They came to Bath....

 

 

Ralph ALLEN   1693 - 1764   Lillyput Alley   

Of the three men generally held to have been responsible for the city of Bath's sensational eighteenth-century development—Ralph Allen, Beau Nash and John Wood the Elder—Allen is arguably the most remarkable. He came to the city in 1710 from Cornwall, as assistant to the postmistress: and, after succeeding her two years later, he became the youngest postmaster in the kingdom, at a salary of £25 per annum. He won the patronage of General Wade in 1715, when he disclosed details of a Jacobite plot in the South West; and with the General's financial support, he was able to institute a system of 'cross posts' that completely revolutionised the inadequate postal system, and made him a personal fortune. In 1726 he bought the stone quarries at Combe Down, and built an ingenious railway to carry the huge blocks down the Bath, where the building renaissance, inspired by the genius of John Wood the Elder, was just beginning. This very astute enterprise earned him another fortune: and in 1735 he commissioned Wood to build Prior Park, a superb Palladian mansion overlooking the Widcombe valley and city. The quarrelsome eccentric, Philip Thicknesse, described the house, perhaps with some justification, as 'a noble seat which sees all Bath, and which was built, probably for all Bath to see'. Allen was now a very wealthy man, and at Prior Park he entertained many of the famous poets, politicians, artists and men of letters of his time, including Pope, Gainsborough, David Garrick, Henry Fielding and the elder Pitt. Fielding, it is said, took him as the model for Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones; and Pope paid him a modest compliment in the epilogue to his Satires with this couplet: Let humble Allen, with an awkward shame, Do good by stealth, and blush to find fame. Whether by stealth or not, Allen was a warm-hearted philanthropist contributing generously to many worthy causes. He donated £1,000 towards the building of the Bath Hospital, as well as the stone from his quarries; and Fielding described him as 'a munificent patron, a warm and firm friend... hospitable to his neighbours, charitable to the poor, and benevolent to all mankind'. What remains of his town house in Bath can still be seen, in Lilliput Alley, close to the Abbey. From the end of the alley, the narrow but splendid Palladian east front can just be glimpsed: and if the visitor turns round at this point he will see, on the slopes of Claverton Down, the folly that Allen built there. It is called Sham Castle, and is a façade with nothing behind it; its purpose was simply to enhance the romanticism of the view from his windows. Ralph Allen was an outstanding businessman and a legendary patron and benefactor. He was Mayor of the city only once—in 1742—but his influence on its development was profound. He died in 1764, aged seventy-one. 

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Jane AUSTEN   1775-1817 4 Sydney Place 

There are four houses in Bath that can claim to have accommodated Jane Austen during her active association with the city—an association that lasted approximately six years. In the summer of 1799 she stayed with her mother at 13 Queens Square for a month. A year later her father, the Rev. George Austen, gave up his living at Steventon in Hampshire, and decided to retire to Bath. A suitable house was found at 4 Sydney Place, and the family stayed there until the expiry of the lease three years later; a bronze tablet on the wall of the house identifies it as Miss Austen's principal domicile in the city. A short lease was then taken on 27 Green Park Buildings, where Jane's father died in January, 1805; and afterwards Mrs Austen and her daughters moved to 25 Gay Street. Little more than a year later, in the summer of 1806, they left Bath permanently moving first to Clifton and Southampton, and finally, in 1809, to the little village of Chawton in Hampshire, where Jane spent eight happy and productive years before her death in 1817. She never liked Bath. Some time after leaving the city, she wrote to her sister Cassandra: 'It will be two years tomorrow since we left Bath for Clifton, with what happy feelings of escape'. And perhaps she was mirroring her own feelings when, in Northanger Abbey, she has Isabella Thorpe confiding to Catherine Morland: 'I get so immoderately sick of Bath; your brother and I were agreeing this morning that though it is vastly well to be here for a few weeks, we would not live here for millions'. Yet, in spite of her obvious dislike of the city, the major parts of two of her novels— Northanger Abbey and Persuasion—are set in Bath, and the life she herself led there is perfectly reflected in the pages of both of them. 

