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The Journal of Eveline Helm, Part Three – Beau Nash

Beau Nash

Dear Reader,

I hope that this journal of my time in Bath should prove to be helpful to you. In reading it may you be spared the numerous faux pas and embarrassments that I was not. I truly feel that if this work should prevent even one other young lady from public ridicule in the Assembly Rooms of Bath then it will have been wholly worthwhile.

Humbly yours, 

Eveline Helm.


June, 1797 

 It was not particularly late when I turned for bed last night following the surprisingly delicious dinner that Mrs Drewit found for us, that of steak and kidney pie, which she purchased from one of the more salubrious inns within the town. To be perfectly frank I had been grateful that Mrs Drewit had found us anything at all, and I had by no means been expecting to enjoy whatever it turned out to be. I would have felt lucky to have been served with umble pie, my hopes were so low in relation to the odds of her success. I therefore made sure to thank Mrs Drewit heartily for her efforts and for providing such an excellent meal, but it was not long, barely a half hour later when we were gathered around the fire in the withdrawing room, before I felt my eyelids begin to droop. The travelling had taken its toll and I felt I really must bid my Aunt and Uncle goodnight, even though it was only a half past nine in the evening (and usually that would be far far too early, my Aunt informed me, to retire to bed when in town). When in town, certainly in London, it is not uncommon to still be up in the hours after midnight. Even in a city that is so dedicated to health and wellbeing, as Bath most certainly is, to be asleep before a half eleven is unusual. In those with less of an eye to rest and relaxation, people may well be awake for far longer. For example, I have heard that in London the balls at Almacks may run late into the night, whereas in Bath it is absolutely forbidden for them to continue beyond the hour of eleven. However given that we had had such a long journey that day my Aunt agreed that perhaps we should take the opportunity to have an early night; before all the real excitement began the next day.


The following morning we rose later than we had planned, and after a breakfast composed of sweet meats and of Sally Lunn buns (which Mrs Drewit had been especially to fetch earlier that morning) we stepped out into the sunlit streets to make our way to the Pump Rooms.

“The very first thing you must do when you are in town,” said my Uncle as we began our leisurely stroll down the gently sloping hill of Milsom Street, “is to announce that you are here.” (I did already know the purpose of our outing, so I do wonder if he was not saying this in part to remind my Aunt of our present quest, as her eyes were being drawn to both the left and right of us by the inviting haberdashery shops we were passing.)

“Yes, Uncle,” I said in such a way as to invite him to continue his explanation – he had not elaborated over breakfast how the Pump Rooms might be involved in this task. He smiled as my Aunt tore her eyes away from the sign of “Fotheringale’s” and settled back onto him.

“Yes, Eveline. Now my dear, do you recall that I mentioned a gentleman called Beau Nash to you over dinner last night?”

“Yes, Uncle.”

I remembered well.  Before I had been overcome with fatigue my Aunt and Uncle had gone into great detail in regards to Beau Nash.

“Everything in Bath is as it is, at least in part, due to Mr Nash’s directions,” explained my Uncle. “It is he who established many of the walks in Bath which you can take for exercise, he who established the code of conduct here, and he who oversaw the building of the newest assembly rooms. He has to be the greatest Master of Ceremonies Bath has ever seen.”

“Indeed,” my Aunt had said. “So much so that the title of uncrowned ‘King of Bath’ is his.”

“That is certainly a great honour,” I had assented.

“He’s most well loved in Bath. Although he can be rather strict; for it is he who is responsible for all of the social laws relating to conduct within Bath. It is he who berated the Duchess of Queensberry for wearing an apron to the assembly, and it was he who declared that all of the balls must finish promptly by eleven o’clock.’

“Yes,” added my Aunt. “He even refused to break this rule when once Princess Amelia asked for the dancing to go on longer.”

“That is a brave man to be sure,” I said.

“And tell me,” my Uncle had said, smiling in the gently amused manner that he has. “How do you imagine such a pillar of Bath to look?”

“Well,” I hesitated. “Very well turned out. Tall perhaps, with strong features, and an air of aristocracy?”

My Aunt smiled.

“That is one of the curious things about Mr Nash,” said she. “He is none of those things. Certainly not an aristocrat – he left Oxford and never completed his studies elsewhere, and his father was a glassmaker from Swansea. He is by all accounts a self-made man.” My Uncle nodded in agreement.

“Although also a keen gambler. However this does mean that gambling in Bath is regulated and kept fair and proper with few gamesters in the mix. But as to his appearance, he is outwardly a most average man; average height, average build, dark completion and his face has, as Mr Goldsmith put it, peculiarly irregular features. His main distinguishing feature to those who do not already know him is only really the white hat that he often wears. It commands a good deal of respect.”

