The Women of 18th Century Bath

Throughout the eighteenth century, Bath was the most popular city other than London for the aristocracy to visit. While famously associated with the life and works of Jane Austen, the city has been the home of numerous iconic women of the period. Below are four of Bath’s iconic female residents.

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Caroline Herschel

Sister of William Herschel, Caroline Herschel joined her brother in his New King Street home from Hanover; speaking very little English when she first arrived. During her time in Bath, Caroline received singing lessons from her brother as well as lessons in English and was soon performing soprano roles in the city. Like her brother Caroline was both talented in music and astronomy, acknowledged as her brother’s ‘astronomical assistant.’ As well as acting as William Herschel’s assistant, Caroline discovered eight comets (one of which is named after her) and was awarded with the gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1828.

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Elizabeth Linley

Born in 1754 in Bath, Elizabeth Linley is believed to have started her singing career in 1763, performing in numerous Bath concerts. However many believed that her father exploited her talents, commenting that he made her sing too much. Linley famously eloped in 1772 from her family home in the Royal Crescent with Richard Sheridan before marrying in April 1773. After their marriage, Sheridan stopped Linley’s public career and when he bought the Drury Lane Theatre in London she was involved in auditioning singers and keeping the accounts. The couple eventually separated in 1790 and Linley died in Bristol two years later, being buried in Wells Cathedral beside her sister in 1792.

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Sarah Siddons

Originally born in Brecon, Sarah Siddons was a famous actress of the eighteenth century, particularly connected to her successful tragic roles. In 1778, Siddons started performing in Bath’s Theatre Royal and during her time at the theatre established herself as one of the most popular actresses of the period. During her first season, Siddons performed thirty different roles in Bath and Bristol theatres before taking on her iconic roles of Lady Macbeth, Queen Katherine in Henry VIII and Constance in King John during her second season at Bath’s Theatre Royal in 1779. It seems that Siddons intended to remain in Bath but due to financial instability she decided to move to London, leaving the city in September 1782.

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Elizabeth Montagu

Unlike the other women discussed, Elizabeth Montagu was not a full time resident of Bath, instead she rented a house in the Royal Crescent for the season. Elizabeth Montagu was a bluestocking hostess, using her Bath residence to hold various social events in the 1770’s. During these invitation only parties, her guests were encouraged to discuss literary and philosophical subjects and Montagu became known as the Queen of the Blue Stockings.

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Who Are The Iconic Men of Georgian Bath?

It’s Jane Austen week here in Bath and everyone here is talking about Pride and Prejudice’s iconic writer.

Over the last few days, Austen has become an even larger conversation starter than usual and is continually referred to as Bath’s most famous resident. However, I do not feel that this is a correct statement! There are many residents of eighteenth and early nineteenth century Bath, who are as iconic, or more so, than Jane Austen but have not received the same attention as the celebrated novelist. Over my next two blog posts, I will be focusing on some of the most well known male and female residents of this famous Georgian city, who deserve to be celebrated as much as Jane Austen.

Today I will be focusing on four of Bath’s most famous male residents during these two centuries.

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Beau Nash

Between 1704 and 1761, Beau Nash was the Master of Ceremonies in Bath and had the greatest influence over the manners and conduct of eighteenth century Bath. Creating rules such as how people were to dress when attending balls to what sorts of entertainment were allowed in Bath, Nash had one of the largest impacts on Georgian Bath as an social setting for both the aristocracy and the gentry. Nash’s position as Master of Ceremonies was so crucial that after his death, in 1761,a competition developed between the potential candidates for the role and a fight broke out in the Assembly Rooms- resulting in the Riot Act being read three times!

Nash resided in Saw Close, now next to the entrance to Bath’s Theatre Royal.

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Richard Sheridan

Politician and playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan is a character I’ve studied in great detail for my dissertation; especially his relationship with Henrietta Ponsonby, Lady Bessborough.His works include dramas such as The Rivals, which is about to be performed again in Bristol’s Old Vic.  Richard Sheridan lived in New King Street and famously eloped with Elizabeth Linley, who became his first wife, from her home in the Royal Crescent in 1772. While courting Elizabeth Linley, Sheridan was involved in two duels with a Captain Thomas Matthews, who had written a negative article about Linley- the first duel was fought in London while the second was fought in Kingsdown, near Bath, in 1772. Both men were injured during the final duel, with Sheridan being declared as out of danger eight days later.

