Quick Index Board Index Home FAQ Site Map
|Bath: Rules and MCs
Written by JulieW
(4/4/2006 11:44 a.m.)
I think it might be useful to explain just how Bath became to be the regulated place we are now reading about: it is clear form the text of NA that there were a great many rules about the behaviour of the fashionable in Bath- rules at to where they went and at what time,the subscription book, etc., etc.
He was appointed as Master of Ceremonies after the visit in 1702 of Queen Anne .Look at this from John Eglin’s biography of Nash,The Imaginary Autocrat :
Bath’s sudden cahet took the spa by surprise , however, as the fashionable visitors who now came in droves found themselves in a rude provincial town ill prepared to receive house or entertain them. It was at this point , the story goes that Nash, a gambler and man-about-town with a knack for organising entertainments stepped into the breach, importing musicians from London to play at the weekly balls in the evening and to perform in the Pump Room during the day .By dint of his imposing physical presence and a personality as forceful as it was engaging, Nash moulded an amorphous collection o f visitors into a sociable corps- the Company- and drew then into a fixed social routine which governed their every movement form the first glass of the waters in the morning to the last dance of the balls in the evening.
Thus Bath became the type of place visitors were able to enjoy and its rules of expected conduct and behaviour( useful when people from different walks of life were in constant contact) were copied by other spa towns throughout England and by most provincial assembly rooms( which also appointed Master of Ceremonies to keep order).
Nash was succeeded by other MCs……and the picture above shows one of them, Captain William Wade in his prime, as painted by Thomas Gainsborough.
Captain Wade is dressed in the height of fashion in 1771, in a tight-fitting red silk suit and gold waistcoat. Note, He wears his badge of office on a blue ribbon round his neck.
Let me first tell you a little about the portrait.
According to Susan Sloman’s book Gainsborough in Bath, the portrait was painted by Gainsborough with a shrewd eye to business.
Gainsborough at that time lived and worked in Bath, in fact in an house in the Circus near to the New Upper Rooms, and by painting a portrait of the MC and presenting it to the owners of the Upper Rooms to hang there, he was , in fact, advertising his abilities to the cream of fashionable society.
For his Captain William Wade he looked to existing Master of Ceremony portraits in Bath ...The full length portrait of Captain Wade was destined for a site above a door in the New or Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath , the rooms being built in response to the shift of population from the lower to the upper town and opening to the public in autumn 1771.Gainborough would have been very familiar with the full length portraits of previous Master of Ceremonies, Beau Nash and Samuel Derrick ,that hung in the old "Lower “Assembly rooms not far form his old Abbey Street home...the design of the Octagon card room in the New Rooms incorporated four stucco surrounds for full length portraits above the doors ,echoing the arrangements in the Lower Rooms. Gainsborough ’s painting of Wade was the first to occupy one of these spaces and it was not until the early nineteenth century that all four were filled with Master of Ceremony paintings. Captain Wade appears to have been painted without payment as a show picture and as an expression of support for the proprietors of the Upper Rooms, several of whom were patrons of the artist…..
Gainsborough depicted the Master of Ceremonies silhouetted against a bright sky, a powerful and even somewhat stark image that was guaranteed to make a striking effect from a distance .The portrait had to make its presence felt above the hubbub of the Rooms which accommodated several hundred people at a time and which were the focal point of Bath ‘s social life from 1771 onwards
However, Wade had to resign in 1777;
Captain Wade was the first master of ceremonies here, but who alternately presided at both rooms, till July 1777, when an affair of gallantry compelled him to relinquish his lucrative office. Seven candidates immediately offered themselves on the abdication of Mr. Wade. It was however at length compromised, that Mr. Dawson should preside in the room of Capt. Wade; and Major Brereton to officiate as M.C. at the Lower Rooms. At the expiration of three years the latter retired from his office, and was succeeded by Richard Tyson, Esq. from Tunbridge-Wells. In 1785, the latter gentleman was translated to the New Rooms on the resignation of Mr. Dawson: and James King, Esq who had highly distinguished himself in the British army in America, was elected without opposition to the Lower Rooms.
See:Pierce Egan’s Walks Through Bath...(1819)
Thus Mr King , JA's MR King, was a real person, who succeeded the infamous Captain Wade as MC:
“I danced with a very agreeable young man, introduced by Mr. King; had a great deal of conversation with him — seems a most extraordinary genius — hope I may know more of him. That, madam, is what I wish you to say.”
Here is a summary of his career, again from Pierce Egan’s book:
In 1805, Mr. Tyson, to the regret of the visitors at Bath, resigned his situation, and was succeeded by Mr. King; and the Lower Rooms received Mr. Le Bas, as Master of the Ceremonies, from Margate; but this gentleman, after an ineffectual struggle of three years, was compelled to retire, owing to the deserted state of the rooms. In 1810, some warm friends to the original establishment, roused from their apathy, placed the above Assembly on an improved footing, and on the 1st of November, Francis John Guynette was unanimously elected Master of the Ceremonies. After a short reign, Mr. Heaviside succeeded the above gentleman. On the death of Mr. King, at Cheltenham, October 16, 1816, five candidates offered themselves, and an election took place for this lucrative and respectable situation, on the 21st of November; but on the previous day Captains Marshall and Thornhill resigned. The election fell on Captain Wyke, whose numbers were 258; Mr. Heaviside 195; and Mr. Madden 110. Mr. Heaviside continued to preside as M.C. at the Lower Rooms, till Captain Wyke retired from his office to fill an important situation abroad; when he was translated to fill the above Captain’s place, where the polite and gentlemanly conduct of Mr. H. is highly appreciated, by the elegant visitors of these unrivalled assemblies.
from Pierce Egan's "Walks Through Bath..."(1819)
See this also from Constance Hills book, JANE AUSTEN
He ( Mr King – JW)was Master of the Ceremonies at the Lower Rooms, from the year 1785 to 1805, when he became Master of the Ceremonies for the Upper Rooms. A code of rules compiled by him was used for about thirty years. One of these rules, originally laid down by Beau Nash, forbade gentlemen to wear boots in the rooms of an evening. It is said that when a country squire once attempted to defy this rule, in the days of the King of Bath, Beau Nash asked him why he had not brought his horse into the ball-room, "since the four-footed beast was as well shod as his master."
JA ,as accurate as ever;-)
I find it interesting that the fashionable of the time were prepared to submit to a set of rules governing their conduct: Bath in the 18th century really was like some form of club, don’t you think?
Groupread is maintained by Myretta with WebBBS 3.21.