“Shall we meet him soon?” I had asked, keen to see him in person. My Aunt looked ready to reply but my Uncle spoke too quickly for her.

“In his early days in Bath he would have come to call on us here and officially welcome us to the city – as he does with all prominent visitors to Bath. Now however he is…unable to do so. We must go to the Pump Rooms to be known.”

I looked to my Aunt to see if she would continue with what she had been going to say but she did not. I had gone to bed in much anticipation of seeing him the next day.

after William Hoare, oil on canvas, (circa 1761)
after William Hoare, oil on canvas, (circa 1761)

As we continued the rest of the short walk to the Pump Rooms I was still very much excited to see the great man who would be announcing our presence in Bath, both by his acknowledgement and through the newspapers. We entered the Pump Rooms, which consisted of a double-height, long, grand gallery. At intervals on each side of the room were a good many full-length windows letting in the mid-morning sunlight. The rooms were filled primarily with ladies and gentleman walking arm in arm, promenading and talking and observing the other people there, who were doing likewise. It was very grand and I was beside myself with eagerness to join them. I quickly cast my gaze among the crowds looking for a plain looking gentleman in a white hat and fine clothes who might be Beau Nash, but not one white hat did I see. Nor did I see any gentleman whom all that were gathered were treating with a sense of reverie, as might be expected to surround Mr Nash, with or without his white hat.

“This way,” my Uncle said, taking my Aunt on his left arm and myself on his right. He led us to where a gentleman in a rich velvet coat was stood overseeing the room.

“Good morning, Sir. Madam, madam,” ventured the gentleman, bowing slightly to my Aunt and myself. I looked at him and quickly saw that he was very tall and far too young to be Mr Nash. I was confused.

“Good morning,” returned my Uncle. “I should like to sign the subscription book if I may.”

“Of course, Sir,” said the gentleman. He bowed once more to us and proceeded to lead my Uncle away.

“I don’t understand,” I had said turning to my Aunt. “Where is Mr Nash? Are we not to meet Mr Nash?” Two gentleman who were passing us at the time that I spoke this laughed, but seeing me start at their sudden noise the closest one to myself inclined his head in a form of apology, despite having not been introduced to me. The one further away went only so far as to stop openly laughing and downgrade his merriment to a large grin.

“Oh Eveline,” my Aunt sighed, smiling herself. “I thought Mr Denison would have enlightened you as to his little joke before we set out this morning. I shall have to berate him for not doing so. Mr Nash, although still the keystone of Bath in spirit, died almost thirty years ago.”

“I thought we were here to announce our coming to Bath?”

“We are my dear; through the subscription book. Mr Denison has gone to pay and sign it for us now. By doing so we’ll be entitled to visit the coffee houses, read the newspapers, be given tickets to attend the balls and concerts, and our presence will be announced in the newspapers themselves. Oh my dear, I am sorry that you did not know. I did not mean for Mr Denison’s little joke to go on for so long.”

I was, of course, crimson by this point – thoroughly embarrassed that anyone should have observed my ignorance of such a long-established and well-known fact. I just pray that I never bump into those gentleman who overheard my foolishness at any of the balls we are now at last entitled to attend…


webJenni Waugh HeadshotThe journal of Eveline Helm’s time in Bath has made its way online thanks to Jenni Waugh, one of our tour guides at the Jane Austen Centre.

She writes: “I couldn’t resist sharing Eveline’s exploits. I hope everyone else finds them as interesting and entertaining as I did!”

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Doctor William Oliver

[My Mother] has written to my aunt, and we are all impatient for the answer. I do not know how to give up the idea of our both going to Paragon in May. Your going I consider as indispensably necessary, and I shall not like being left behind; there is no place here or hereabouts that I shall want to be staying at, and though, to be sure, the keep of two will be more than of one, I will endeavour to make the difference less by disordering my stomach with Bath buns; and as to the trouble of accommodating us, whether there are one or two, it is much the same.

Jane Austen to Cassandra
January 3, 1801

William Oliver (14 August [O.S. 4 August] 1695 – 17 March 1764) was an English physician and philanthropist, and inventor of the Bath Oliver. He was born at Ludgvan, Cornwall, and baptised on 27 August 1695, described as the son of John Oliver. His family, originally seated at Trevarnoe in Sithney, resided afterwards in Ludgvan, and the estate of Treneere in Madron, which belonged to him, was sold in 1768 after his death. When he decided to erect a monument in Sithney churchyard to the memory of his parents, Alexander Pope wrote the epitaph and drew the design of the pillar.He was admitted a pensioner of Pembroke College, Cambridge on 17 September 1714, graduated M.B. in 1720, and M.D. in 1725, and to complete his medical training, entered at Leiden University on 15 November 1720. On 8 July 1756 he was incorporated at Oxford, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 22 January 1729–30.

