The following was excerpted from the book, The Follies and Fashions of Our Grandfathers, published in 1886. The book reprinted articles from the year 1807.
There are two Assembly-rooms, one at the bottom of the Orange Grove, called the Old or Lower Rooms; the other in Bennett-street near the Circus, called the New or Upper Rooms. At the Lower the Master of the Ceremonies is Mr. Le Bas, who has for many years occupied with great popularity the same situation at Margate and Ramsgate. At the Upper officiates Mr. King, a gentleman whose polite attention, and yet manly conduct, have acquired for him not only the goodwill, but, what is much less usually bestowed on the occupiers of such offices, the respect of the subscribers at large. The Lower Rooms, which were originally the cause of the fame of Bath assemblies, the sphere of the memorable Beau Nash, and the resort of almost all the nobility of the kingdom; which once boasted two crowded assemblies in every week, the one on a Tuesday and the other on a Friday night, are now almost entirely deserted; and the few who attend are for the most part persons of no fashion, “mark or likelihood.”
But the Upper Rooms, at which a dress ball takes place on each Monday, and a fancy or cotillon ball on each Thursday night, are still attended by almost all the beauty and fashion of the place. I never remember, Mr. Editor, to have seen any sight which gave me half so much pleasure as the coup d’œuil on entering the ball-room while the cotillons are going on. As the principal occupation of the young people is dancing, you may easily suppose that there are many excellent artists in that science; and when a great number of them are performing their evolutions in concert, there can be no spectacle more graceful and interesting. The uniformity of the figures, the brilliancy of the lights, the beauty and magnitude of the room, the splendour and fashion of the company, the effect of the music in the balcony, all unite to render the scene bewitching in the highest degree. It gives the idea of a fairy palace, of one of those elegant revels, which tales of enchantment leave us to imagine, but which we should scarcely expect ever to see realized.
Mr. King permits none but the dancers to occupy the floor, which is chalked in many squares, each adapted for a single set; thus the whole company of dancers enjoy equal and ample room, and having practised the figures, as usual, in the tea-room before dinner, they execute all their manoeuvres with the greatest exactness and skill. Three rows of benches are placed one above another round the sides of the ball-room, so that the spectators are most admirably accommodated, and at the bottom is a single bench, with standing room behind, sufficient for nearly two hundred spectators.—This space is usually the most crowded, because the best dancers are generally at the bottom of the room. The ladies who have usually attracted most attention for their dancing, have been Miss Talbot, Miss Freeman and her sister, Miss Brownlow, who was so much admired last year, has not danced this winter, and Miss Anne Gore, who was perhaps the best dancer of them all, is no longer at Bath.
These balls are by much more fashionable than those on the Monday night, because for a Thursday night neither the ladies nor the gentlemen’s tickets are transferable; whereas for a Monday, the ladies’ tickets may be, and too often are, given to persons of a very low description. Yet in the cotillon balls the same attentions are not paid to dress which take place on a Monday night; for ladies appear in hats, and perform other little excesses of a similar description, which on a Monday night are totally inadmissible.
One of the great advantages of Bath is the extraordinary cheapness of all amusements. These balls, at the Upper Rooms, which afford so great and so constant pleasure both to inhabitants and to strangers, are purchased at a price almost incredibly low. A gentleman subscribing to the Monday balls has no less than eight and twenty assemblies for his twelve shillings. If he pay the sum of one pound four, he has, for each of the eight and twenty assemblies, three tickets, one for himself, not transferrable, and the other two for ladies which may be transferred. There are no double subscriptions to the cotillon balls: but the single subscription is, as in the other instance, only twelve shillings. Besides this, each person pays, it is true, sixpence on entering the room; but for these sixpences tea and biscuits are provided for all who chuse them. Accordingly, at about a quarter before nine the party adjourns to the tea-room; and, after remaining there for about half an hour, returns to the jocund business of the evening.
The only article which is at all expensive in Bath, is chair-hire; and to a cockney who has been accustomed to a hackney-coach that carries four people a given distance for a shilling, it does at first sight appear a little unreasonable to pay two shillings for going the same distance in a chair singly. It has of late, however, become usual, when five or six people are going to the same visit, to take a glass-coach from a livery stable for the evening; which will convey them to and from the place of their destination, at the comparative trifling expense of six shillings for the coach and two for the driver. Many even of the most fashionable people go to assemblies on foot; for as Bath stands almost entirely upon hills, all water immediately runs off, and the heaviest rains at five will scarcely prevent a lady from walking boldly forth at eight.
The old theatre in Orchard-street, is now completely abandoned; and the proprietors have built upon the tontine scheme, a new house, of which the front is in Beaufort-square.—A few records of the actors. A Mr. Egerton is the hero, and has a very tolerable notion of general acting. He is an inferior kind of Elliston. Mr. Sedley plays the young gentleman: he looks such parts extremely well. But by way of making amends for any deficiencies that may have subsisted in some branches of the company, the managers of Bath, like those of most other country towns, have retained the services of Master Betty, who has been playing here—about as well as he used to play in town. In London the mania has a little subsided; Miss Mudie has been condemned, and children are no longer the fashion: but at Bath there were persons to be found whom Master Betty bit, and who thought him, as he was at first thought in London, a prodigy. It is not, perhaps, surprising that he should have been admired in many country towns, because, in point of fact, there are few country actors who altogether excel him: but that the people at Bath should have admired him, when almost all of them have had opportunities of seeing London actors, would, I confess, have surprised me a little, if I had not read the observation, which your theatrical critic, in a former number, has made on what is commonly called the taste of the public—
Yet may we not put the strong law upon him:
He’s lov’d of the distracted multitude,
Who like not in their judgment, but their eyes.
Enough of the theatre. Let us say a few words of another amusement very much in vogue at Bath; I mean the concerts. These assemblies, which are held at the Upper Rooms, are very numerously and elegantly attended.—The performances are well arranged, under the conduct of that approved veteran, Rauzzini. Miss Sharp and Mr. Magrath, with a Mr. Bennett, who has since appeared on the Bath boards with much success, as Orlando in the Cabinet, and as Carlos in the Duenna, are the principal performers. I never heard a sweeter voice, accompanied by a more correct taste, than Miss Sharp possesses. Her talents have been, during some parts of the winter, assisted by those of Mr. Braham. While Braham was singing one Wednesday evening, the following ridiculous accident happened:
A Mrs. Pr—d—x came into the concert room extremely late, and was unable to find a seat. She squeezed herself into a row, where some other more fortunate dames had obtained a resting-place, and at length, without any compunction, though very fat and heavy, sat boldly down in the lap of a Mrs. L—si—e. Mrs. L—si—e, ill able to endure the weight, made many endeavours to deliver herself from her tormentress; but the latter stuck to her, like the old man of the sea to Sindbad the sailor in the Arabian Nights. At last Mrs. L—si—e, provoked beyond all endurance, took out a pin, and applied it vigorously. Mrs. Pr—d—x, stung to the quick, turned rapidly round, and inflicted on her supporter a very complete drubbing.