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William, Duke of CLARENCE  1765-1827  103 Sydney Place

When Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, visited Bath in 1817, she was accompanied by her third son William, Duke of Clarence, who lodged at 103 Sydney Place. The visit was a brief one, marred by the news of the death, in childbirth, of Princess Charlotte, the daughter of the Prince Regent. The royal party left for Windsor almost immediately. Princess Charlotte's death had a special significance for the Duke of Clarence. Because almost all of George III's children were dead, and Charlotte was the only child of the Prince Regent, his prospects of eventually succeeding to the throne were considerably enhanced. He did, in fact, become William IV on the death of his brother, then George IV, in 1830. A bronze tablet on the facade of the house in Sydney Place commemorates his brief stay there. 

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Charles DICKENS   1812-1870 35 St James's Square

The man whose novels have probably been read by a greater number of people than any other English works of fiction, was no stranger to Bath. As a young parliamentary reporter, he visited the city in the spring of 1835, to report a speech by Lord John Russell for the Morning Chronicle; and on that occasion he stayed at the Saracen's Head in Broad Street. Later, he often visited his close friend, Walter Savage Landor, at 35 St James's Square. He was there in 1840, and is said to have conceived the character of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop during his stay. Pickwick Papers had already firmly established his fame as a novelist, and in one or two chapters of this celebrated novel the social life of Bath was brilliantly satirised, with Mr Pickwick taking the waters, Sam Weller, his faithful servant, declaring them to have 'a very strong flavour o' warm flat irons', and Mr Dowler and Mr Winkle getting involved in a hilarious chase round the Royal Crescent. Later in his life Dickens grew to dislike Bath for a reason that now seems remarkably superficial. He was present in the Assembly Rooms when Bulwer-Lytton's play Not So Bad As We Seem, was performed by the Guild of Literature. Dickens was a member of the Guild, and had given advice on certain aspects of production; and when the play was coldly received by the audience, and awarded poor notices in the local press, he was deeply displeased. He never forgave Bath from that moment. A bronze tablet commemorating his visit to Landor's house, adorns the facade of 35 St James's Square. It was unveiled in 1903, on February 7th the novelist's birthday, by a representative of the Dickens Fellowship. 

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Benjamin DISRAELI  (1st Earl of Beaconsfield) 1804-1881 

Disraeli visited Bath for the first time with Edward Bulwer Lytton, later Lord Lytton, in January, 1833. They are said to have stayed at the White Hart; but a letter that Disraeli wrote from Bath at that time casts some doubt on this assumption. 'We have a lodging at £2 per week in an unfashionable part of the town' he wrote, 'with no servant and do everything but cook our own dinners, to which Bulwer was very inclined-we have two sitting-rooms, and scribble in solitude in the morning until two-I have written about fifty pages of a pretty tale about Iskander, which will be a fine contrast to Alroy'. This certainly does not seem to indicate the White Hart, which was then presided over by Moses Pickwick, and noted for its comfort and service. The two scribblers, it would seem, lodged at a less prestigious establishment. Alroy, the novel on which Disraeli was engaged at that time, was an exotic fantasy that was to be glowingly praised by William Beckford, although it never sold well; the 'pretty tale about Iskander', a story of love, war and patriotism, was included in the novel. And Bulwer-Lytton was probably writing The Last Days of Pompeii, which was published during the following year, 1834. In 1861, Disraeli bought a house in Bath, at 8 Brock Street. By that time he was a politician of considerable eminence; he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons in Lord Derby's government two years previously, and he was soon to become Prime Minister. There would have been few opportunities, it seems, to visit Bath although he must have intended to do so. 

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Thomas GAINSBOROUGH   1727-1788  7 the Circus

