Sunday, 1 January 2017

Beau Nash in the Ballroom

In 1703 the year before Beau Nash came to Bath Oliver Goldsmith tells us that "Queen Anne had been obliged to divert herself, in 1703, with a fiddle and a hautboy, and with country dances on the bowling-green."

Even after Nash took charge the rules of the Assemblies were very ill-defined. As Goldsmith says "If the company liked each other, they danced till morning, if any person lost at cards, he insisted on
continuing the game till luck should turn."

Beau Nash 1750

It was against this background that Nash posted his "RULES to be observed at BATH."

1. THAT a visit of ceremony at first coming and another at going away, are all that
are expected or desired, by ladies of quality and fashion,-- except impertinents.
2. That ladies coming to the ball appoint a time for their footmen coming to wait on
them home, to prevent disturbance and inconveniencies to themselves and others
3. That gentlemen of fashion never appearing in a morning before the ladies in gowns
and caps, show breeding and respect.
4. That no person take it ill that any one goes to another's play, or breakfast, and not
theirs,-- except captious by nature.
5. That no gentleman give his ticket for the balls, to any but gentlewomen.-- N.B.
Unless he has none of his acquaintance.
6. That gentlemen crowding before the ladies at the ball, show ill manners, and that
none do so for the future,-- except such as respect nobody but themselves.
7. That no gentleman or lady takes it ill that another dances before them;-- except
such as have no pretence to dance at all.
8. That the elder ladies and children be content with a second bench at the ball, as
being past or not come to perfection.
9. That the younger ladies take notice how many eyes observe them. N.B. This does
not extend to the Have-at-alls.
10. That all whisperers of lies and scandal, be taken for their authors.
11. That all repeaters of such lies, and scandal, be shunned by all company,-- except
such as have been guilty of the same crime.
N.B. Several men of no character, old women and young ones, of questioned
reputation, are great authors of lies in these places, being of the sect of levellers

The balls were to begin at six and to end at eleven. Each ball was opened with a minuet, danced by the two people judged to be of the highest rank present. When the minuet concluded, the lady was to return to her seat, and Nash would bring the gentleman a new partner. This continued until every gentleman had danced with two ladies a process that usually occupied two hours. At
eight, the country dances began, ladies forming lines in order of their rank. About nine o'clock a short interval was allowed for rest before the country dancing continued. At 11O'clock precisely Nash would order the musicians to stop playing, by lifting up his finger. At the end of the ball, some time was allowed for people to rest and cool down before the ladies were handed into sedan chairs.

Although much of what happened during balls was determined by rank Goldsmith tells us that Nash would impose limits on the behaviour of superiors towards their inferiors in status.

"When he observed any ladies so extremely delicate and proud of a pedigree, as to only touch the back of an inferior's hand in the dance, he always called to order, and desired them to leave the room, or behave with common decency, and when any Ladies and Gentlemen drew off, after they had gone down a dance, without standing up till the dance was finished, he made up to them, and after asking whether they had done dancing, told them, they should dance no more unless they stood up for the rest; and on these occasions he always was as good as his word."

In a letter to the Countess of Suffolk in 1734 Lord Chesterfield gives us a glimpse of Beau Nash at a grand ball thrown to mark the birthday of George II on the 30th October.

Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

Chesterfield describes Nash as wearing "his gold laced clothes" and tells us that "he looked so fine, that, standing by chance in the middle of the dancers, he was taken by many at a distance for a gilded garland"


  1. Really interested to know if you have any response to my questions a month ago on your "about me" post..... I would love to know if you have any info.

  2. Sorry for taking so long to get back. I don't have any information on file but I will do some research and get back to you