The Circus

The Circus


21st C
You might remember that I am trying to get seats for public use in the foyer outside the Waitrose supermarket in Bath. I have had a letter from Nigel Huxley the Branch Manager which is reassuring. He tells me that they will be installing four benches "made from recycled packaging" within a few weeks. This pleases me, but I wonder if these seats will be strong enough to support me - will they be made from discarded cardboard cartons?

18th C

Returning now to the Misses Lee's Belvedere House in Lansdown. We left the girls back from their walk and about to have tea.
Teachers made their own. Sarah the maid served the pupils who were offered tea and thick slices of bread and butter. These 'doorsteps' were so substantial some of the girls couldn't manage them all and passed them on to hungrier friends.

At 6.30 pm lessons had to be learnt for the following day and then girls were free until supper: the little ones played with their dolls, the older pupils read or sewed gifts and trifles, or amused themselves with their ever popular scrapbooks. Supper was served in the dining room: they had eaten meat and vegetables in the middle of the day so bread and cheese and beer were served now or, if preferred, bread and milk.

At 8 pm all pupils kneeled as Miss Lee read prayers before they were dismissed to go up to bed. The first thing they did on returning to their rooms was to take off their frocks. There were no such things as coat hangers which were not invented until late in the 19th C, so all clothes were folded and stored in cupboards or chests. Putting on their dressing gowns - an essential item - the girls brushed their hair, put in curl papers and looked over the next day's lessons. Some then sat and talked while it was light in the summer. But in winter it was far too cold and dark and they jumped smartly into bed before the candles were blown out by the mistress in charge. Each girl kept her own laundry book, listing everything sent out to be washed every Monday morning.

Three teachers were in charge at bedtime. The two privileged older parlour boarders each had her own room. They changed their clothes and returned to join the Miss Lees in the sisters' private drawing room, frequently joining them in any of their social activities in the town,

As a new girl Susan slept in a small bed in a room occupied by the French mistress and two other teachers. Later she was moved into one of the larger rooms shared by eight pupils.

Everyone rose at 6 am and lessons began at 8 am when the girls stood to curtsey as the senior Miss Lee appeared in the schoolroom. The set books for Susan's group were an English Grammar, Guthrie's Geographical Grammar, and two or three French books. Susan was espcially pleased about the Guthrie because she knew it well from studying it at home.

For some specialized subjects individual tutors were employed. Mr Billy Perks taught writing and arithmetic. Susan was one of his favourites, frequently rewarded for good work with a piece of gingerbread or a plum, warm from his jacket pocket.

There were pianos in three rooms in the school and each girl took three lessons per week, with practice required each day under the eagle eye of Mrs Oaks the music teacher. On Tuesdays and Fridays Monsieur Becker the drawing master appeared. He was a favourite of Miss Anne Lee and she always sat at table with him, a fact which did not pass unnoticed by the girls.

Grammar and French were each taught on a particular day and on Wednesday Miss Fleming arrived in her privately owned sedan chair (a rare indulgence) to conduct dancing lessons. She was extremely tall and stout, but held heself erect while teaching the minuet and other popular dances in the school room and dining room, with Simon the fiddler providing the music. Miss Fleming continually admonished the young ladies to be a credit to Bath on the dance floor. Susan needed no urging: she love dancing and was so good at it that Miss Fleming often rewarded her with a bonbon.

But she met her match in the French class. Susan hated speaking the language and was devastated to learn on her first day at the school that speaking in French was mandatory for every pupil during school hours! "Getting the mark" meant bowls of gruel for disobeying this rigid rule by lapsing into English.

At one of her earliest meals Susan had been intrigued by the sight of two girls undergoing punishment for some (then unknown to her) misdemeanor. They were forced to sit alone at a small table in the dining room where they were served slices of dry bread and a pint basin each of thin watery gruel. They were not permitted to leave the table until the bowl was empty. She soon learnt that the "mark" also took the form of a physical token -a badge of misconduct - handed out to offending pupils. Sometimes a close friend would take the badge and eat the gruel as a favour.

Classes were held Monday to Friday but Saturday morning was spent mending stockings, sewing on buttons and doing other personal chores, while the afternoon was given over to free time, spent at the school.