On returning from Leyden, Oliver practised for a time at Plymouth, where he introduced inoculation for smallpoxbut about 1725 he settled at Bath and remained there for the rest of his life, obtaining in a very short time the leading practice of the city. This was mainly due to his friendship with Ralph Allen (a fellow Cornishman, who introduced him to Pope, Warburton, and the rest of the guests at Prior Park), and with Dr. William Borlase, his ‘friend and relation,’ who, after being his patient in 1730, sent to him the gentry of the west country.

William Oliver
Senior surgeon, Jeremiah Peirce, physician, Dr William Oliver, three patients

Oliver took great pains in obtaining subscriptions for the erection of the Water or General Hospital, now called the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, at Bath, and in 1737 made an offer of some land for its site, which was at first accepted, but afterwards declined. Next year he was appointed one of the treasurers to the fund, and in July 1739 he became a deputy-president. On 1 May 1740 he was appointed physician to the hospital, and on the same day Jeremiah (known as Jerry) Peirce became the surgeon. The regulations for the admission and removal of English patients were drawn up by him; and in 1756, when the privileges were extended to patients from Scotland and Ireland, he compiled a set of rules applicable to their case. Until 1 May 1761, when he and Peirce both resigned, he ruled the institution. The third article in Charleton’s Three Tracts on Bath Waters, 1774, consisted of ‘histories of hospital cases under the care of the late Dr. Oliver,’ a subject on which he had himself contemplated the publication of a volume; and Some Observations on Stomach Complaints, which were found among his papers, were printed in pp. 76–95 of the same work. Peirce and Oliver were painted together by William Hoare, R.A. in 1742, in a picture now in the board-room of the hospital, in the act of examining three patients, candidates for admission.

King Bladud’s Bath, Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson

Oliver’s position in the medical world of Bath involved him in trouble. Archibald Cleland, one of the hospital surgeons, was dismissed in 1743 on a charge of improper conduct, and the dismissal led to many pamphlets. An inquiry was held into the circumstances, under the presidency of Philip, brother of Ralph Allen; this resulted in Oliver’s conduct being highly commended. In 1757 Oliver and some other physicians in the city declined to attend any consultations with William Baylies, M.D. and Charles Lucas, M.D.,  in consequence of their reflections on the use and abuse of the waters, and their censures on the conduct of the physicians at the hospital. Much correspondence ensued, and it was published as proving the existence of a ‘physical confederacy in Bath.’ His medical skill is mentioned by Mrs. Anne Pitt.  and by Mrs. Delany. He and Peirce attended Ralph Allen in his last illness, and each received a complimentary legacy of £100.

Oliver is said to have invented the Bath bun, however it proved too fattening for his rheumatic patients, and so he invented the ‘Bath Oliver’ biscuit, and shortly before his death confided the recipe to his coachman Atkins, giving him at the same time £100 in money and ten sacks of the finest wheat-flour. The fortunate recipient opened a shop in Green Street, and soon acquired a large fortune. The ‘Bath Oliver’ is still a well-known brand.

Oliver purchased in 1746, as a vacation residence, a small farmhouse two miles from Box, near Bath, and called it Trevarnoe, after the scene of his childhood and the abode of his fathers. For many years before his death he was subject to the gout. He died at Bath on 17 March 1764, and was buried in All Saint’s Church of Weston, near that city, where an inscription ‘on a white tablet, supported by palm-branches,’ was erected to his memory. There is also a plain mural tablet to his memory in Bath Abbey.

The statement in the Life and Times of Selina, countess of Huntingdon (i. 450–1), that he remained ‘a most inveterate infidel till a short time before his death’ is probably an exaggeration. He was generally admitted to have been an eminently sensible man, and one also of a most compassionate and benevolent nature. His library was sold in 1764. His son, the third William Oliver, matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 20 January 1748–9, aged 18, and his name appears on the books at Leyden on 21 September 1753. The eldest daughter married a son of the Rev. John Acland, rector of Broadclyst, Devonshire; the second daughter, Charlotte, married, 14 April 1752, Sir John Pringle, bart., F.R.S. Some of his descendants are said to have been living at Bath in 1852.

