Conference Report – ‘Bath 250: A Virtual Conference to Mark the 250th Anniversary of the New Assembly Rooms At Bath’ by Rachel Bynoth

On 30th September 1771, the Upper Rooms in Bath opened their doors for the first time. Two hundred and fifty years later, the Bath 250 conference welcomed scholars from across the globe to celebrate this momentous occasion.

The conference pushed against a simple retelling of Bath’s glamorous spa town façade to uncover and present many of its hidden depths. In doing so, the papers collectively nuanced understandings of the operations and experiences of Bath in the eighteenth-century and beyond. This conference beautifully demonstrated the merits of utilising one space to examine a variety of different aspects of eighteenth-century society, to understand the multiplicities of experiences and create a fuller picture of how politics, health, entertainment, and polite society played out within one location.

The first day of the conference began with an opening keynote from Dr Hannah Greig, which introduced us to the centrality of the assembly rooms, not just within Bath, but towns and cities throughout the eighteenth century. Her talk wonderfully illustrated the role of the assembly rooms in cultivating ideas of sociability and as an accepted environment for the mingling of the sexes. Later talks considered some of the discomforts of sociability within these public spaces: the mixing of those pursuing entertainment with those seeking remedies, the anxieties of the marriage market and even how the proprieties of touch meant that the use of hands could be both dangerous but exciting.

Despite the Bath season occurring outside of the London parliamentary one, several talks stressed that Bath was not an escape from politics. Indeed, they presented politics as such a central aspect of Bath’s social scene that several speakers questioned exactly how restful it was for those there to recuperate from illness or to simply relax. Politics continued to play out via notions of sociability, through female influence and celebrity politicians.

The overlooked aspects of Bath’s social scene also threaded through the papers. Explorations of sedan chairmen and their struggles, the locations of lodging and boarding houses and the undertakers of Bath revealed social, political, and hierarchical elements of Bath society which co-existed amongst the more well-trodden histories of the balls, promenades, and pump room visits.

Yet Bath can foster more conversation over its overlooked or previously marginalised histories. In the roundtable session which examined the next 250 years of Bath’s history, Professor Olivette Otele called for a joining up of Bath’s decolonising and slavery projects to push this conversation forward and coordinate a response which looks to the future as well as the past. This prompted more general discussion from the panel on the need to present Bath as a place with multiple, concurrent narratives and the challenges of heritage sites to present this.

Various papers across both days focused on the Assembly rooms themselves, from the food and drink served, to the music performed, the country dances, and the competition to elect the Masters of Ceremony for the rooms. This included a consideration of life before the upper rooms and unexecuted assembly room plans. This led very nicely into the various discussions of the international influence and historical legacy of eighteenth-century Bath which brought the online section of the conference to a close.

The finale to the conference was a live event, set in the upper rooms themselves. Beginning proceedings was a keynote by Dr Jonathan Foyle which explored the architectural influences of the upper rooms. It was such a pleasure to gaze upon the plans, shapes and objects while spotting the little details in the rooms around us. After a wonderful introduction to the ridotto by Hillary Burlock, the conference ended with a spectacular dance display by the Bath Minuet Company which captured the essence of the activities of the Upper Rooms on that opening day in 1771. Long sets, cotillions and, of course, the minuet, rounded off what was a compelling two days of discussion and reflection on Bath and its history.

Bath Minuet Company performance

The organisers would like to acknowledge the generous sponsorship of the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies and the Royal Historical Society, whose grants helped to support the attendance of PGRs and ECRs in Bath. They would also like to thank the Early Dance Circle, especially Barbara Segal, Bill Tuck, Sharon Butler and Paul Cooper, for their decision to award the Janet Hauton Grant to the conference. This helped to fund a sound engineer and Bath Minuet Company’s fantastic dance display which concluded the event. The event was also supported by the University of Liverpool, the History of Parliament, TORCH from the University of Oxford, Queen Mary University, London, and the National Trust, and special thanks goes to the technical team at the University of Liverpool for their exceptional work.

***

Rachel Bynoth is a final year PhD student examining expressions of anxiety in the Canning family letters, across the lifecycle, between 1760-1830. She has an article forthcoming with the History journal in early 2022 which examines eighteenth-century female distance education through letters.