Gainsborough came to Bath from Ipswich at the instigation, it is said, of the eccentric Philip Thicknesse—although the fact that his sister, Mrs Mary Gibbon, kept a lodging house in the city, close to Abbey Churchyard, may well have influenced his decision. He stayed at Mrs Gibbon's home after his arrival in Bath, using a room facing the south-west door of the abbey as a studio. At that time visiting artists were invited to display their work in the Pump Room, with their scale of charges, and Gainsborough took prompt advantage of this facility. The quality of his work was quickly recognised, and commissions for portraits began to flow in. During his first months in the city he charged five guineas for a portrait, and as he became established, he increased the rate to a hundred guineas for a full length portrait, forty guineas for a half-length, and five guineas for a head. Soon he was ready to move to more commodious premises, and late in 1763 he wrote to his friend James Unwin: 'I have taken a house about three-quarters of a mile in the Lansdown Road: it is sweetly situated, and I have every convenience I could wish for. I pay thirty pounds a year...' Three years later he felt confident enough to move to the Circus, and to rent one of the newly-completed houses there, at two hundred guineas a year. The houses in the Circus were not numbered at that time, and Gainsborough always gave his address simply as 'Mr Gainsborough, Bath'. It was originally thought that his house was 24, and in June 1902 a bronze tablet was unveiled there by Sir Walter Armstrong, a noted authority on the painter's work. But after detailed research into the rate books of the period, it was proved that the house he rented was 17; and late in 1971 the plaque was transferred to its present position. During the years he spent in Bath, Gainsborough painted the portraits of Lord Chesterfield, Garrick, Sterne, Richardson, Sheridan, Burke, James Quin, Elizabeth Linley and many others. One of his most famous paintings, The Blue Boy, was probably completed during his stay in the city, and clearly reflects his admiration for Van Dyck. The model for the portrait was Jonathan Buttall, the son of one of Gainsborough's friends who was a prosperous ironmonger in London's Soho. Gainsborough left Bath in 1774 after a quarrel with Thicknesse, and settled in London, where his work continued to attract fashionable patronage. He died in 1788, after contracting a chill which developed into a cancerous tumour of the neck at the trial of Warren Hastings. His last words were: 'We are going to Heaven, and Van Dyck is of the company'. 

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 George Frederic HANDEL   1685-1758  3 Pierrepont Street

Rather surprisingly perhaps, Handel was a close friend of James Quin, the actor and wit who often referred to Bath as 'a fine slope to the grave', and said that he 'did not know a better place for an old cock to roost in'. It was Quin who persuaded the composer to visit Bath with him in 1749, in order that he might benefit from the waters; he probably lodged with Quin at the actor's house, 3 Pierrepont Street. Handel returned the following year, and in 1751 he came again to the city with his devoted secretary, John Christopher Smith. The waters gave him only temporary relief from his rheumatism, and he was now facing the onset of blindness; he was not present when his oratorio Messiah was first performed in Bath in 1755, at Wiltshire's Rooms near the Parades. He planned a further visit to the city in 1759, but worsening health prevented his travelling, and he died only a week after cancelling his arrangements. Smith continued his work on Handel's behalf, and came to live in Bath after his retirement in 1774, at 18 Brock Street. 

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Franz Joseph HAYDN  1732-1809  Perrymead Villa Lyncombe

Haydn composed more than a hundred symphonies and concertos and of these, twelve symphonies were written in England, on visits he made in 1791 and 1784. On his second visit in 1794, he spent three pleasant days with Venanzio Rauzzini, Bath's musical director, at the impressano's country retreat at Perrymead, Lyncombe. The composer noted in his diary on August 8th 1794: 'Lodged at Mr V. Rauzzini's, musician'; and the Bath Chronicle, on the same day, recorded his name under the heading 'Arrived here'. Rauzzini had buried a much-loved pet, his dog Turk, in the garden, with an inscribed stone over the grave. Haydn was so touched by this that he set part of the inscription to music as a round, or canon, for four voices. 

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David LIVINGSTONE  1813-1873  13 the Circus

When, in September 1864, the famous explorer came to Bath to address the British Association, he stayed at 13 the Circus. The meeting was held in the Theatre Royal, and the crowded audience, to quote the words of a local reporter, presented quite an array of science and learning'. After he had been enthusiastically welcomed, Livingstone spoke at length of his travels in Africa. The famous occasion when he was rescued by Stanley occurred eight years later, in 1872, at the climax of a dangerous and harrowing expedition into the African interior. He died a year later, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. 