Oliver published, in 1753, Myra: a pastoral dialogue sacred to the memory of a lady who died 29 Dec. 1753, aged 25. His Practical Essay on the Use and Abuse of warm Bathing in Gouty Cases came out in 1751, passed into a second edition in 1751, and into a third in 1764.

Philip Thicknesse inserted some remarks on this essay in his Valetudinarian’s Bath Guide, (1780, pp. 30–36). Oliver was also the anonymous author of A Faint Sketch of the Life, Character, and Manners of the late Mr. Nash, which was printed at Bath for John Keene, and sold at 3d. It was praised by Oliver Goldsmith as ‘written with much good sense and still more good nature,’ and it was embodied in Goldsmith’s Life of Beau Nash. It also appeared in the Public Ledger of 12 March 1761, and in the Rev. Richard Warner’s History of Bath, (pp. 370–1).To the Philosophical Transactions for 1723 and 1755 respectively he contributed brief papers on medical topics, the former being addressed to Dr. Richard Mead.

Oliver wrote some elegiac lines on the death of Ralph Thicknesse; he was standing at Thicknesse’s elbow at the moment that Thicknesse fell dead as he was playing the first fiddle in a performance of a piece of his own composition at a concert in Bath. His lines to Sir John Cope ‘upon his catching Sir Anthony’s fire by drinking Bath waters,’ are in Mrs. Stopford Sackville’s manuscripts.

Oliver applied to Dr. Borlase for minerals for Pope’s grotto, and his name frequently occurs in the letters of Pope and Borlase at Castle Horneck, near Penzance. A letter to Oliver from Pope, dated 8 October 1740, and the property of Henry George Bohn, was inserted with the first draft of the reply in Carruthers’s Life of Pope.  Several other letters were formerly in the possession of Upcott. One, dated 28 August 1743, is printed in Roscoe’s Works of Pope, (i. 541–2), and it was reprinted with two others which were taken from the European Magazine, (1791, pt. ii. p. 409, and 1792, pt. i. p. 6, in Courthope’s edition, x. 242–5).

In the summer of 1743 Oliver wrote to Pope to free himself from all knowledge of John Tillard’s attack on William Warburton, which was dedicated to him without his knowledge (Works, ed. Courthope, ix. 233). Two letters from Warburton to Oliver are in Nichols’s Literary Anecdotes, (v. 581–582), and several communications from him to Doddridge from 1743 to 1749 are contained in the latter’s Correspondence, (v. 223–225, 302–4, v. 66–7, 126–9).

Three letters from Stephen Duck to him are printed in the European Magazine, (1795, pt. i. p. 80 and pt. ii. p. 79). He bestowed many favours on Duck, and was, no doubt, the polite son of Æsculapius depicted in that author’s Journey to Marlborough, Bath, &c. (Works, 1753, p. 75).

A letter from Oliver to Dr. Ward on two Roman altars discovered at Bath is in the British Museum, (Addit. MS. 6181, f. 63), and three more letters referring to some dirty and miserly old acquaintance of Jacob Tonson at Bath in 1735, are in Addit. MS. 28275, fols. 356–61.

Some manuscript letters to James Jurin belong to the Royal Society.

Benjamin Heath dedicated to him in 1740 The Essay towards a demonstrative Proof of the Divine Existence; plate 18 in the Antiquities of Cornwall was engraved at his expense and inscribed to him by Dr. Borlase; and the later impressions of Mary Chandler’s ‘Description of Bath’ contained (pp. 21–3) some verses to him acknowledging that he had corrected her poem, and that ‘ev’n Pope approv’d when you had tun’d my Lyre.’

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Richard “Beau” Nash: The Original Beau

Beau Nash

Richard “Beau” Nash: The Original Beau

That the elder ladies and children be contented with a second bench at the ball, as being past or not come to perfection.
–Rule VIII of Nash’s Rules by General Consent Determined


Richard ‘Beau’ Nash was born in 1674 in Swansea, Wales. His father, also Richard, was a partner in a glass-making factory. I could find nothing about siblings so he may have been an only child. Little is known about the young Richard except that he was reputed to have ‘a natural vivacity’.

At twelve he was sent to the Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth in Carnarthen 20 miles north of Swansea where he distinguished himself as an athlete, particularly it seems at both forward and backward standing jumps.

From the Grammar School he went to Jesus College, Oxford, to read Law. He did not shine at his studies and was sent down some time later for becoming embroiled with too many women, probably of the wrong sort. With the financial backing of his father he then became an ensign in the Guards but soon found both the obligations of the Army and the lack of ready money a problem. He persuaded his father to let him revert to the study of Law, this time at the Inner Temple in London.

