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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Major

Beau Nash's 'Rules of Bath'

Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, dandy, Bath’s Master of Ceremonies and unofficial ‘king’ of the city was born in 1674. He set the rules by which Bath society regulated their days and established it as a fashionable resort. You had to pass Beau Nash’s scrutiny to be granted admission to the balls and card parties. Even the highest in the land had to do as he said.

Richard Beau Nash by William Hoare

Bath Pump Room/Victoria Art Gallery

Kitty, Duchess of Queensberry, was one of the era’s fashion icons. Once, she appeared at the Assembly Rooms with a delicate white apron over her skirt which was against the rules. Beau Nash snatched it away and threw it onto the backbenches, where the ladies' attendants sat, remarking with acidity that ‘none but Abigails appeared in white aprons!’ The duchess remained good-humoured; she laughed and begged pardon of the Master of Ceremonies.

Lady Catherine 'Kitty' Hyde, Duchess of Queensberry, as a Milkmaid by Charles Jervas

National Trust, Petworth House

Even after he died in 1761, Beau Nash's 'Rules of Bath' continued to be followed. The list below is from 1771, as published by one of Nash’s successors, William Wade (known as the Bath Adonis) and printed in The New Bath Guide; or, useful pocket companion.

Bath, October 1, 1771. This day the following new rules were published by the Master of the Ceremonies, and hung up in the Assembly-Rooms.
It being absolutely necessary, that a propriety of dress should be observed at so polite an assembly as that of Bath, it is humbly requested of the company to comply with the following regulations:
That ladies who dance minuets be dressed in a suit of clothes, or a full-trimmed sack, with lappets and dressed hoops, such as are usually worn at St James’s.
It is requested of those ladies who do not dance minuets, not to take up the front seats at the balls.
That no lady dance country-dances in a hoop of any kind and those who chuse to pull their hoops off, will be assisted by proper servants in an apartment for that purpose.
That no lady of precedence has a right to take place in country-dances after they have begun.

The Country Dance (The Happy Marriage) by William Hogarth

The Tate.

(The lady in the hat would never have got away with that at Bath, as we will see!)

The places at the top of the room are reserved for ladies of precedence of the rank of a Peeress of Great Britain and Ireland, it being found very inconvenient to have seats called for and placed before the company, after the ball has begun.
That gentlemen who dance minuets, do wear a full-trimmed suit of clothes, or French frock, hair or wig dressed with a bag.

The Minuet by Filippo Baratti

Lytham Art Collection of Fylde Borough Council

Officers in the navy or army in their uniforms are desired to wear their hair or wig en queue.
Ladies are not to appear with hats, nor gentlemen with boots, in an evening, after the balls are begun for the season; nor the gentlemen with spurs in the Pump Room in a morning.
The subscription balls will begin as soon as possible after six o’clock, and finish precisely at eleven, even in the middle of a dance.
That no hazard or unlawful games will be allowed in these rooms on any account whatever, and no cards on Sundays.

Beau Nash at the Gaming Table by Charles Octavious Wright

Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery

That in case any subscriber to the balls should leave Bath before the season is over, such subscriber may, by leaving an order under their hand, transfer his or her tickets for the remaining part of the season.
The major part of the company having expressed their desire that the tea, on public ball-nights, may be paid for by every person that comes into the rooms; the managing committee at the New Rooms, and Mr Gyde at his room, are come to a resolution, that each gentleman or lady on a ball-night are to pay six-pence on their admission at the outer door, which will entitle them to tea.
Wm. Wade, M.C.

Captain William Wade by Thomas Gainsborough

Victoria Art Gallery


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