On this day in history : 18th October 1674 – The birth of dandy Richard ‘Beau’ Nash – Master of Ceremonies for Bath and who turned it into a city of fashion….

Beau Nash – Unknown artist , public domain – from the book ‘Bath Under Beau Nash’ by Lewis Melville

Nash, the son of a glass making factory owner, was born in Swansea…. He attended Oxford University – but dropped out to serve as an army officer – this didn’t last long either…. He then went on to become a barrister in London and yet again, this career did not amount to much….

Being one who loved to socialise Nash had used his army stint to establish connections in society…. He also liked to gamble – so much so that it dominated his life….

On a visit to Bath Nash found it to be perfect for his lifestyle…. The spa town, having been visited by Queen Anne in 1702, was already increasing in popularity…. Nash began to introduce it to the ‘delights’ of gambling…. Other than soaking in the hot mineral spas, taking the occasional stroll in the park or frequenting the taverns and coffee houses, the rich of Bath had little else to do….

Nash managed to wheedle his way in to become aide to Master of Ceremonies Captain Webster…. It was the job of the Master of Ceremonies to organise Society’s social life, with dances, balls and other social gatherings…. Webster was shot dead in a duel following an argument over a card game – and in 1704 Nash was elected by the Corporation of Bath to fill the vacant position….

He certainly looked the part with his flamboyant unique dress style – and quickly earned the nickname ‘Beau’…. He was a trendsetter; whilst everyone else was wearing white wigs, he wore a jet black one – with a cream beaver hat perched on it in a rakish fashion…. He left his coat unbuttoned to show off his lavish waistcoat and ruffled shirt and instead of the customary boots worn by men at the time, he introduced shoes and stockings – so much better for dancing in….

A young Beau Nash – Illustration from 1886 – Public domain

Bath became the centre for social change; Nash promoted refinement, banned swearing and encouraged social integration with friendships across the classes…. He would broker marriages – and appraise newcomers to Bath to see it they were suitable for the social set….

In 1708 he appointed Thomas Harrison to build the Bath Assembly House – a place for dancing and gambling…. With musicians brought in from London it became the social hub…. Bath had the reputation of being the most fashionable resort in England, even attracting continental nobility…. Nash became known as the ‘King of Bath’ – and had a string of mistresses to keep him company….

But – the higher you rise the harder you fall…. In 1745 anti-gambling laws were tightened…. Before there had been loopholes to exploit but now it was harder to get around the law…. This was a major setback for Nash and his income rapidly declined…. In the end he had to sell most of his possessions and had to move in with one of his mistresses, Julianna Papjoy – who cared for him until his death in 1761….

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