk concluded last night with a fascinating episode on the development of the kitchen throughout history.
I’ve not mentioned this programme to you before, because it is not primarily concerned with the era in which Jane Austen lived, being a general over-view of the development of key rooms in the house: the Living Room, the Bedroom, the Bathroom and in last night’s episode, the Kitchen.
The Kitchen, of course, developed apace during the 18th century and so I think you might like to see the interpretation of its history as it applies to our era, from last night’s show.
The series is presented by the rather endearing Dr Lucy Worsley who is the Chief Curator of the Historic Royal Palaces. She has come in for quite a lot of criticism for her presenting style, in particular for her habit of donning historic dress in every episode. Having now seen all the episodes I feel that when she did this in the company of other historical reenactors it made sense. She would look out of place in the swanky Victorian kitchen at Shugborough Hall, black leading the grate in modern dress when all about her were in pink maids uniforms and flounced aprons. But then I didn’t understand the need to dress up in a Georgian sack dress, when she was in the company of other experts, such as Professor Amanda Vickery, who were sporting modern dress. Ah, well….to Georgian Kitchens.
The great technological developments in our era, cast iron ovens raised from the ground fueled by the more efficient coal were considered. Dr Worsley experienced the hot and hard work of being a turnspit (dressed as a boy) in the Tudor kitchen at Hampton Court, and then the programme jumped to our era to consider one of the most intriguing labour-saving devices of the 18th century, the turnspit dog.
In West Street Lacock ( or Meryton or Highbury, given your choice of favourite adaptation!) in Wiltshire there still exists a public house , the George Inn,
which has retained a working turnspit which was once powered by the special turnspit dog, a breed of dog now extinct, shown below:
During the 18th century and until the early years of the 19th century this special breed of dogs were used, particularly in Bath, to turn the spit to roast meat, while running on a wheel attached to a wall, a subject that I’ve written about previously here. I wonder if any of the houses in which Jane Austen lived while in Bath had a similar contraption in their kitchens? I’ll bet they did….there is still one at Number 1 Royal Crescent.
Ivan Day, our friend of Historic Foods, was in charge of the operation. The dog they used to replace the turnspit was a modern border terrier, Coco.
She was placed in the wheel, shown above on the side of the chimney in the pub, and fed sausages hidden on the ledges in the wheel. Needless to day,Ivan Day’s doubts, that as Coco was not bred to the job and had longer legs than the original breed of dog, did prevail and she did not perform the job at all efficiently.
Dr Worsely, had to take over the job of turning the spit by hand via the wheel.
( And do let me rush to confirm and assure you that no dogs were hurt at all by the filming process: Coco was fed rather a lot of spit roasted mutton as payment for her valiant and good natured attempts to turn the wheel by Ivan who is a very lovely man and a confirmed dog lover!).
The next part of the programme took us up to Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire,
Robert Adams’ stern confection of a house built for Lord and Lady Scarsdale in the 1760s. Here we met with the fabulous food historian Peter Brears, who explained that the layout of this grand , up-to-the-minute country house was so designed that no cooking smells would ever permeate the rest of the house from the kitchen.Heaven forfend that aristocratic nostrils should be assaulted by cooking smells, like lesser motals who lived among their cooking pots !
If you look at the floor plan of Kedleston, below, you can see that
©The National Trust
it was first envisaged that the house would have a central block with four pavilions connected to the house by gently curved corridors, rather like the design for Holkham House in Norfolk.
Sadly only two pavilion wings were built.And you can see from the plan that the pavilion to the right housed the kitchen. This is now the National Trust tea room and in the programme though nearly everything tea room related had been cleared, you can just make out one of the large vending machines which was obviously plumbed-in in some way and could not be removed.
The kitchen with its stern warning shot to the staff, above,
The state dining room was decorated not with tapestries and carpets which would retain food odours, but with plain stuccoed walls and in the 18th century there would have been an oil cloth covering the floor. No aristocrat of this era wanted to be confronted with food smells unless the food was actually on his rather grand table.
And Robert Adam thoughtfully provided incense and pastille burners in the dining room to further cleanse the room of any lingering food smells.
Of course , it is a widely held belief that kitchens thus separated from dining rooms could only serve luke warm food at best.
Dr Worsley encouraged Mr Beares to run, while holding a tureen full of that Georgian staple, hot Pea Soup, along a route from the kitchen on the ground floor upstairs to the state dining room ( see the route above on the annotated plan) in order for him to prove that the food would not have arrived cold. Quite a sight to see….
This episode was one of the best of this series of four programmes. I’ve warmed to Dr Worsley’s presenting style as the series progressed, and hope you watch the four installments on series link on the BBC I player, linked above in the first paragraph, if you have missed it. Or look out for the DVD, which is sure to come. There is a book to accompany the series but I cannot comment on it as I’ve not read it, but do bear in mind that it covers periods before and after that in which we are interested if you have a mind to buy it.
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