Georgian Bath - The Magical Meeting Place

Penelope Corfield examines the city of Bath as a model of social change and urban expansion in Hanoverian England.

We all thought, that we should not know here what to do with ourselves, Time would hang so heavy on our hands in a strange Place: but, on the contrary... we have no Respite. All is Hurry Hurry. We have had repeated visits...

With that realisation, at once startled and gratified, the quiet country parson, John Penrose, in 1766 began his visit to the great resort city of Bath, seeking a cure for his gouty leg. With his wife and eldest daughter, he was rapidly immersed into the hustle and bustle of urban sociability. He was impressed by the company, pleased by the shops, dazzled by the new architecture and house furnishings, amused at the 'fantastick Pride' of fashionable attire, edified by the well-attended church sermons, gratified by seeing Prime Minister Pitt in the Pump Room, and himself assisted by drinking the spa-waters.

This spritely correspondence from real life could be paralleled by numerous other accounts both in fact and fiction. Eighteenth-century Bath was a much memorialised city. It was novelised, dramatised, versified, lampooned, satirised, and sermonised. Local histories propounded its past development, guide-books and directories its present glories. After London, it quite probably provoked a greater mass of writing than any other town or city in England. Meanwhile painters and print-makers hurried to record its splendours, and cartoonists its follies, as shown in the affectionate malice with which Thomas Rowlandson depicted the discomforting Comforts of Bath.

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