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KING Louie  XVIII   1755-1824  72 Great Pulteney Street

Louis XVIII was a brother of the ill-fated Louis XVI, who died by the guillotine in 1793. He assumed the title of King in 1795, immediately after the death of the Dauphin; but, as the Comte de Provence, he wandered around Europe for nineteen years, until he was finally proclaimed in 1814. He came to Bath in August 1813, accompanied by his niece, Marie Thérèse, Duchesse of Angouleme, who was a daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. They stayed at 72 Great Pulteney Street, and apparently they were well received in the city; when they left, they were presented with an address, to which Louis replied from his Pulteney Street window. A year later, corpulent and gouty, he became King of France, and died in 1824. 

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Sally LUNN   North Parade Passage

'Sally Lunn', wrote Dickens in a nineteenth-century weekly journal, 'the illustrious author of a tea-cake, lived at the close of the last century. Her home was at Bath, where she cried her bun cakes morning and evening about the streets, carrying them in a basket with a white cloth over it'. Sally lived in what is claimed to be the oldest house in Bath, in North Parade Passage. The plaque on the facade proclaims that it dates from 1482; but at that time the ground on which the house stands was part of the Abbey precinct, and no domestic dwellings would have been built there. Architectural authorities believe that a more acceptable date would be soon after 1539. It is said that two Dukes of Kingston lived there, and that Ralph Allen established his first post office in the house in 1725; but no evidence exists to suggest that Sally lived and worked there, apart from recipes for the cakes which were eventually found in a bake-house oven in the cellar. She is believed to have acquired the house in 1680, but no records substantiate this, or confirm either her birth or death. It is possible that she may be a legendary figure. But the delicious tea-cakes associated with her name can still be enjoyed in the house in North Parade Passage. Legendary or not, her reputation as a Bath character is still very much alive. 

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Louis Napoleon Bonaparte NAPOLEON III  1808-1873  55 Great Pulteney Street

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was a nephew of the great Napoleon, and was Emperor of France from 1852 until 1871, at the time of the Second Empire. The end of his reign occurred after the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), in which he was captured by the Germans at Sedan, and held prisoner for the duration. Soon afterwards he was deposed by the National Assembly, and retired to England with his wife and family. He came to Bath on several occasions. The first time was in 1846, when he stayed for six weeks at the Sydney Hotel (now the Holburne of Menstrie Museum) at the top of Great Pulteney Street: Walter Savage Landor, who was then living at 35 St James's Square. dined with him every day during this visit. After he was deposed in 1871, and during the last two years of his life, he often stayed at 55 Great Pulteney Street, where a bronze tablet records his occupancy. 

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Richard 'Beau' NASH    1674-1761  St John's Court

Three men are generally considered to have been responsible for Bath's emergence as a fashionable resort in the early part of the eighteenth century: they were Ralph Allen, the philanthropist, John Wood senior, the architect, and Beau Nash, the extrovert impresario who dominated the life of the city for nearly half a century. Nash's contribution is principally a social one. G. M. Trevelyan remarks, in his English Social History that 'during his long supremacy as Master of the Ceremonies, nearly covering the reigns of Anne and the first two Georges, Nash did perhaps as much as any other person, even in the eighteenth century, to civilise the neglected manners of mankind'. The strict code of conduct that he drew up for those attending social events in Bath became widely accepted. and was chiefly responsible for a marked improvement in general behaviour. At Bath functions, for example. gentlemen were not allowed to wear riding boots or swords, and duelling was banned; members of the aristocracy were firmly told that rudeness to fellow guests of lower station would not be tolerated: and ladies were informed that their apparel and behaviour should be beyond reproach: his rule in this later context was unequivocal—'Ladies dressing and behaving like Handmaids must not be surprised if they are treated like Handmaids'. Nash came to Bath in 1705, after half-heartedly pursuing careers in the army and as a lawyer. The gambling craze that gripped the city undoubtedly attracted him; but within a short time of his arrival he was appointed Master of the Ceremonies, with virtual control over all Bath's social life. His skill and good fortune at gambling brought him prosperity and he was able to live in a fine mansion in St John's Court, now the 'Garrick's Head' public house. In 1739, however, an act was passed making several popular card games illegal, and Nash's income declined drastically. So did his reputation: in 1743, when he was seventy, he was described as 'a silly overlord, a worn out and toothless old man crowned with a white hat, and whose face was animated iron rust, changeless and shameless red'. He was obliged to leave St John's Court, and take a smaller house in the Sawclose. Here he lived with his mistress, a dressmaker called Juliana Papjoy: and when he was accused of being a whoremonger, he proved that his reputation as a wit was unsullied by age. 'A man can no more be termed a whoremonger for having one whore in his house' he replied, 'than a cheesemonger for having one cheese'. He died in February 1761, at the age of eighty-seven, and was given a magnificent civic funeral, and buried at the Abbey. In the Pump Room today, his statue by Prince Hoare gazes down at visitors with obvious disapproval, from an alcove at the east end of the room. His last house, close to the Theatre Royal's entrance, is now a restaurant called 'Popjoy's'. The slight discrepancy in the name is not accidental. Nash's mistress was officially Juliana Popjoy; but her relationship with the Beau was almost certainly responsible, at the time, for the coarse adaptation, 'Papjoy', by which she became generally known. A bronze tablet on the house commemorates Nash's tenancy there. 