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William Herschel

William Herschel was a man of many talents and moved to Bath from Hanover in 1766 to pursue a career as a musician. However, Herschel is better known for his astronomical discoveries. In the garden of his house on New King Street, William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus as well as increasing the dimensions of the Milky Way. In 1782 Herschel received the title of King’s Astronomer and continued to work on the development of large telescopes until his death in 1822. He was assisted by his sister Caroline, who will be discussed in the future.

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William Beckford

Beckford is arguably one of Bath’s more unique characters. Moving to Lansdown Crescent in 1822, after he had sold Fonthill Abbey (an architectural nightmare in my opinion), William Beckford was a novelist and collector, as well an inheritor of his father’s large fortune. Beckford’s largest, or tallest, endeavour while living in Bath was to create Lansdown Tower, more commonly known today as Beckford’s Tower. The 120 foot tower, which still dominates the Bath skyline, reflects Beckford’s love of architecture and interior design with the writer himself stating ‘I am growing rich, and mean to build towers’ earlier in his life. Beckford died in 1844 and is buried in Lansdown cemetery.

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William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey, before and after the collapse of the spire.

 

Do these men deserve to be celebrated like Jane Austen? Are there any other male Bath residents you believe should be celebrated as iconic Bathonians? And what are your opinions on William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey?

Portrait Propaganda

In our age of the internet and celebrity formed almost entirely through carefully curated images it’s easy to forget that this idea far out dates Instagram and Youtube. Kings and queens had used portraiture for centuries to ensure proliferation of their image and the presentation of their power over subjects but arguably it was Henry VIII who kickstarted the trend of immense, vivid and detailed images that spoke of his majesty. The invention of the printing press, helped by technical advances in portraiture, saw the spread and control of images of a monarch as an essential part of statecraft, ensuring that subjects would able to see what was presented as a true image of the wealthy and powerful, though perhaps more labour intensive than a decent angle and a few filters.

 

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Hans Holbein the Younger, ‘Anne of Cleves’, 1539

 

We know from the example of Anne of Cleves that portraits were often designed to be more flattering than factual, I feel I could make a Tinder joke here but I’ve never actually used it so we’ll stick with calling this a prime example of the political power of portraiture.

 

Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I learned from her father’s example; she and her council were particularly adept at exploiting public goodwill through the frequent creation and distribution of new images of the queen, all laden with obvious iconography and subtle symbolism which spoke of the patriotism and loyalty expected of the viewer. Unauthorised images of the queen, whether original or reproductions were subject to attempts at heavy regulation, not just to restrict their use to permitted means, but because Elizabeth despised images which included ‘grievous and offensive “errors and deformities”‘ in her appearance.

 

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Unknown Artist, ‘Elizabeth I: The Armada Portrait’, c.1588

 

While no original copy exists, the coronation portrait of Elizabeth was her first opportunity to state her intentions to the world. Despite the extravagant cost of her coronation Elizabeth wears her sister Mary’s robes, reworked and styled, as a visible link to the previous monarch, and only officially acknowledged Queen Regnant. The pose and style of the portrait is unusual for the time; the front facing pose is said to mimic the coronation portrait of Richard II, so that Elizabeth is ‘physically modelling herself on the last English monarch with an unquestioned claim to the throne’.

 

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Unknown Artist, ‘Elizabeth i: The Coronation Portrait’ c.1600 copy of a lost original

 

Elizabeth’s life during the reigns of her father, brother and sister had invested in her both an unwavering pride in her position, and a seemingly never ending internal and external conflict to assert the dominance of her claim to the throne. Modelling her coronation portrait on that of Richard II created ‘link that overarches Elizabeth’s bastardisation’. Elizabeth’s love of spectacle and obsession with asserting her lineage and status came to define her reign, and our most lasting impressions are formed by the scrupulously refined images of her that survive, exactly as she would have intended. 

