Today we visited Number 1 Royal Crescent, the former home of Henry Sandford. It is a Georgian House which gives a great insight into Georgian life and in particular life in Bath. Royal Crescent was built between 1767-1775 by John Wood junior. With his father John (Beau) Wood they were to transform Bath into the Palladian city that we know today.
During Georgian times Bath was a holiday spot where the rich and powerful would come for its healing waters. Many of the very rich came to Royal Crescent. Due to some of the excesses of the time many of the wealthy were afflicted by ailments caused by a rich diet such as gout and digestive problems. Doctors were consulted and they mapped out a plan for their patients to visit all the different baths to drink the different healing waters. We tasted the water at the Roman Baths and it was disgusting. They’d be transported from place to place by sedan chairs.
No 1 Royal Crescent
Entering the reception at No 1a we were directed to No 1 where we were greeted by a Georgian housekeeper, who gave us a basic introduction of the house and it’s history.
We started our tour on the ground floor which had three rooms including the parlour, gentleman’s retreat and dining room. The parlour was essentially the family room where everyday activities were conducted. It was a place for informal breakfasts, reading the paper or a book.
The gentleman’s retreat was a Georgian version of a man cave. During Georgian times was an age of discovery, collection and science. It was the room where gentlemen displayed the oddities they collected. On display in Henry Sandford’s man cave were items such as a telescope (for both studying the stars and studying some of the locals), fossils, skulls of gorillas.
In the passageway behind Henry’s Man Cave was a Cabinet of Curiosities which contained items such as a necklace made from fish backbones, African masks, carvings, pottery and a purse decorated with dog teeth. I certainly beat a set of flying ducks nailed to the wall.
We entered the dining room to find it was laid out for a traditional dessert. Expensive confectionery for dessert was the highlight of any elaborate Georgian dinner. The dining room was a social statement about the owner. Meals here were served on the finest Chamberlain Worcester Dessert Service and eaten with high quality silverware. The walls of the room were decorated with family portraits. It brought together the elements of family heritage and status.
In the corner of the Dining Room was a decorated leather screen hiding a chamber pot. During dinner Gentlemen would retire behind the screen to use the chamber pot. Judging by the way that men often don’t stand close enough and frequently miss the loo the dining room floor must’ve stank of stale urine from all the drinker dribblers.
After dinner ladies would withdraw upstairs to the Withdrawing Room where the hostess would prepare tea. During Georgian times tea was an expensive commodity. It was so expensive that the housekeeper kept it under lock and key.
Tea merchants often bought and sold the same tea more than once. Once the tea had been drunk the leaves were dried and resold back to the tea merchants as ‘Once Drunk Tea’. This tea was often bought by the less well off. After they had used the tea, they also dried it and resold it back to the Tea Merchants as ‘Twice Drunk Tea’. Once again it was bought, used and sold back to Merchant. Once again he resold it but this time as ‘Thrice Drunk Tea’.
As you could imagine the tea would’ve been so weak. Some of the less scrupulous merchants added black lead and other additives to the tea to pass it off as higher quality.
In the withdrawing room the ladies would wait patiently as the gentlemen followed the meal with port. Not just a glass or two but two pints each. The housekeeper held the keys to the wine store in the basement and a few times in the houses history near riots broke out when the port run out.
In the withdrawing room apart from drinking tea guests would play after dinner games. Fortunes were won and lost in the upstairs withdrawing rooms of Georgian mansions like No1 Royal Crescent. Guests played card games such as hazard. The gambling in Bath was so widespread that it forced changes to the gambling laws. Unscrupulous operators in Bath would target younger gentlemen, fill them full of alcohol and fleece them of their family fortunes.
The decoration of the house was phenomenal. The plasterwork in the house was just exquisite and all original.
Meanwhile the wallpaper and carpets on the floor were remakes made to the original pattern.
We continued our tour of the house up the stairs lined with family portraits to the upper floor which consisted of three rooms including the Withdrawing Room plus Lady’s and Gentleman’s Bedroom.
The Lady’s Bedroom had a few interesting items connected with fashion. The first was a wig scratcher. One of the drawbacks of wearing wigs was lice. To ease the problem a tiny hand on the end of a stick was used to give the area a scratch and move the lice on.
The other item was an adjustable face screen, used by ladies sitting in front of the fire to prevent their makeup from melting. It Georgian times lead was also used in face powder and many women were affected with lead poisoning.
On the bed a dress with hidden pockets of the type which inspired the kids nursery rhyme ‘Lucy Locket lost her pocket’. Id never heard it before but Michele could recite it. The hidden pocket was where a lady would hide her money.
On the wall of the bedroom were silhouettes. It was the cheap way of having portraits without hiring a portrait painter. In the wall beside the bed was a jib door,a hidden door built to look like the rest of the wall. It was a fascinating feature which allowed servants to enter from the servants stairs.
The Gentleman’s Bedroom had an interesting selection of the essential needs of a Georgian gentleman. From tailored clothing to this immaculate wig.
No 1 Royal Avenue had the perfect view of the whole avenue, so while Henri was housebound he had a birds eye view of all the comings and goings of the houses along the street. Whenever things got out of hand and a scandal erupted it was reported in the local newspaper. Though unlike today the names of those involved were never disclosed.
In the bedroom was Henry’s scrapbook, filled with clippings from the local paper from the time. Beside each clipping, Henry had notations with the names of the people involved and extra details not shared to the public.
In the basement of the house were the Housekeepers Room and kitchen. In Georgian times the Housekeeper was responsible for the efficient running of the house. The maid slept beside the oven to ensure that the fire never died out during the night.
The Kitchen of No 1 Royal Avenue. had a few interesting gadgets including a toast holder which swivelled rather than turned over and a wind up rotisserie. The weirdest gadget was a dog operated turnspit. When spit roasting meat a little dog was pit inside a mouse wheel. As the dog walked the spit turned. It seems that turnspit dogs are a local thing with dogs especially bred for the job. If the dog slowed down a red hot poker was stuck in his butt. In some houses two dogs were used on alternate days. It’s where the expression ‘Every dog has its day’ comes from. In most other regions young children were used to turn the handle instead.
Returning to the entry we visited the gallery on the top floor. It had an interesting display of Georgian life in Bath including satirical cartoons of that period. Thomas Rowlandson’s ‘Comforts of Bath’ take a swipe at things like flooded streets, gout sufferers and the excess of the time. They’re quite hilarious. There was also a funny take on history with some of the events which happened in Bath as Facebook statuses.
Overall it was an interesting museum, the knowledgeable guides in every room have an ability to bring Georgian history to Georgian life.
Entry to No 1 Royal Avenue costs £10 and opening times are available here
We would like to thank Visit Bath for their support in our visit to Bath.