The walk up to The Royal Crescent from my Hotel on Queen Square was very pleasant. There were a number of tennis courts and a well laid out Crazy Golf course which we had played the previous day. The Royal Crescent is an architectural marvel. When people think of the City of Bath, the iconic Royal Crescent is one of the first things they think of, after the Thermal Roman Spa Baths.
No.1 Royal Crescent is the first building at the eastern end of the Royal Crescent and is of national architectural and historic importance. Built by John Wood the Younger between 1767 and 1774, it is without doubt one of the UK’s most important buildings and one of the most significant urban architectural achievements of the 18th century, representing the highest point of Palladian architecture in Bath. Standing outside facing the building I could only marvel at the symmetrical five-window frontage with the central Doric doorcase. It is such a beautiful building.
It is currently the headquarters of the conservation charity, the Bath Preservation Trust, and also operates as a public “historic house” museum, furnished to represent life in one of the great houses of 18th century Bath, displaying authentic room sets, furniture, pictures and other items illustrating Georgian domestic life both ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’.
During the twentieth century No.1 Royal Crescent split and the building was divided into two separate properties, with the original service wing to the east being sold off as No. 1A Royal Crescent. Eventually the two parts were reunited, and the museum reopened to the public in June 2013 at a ceremony where English food writer, chef, baker & television presenter Mary Berry cut the ribbon. Berry was born in Bath and her father Alleyne was a surveyor and planner who served as Mayor of Bath in 1952 and was closely involved in establishing the University of Bath at Claverton Down.
Externally, the Venetian windows on the eastern Upper Church Street facade were restored and the door to No. 1A was re-opened in its original site. Internally, the number of Georgian dressed rooms increased from five to ten and the original kitchens were located and restored and a learning centre for school groups created. A new exhibition gallery and shop also opened. Disabled access secured in the form of a lift.
I started my self-guided tour in the dining room laid out with a sumptuous meal. Video display screens in many of the rooms provided text & oral commentary of the features to be seen in the room and further information about Jane Austen’s associations with the house. Strategically placed teasels warned visitors not to sit on any of the chairs in the rooms. In the parlour I noticed a reference on a painting to the `Dicky Dongle Dance` but could find no other information about this dance on the internet!
The beds were made up in the lady’s and gentleman’s bedrooms and the drawing room was simply sparkling with mirrors. There was a beautiful four poster bed in the Lady’s bedroom and the video text displayed on the walls of the withdrawing room. In the authentic kitchens laid out as if the servants were busy preparing meals I could almost feel the heat from the fireplace, smell the food cooking and taste the fine ales! There was also a hidden staircase to the Gentlemen’s retreat which had been hidden for over one hundred years.
At one point I noticed some period costumed people walking up a staircase but soon realised they too were visitors to the house. They dressed in period costume because they were celebrating and playing an active part in the Jane Austen Festival which was taking place that week.
The Netflix drama Bridgerton featured No. 1 as the house belonging to the Featherington family, which is of great interest to many viewers of this popular period drama, including my wife!
I really enjoyed my visit to No.1 Royal Crescent. It is such an iconic group of buildings that to be able to go inside one of the houses and experience how they would have appeared when Jane Austen and her contemporaries walked by was both educational & enlightening. A truly immersive experience of 18th century life.