 

 

Some Sources

Thomas Heywood ‘Englands Elizabeth her life and troubles, during her minoritie, from the cradle to the crowne. Historically laid open and interwouen with such eminent passages of state, as happened vnder the reigne of Henry the Eight, Edvvard the Sixt, Q. Mary; all of them aptly introducing to the present relation’, 1631  

Lisa Hilton, Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince, 2014

Louis A. Montrose, ‘Idols of the Queen: Policy, Gender, and the Picturing of Elizabeth I’

 

Dear Fresher Self…

Dear First Year Jess,

Hello Jess, this is your grown up self talking so pay attention!!! University will be both terrifying and brilliant- there will be moments when you want to scream and times when you regret that it’s reaching an end; especially when you’re walking across the stage at your graduation with the proudest smile on your face. That’s a long way off yet, or at least that’s how it seems now- the time does go fast!

As a shy and quiet recluse, the idea of Fresher’s Week will be terrifying you! Don’t panic! It’s a time to do what you want, to try new things and to meet new people. Try everything, if you don’t like it then you know and don’t have to do it again. Try clubbing, you won’t like it, but it’s pretty amusing to look back on and you will enjoy spending time with people- even if you think the music is bad! And don’t worry about looking like an idiot in various costumes, you will actually rather enjoy it!! Over the next week you will dress up as a pirate, in a toga, cat woman and over the next couple of years you will also appear as Marie Antoinette, yet another pirate, and Red Riding Hood. Why do you always dress up as a pirate when someone says costume!?

Make your room your own! It’s going to be your home for a year so fill it with cushions, rugs, posters! It’s your space, so don’t be afraid to go mad with decoration! You will feel more comfortable if you make it yours and not just a room (and everyone will want to live in your room because yours is the most comfortable).  Buy a doorstop as well, you will need it. You will end up being the only person not locked out of your bedroom because you’ve left your keys behind because of the doorstop and you will shake your head at every single person who gets locked out of their room after having a shower- it happens a lot!

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My First Year Bedroom

And don’t forget the chocolate! It is the best way to get to know your housemates, the people who will see you when sick, when you’re drunk and when you’re not in the best of moods! You will sit around piles of chocolate and get to know one another! Always pick a box with a variety of flavours!

University is an experience that is like no other. It’s the only place where you will find it totally normal to have pepperoni stuck to the ceiling (don’t ask), someone playing an electrical drum kit at stupid o’clock in the morning because it’s funny to see the confused faces of your fellow students and the only time it’s totally normal to avoid touching the kitchen floor because it’s covered in cider so you climb over chairs. It’s mad, unhygienic but wonderful and the only time it’s acceptable to live like that!

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Cider before it hit the floor…

Good luck and enjoy, first year is a fantastic experience! Also enjoy it, because this year, the grades don’t count!!!

Your Graduated Self.

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Jessica, BA (Hons) History

Super Duper Family Organisation Attempt 1.

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I went back to work after materniy leave on Monday… First few days have gone well so far, and Ivy has been having great fun at nursery. I had a spontaneous crying sessions when I got back in the car after dropping her off for the first time; she was characteristically unfussed!

With me working, and by the end of September hopefully attending my MA course (using hopefully until the timetables are out and I can properly panic about how little time I will have for anything), baby going to nursery some of the time, husband working and finishing his accounting course I thought we might need some visual help with working out where everyone is.

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Ta-da! The highly sophisticated solution of a whiteboard, tarted up with washi tape.

My masterful design of a column for each of us with a corresponding Monday to Sunday cross referencing system will ensure maximum knowledge of who is doing what and where and when. As long as we remember to update it. It’s going on the wall in front of the stairs so when descending in a stupor in the morning it can’t be avoided. When I inevitably trip over the dog or my foot it may also prove a satisfactory crash pad.

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Baby approves!

What’s the betting that it stays leant on the floor beneath where it’s meant to be hung for the next couple of months? Pretty high I’d imagine.

How Did Aristocratic Women Influence Tea Consumerism in 18th Century England?

‘Tea is the sparkling subject of my song, come, fairer sex, and listen to my tongue: for what you love so dearly, I defend.’

Duncan Campbell, 1735

Introduced to the English court in the seventeenth century by Catherine of Braganza, tea was available only to the aristocracy during the first half of the eighteenth century, but its popularity advanced through the period and influenced numerous developments; especially in connection to the ‘fairer sex.’ The material items that were created as the period progressed suggest that aristocratic women influenced the consumer goods that were developed in connection with tea. This entry will explore some of the items that developed in the eighteenth century in connection to tea-drinking and how they were influenced by women.

