Saturday 28 August 2010

A wall in Bath Abbey

A portion of a wall in Bath Abbey.
Recently I went to Bath. One of the places I visited was Bath Abbey. I have been into many ancient churches over the years and into many Cathedrals, most more than once, Winchester,Wells, Salisbury, Canterbury,Rochester, Westminster Abbey,St Pauls, Chichester, St David's, Manchester, York Minster and the list could go on.However, I have never seen what confronted me on entering Bath Abbey.

All cathedrals and ancient churches have monuments where the rich and famous are remembered and they all have their tombs in the crypt or prominently placed in an aisle or recess .Bath Abbey is unique, however,because so many crowded and massed monuments fill the walls and floor.  The monuments are crammed together. Obviously Bath has been a popular place to die, be remembered and buried in. The ages, and often a mention of where they came from or originated, tells a story. People of a certain age , mid fifties and older, came for the waters to improve their health but died in Bath and so got buried in the Abbey.Others who died in other locations are remembered too on some of the plaques. They either were born and lived in Bath for part of their lives or they felt an affinity with Bath after having visited the city on numerous occasions perhaps.The Abbey is a testimony to the popularity of Bath in the 18th and 19th centuries for the wealthy and god fearing.

Here are a few interesting tomb inscriptions which tell a story to be told.

" Near this stone are deposited the mortal remains of major general Sir Henry White K.C.B. On 7th November 1822. he served in the Bengal Army. A distinguished officer for a period of fifty years. The judicious position taken by his division in the attack on Agra which accelerated it's fall and the reduction of the strong hill fort of Gwalion by siege are proofs of zeal and military skill which do honour the memory of a soldier."

This is the stuff of novels and Hollywood films.

Another stone records:

" Near this place lies the body of Roger Elletson Esquire late lieutenant Governor of His Majesties land of Jamaica who after having borne a very long and painful and lingering illness with the utmost Christian Patience and Fortitude was by the goodness of his creator released from his sufferings at this place on November the 28th 1773 aged 48."

He must have promoted,encouraged and taken profits from slavery. A wealthy man indeed.

And another interesting inscription reads:

" Near this place lyeth the body of Jacob Bosanquet of the City of London Esquire. A truly good and honest man. A tender husband. Affectionate father. And faithful friend. Not more industrious in acquiring a fortune than generous in dispensing it. Thus happily furnished with every social virtue he lived beloved and died lamented on the 9th day of June 1767 and in the 54th year of his age."

I was nearly crying myself with that one. He was so perfect. He was obviously great at a party with all his ,"social virtues," and he acquired a fortune. I wonder how?

The slave trade in Britain and the British Empire was not abolished until 1807 and slavery itself was not abolished until 1833.

Friday 27 August 2010

A Bath Front Door

Number 17 The Circus.

Thomas Gainsborough lived here.

Mr and Mrs Andrews. Although this portrait was not painted during Gainsborough's time in Bath it does show that perhaps, he was a landscape artist at heart.

Gainsborough's two daughters, Mary and Margaret. They skipped up to that front door.

Mrs Philip Thickness painted in Gainsborough's Bath studio.

Ignatius Sancho painted in Bath in 1760. This one is obviously unusual because it shows a slave or perhaps a freedman.His master thought so highly of Ignatius, he payed for his portrait to be painted. Much of 18th century wealth was derived from the sugar plantations and hence, slavery. Many of the wealthy of Bath would have been slave owners and they would have had black servants.

The Byam family painted in Bath in 1762. Their wealth came from the sugar plantations.


This front door is number 17, The Circus, Bath. Approaching, The Circus, are three roads, Gay Street from the south, where Jane Austen lived for a short while, Bennet Street from the North East, which leads to The Upper Assembly Rooms and Brock Street to the North West which leads to the Royal Crescent. These three roads enter The Circus, dividing this circular road exactly into thirds. Number 17 is in the northern third and is near the entrance to Bennett Street.

It’s situation could not be closer to and was indeed part of the elite residences of Bath in the 18th century. It is also within a minutes walk of The Upper Assembly Rooms where the bright young things of the 18th century and some not so young, danced, gambled, flirted, paraded and generally made a show of themselves. These beautiful young things had time on their hands and many had money to spend.

The resident of number 17 The Circus between 1759 and 1768 was there to take advantage of this situation. He was Thomas Gainsborough an up and coming portrait artist.

Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk in May 1727 and he was the son of a cloth merchant.He had a natural talent for drawing and painting and when he was 13 years old he was sent to London to study drawing and etching under the French engraver Hubert Gravelot. In London, Gainsborough, met William Hogarth and Francis Hayman.

In 1746 he married Margaret Burr   and around 1749 Gainsborough returned to Suffolk where he lived for the next ten years.. Here he painted the portraits of the local, wealthy farm owners and gentry. He was able to make a good living. They  had two daughters  Mary (1750-1826) and Margaret (1752- 1820). However Thomas Gainsborough was ambitious. 

In 1759 he moved to number 17 The Circus in Bath. He was attracted by the possibilities of expensive commissions that the society of Bath could offer.
His sitters were authors, actors and members of high society. In 1768 he was elected a founder member of the Royal Academy.

In 1774 he moved to London where he set up a studio in Pall Mall. In 1780 he was commissioned to paint the portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte and he became a royal favourite causing a rivalry between himself and Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Thomas Gainsborough always claimed that he preferred painting landscapes but the portraits were far more lucrative. In one of his most famous paintings , Mr and Mrs Andrews, he has caught this rich couple displaying their relaxed attitude and sense of elite power and authority, but he has pushed them over to the left of the picture and behind and to the right of them he has depicted the beautiful landscape and vast acres they owned and ruled over. I am sure the couple were very happy with the display of their wealth, authority and property.

Returning to the picture of the front door in, The Circus. On those stone flags Thomas Gainsborough, his wife and two daughters undoubtedly trod but think of the fine and beautiful ladies and elegant gentlemen, dripping in wealth and finery, who stepped that way too. The hand on the doorknocker and the sedate deportment as they crossed the threshold.