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 Lord Horatio NELSON    1758-1805  2 Pierrepont Street

The great sailor is believed to have first visited Bath in 1772, accompanying his father, the Rector of Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk, who came regularly to the city to take the waters. Nelson was a fourteen-year-old midshipman at the time, newly enlisted in the navy, and Gainsborough painted his portrait, showing him in a smart blue uniform, standing at a table with an open book on navigation before him. Gainsborough was then living at 17 The Circus, and the painting was probably completed there. Nine years later, when he was twenty-two and already a Post-Captain, Nelson returned to Bath for a lengthier stay. His health had been badly impaired after thirty months' continuous service in the Caribbean, culminating in the ill-fated expedition to San Juan; and when he was granted extensive leave to convalesce, he decided that Bath was the place in which his recovery would best be expedited. He arrived in the autumn of 1780, and took lodgings at 2 Pierrepont Street, the home of an apothecary called Spry. A full course of 'physic', prescribed by Dr Woodward of Gay Street, together with the much-vaunted therapy of the waters and the baths, slowly restored his strength; and late in 1781 he was able to write to his great friend Captain Locker: 'My health, I thank God, is perfectly restored, although I shall remain here a few weeks longer, that it may be firmly fixed, as also to avoid the cold weather which I believe is setting in—for, you know, this is like Jamaica to any other part of England'. He returned to Bath again in September 1797, to stay with his wife and father, after losing an arm in Tenerife. His previous visits to the city had been as a midshipman and a Post-Captain. Now he was Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, and Bath, having awarded him the Freedom of the city after the great naval victory of Cape St Vincent, acclaimed him as a hero. One of the local journals was euphoric: 'Arrived at Bath... Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson.. The Rear-Admiral, who was received at Portsmouth on the 1st with a universal greeting, reached Bath on Sunday evening in good health and spirits, to the great joy of his Lady and Venerable Father, and gratification of every admirer of British Valour...' He remained in the city for a fortnight, and the wound occasioned by the amputation of his right arm at Santa Cruz in Tenerife was dressed daily by a surgeon: then in mid-September, he travelled to London with his wife, breaking the journey at Newbury en route. Nelson's father spent a great deal of time in Bath, and died at his lodgings in Pulteney Street three years before his famous son was killed at Trafalgar in 1805. Lady Nelson, too, visited the city frequently. In 1809 she was staying at 2 Bennett Street; and at the same time, another lady highly esteemed by the late Admiral was enjoying the ambience of Bath at 6 Edward Street, not very far away. But Emma Hamilton's extravagancies and gambling excesses were rapidly reducing her to penury, and the generous legacies left her by her husband and Nelson had already been squandered. She was to spend twelve months in a debtors' prison in 1813, and to die in abject poverty two years later. The house in Pierrepont Street carries a bronze plaque unveiled in 1904 by Lord Selbourne, First Lord of the Admiralty. A decade ago it was empty, and its dirty windows and rusting paintwork drew protests from several citizens. Now it provides accommodation for a secretarial college, and its appearance has been modestly improved. Other evidences of Nelson's associations with Bath are to be seen at the western end of New King Street. Nelson Place and Nile Street were named in his honour after the great victory of the Nile in 1798. So, too, was Norfolk Crescent—so called because Norfolk was the Admiral's home county. 

