The Circus

The Circus

P P. 244-6

Well, back to the 18th C .

We were talking about the way the Gainsboroughs used this house at No. 17 The Circus in Bath and I was reminded of an occasion when James Boswell visited the home of a friend, a member of Parliament for Scotland who had gone abroad, apparently in a great hurry, leaving his rooms in chaos.

Boswell and his companion, Colonel Donald Campbell (who had recently returned alive and kicking from the East Indies after twenty years service bearing no less than fourteen sword wounds and having a musket ball still lodged in his body) were so amused by the state of confusion left behind by the MP that they made a list of the appearance of the dining room after the servant had let them in.

On one table was a stone basin filled with dirty water, a china water bottle and a tin water jug, a case of cut-throat razors and shaving gear. A set of dirty ruffles lay on one chair, sitting on top of soiled white and black stockings, a stock, a used towel and a dirty shaving cloth. A sleeveless flannel waistcoat and a dirty shirt were flung over the backs of two more chairs and on another lay a black waistcoat and a grey frock coat with black buttons. A set of combs, a pair of scissors and a stick of pomatum occupied another seat. On the carpet lay a length of blue and white check material, a tea-chest and abandoned closeby was a pair of shoes. A flannel powdering-gown (worn when the hair was being dressed) and a pair of slippers had been discarded on the floor. Numerous packets of letters, books, pamphlets and newspapers were piled on the chimney-piece together with a snuff-box. Two hats, a sword and belt and a belt without a sword hung on the wall. An extra long cane with a gold head stood in a corner.

The MP's servant looked on in amazement as Boswell and the Colonel, both amused and appalled by the mess, recorded every single item in a notebook. Boswell later published the list, giving us an accurate picture of one Georgian gentleman's dining room and his way of life when living alone.

Boswell mentions the chimney piece. Every room in those days before central heating needed a fireplace and the price of coal was an item which concerned every housekeeper at every social level. Indeed, it was one of the reasons why families chose to spend several months of the year away from the metropolis: coal in Bath was so much cheaper than in London.

In the front area of this house, below street level, are several stone vaults running out below the pavement. They were used by the Gainsborough family for storage and for the vital coal supplies.

The basement still has its own front door and a stone staircase leading up to street level which, in Gainsborough's day, was used exclusively by servants and tradesmen. There is also the remains of an iron lift or pulley by the gate which was used to lower heavy items to be stored in the basement vaults.