The Circus

The Circus

Pp 161-163 8 Feb 2011

18TH C

Mary (known as Molly to her affectionate father) was now nine years old and Margaret (nicknamed Captain by Gainsborough) was eight.

The move from a small country town to the sophisticated and often wanton pleasures of the fashionable spa town of Bath was an exciting adventure for them but possibly a more difficult time for their mother.

Gainsborough finally settled on living in the centre of town in Abbey House, a large, impressive building erected for the 2nd Duke of Kingston and leased from him. The house easily met the artist's needs for work and family. From the moment he signed a seven year lease on the property in June 1760 Gainsborough made a life-long habit of increasing his income by letting out rooms to lodgers. When he first moved into Abbey House he placed Margaret and the girls exactly in the middle of both social and commercial life in Bath, living as they did in the noisy and smoke-filled centre of the town. The handsome building, since demolished, lay between Pump Room and Abbey. It was so close to the King's and Queen's Baths that a public passage-way for bathers was incorporated in the building.

From contemporary accounts it appears that views of the Roman Baths from the windows of adjacent houses were not always suitable for the eyes of the innocent young Gainsborough girls who might have gazed down upon them, as we shall see.

Meanwhile family ties were so strong within the Gainsborough clan at Sudbury that no fewer than ten of Thomas's relatives eventually followed him to live in Bath. His sister Mary Gibbon the milliner was among the first, arriving in 1762 to set up shop in the shadow of the Abbey. Mrs Gibbon soon made a name for herself as a most fashionable shop-keeper dealing in expensive small items such as perfumes and gifts as well as millinery. Later she became known as a leading lodging-house-keeper in the city, or a "lodging-house cat" as her brother Thomas described her.