The Rev. John Penrose - Letters from Bath

The Rev. John Penrose (1713-76), rector of St. Gluvias (in Penryn, Cornwall), visited Bath in 1766 and 1767. He stayed in Abbey Green.

His letter of Monday, April 28, 1766, contains an account of his explorations in Bath:

Section 1

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Abbey Green
Benjamin Morris, Abbey Green (1785, Victoria Art Gallery).
The house where the Penroses put down in 1766 is to the left.
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After reading these Letters, and having been to Breakfast, we set out in company of Mr. Vivian and Major Tucker to see the Circus and other grand Buildings in the Northern End of the Town.


Section 2

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The Circus


The Circus is reckoned one of the most elegant Piles of Building in Europe. It was begun building about twelve years ago, and is now finished except one House now in building. It is quite circular, and has three Openings for Streets leading to it. One street (Gay Street) is completed, very noble indeed: a great many Houses are built in the Street from the North-West: that from the North-East is not yet begun. The Circus consists of thirty two Houses, all quite uniform, three Stories and Garrets above the Level of the Street, two below, with a very wide Area between the underground Rooms and the Street. The Garret Windows are hid by a Parapet Wall.

Section 3

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Pillars of different Orders
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Each Story has over it a grand Cornish, supported by Pillars of different Orders; the lowest Pillars of (I believe) the Tuscan Order; the middle ones, of the Ionic; the highest of the Corinthian.

The whole Pile of Building, truly magnificent. Yet I think it would have added to the Beauty of it, had the Parapet on Top been so contrived as to have concealed the Roof. In the Centre of the Ground, which this circular Building surrounds, is a large Bason of Water, always full; round it a pretty Gravel-Walk, inclosed with Iron Palisades. From Description I had conceived a grand Idea of this Place, but the Sight proved beyond all conception. No House in the Circus, less than £100 per ann.

Section 4

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Queen’s Square
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In the Way to the Circus, we visited the Square, commonly called Queen’s Square. This is rather larger than the Circus, magnificentlv built, especially the North-Row of it. In the Inside of the Square, and comprehending all the Ground of it except a large grand Street before each Row of Houses, is a Garden with fine Gravel Walks, confined by a handsome Ballustrade ot Stone, with four noble Iron Gates opening into it, and in the midst of all is a large circular Piece of Water, in whose centre is an Obelisk erected in Memory of the late Prince and present Princess Dowager of Wales, seventy foot high, which looks beautiful.

Section 5

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I must now tell you, that among those houses, whether in the Square, Circus, or elsewhere, there are comparatively very few, over the Doors of which there is not a Tablet advertising Lodgings to be let: and all Rooms in Lodging Houses at the same Price, whether such as we lodge in, which tho’ very convenient, and I would not exchange it for any in Bath, makes no Appearance without worthy Notice; or those which I have described just now, and are pompous for Palaces for great Princes. I must also mention another circumstance, while it is in my Head, that over most Doors in the new elegant Streets is a small Plate of Brass, with an Inscription on it in neat black Letters, signifying the Name of the Occupant.

Section 6

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Queen Square
Thomas Malton, Queen Square (watercolour, 1784, Museum of the Building of Bath)
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To return to the Square. On the East Side lodges Lord Edgcumbe, whom I called upon, but found him not at home. I left my name with his Gentleman, and some Covers which I wanted to have franked: and this Evening the Gentleman came to my Lodgings with Compliments and my Request granted.

Section 7

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J.C.Nattes (1806)
Hand-coloured aquatint
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I see his Lordship every Morning at the Pump-Room, and sometimes have a little chat with him. He is exceeding free.


Section 8

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Queen Square
Thomas Malton, Queen Square (aquatint, 1784)
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On the West Side of the Square, is a very neat Chapel, with a Portico before it very grand, the Roof supported by pillars of the Doric Order. In the Inside the Pillars are of the Ionic, exactly like those in Gluvias Church : the Pulpit Canopy richly carved; the Pulpit itself carved round the pannels exactly like the Wood-work at Gluvias Altar ; and the Altar-Piece painted white and the carvings and proper Members of the cornishes and Mouldings gilded, exactly as they are at Gluvias. You cannot think, how I was pleased to see in so many particulars, and in more than I have Time to mention, such a Similarity of Things near Home....

Here we attended Divine Service at 11 o’clock this Morning, before we visited the Circus.

Section 9

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We returned home about one, I pretty well tired with my walk, but not the worst for it: calling at the Pump-Room in my way for my Noon’s Glass of water. The Water, hot from the Pump: is extremely agreeable: I don’t know any Liquor more so. The worst is, that when I go for it, or indeed when I go any where else, one is obliged to be dressed, best Coat and best Wig : My fine flower’d Night-gown would make a despicable Figure here. Within Door I sometimes have an opportunity of putting on my black Night-Gown. Oh, how comfortable it is! But it is a comfort I seldom enjoy.