Francois de la Rochefoucauld described the aristocracy’s drinking of tea as ‘an opportunity to show off their fine possessions…all made to the most elegant designs,’ detailing how tea drinking was used as a chance to present their wealth through the items they had purchased. These material objects which developed during the Georgian period as utensils and decorations for both the tea-table and room in which it was consumed, reinforce the notion that tea was predominantly a feminine pursuit of the English aristocracy as, in some cases, women themselves were the ones who influenced how these objects were designed. As the drink’s popularity grew, there was a development in new objects such as milk jugs, kettle stands and tea caddies. This demand was the result of aristocratic consumerism as they were able to afford the new items that were being imported into England from China, before England was able to manufacture them themselves, an area which was also later dominated by aristocratic consumers.

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The Withdrawing Room, No.1 Royal Crescent, Bath.

While servants prepared the utensils for tea-drinking and the room in which it would be consumed, the rest of the tea-drinking ceremony would have been conducted by the women of the household. This can be seen in the particular pieces of furniture that would have been in the room during tea-drinking; especially the kettle stands, as seen in the picture of the Withdrawing Room at No.1 Royal Crescent, Bath. Jane Pettigrew argues that ‘it was essential that an elegant silver kettle should be available for the tea-brewing ritual’ and the development of these stands would have provided the space required for the kettles so that the hostess could prepare the tea for her visitors, while displaying her wealth through the kettle.

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Kandler, Charles Early Rococo Kettle.  

Kettles of the eighteenth century also reflect the notion that women influenced design are the kettles that developed during the Georgian period. Depicted above is a Charles Kandler kettle created between 1730 and 1732, conforming to the traditional design of silver kettles during the reign of George II. Influenced by the Rococo design that was inspiring both architecture and interior design during this period, kettles such as these would have presented a woman’s status and, as suggested by Robin Emerson, ‘provided an opportunity for people to show off their wealth and taste’ while at the tea-table. However, a woman’s interaction with the kettle ultimately influenced the development of these items. An aristocratic woman was expected to serve the tea, fulfilling her traditional role as hostess; but as the period developed these kettles were becoming more extravagant in design and consequently issues arose for the female users. With more elaborate decoration, as they attempted to present the wealth of their user, these items ultimately were becoming both heavier and difficult for the hostess’ use. As a result, in order to allow the woman to continue her role as hostess, kettles were redeveloped into the tea-urns that were coming into fashion in the 1760’s. Depicted below, these tea-urns were static, allowing a woman to serve the hot water without having to risk being perceived as lacking the elegance expected of them in their role as hostess.

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Unknown, Tea Urn.

It is clear that tea was a predominately a feminine pursuit of the aristocracy, particularly during the first half of the eighteenth century, allowing women the opportunity to present their skills as a hostess but also their wealth. The various accessories that emerged during this period for tea drinking reinforce the connection between women and tea and how the designs of these items were influenced by female interaction.

Adulting Academic Style

 

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When I started my undergraduate degree I was nervous, but determined. A few days off turning 25 I wasn’t bothered about Fresher’s Fairs or socialising (not my best skill) and was excited to get started with studying, finally. I was also only a few weeks away from getting married, and so that took away some of the nerves as I was pretty busy hand painting apples gold and trying to work out a dietary needs chart so I didn’t poison or kill any of our guests.

 

Now three years have flown by and I’ve finished the degree, got married, bought a house, and had a baby. Why do things in a sensible order when you can just do EVERYTHING all at once?

 

In some ways going into postgrad study feels like the first part of real adult life. Mostly that’s because I now have to factor in child care for Ivy into what I do, and so the biggest worry I have about starting an MA at the moment is how I’m going to organise attending seminars with being able to enjoy studying around my new job. Yes, new job, do everything at once again.

 

I’m worried that the need to work and pay bills with a little more urgency than the average student – if there is such a thing – is going to mean I can’t participate as much in extra curricular stuff.

 

But then every time I think that I remind myself that I managed my degree while working a part-time job with similar hours to my new one, as well as two other casual jobs. And then I remind myself that now I have a child and I can’t just fling myself at things and hope that I can cope with them. I think anyone would struggle to balance it all, let alone someone like me with far less than the normal amount of physical and mental energy reserves. And then I go back around in a circle until I stop myself and think fuck it, I’ll make it work the best way I can. If at first you don’t succeed, redefine the meaning of success.

 

… And try not to cock it up.

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