Nash was a dandy from a young age, sporting a velvet coat, ruffles, diamond buckles and a diamond brooch, and soon became aware that he possessed a certain style and manner which attracted people to him. He was not well off but supplemented his income by gambling, at which he appears to have been extraordinarily successful. He was by now a well-known young man-about-town and was welcomed into society.

Nash gradually lost interest in the Law and in 1705 decided to try his luck in Bath, which was just beginning to become popular as a health spa. He became acquainted with the then Master of Ceremonies, Captain Webster, and was soon appointed his assistant. Shortly afterwards the unfortunate Captain was killed in a sword-fighting duel and Nash, still in his early thirties, found himself elected by the Corporation of Bath as the new Master of Ceremonies. Because of the recent disaster Nash began his term by abolishing the wearing of swords and, ipso facto, the abandonment of duelling came about. He next insisted that all lodging houses, most of which were damp and dilapidated, must be renovated and he himself fixed a tariff for every room.

In 1708 Nash arranged for an Assembly House to be built and levied a subscription on all visitors to Bath. As Maggie Lane told us, he forbade all private parties (what power!) but invited everyone to the Assembly House for dinners, teas, breakfast concerts and balls. On the orders of the resident doctor who was concerned for the health of those who had come ‘to take the waters’, and with the concurrence of Nash, all balls began at 6pm and finished precisely at eleven.

A list of rules was drawn up and deportment at dances was strictly regulated. Nash even forbade ‘exhibitions of resentment from either gentlemen or ladies, (who displayed it) on the grounds that someone had danced out of turn.’ He ridiculed, and so made unfashionable, the wearing of boots in the Assembly House and let it be known that swearing was out of order.

Most things in Bath seem to have cost a great deal of money, e.g. a crown for pen and paper to write a letter and up to a guinea to borrow books from the bookseller. Amazingly enough there was no revolt against either the restrictions or the charges and it is reported that guests were pleased to obey.

Just prior to 1720 Nash arranged for a large ballroom to be added to the Assembly House. Later on he was involved in the encouragement and employment of architect John Wood who is famous for his wonderful Bath buildings. This was the beginning of the expansion of Bath as many more visitors, including artists and writers, members of the aristocracy and later royalty, started to arrive. It is of interest that Nash was famous enough to rate a mention in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones in the chapter called ‘The History of Mrs Fitzpatrick’. His name can also be come across in Georgette Heyer’s novels.

During the period 1720 to the 1740s Beau Nash lead a busy life. As well as other duties he organised the recreations of the day, arranged for the ringing of bells to announce the arrival of distinguished guests to Bath, visited the new arrivals to pay his respects, arbitrated differences between neighbours or visitors and solicited subscriptions for his latest plan, a hospital. In 1735 he was also installed as Master of Ceremonies at Tunbridge Wells where he enforced similar rules to those at Bath.

Nash was a prodigious gambler but went to a great deal of trouble to prevent others less experienced than he from losing all their money. He had long been a dandy and an arbiter of fashion, and it was said that his well-known white hat was awarded more respect than many a general. There is a lovely quote from Lord Chesterfield describing the Beau at a ball:

He wore his gold-laced clothes on the occasion, and looked so fine that, standing by chance in the middle of the dancers, he was taken by many at a distance for a gilt garland.

Although an earlier law against gambling had been enacted, Nash and his fellow players, male and female, had managed to get around this by various means including the invention of new games. However in 1745 the anti-gambling law was tightened. Although the popularity of Bath continued this was a great drawback to Nash, not only because of being a successful gambler on his own account, but because he had awarded himself as Master of Ceremonies a percentage of all winnings. From this time on his fortunes and his influence gradually declined. He had been the epitome of the benevolent dictator, an imperious rule-maker who nevertheless showed great generosity to those who had come across hard times. He now found himself in the same predicament, and had to sell most of his possessions to survive. He died in straitened circumstances in 1762, aged 87.

Beau Nash never married but had a relationship of many years standing with one Fanny Murray. After she left him he took up with Juliana Papjoy who was his companion and who cared for him until his death.

The name of Richard ‘Beau’ Nash is intricately entwined with that of Bath and it could be said that the city itself is his monument. It seems to me that here was a man who was able to use his talents in a way that suited him and who more than many of us, truly found his niche in life.


This article, wriiten by Halcyon Evans, was copied by permission of The Jane Austen Society of Australia. It first appeared in their December 2000 newsletter. To learn more about this organization, visit their website: Notes taken from Beau Nash: Monarch of Bath and Tunbridge Wells, by Willard Connely; 1955.