One of the (many) things I’ve missed this year has been my trips to Bath and a visit to the Bath Fashion Museum. Their collection is absolutely huge and they hold a differently themed exhibition each year, as well as their permanent exhibition. Unfortunately, the Bath Fashion Museum has been closed since the start of the lock-down, but we (Mr Steely and myself) decided to visit one of the other museums in the city, which we’d never visited before, No 1 Royal Crescent.
First of all, a word about visiting the museum this year: you need to book online and attend at the pre-booked time. There is a one-way system when you walk around, but because there aren’t many people around in each time-slot, we didn’t feel inhibited by it and were able to take our time. You have to make sure each room is empty of other visitors before you can enter it, but with the time-slots this didn’t present a problem.
No 1 Royal Crescent has been decorated and furnished just as it might have been during the period 1776-1796. The refurbishment was only finished in 2013 and previously the house had fallen into disrepair, being at one time a student house. In fact, until 2013, the house had been split into two properties. When the Bath Preservation Trust acquired both 1 and 1A Royal Crescent, it reunited the two parts of the house.
The house was built by John Wood, the Younger between 1767 and 1774. The crescent forms the top part of the question mark with Brock Street and The Circus (which incidentally was built by John Wood’s father).
The Georgian neo-classical architecture with its large windows, high celings and emphasis on symmetry took as its inspiration the classical architecture of Greece and Rome. One of the things that is so noticeable about the rooms is just how light and airy they are.
The first room is a dining room where guests would be entertained.
A pineapple was proudly displayed on the table (sorry I didn’t manage to get it in the photo above). This fruit was a precious commodity in the Georgian era. In fact, it was known for pineapples to be passed around neighbours, just to be placed as a centre-piece on the dining room table.
The ladies bedroom, has a selection of clothes laid out on the bed. There is a gown with lace cuffs, pink stays and an embroidered pocket. Beside the bed is a wig and a wig-scratcher. The wig-scratcher looked a little like back-scratcher!
I love the embroidered pocket shown here. In this era, pockets were like little begs that were tied around the waist and hidden under the skirts of the gown.
After dinner, guests would have “withdrawn” to the Withdrawing room. There is a harpsichord, ready for a young lady of “accomplishments” to play!
There’s a brilliant demonstration of this very harpischord being played here.
You may just notice in this photo that the tea caddy next to the tea pot has a key hole, tea being so precious that it had to be kept under lock and key. After the tea was brewed and served upstairs, the tea would be taken downstairs to the servants and used another time.
On the staircase are a number of fun Georgian prints.
I’m not sure who the characters are in this cartoon, does anyone know? Obviously, some references to the French Revolution and the British royalty there.
Finally, we enter the servant’s quarters. The average consumption of sugar in Britain “rose from four pounds (1.8 kg) per head in 1700 to eighteen pounds (8.2 kg) in 1800. Most sugar in Britain went into tea, but towards the end of the eighteenth century, confectionery, jams and chocolates became extremely popular. There’s a cone of sugar shown on the table in the photo.
I wonder how much thought these fashionable ladies and gentlemen gave to the exploitation of slave labour and the slave-trade origins of the sugar in their tea. In the Victorian era, a group of ladies formed a society for the protection of birds and boycotted the wearing of feathers in their hats. I did find a reference to the Free Produce Movement, an international boycott of goods produced by slave labour. It is one of the earliest examples of consumer activism. But turning a blind eye to the horrific reality of slavery or even endorsing it was far more common: in the novel Mansfield Park, by one-time Bath resident Jane Austen, the wealthy Bertram family own plantations in Antigua, and it seems the characters accept this as common-place. There has been much speculation about the views of Jane Austen herself; the references to the slave trade in her books are few and oblique. For a more in-depth look at Jane Austen and a thorough discussion of her likely opinions of the slave trade, this post is particularly interesting.
The housekeeper would have had here own room in the house, where she could quietly do the household accounts and even invite guests for tea.
The final room on the tour is the servant’s hall. There’s a huge table in the middle of the room, where the servants would have eaten. and performed tasks such as mending, and polishing. This post contains details about the servant’s quarters and includes a photo of the kitchen in No 1 Royal Crescent before it was restored.
On the wall there is a little treadmill installed. Apparently, in Georgian times it was quite common to employ a small dog to turn the spit. These turn-spit dogs were described as “long-bodied, crooked-legged and ugly dogs, with a suspicious, unhappy look about them” – I’m not surprised about that “unhappy look”.