Reminder: WSG seminar October 2021

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 9 October 2021 (BST).

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Charlotte MacKenzie

Mary Broad – the creation of a Cornish legend

The life of Mary Broad has been the subject of biographies, fiction, and film. Her experiences were exceptional by any account. Mary Broad was one of few women convicted as a highway robber in eighteenth century Devon; transported on the first fleet to New South Wales; escaped with her husband William Bryant, two young children, and seven fellow convicts all of whom survived a 69 day voyage in an open boat from Port Jackson to Timor; lost her husband and both children to illnesses; was returned to Britain where her case attracted the active support of James Boswell to obtain her pardon and release; and then came home to some of her family in Cornwall.

This paper considers the reasons why Boswell’s efforts to raise financial contributions for the freed Mary Broad / Bryant was his last lost cause. It is partly thanks to the ‘great biographer’ and
attorney’s habits as a notary, that we know as much as we do – and can discover more – about
Mary Broad’s origins and some of her fellow escapees. Boswell’s friend William Johnson Temple, who was a Cornish vicar, was the first to observe that Mary Broad’s ‘perils & escape exceed the fictions of poetry’ while voicing doubts that he would be able to raise any money for her locally.

Mary Broad / Bryant’s life story assumed epic proportions through many partly fictional retellings. This is a documentary not a drama. It uncovers Mary Broad’s actual origins as a Cornish forester’s daughter, explores who the victim of the ‘highway robbery’ Agnes Lakeman was, and considers Mary Broad’s legacy and impacts on two of her Fowey relations: the London Society missionaries James and William Puckey who sailed for Tahiti three years after Mary returned home with extraordinary tales to tell.

Marissa C. Rhodes

Tender Trades: Wet Nursing and the Intimate Politics of Inequity in the Urban Atlantic, 1750-1815

In this comparative project, I use the London and Philadelphia wet nurse trades from 1750-1815 as access points into the intersectional processes of class- and race-formation in Anglo-Atlantic cities. The project uses large stores of seemingly trivial data and cutting-edge digital methodologies to build intimate and narrative-driven histories of ordinary people’s lives. I found that, in an era of unprecedented proportions of domestic service, the homes of the respectable classes served as venues for intimate negotiations that established and reinforced gender, race, and class hierarchies in the Anglo-Atlantic world.

Crystal Biggin

Editing Eighteenth-Century Letters: Anna Barbauld’s Correspondence of Samuel Richardson (1804) and Women Novel Critics

This paper examines the presentation of women as novel critics in Anna Barbauld’s 1804 edition of Samuel Richardson’s correspondence. As an editor and literary critic herself, Barbauld was particularly attentive to the ambiguities that she thought characterised Richardson’s relationships with women writers and readers in the middle of the eighteenth century. In the first volume’s lengthy introductory essay, Barbauld cautiously described Richardson as ‘a friend to mental improvement in women’ as well as admitting that ‘he sometimes betray[ed] a mean opinion of the sex in general.’ She also drew on an unflattering contemporary portrait of him as somebody who ‘took care always to be surrounded by women, who listened to him implicitly, and did not venture to contradict his opinions’, as Boswell had recorded being discussed by Dr. Johnson. Barbauld challenged these claims by repositioning women in dialogue with Richardson. She framed his female correspondents as inseparable from his success as an epistolary novelist by arguing that ‘they were his inspirers, his critics, his applauders’ and by emphasising how ‘the ladies he associated with were well able to appreciate his works. They were both his critics and his models’. These were polemical statements which likewise offered comment on Barbauld’s place both as biographer and as editor in constructing perceptions of the author and his correspondents for future generations. My exploration of these interrelated issues draws on Richardson’s manuscript correspondence in the archives at the V&A, London, as well as the paratextual apparatuses of Barbauld’s edition. It seeks to shed light on women writers as novel critics by considering how letter-writers like Dorothy, Lady Bradshaigh, who exchanged a remarkable number of letters with Richardson while his novels were still works-in-progress, helped pave the way for women like Barbauld to gain wider acceptance as literary critics by the end of the eighteenth century.

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Reminder: WSG seminar October 2021

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 9 October 2021 (BST).

