Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bath in its Heyday - Entertainments - a historical Wednesday post

 As Bath became a fashionable city in the eighteenth century, visitors were driven to its entertainments for a variety of reasons. Entry to Bath society was not governed by the strict rules observed in London, and so a diverse variety of classes met and mixed, merchants in trade or squires from the country were able to fraternise with aristocrats and those in the first fashion. Subscriptions were paid for the balls in the assembly rooms at Harrison’s and Lindsey’s, or there were opportunities to mingle at the Pump Rooms and Gardens.
For mothers like Jane Austen’s Mrs Bennet, their daughters could be introduced to a marriage market they might not enjoy elsewhere, though as Catherine Morland finds out when she first arrives in Bath it’s not much fun if you do not know anyone.
The master of ceremonies had the job of introducing likely people into society, and one of the most famous was Beau Nash. He published a code of manners to help those who might not know how they were expected to behave, and these were posted in all the public places of the assembly, and in the annual Bath Guide.
Here are a few examples of his rules:
Gentlemen of Fashion never appearing in a Morning before the Ladies in Gowns and Caps, shew Breeding and Respect.

Ladies dressing and behaving like Handmaids must not be surprised if they are treated as Handmaids.

That the elder ladies and children be contented with a second bench at the ball, as being past or not come to perfection.

Chandeliers-Upper Assembly Rooms
He thought nothing of remonstrating with anyone who did not obey him, even refusing Princess Amelia, George the second’s daughter an extra dance after the clock struck eleven. But she forgave him, presenting him with a silver tureen when she left Bath. The Duchess of Queensberry, who appeared at the rooms in an apron was told ‘such things are suitable for Abigails’, even though it was of the finest lace and worth £200.

Once arrived in Bath a formal call on the Master of Ceremonies was made and if you were important enough for him to wait on you, the call would be returned. At the height of the season you might be introduced at a ball, as in Catherine Morland’s case in Northanger Abbey.

Not everyone attended the baths. It was an early morning jaunt, the bather was taken by sedan chair to the King’s, Queen’s or Cross Bath. The Queen’s Bath was for ladies only, and most were there for the healing benefits, not the society. The Cross Bath was used by the quality, purely for enjoyment. In the ‘slips’ or dressing rooms they were dressed by an attendant into canvas drawers and waistcoat for the men, and a loose gown with capacious sleeves for the ladies. Guides led the bathers into the water hanging onto them to make sure they didn’t fall over. Ladies received a little floating dish, like a basin, into which they put a handkerchief, a snuff-box, and a nose-gay. Men and women could bathe together, and it seems some took advantage of the situation.

Here is perform’d all the Wanton Dalliance imaginable; Celebrated Beauties, Painting Breasts, and Curious Shapes, almost expos’d to Public View; Languishing Eyes, Darting Glances, Tempting Amorous Postures, attended by soft Musick, enough to provoke a Vestal to forbidden Pleasures … Here were also different Sexes, from Quality to Honourable Knights, Country Puts and City Madams.

After about an hour it was time to leave. Here is a contemporary description.

Neither sex can come out of the King’s Bath without being stripped quite naked by an old woma who takes off the wet, and put on dry Apparel, for our part, we think, being thus stripped by an old Hagg, alive is but little better than being served the same Sauce when dead in the Field of Battle.

After paying for this delight the bathers were wrapped in blankets and taken back by sedan chair to their lodgings. They were taken sweating to bed, and when cool, got dressed and went out for breakfast either in a coffee house or by crossing the river in a ferry to sit in a pavilion in Spring Gardens. If you’ve been to Bath, this was an area near to where the boat trips still go today.

The site of Molland's Confectioner's
The Pump Room was visited between eight and nine for the usual prescription of three glasses of spa water and to meet friends. It’s still possible to try the waters, they are slightly warm with a strong sulphurous taste - not my favourite! After that the ladies might return to their lodging houses or meet in a coffee house. Jane Austen makes mention of Molland’s in Milsom Street, which is now the shop, East. The gentlemen might visit one of the many circulating libraries and reading rooms.
At midday, people attended church, the Abbey being favourite, and then they were ready soon after for dinner at three o’clock. People might rest then until the evening when card-playing at private parties, theatre going, concerts, and dancing began. Both Assembly Rooms had card rooms which were always full. There were always activities going on in Bath to amuse its visitors, and Jane Austen used this as a background for her two novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

I’ve used Bath as a setting in one of my books, Searching for Captain Wentworth, and had a lot of fun researching every aspect of the city. It’s always a pleasure to go to Bath, and because of the architecture, and the fact that most of the places described above can still be visited, you can imagine yourself quite lost in time.

Searching for Captain Wentworth
Jane Odiwe

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