Saturday, 23 May 2015

Dancing in Bath 1792

A letter from Elizabeth Canning to her mother dated Tuesday, December the 11th 1792 when she was about 16.

"they took me to the Rooms last night but for the novelty of the thing, I should have thought it very stupid. I saw a good many faces that I had met before, among the rest Mrs Smith and one of the Miss Scots, who is turned into a Mrs Mc Somebody, to the great delight of her Mama, my three Aunts, played cards, & were  successful the little one brought home her Louis D'Or, Jassum [sic] you, I was very much amused looking over the Table of Cassino [a card game of the type known as fishing], at which Aunt Fan played, and observing the faces & vexation of the losing party. We came home at ten O'clock - tomorrow I am to go to the undress Ball."

The ball Elizabeth attended at the Lower Rooms was the first of the new Fancy Balls an innovation designed to combat the decline in attendances at the Cotillion Balls of the previous decade and an increasing resistance to the rigid dress codes. Fancy Balls were, in Georgian terms, much more relaxed occasions Ladies could appear in hats or make any other elegant fashion statement they pleased, short of actual fancy dress costumes. Fancy balls started with a country dance, after which there was one Cotillion only, and then tea – after tea, a country dance, one Cotillion only and the evening ended with more country dances, and the Long Minuet famously illustrated by Henry Bunbury.

The term undress ball is a nickname given by the company to the new Fancy Balls and is a joking allusion to their not being Dress Balls.

The Fancy Ball at the Upper Rooms 
Thomas Rowlandson
Dress Balls where formal occasions which commenced with Minuets before moving on to Country Dances. Dancing ability and the ability to get the technical details and formalities right where key to admission to the beau monde in the eighteenth century particularly at big formal assemblies. The minuet was the ultimate test of those skills. The minuet was a couples’ dance where the couple performed before the assembled audience and other dancers who were continually assessing their skills; everything from how they entered the room, their deportment and how they executed the steps through to how the gentleman handled his hat. The dress code was strict with women wearing lapetts and hoops, special servants were provided to help them change for the country dances.

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Rooms in Verse - the 1730s

In 1731 The Gentleman's Magazine published a poem by Lady M M "A Farewell to Bath" which contained the following:

"Lindsays and Hayes's both farewell,
Where in the spacious hall;
With bounding steps, and sprightly airs
I've led up many a ball

Where Somerville of courteous mein,
Was partner in the dance,
With swimming Haws, and Brownlow blithe;
And Britton pink of France."

Lady M M was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu nee Pierrepont (baptized May 26, 1689, died Aug. 21, 1762), one of the most colourful Englishwoman of her time and a brilliant and versatile writer.
Evelyn Pierrepont,

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
nee Pierrepont
She was the daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, 5th Earl, later 1st Duke, of Kingston-upon-Hull, and his first wife, Lady Mary Fielding. The Pierreponts' owned extensive land holdings in Bath and the family name is recalled in the street running into North Parade. Indeed, the Lower Rooms were built, at least in part, on Pierrepont land.

Because she was often the most socially important person at the balls she usually stood in the first position in the line of dancers in country dances and would usually have danced the first minuet at the start.

Mrs Lindsay, a former opera singer, was the operator of the rooms which had been built on what is now the end of York street and Mrs Hayes, her sister, who ran the rooms formally operated by Mr Harrison which were on the site now occupied by the derelict Island Club  and know locally as Bog Island.

The "spacious hall" at Mrs Lindsay's was probably no more than 26 feet in length, 30 feet wide and 30 feet high in 1730.

"Somerville of courteous mein" is probably James, the 13th Lord Somerville of Scotland who had come to England in the 1720's and met and married, in Bath, the enormously wealthy local widow Anne Rolt, nee Bayntun.