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Samuel PEPYS   1633-1703   The Bear Inn

The famous diary of Samuel Pepys, written in cipher, remained in Magdalene College, Cambridge, for more than a hundred years before it was first published in 1825. It is a completely fascinating document of more than a million and a quarter words, covering the years from 1660 to 1669; and as Arthur Bryant has said, 'after three centuries, there is not a page in it that does not arrest the reader, and quicken his perception of humanity'. In the diary Pepys describes his visit to 'the Bath' as he called it (the seventeenth-century name usually included the article), on 12th June, 1668. When he arrived, he found 'the town most of stone and clean, though the streets generally narrow'. On the morning after his arrival he rose at 4 a.m. and went to the Cross Bath, where he stayed in the steaming water for two hours. He was mildly shocked at the number of 'fine ladies' bathing, and thought that 'it cannot be clean to go so many bodies together in the same water'. Then, 'wrap in a sheet' he was carried to his lodgings in a chair, and went to bed, 'sweating for an hour'. He paid the sergeant of the bath ten shillings for the privilege of immersing himself, and the man who carried him in a chair was given three shillings and sixpence - generous rates indeed, when one considers the disparities in money values over three hundred years. It is not known where Pepys stayed when he came to Bath; but he could well have lodged at the old Bear Inn, which was demolished in 1806 to make way for Union Street. 

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Sir Walter SCOTT   1771-1835   6 South Parade

The faith of many women in the effectiveness of panaceas is almost legendary. Mary of Modena, the wife of James II, came to Bath hoping that a course of the waters would induce pregnancy; Dr Johnson's mother made the long tiring journey from Lichfield to London with her son, believing that if Queen Anne touched him, his scrofula would be cured; and Sir Walter Scott's aunt brought the future novelist to Bath when he was a four-year-old fledgling, believing that the waters would help to cure his pronounced limp; an attack of poliomyelitis, when he was only eighteen months old, had left him with lameness in the right leg that proved to be permanent. Only the confidence of Mary of Modena, it seems, was justified. The famous author of the Waverley novels stayed with his aunt at 6 South Parade, now part of Pratt's Hotel, and there is a bronze tablet on the wall to commemorate the fact. Scott saw his first play As You Like It, at Bath's Theatre Royal during the visit. 

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Queen VICTORIA 1819-1901 Royal York Hotel

Queen Victoria came to Bath in October, 1830; at that time she was the eleven-year-old Princess Victoria, and seven years were to elapse before she succeeded to the throne. She was accompanied by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and the purpose of the visit was to open the new Victoria Park, named in her honour. The royal party spent two days in the city, staying at the Royal York Hotel, then called York House; and the Princess was able to visit the Assembly Rooms, the Pump Room, Great Pulteney Street, Royal Crescent. and William Beckford's Tower at Lansdown. The room at the Royal York Hotel in which Victoria and her mother stayed is 24, and still retains some of the original furniture. A plaque over the door proclaims that 'Her Majesty the Queen, when Princess Victoria, accompanied by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, occupied this room, October, 1830'. During their visit, the Princess and her mother purchased jewellery from the shop of Payne & Sons--now Mallory's--on Old Bond Street. The splendid royal coat-of-arms adorning the parapet of the shop, and facing Milsom Street, dates from this time.  

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William WORDSWORTH  1770-1850 9 North Parade

Two years before he succeeded Southey as Poet Laureate, Wordsworth visited Bath, and on 29th April, 1841, the Chronicle briefly announced his presence in the city: 'The distinguished poet Wordsworth is at present residing in Bath, where we understand he will remain until the middle of June'. There is a bronze tablet on the wall of 9 North Parade, commemorating the poet's visit. It is, it seems, misplaced; at the head of a letter he wrote to a friend during his stay, his address is clearly stated as 12 North Parade—which leaves little doubt about the identity of the house. Wordsworth visited Walter Savage Landor at 35 St James's Square while he was in Bath; and towards the end of his visit he attended the wedding of his only daughter, Dora, to Mr Edward Quillinan at St James's Church. This church was gutted by fire in 1942, during the 'Baedeker' air raids on Bath, and was subsequently demolished to make room for the erection of Woolworth's store in Stall Street. 

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©ibby  June 2003                                                                        Home