Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Grab a pew


The Theatre Royal at Twilight - and memories of Beryl Reid screaming at my legs as she saw them coming down a ladder outside her dressing room when I worked there some years ago.

The entrance is a Victorian addition, but the original Georgian core sits tightly behind it, hemmed in by a pub on one side, and Beau Nash's fabulous town house on the other.

The town house has a stunning early 18th century interior which has - so far - not been destroyed by the awful chain-restaurant, 'Strada', though they have done their best to obliterate it with stupid mirrors and ugly lamps.

This place used to be the famous restaurant, 'Popjoys', titled after Nash's live-in lover of the same name. Somehow I was always too broke to eat there when it existed, and now I regret not having done so.

Nash was the self-styled Master of Ceremonies at Georgian Bath - a duty for which he was not paid a penny.  He accumulated a fortune by gambling, then lost it when the government of the day introduced laws which prohibited the game at which he excelled the most.  He died in poverty, having once been so powerful in the city that he could physically tear inappropriate clothing from the upper bodies of princesses before they entered his establishment - and get away with it.

Up until the late 17th century, it was fashionable for young gentlemen to carry swords and daggers around in public - hence the term, 'young blades' - and so many killings took place that a law was passed restricting the length of swords to 28 inches - as if that would help!  When Beau Nash ran fashionable Bath, he banned swords altogether, and the problem was just about solved.  It did not stop duelling at a pre-ordained, later time though, and the last fatal duel in Britain took place in Bath, in the early 19th century.  The winner fled to Ireland.

Nash was a Welshman, and one of his greatest feats was to keep the Christian preacher, John Wesley out of Bath.  Quite simply, Wesley was bad for business in a town which relied on gambling and prostitution for it's income.  The Chapel people had to wait another hundred years before they could build all the depressing little hovels which they called churches in and around the place.

I would guess that the highest concentration of Methodist and Wesley Chapels in Britain was centred in Wales - just over the Severn Estuary from Bath.  Ironically, many pubs and restaurants here are fitted out with pews and other woodwork which has been stripped from the Welsh chapels and sold to interior designers as the furniture for all those iniquitous establishments.

'Not a dry seat in the house', as the old theatrical saying goes.

10 comments:

  1. A lot of interesting information here Tom - things I had never heard before. Also a reminder of Beryl Reid - one of the greats and one I have not thought about for years.

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    1. Good old Beryl - she screamed at me every day for two weeks.

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  2. When I lived in Wales, I was amazed by the number of empty corrugated iron 'Primitive Methodist' chapels there were about. Imagine telling people you're a 'Primitive Methodist'; I'd rather cut my throat!

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    1. I think that the cutting of throats was part of the Primitive Methodist initiation ceremony.

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  3. My dinner table conversation has improved by leaps and bounds since reading your blog.

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    1. I bet you have fewer guests though.

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  4. I remember the Theatre Royal in Bath mostly for breaking up with a then paramour during a performance of a Stoppard play, and abandoning flowers in Popjoys afterwards. I am disappointed by the modernity of my memories.

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    1. The whole thing sounds like a Stoppard play, Mise. Think yourself lucky it wasn't Beckett you went to watch.

      'Modernity of Memories' - now there's a good blog title.

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  5. I nearly always learn something every time I read your blog.

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    1. But you haven't learned to ignore them yet?

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