The Rules of Bath

Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, dandy, Bath’s Master of Ceremonies and unofficial ‘king’ of the city was born in 1674. He set the rules by which Bath society regulated their days, and established it as a resort of fashion. You had to pass Beau Nash’s scrutiny just to be granted admission to the balls and card parties and even the highest in the land had to do as he said.

Richard Beau Nash (1674-1761) by William Hoare; Bath Pump Room/Victoria Art Gallery
Richard Beau Nash (1674-1761) by William Hoare; Bath Pump Room/Victoria Art Gallery

When Kitty, Duchess of Queensberry, one of the era’s fashion icons, appeared at the Assembly Rooms with a delicate white apron over her skirt (which was against the rules), Beau Nash snatched it away and threw it onto the back benches, where the ladies attendants sat, acidly remarking that ‘none but Abigails appeared in white aprons!’ The duchess good-humouredly played the game and laughing, begged pardon of the Master of Ceremonies.

Lady Catherine Hyde (1700-1777), Duchess of Queensberry, as a Milkmaid by Charles Jervas
Lady Catherine Hyde (1700-1777), Duchess of Queensberry, as a Milkmaid by Charles Jervas; National Trust, Petworth House

Even after his death in 1761, Beau Nash’s rules continued to be the basis for the Rules of Bath. The list below is from 1771, as published by Nash’s successor, William Wade and printed in The new Bath guide; or, useful pocket companion (1771).

Bath, October 1, 1771. This day the following new rules were published by the Master of the Ceremonies, and hung up in the Assembly-Rooms.

It being absolutely necessary, that a propriety of dress should be observed at so polite an assembly as that of Bath, it is humbly requested of the company to comply with the following regulations:

That ladies who dance minuets be dressed in a suit of clothes, or a full-trimmed sack, with lappets and dressed hoops, such as are usually worn at St James’s.

It is requested of those ladies who do not dance minuets, not to take up the front seats at the balls.

An early 1770s embroidered mantua which is thought to have been worn to court by Elizabeth Linley, possibly around the same time that she became the wife of the playwright and theatre owner, Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
An early 1770s embroidered mantua which is thought to have been worn to court by Elizabeth Linley, possibly around the same time that she became the wife of the playwright and theatre owner, Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Bath Fashion Museum.

That no lady dance country-dances in a hoop of any kind and those who chuse to pull their hoops off, will be assisted by proper servants in an apartment for that purpose.

That no lady of precedence has a right to take place in country-dances after they have begun.

The Country Dance (The Happy Marriage) by William Hogarth; Tate. (The lady in the hat would never have got away with that at Bath!)
The Country Dance (The Happy Marriage) by William Hogarth; Tate. (The lady in the hat would never have got away with that at Bath!)

The places at the top of the room are reserved for ladies of precedence of the tank of a Peeress of Great Britain and Ireland, it being found very inconvenient to have seats called for and placed before the company, after the ball has begun.

That gentlemen who dance minuets, do wear a full-trimmed suit of clothes, or French frock, hair or wig dressed with a bag.

The Minuet by Filippo Baratti
The Minuet by Filippo Baratti; Lytham Art Collection of Fylde Borough Council

Officers in the navy or army in their uniforms are desired to wear their hair or wig en queue.

Ladies are not to appear with hats, nor gentlemen with boots, in an evening, after the balls are begun for the season; nor the gentlemen with spurs in the Pump Room in a morning.

The subscription balls will begin as soon as possible after six o’clock, and finish precisely at eleven, even in the middle of a dance.

That no hazard or unlawful games will be allowed in these rooms on any account whatever, and no cards on Sundays.

Beau Nash at the Gaming Table by Charles Octavious Wright
Beau Nash at the Gaming Table by Charles Octavious Wright; Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery

That in case any subscriber to the balls should leave Bath before the season is over, such subscriber may, by leaving an order under their hand, transfer his or her tickets for the remaining part of the season.

The major part of the company having expressed their desire that the tea, on public ball-nights, may be paid for by every person that comes into the rooms; the managing committee at the New Rooms, and Mr Gyde at his room, are come to a resolution, that each gentleman or lady on a ball-night are to pay six-pence on their admission at the outer door, which will entitle them to tea.

Wm. Wade, M.C.

Captain William Wade by Thomas Gainsborough; Victoria Art Gallery
Captain William Wade by Thomas Gainsborough; Victoria Art Gallery

7 thoughts on “The Rules of Bath

  1. It had changed somewhat by 1810, when Subscribers are to preserve decorum and maintain respectability rather than having clothing described in detail. Ladies intending to dance minuets do give notice thereof to the MC the day previous, and to be in the rooms punctually at eight o’clock. And no gentleman shall be admitted to the balls in boots excepting officers in uniform and on duty [one wonders how they could sneak away to a ball if they were simultaneously on duty…] That’s the Lower Rooms. In the Upper Rooms, ladies who wanted to dance minuets were to wear lappets. in the Upper Rooms too, no gentleman to be admitted in boots or half-boots, no exceptions given. [Felton’s guide to the watering places and seaside resorts etc etc]

    Like

  2. Pingback: Merkwaardig (week 41) | www.weyerman.nl

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.