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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?