The smell of frying bacon coming from the kitchen below our room is an amazing alarm clock. Someone should come up with a clock that emits smells rather than noise. It not only wakes you up happy but also sets you up for that most important meal of the day. The bacon was just too much temptation for Mirinda so she indulged in the full English as well. Breakfast chat involved how a fried egg without salt had little going for it but add a little and the taste is exquisite.
First up this morning, Mirinda followed through on her threat and went shopping while I wandered around. My first stop, having spotted Sally Lunn’s House – the oldest in Bath – and realising we went there last visit, was the Catholic Church of St John the Evangelist. The foundation stone was laid in 1861 and the strong Victorian lines are evident everywhere. The architect was Charles Hansom who also designed around 50 other Catholic churches. His brother was Joseph Aloysius Hansom, the designer of the Hansom Cab.
The church suffered a direct hit in World War II during the second night of a German raid on Bath. The high altar contains the holy relics of St Justina of Padua for some reason. The outside clock (installed in 1868) was (and still is, I guess) noted for its accuracy and it was reputed to have been used to despatch the trains before the station was enlarged. This is obviously a reference to the lousy time keeping of British Rail.
It’s a lovely big church and, while I wandered around, a group of ladies sat in the front pews mumbling rosaries which gave the place the required spirituality often missing in big tourist churches. On my way out one of the little old ladies offered me a cup of coffee down in the crypt. I demurred graciously.
My next stop was the equally impressive St Michael with St Paul, the Anglican parish church. There have been rectors here since 1180. The stained glass is lovely, particularly the big Jesse window which catches the sun brilliantly. While there, a man pointed out to me the reflection in the glass screen. By looking at the reflection you can see both ends of the church at once.
The walls of the church are thickly coated with memorials. One in particular is that of Mrs Anne Chapman. She was a regular attendee of society card parties, idling her days away with wealthy disregard until one day, when she noticed one of the regular ‘girls’ was missing.
“Where’s Mary got to?” she asked.
“What? Mary? Oh, the nuisance only went and died, didn’t she! Now we’ll have to find someone to take her place. I hear Jane Austen may move here…”
This little episode changed Mrs C’s focus on life overnight and she suddenly gave up her life of personal sloth for one of philanthropy. She helped rebuild the church and also set up a day school for 60 poor girls. I’m not sure what happened when the card party had to fill two places.
The church itself has been built four times! It is situated on a narrow piece of land, squeezed between two roads, Broad and Walcot Streets. Because of this, it runs north south instead of the usual east west. The present church was started in 1835 and designed by C. P. Manners in the Early English style of Gothic architecture.
Not much is known about the first church. For some reason it was built outside the city walls, quite an odd thing to do. Anyway, it seems this church probably fell into decay and the second was built around 1370 with money from the lucrative wool trade of the time – Broad Street is named after the broad cloth woven by the Bath weavers. This one lasted about 350 years, managing to survive the Dissolution and the Civil war, though not without some damage and loss. By 1731 it was pretty dilapidated though and too small for the congregation so it was suggested that a new one be built.
John Wood, a famous Georgian architect put forth a design which was rejected and, instead, the church used the design of a stone-cutter and church warden, John Harvey. This church was consecrated in 1743. Wood claimed the design was so ugly that horses would refuse to walk by it unless they were blindfolded.
Byron’s parents were married in this church and Elizabeth Lonely, who eloped with Sheridan, was baptised in it.
Because of structural problems and, again, the size of the growing congregation, this church was demolished and the final one built in 1835. Phew! It managed to avoid being hit by bombs in WWII and, in fact, the crypt was used as a bomb shelter. The reason it is called St Michael with St Paul, is because in 1951 the parish was amalgamated with St Paul’s Church, Queen’s Square. It seems that after so many centuries of congregation increase, the 20th century saw a downturn!