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Speakers:

Charlotte MacKenzie. Mary Broad – the creation of a Cornish legend

Marissa C. Rhodes. Tender Trades: Wet Nursing and the Intimate Politics of Inequity in the Urban Atlantic, 1750-1815

Crystal Biggin. Editing Eighteenth-Century Letters: Anna Barbauld’s Correspondence of Samuel Richardson (1804) and Women Novel Critics

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Reminder: WSG seminar September 2021

The first seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 25 September 2021.

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Valerie Schutte

Anachronistic Representations of Edward Underhill

Upon Queen Mary I’s accession on 19 July 1553, Edward Underhill, a Gentleman Pensioner under Henry VIII and Edward VI, was arrested for producing an anti-Catholic ballad, interrogated by the Privy Council, and served one month in prison. Yet he went on to serve as a Gentleman Pensioner during Wyatt’s Rebellion and at Mary’s wedding. In 1561, he wrote a memoir of his life beginning with this arrest. His memoir received much historical attention in the mid-nineteenth century, as it was reproduced several times in both extracts and its entirety. This culminated in two high-profile publications in the 1840s, one historical and one fictional. The first of which was William Harrison Ainswoth’s novel, The Tower of London (1840). In this novel, Ainsworth emphasizes Underhill’s zealous religious convictions. He is an outspoke supporter of Jane Grey, who eventually gets burnt at the stake on Tower Green for his beliefs. Five years later, the Strickland sisters mention Underhill in their Lives of the Queens of England.

In this presentation, I will offer a textual transmission of Underhill’s memoir from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, as well as analyze the memoir for Underhill’s service to the crown. I will focus my time on the anachronisms employed by Ainsworth in his presentation of Underhill. Ainsworth describes Underhill as an “enthusiast,” which would have held distinct meaning for his Victorian audience, suggesting an extravagance applied to dissenting religion. Ainsworth carefully crafted Underhill’s character through religious anachronism to show his disapproval of religious fanaticism, for both Protestant extremism, as well as Mary’s Catholicism. In Ainsworth’s depiction, Underhill is the first victim of religious persecution in Mary’s reign and is a symbol of all that was to come.

 Hampton Court Conference 1604

 First, The Church of England since the abolishing of Popery hath ever held and taught, and so doth hold and teach still, That the Sign of the Cross used in Baptism, is no Part of the Substance of that Sacrament: For when the Minister dipping the Infant in Water, or laying Water upon the Face of it (as the manner also is) hath pronounced these Words, I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the Infant is fully and perfectly Baptized: So as the Sign of the Cross being afterwards used, doth neither add any thing to the Vertue or Perfection of Baptism, nor being omitted, doth detract any thing from the Effect and Substance of it.

Secondly, It is apparent in the Communion Book, that the Infant Baptized is by Vertue of Baptism, before it be signed with the Sign of the Cross, received into the Congregation of Christ’s Flock as a perfect Member thereof, and not by any Power ascribed unto the Sign of the Cross. So that for the very remembrance of the Cross, which is very precious to all them that rightly believe in Jesu Christ, and in the other respects mentioned, the Church of England hath retained still the Sign of it in Baptism: following therein the Primitive and Apostolical Churches, and accounting it a lawful outward Ceremony and honourable Badge, whereby the Infant is dedicated to the Service of him that died upon the Cross, as by the words used in the Book of Common Prayer it may appear.

Lastly, The use of the Sign of the Cross in Baptism, being thus purged from all Popish Superstition and Error, and reduced in the Church of England to the primary Institution of it, upon those true Rules of Doctrine concerning things indifferent, which are consonant to the Word of God, and the Judgments of all the ancient Fathers: We hold it the part of every private Man, both Minister and other, reverently to retain the true use of it prescribed by publick Authority, considering that things of themselves indifferent, do in some sort alter their Natures, when they are either commanded or forbidden by a lawful Magistrate; and may not be omitted at every Man’s pleasure contrary to the Law, when they be commanded, nor used when they are prohibited.

