Monday 8 November 2010

A Photo Blog of Bath

Although not exactly 'the season' Mr Woffington and I decided it was high time for a holiday last week, and we chose Bath, not least because we had some vouchers for Thermae Bath Spa and also because one of my readers had told me about a very interesting Georgian museum which I was itching to visit. We were generally unlucky with the weather, apart from a few hours of brightness one morning, but that allowed for a walk through Royal Victoria Park (which you can see, above left, with The Royal Crescent just peeping through the trees). As its name suggests, the park was not a feature of Regency Bath, having been opened in 1830 by the 11-year-old Princess Victoria, but I'd urge you to take a stroll through it, especially during the Autumn when all the trees look stunning.

The Royal Crescent itself is obviously worth a look (see right for a view of it with the Ha-ha in the foreground). Designed by John Wood the Younger and built between 1767 and 1774, it's a masterpiece of Georgian architecture - from the front at least. One of my top tips (which a man kindly gave me as I walked past the Jane Austen Centre with my camera in my hand) is to go and have coffee at The Royal Crescent Hotel, which has a 'secret' garden at the back leading to what would have been the coach houses. As long as you can afford the ruinously expensive coffee (around £10 for two people) you can get a good look at the back of The Crescent from here, and what's really interesting is that the design of each building is completely different (some might even say it looks a bit of a mess). It seems that the well-to-do had whatever design they wanted, and Wood simply built a grand facade covering them all from the front. Talk about diplomacy!

The other big-hitting piece of Georgian architecture is The Circus (left) which was designed by John Wood the Elder, who sadly died just three months after the first stone was laid. A grand homage to the Roman Colosseum, the scheme was completed by his son (the same man who built The Royal Crescent) in 1768, at which time it was known as the King's Circus ('circus' being the Latin word for a ring or oval). To my mind, it's an even greater piece of work than The Royal Crescent - a vision of Palladian harmony which curves inwards, rather than outwards, and has 525 pictorial emblems in a frieze above the doors (all of them different, from what we could see).

But back to The Royal Crescent because I wanted to mention an excellent museum at No.1 The Royal Crescent that's well worth a visit. This Georgian town house has been beautifully restored by the Bath Preservation Trust. It was the first house to be built in The Crescent and provided luxury accommodation for the aristocracy (who would presumably just rent it for the season). The Duke of York stayed there at one time, and you can see that he would have not been without his customary elegance and comfort. The entrance hall, for example, is decorated with marbled paper (which was very fashionable in the late 18th century, as it was too costly to import real marble) and still has its original intricate plasterwork on the archway. I learnt some interesting facts from the guide in the gentleman's study, too, who told me that in Bath's heyday, wealthy visitors engaged servants from the neighbourhood on arrival, but as they didn't know them, they paid them in tokens rather than cash (you can see an example of the tokens in the study).

Thanks to my reader Leah Marie Brown for recommending the museum, and also for drawing my attention to the turnspit in the kitchen, which was powered by a dog in a wheel! People were certainly less sentimental about animals in those days, though we did learn that Lichfield was one of the few places where the use of a turnspit dog was never recorded!

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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