From here it was a short walk back to meet a plastic bag laden Mirinda where we thought we’d take morning tea in the pump room. “Think again“, I said as the queue started spinning out of the revolving door! So back we traipsed to the hotel where we waited in the lovely drawing room while the maid ‘did’ our room.
After divesting ourselves of numerous clothing bags, we set off for the Circus (I thought it was dull, though the trees in the middle were quite nice – though John Wood would disagree. His original design forbade the use of trees to spoil the lovely clean lines!) and then the Royal Crescent.
No 1 Royal Crescent is now a museum which has been furnished in late 18th century, early 19th century style and all looks very comfortable. Mirinda particularly liked the cheese on toast meter sat glinting in the dining room while I was pretty keen on the whole kitchen which is about the size of our entire house! The table, for instance, is so big that by the time you get to the other end you’d easily have forgotten what you went round for in the first place.
After completion of the Royal Crescent, John Wood the Younger, who carried on and completed his dad’s master plan, moved in with his father-in-law, Thomas Brock. Nothing is said about John’s wife but I assume she lived in no 1 as well. In each room there’s a very ‘ept’ guide-lady to tell you things and fill in a few blank spots in the guide book.
We left the house and walked along the Crescent, amazed at the curve and perfection of it all. Something incredible is the square-ness of the rooms in number 1 when faced with the curve on the outside. The guide book, however set me straight. Wood’s firm hand ensured that the wall thickness, plus cleverly situated cupboards and alcoves created rectilinear rooms throughout. Very clever! I’d read somewhere that as wonderful as the front is, the view from the back is pretty sad. So we attempted to walk round the back. This is not so easy! There is a building behind which cleverly hides the back of the Crescent. One narrow stretch enables a glimpse at the very ordinary, hodge podge of back walls, where all the sameness dissolves beneath the variety of human taste, both good and bad.
It was around this time that I supped on the most delicious banana it has EVER been my privilege to taste. It tasted not unlike a banana paddle pop. An explosion of banana flavour. Amazing. It was organic and purchased from an ordinary little greengrocer behind the Royal Crescent. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, try one.
Next on our list was the Assembly Rooms and Museum of Costume. I have to admit I was dreading this. Anything called ‘Museum of Costume’ sends up warning signals to me as being a dire collection of AmDram chintz tablecloths masquerading as fancy dress in productions of Earnest and Midsummer Nights Dream! Oh, how wrong I was. It was actually quite incredible. Not so much ‘costume’ as just clothes: What ‘they’ were and why. Excellent stuff.
There was also a full collection of anecdotes regarding the making of all Jane’s novels into BBC, Miramax or Granada productions. Interesting how the American producers were concerned that Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet would look too fat in Sense & Sensibility so the wardrobe department had to lose four inches of material from the dresses! I saw the actual dresses and they looked perfectly made to fit a 9 year old! Americans are very weird sometimes.
The whole thing was pretty amazing. According to Mirinda the inclusion of Darcey’s shirt was a highlight.
After roaming around the subterranean world of ‘Costumes’, we then went from room to room through the Assembly ballrooms, games room and tearoom. More amazing stuff. The windows are set very high so the ‘poor’ couldn’t see in! The octagonal ‘Gambling Room’ had to be moved because at teatime the tide of dancers through the tables were too much for the card players.
While we mused inside, it rained but, fortunately, the sun reappeared for our walk back to the hotel. The weather was very kind all day. Started quite dull but the skies soon turned blue and the sun shone bright.
A few hours rest back at the room (Mirinda rested while I sat and scribbled), then it was off to The Moody Goose, a Michelin star restaurant. Fab Food! Delish! At the table behind us was a very old, polenta hating gentleman (obviously a major) who spent a good amount of our dessert evacuating various bodily orifices. As I left, he asked me if I’d enjoyed it. I assumed he meant the meal and so replied “It was brilliant“. The old gent was pleased. The sour woman at the other table was devastated.
We staggered back to our room and eventually fell into bed. An excellent day.