The Circus

The Circus

Pp 195-198

18th C

The city was so popular when the Gainsborough family moved several years later to The Circus (called then The King's Circus just as the main hot water bath was known as The King's Bath) that people like the Rev. Edmund Nelson, father of the illustrious Horatio, made the ardouous cross-country journey from Norfolk to spend most of his winters in the spa town. Lord Nelson's sister, Susannah, was apprenticed to a milliner in Bath and another sister, Anne, died there after dancing all night at a ball and catching a chill when leaving.

Nelson himself chose to convalesce at Bath in 1780 after returning from service in Jamaica where he became seriously ill through drinking water contaminated by the poisonous Machineel tree. Bath doctors "physicked" him four times daily, and he travelled by sedan chair to The King's Bath to drink the waters three times each day. The standard prescription required a patient to drink from three to six pints of the foul-tasting water daily. If you visit Bath today you can taste it for yourself from a fountain in the Pump Room above the Baths. Nelson was so ill that chairmen were engaged to carry him to and from his sick bed. He survived and went on to enjoy popularity as the country's most famous naval hero.

However, the family's close connection with the spa town continued for many years. Nelson's father died in Bath and the hero's long-suffering wife Fanny was at the old man's deathbed. Nelson, however, refused to return to attend his father's funeral, preferring to remain with his mistress, the glamorous Emma Hamilton, at Merton, the house he had bought for her in Surrey.

In the autumn of 1763 Gainsborough moved the family out of the "smoke" at Abbey House to take up residence in a detached house now known as Lansdown Lodge, situated high above the town on Lansdown Road, This attractive building offered a garden, splendid views across the city below and a healthier atmosphere for the girls, all for £30 a year. Leaving Margaret there, Gainsborough went back down the hill each day to work in Abbey House where he kept his studio and exhibition room, while letting out the remainder of the house, the shop to his sister the milliner and other rooms to lodgers, bringing in a welcome extra income. The Gainsboroughs continued to let out rooms in their own house when they moved here to 17 The Circus three years later.