Helen Leighton-Rose

Women’s  Subversion of the Scottish Church Courts 1707-1757

My quantitative and qualitative analysis of eighteenth century Scottish Kirk Sessions had shed light on Scottish women’s subversive and consistent challenges to patriarchal control. Numerous women argued against the judgement of these sessions and petitioned the Presbytery courts. The paper will highlight some illuminating examples of women’s subversion including the subversion of the Scottish Kirk by Isabel Clinckscales who irregularly married Thomas Lyon, unknown to her to be a thrice bigamist. Over eighteen months Isabel was called before the Kirk Sessions and ordered to perform penance as an adulteress which she consistently refused. She subverted the kirk authority to such a degree she was placed under the penalty of lesser excommunication. There is no record of Thomas Lyon receiving any rebuke. On the 25th January 1722 Elders of Duns Kirk deem


‘..after all the serious dealings with Isabel Clinkscales she still persisted in her obstinacie, he therefor this day according to the recommendation did lay the said Isabel Clinkscales under the sentence of the Lesser excommunication’.

My paper will raise the profile of the richness of archival material for Scottish border towns.

Matthew Reznicek

Healing The Nation: Women, Medicine, and the Romantic National Tale

The National Tale, a literary attempt to understand and reconcile the 1800 Act of Union, was dominated by early nineteenth-century women writers, including Maria Edgeworth, Sydney  Owenson, and Germaine deStaël; using gendered embodiments of various national identities, the National Tale imagined socio-political union through the union of individuals. For roughly the past thirty years, scholars the Romantic period have understood the National Tale in terms of marriage, whether a shotgun marriage, an arranged marriage, or a forced marriage. What this focus on marriage has overlooked is the repeated pattern in which National Tales alsodepend upon an act of healing before the marriage can take place. Surprisingly, this medical aspect of the National Tale and its narrative of social cohesion has been ignored and unrecognized. By exploring the role of illness and healing in the National Tale, the medical metaphors not only help diagnose and mark as different the foreign body,  but the act of healing fundamentally restores the newly formed body politic to its new and healthy condition. This analysis reveals a pattern in which women perform the medical care that heals these diseased populations, allowing them to achieve full membership in the social body. Despite the long-eighteenth-century belief that men and medicine were responsible for  national well-being, the National Tales of Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth, and Sydney  Owenson undermine this medical and political narrative by having a diseased or unwell male body stand in for the nation and a female physician or healer work to heal and restore the national body to health. Thus, the medical role of women in the National Tale reveals the interconnections between illness, healing, and the narrative form of the National Tale. To provide a small iteration of this pattern, I will attend to the moments of medical anxiety and fever in Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806), Maria Edgeworth’s Ennui (1809),  and briefly Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) to render visible the political and social role that healing women play in the National Tale.

Norena Shopland

Women Dressed as Men

Much of women’s history has been dominated by exclusion – but where exclusion exists there will always be those who challenge that state. A History of Women in Men’s Clothes sets out to show how women utilised clothes banned to them to escape domestic violence; to earn money when the man had died or left the family and women’s wages were not enough to live on; to find a man who had deserted them; to avoid being sexually accosted when travelling; so those we would today recognise as lesbian and trans could live freely; and many more.

During the late 18th-early 19th centuries so many women had become female sailors and soldiers that newspapers were complaining there would be no room for men. While books exist on both groups they are placed in an ‘other’ category of sexual orientation and/or gender identity when in truth it was common among all women. Similarly, in the theatre, actresses were being forced to sign contracts that they would appear ‘in male attire’ as managers sought to exploit this highly lucrative market. Leaving the odd situation of men forcing women to appear as men for the heterosexual male gaze.

Research for the book realised around 4,000 worldwide articles, most of them unpublished outside their original source and only 10% was used for the book. As this research was conducted in English and stopped when enough material had been gathered it can be imagined how much more there is to discover. But one thing is clear, thousands upon thousands of women across the world refused to be constricted by what clothes they were told they could wear – and women’s history now needs to recognise this.

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Reminder: WSG seminar September 2021

The first seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 25 September 2021.

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Speakers:

Valerie Schutte. Anachronistic Representations of Edward Underhill

Helen Leighton-Rose. Women’s Subversion of the Scottish Church Courts 1707-1757

Matthew Reznicek. Healing The Nation: Women, Medicine, and the Romantic National Tale

Norena Shopland. Women Dressed as Men

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.