Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


Bath Museum: No1 Royal Crescent

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.

No 1 Royal Crescent: The Dining Room

No 1 Royal Crescent: The Dining Room

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!

No 1 Royal Crescent: Ladies bedroom

No 1 Royal Crescent: Ladies bedroom

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.

The Withdrawing room: for after dinner pursuits – music, gambling

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.

The Withdrawing room: tea is served!

The Withdrawing room: tea is served!

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.

No 1 Royal Crescent Staircase: The gentleman on the right looks completely exhausted!

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.

No 1 Royal Crescent Staircase:

No 1 Royal Crescent Staircase: Begone thou narrow-minded lout nor dare to look again upon the face of Heaven……

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.

Kitchen: Note the cone of sugar on the table.

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”.

Servants Quarters: the poor dog....

Servants Quarters: the poor dog….


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Whatever shall I wear?

The Jane Austen Festival in Bath has been taking place over the last two weeks. There are many events including a regency ball and dance lessons. However, since I haven’t the required dress, I decided that I would attend a talk called “Whatever shall I wear?” by Amy Nichole of the Period Costume shop. Amy Nichole is an expert in historic costume and period design. Her demonstration guided us through the process of researching historical designs, recreating the garment and finally how to wear the costume.

I apologise in advance for the quality of the photos. I took my old point-and-click camera as I didn’t feel like carrying the larger camera around Bath, but the theatre was rather dark and I wasn’t allowed to use flash. Not withstanding that, I also forgot to re-charge the camera and I didn’t get much chance to snap away before the batteries ran out. All in all it is a wonder that I got any photos at all!

Amy first appeared on stage in her underwear – well her regency underwear anyway! The underwear consisted a shift and stays. Stays are an 18th century corset. Amy actually wore “jumps”, which are a shorter, more relaxed version of stays and allow the body far more flexibility. This was an important part of the demonstration as without this shorter form of corsetry, Amy wouldn’t have been able to put on her own shoes! As well as stays or “jumps”, a shift (usually of cotton or linen) was also worn under a gown.


18th century stays

In the 18th century, pockets were worn under the gown and tied around the waist. A regency lady would be likely to carry gloves, a reticule (purse), a handkerchief, smelling salts and a fan in her pockets. Gloves could also be partially taken off since long gloves can be difficult to remove when it gets hot. There was a opening on the inside of the gloves at the wrist and the glove hands could be slipped off and tucked into the arms for when you wished to eat!


A “fichu” on the left and on the right, original 18th century gloves – you won’t believe how fine the stitching is on these.

Amy dressed, first of all, in day wear. This consisted of a “drop-front” gown. Her gown was based on a gown in the Bath Fashion Museum dated 1804. Any demonstrated how to dress in this type of gown. First, you have to be pinned into it at the front. Then, the drop-front is pulled up hiding the pinned section. A regency lady may also wear a “fichu” which is a large neckerchief or shawl, generally folded into a triangle and tucked into the neckline. This would help shade her from the sun.

Dresses may also be created with draw strings at the front (both at the waist, which would be Empire line and at the neckline).  Amy had created the most beautiful dress with this design from a white cotton-silk muslin.


Cotton-silk muslin dress

My favourite gown, though was the ball gown. This was made from a silk in pale green shot with blue. It fastened at the back with buttons and had short-sleeves and a train.


Getting dressed in a regency ball gown


Regency ball gown

Amy gets her fabric at Shepherds Bush market. Apparently, the market stocks a lot of designer, end-of-line fabrics and is relatively inexpensive. Just as well as Amy’s ball gown was made with 4 metres of silk taffeta!

For footwear, Amy recommended angle-length flat boots for during the day. These would be laced at the side in the 18th century, but that would be hard to find today. For evening wear, she suggested some ballet pumps. Ballet shoes have scarcely changed in design in two hundred years and make an easy-to-find addition to the costume.

For extra warmth the regency lady would have a shawl. Paisley was a popular design at this period and Amy had an example of an original Regency-period shawl. A spencer could also be worn. This was a short jacket.

We also looked at men’s fashion. Men’s  jackets were commonly made in cotton twill, which could be dyed with indigo or alternatively wool. The jackets had pockets in the tails. In the regency period, the collar generally sits away from the neck so that the silk waistcoat can be seen underneath. Men’s breeches had drop fronts and there were buttons for braces on inside. Amy showed us a beautiful pair of breeches made of Duchesse silk satin. Men’s fashion was far from dull in the 18th century.

Under the jacket linen shirts were worn. Think Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice! The fabric is incredibly fine and becomes softer with wear.  The arms have godets and they were designed so that men could have very free movement in the shirt.


Colin Firth as Mr Darcy

This was definitely a fun and interesting talk. Amy recommended visiting museums and getting inspiration for costume design from original period garments. I’ve since learned that the Bath Fashion Museum does allow visitors to examine items from its collection close-up. I think I’ll arrange a visit.