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.
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.
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.
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.
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.