The Circus

The Circus

Pp. 140 - 148

21st C
Had to get out my little bottle of Tippex yesterday and used it to cover tiny chips in paintwork on the stairs. Not quite what it is supposed to be used for (correcting fluid for paper documents) but effective in the short term.

Made a casserole of cubed lamb, diced oinions (I am delighted to find that Waitrose sells them already cut up for lazy cooks like me) mixed root vegetables and I tossed in a few Victoria plums for good measure, then , slow-cooked everything in the oven for three hours. Delicious.

Today I am staying at a strange hybrid of a place on the seafront at Lyme Regis in Dorset, an attractive seaside town made famous by writers like Jane Austen and John Fowles. The best-selling title in the bookshops here is said to be Fowle's THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN.

I have a "suite" on the second floor commanding a fine view of the sea from windows in kitchen, sitting room and bedroom. At night the sound of the sea swishing over the pebbled beach lulls me to sleep. Although the establishment is called The Bay Hotel there are no public rooms, only a restaurant at ground floor level with a sunny outdoor cafe offering a superb view of the sea-front. The accommodation consists of a few well-furnished self-catering suites with no public amenities but excellent access to the sea-front and gorgeous views.

Lyme Regis is two hours away by car from Bath. It is a delightfully unspoiled place but extremely popular and overcrowded in summer. Late September is an ideal time to visit. I have the avantage of fine sunny weather and a full moon shining over the bay at night, a scene romantic enough to satisfy any of Jane Austen's lovelorn heroines.

18th C

Perhaps Margaret Gainsborough moved to Bath with some misgivings. The family's decision had been prompted by her worst enemy if we are to believe Philip Thickness's account of it. Margaret had no affection for the man who was constantly claiming influence over Gainsborough, saying she preferred Mephisto the Devil to Thickness because Mephisto at least had a sense of humour. Privately, between themselves, Thomas and Margaret often referred to him as "Thickhead."

Thickness claimed all credit for persuading Gainsborough to settle in Bath, reassuring him that he would undoubtedly achieve fame as a portait painter in the wealthy spa town.Margaret seems to have had a sufficiently arrogant belief in her ancestry to give her confidence to operate as the partner of a talented artist who was not averse to using his wife's connections to advantage. Thickness had always disliked Margaret and he made no effort to hide his feelings. Margaret's haughty and often critical attitude towards her husband's male companions left her vulnerable to critical comment in surviving letters and memoirs. To date there appears to be very little remaining documentation revealing the identity of Margaret's closest female friends or their attitude towards her. Consequently the evidence of her charcter is unbalanced, leaning heavily towards the unfavourable view of Gainsborough's male friends.

Mary (known as Molly to her affectionate father) was now nine years old and Margaret (nicknamed Captain by Gainsborough) was eight. The move from a small country town to the sophisticated and often wanton pleasures of the fashionable spa town was both an exciting adventure for them and possibly a more difficult time for their mother. Gainsborough finally settled on living in the centre of the town in Abbey House, a large impressive building easily capable of meeting the artist's needs for work and family accommodation. From the moment he took out a seven year lease on the house in June 1760 Gainsborough made a habit of increasing his income by letting out rooms to lodgers. He followed this practice throughout his life.

By moving into Abbey House he placed Margaret and the little girls exactly in the middle of social and commercial life in Bath, in the busy, noisy and smoke-filled centre of the town. The handsome building (since demolished) lay between the Pump Room and the Abbey, and was so close to the King's and Queen's Baths that, according to Susan Sloman's book, GAINSBOROUGH IN BATH, a public passage-way for bathers was incorporated in the building.

From contemporary accounts it appears that views of the Roman Baths from the windows of Abbey House were not always suitable for the eyes of the innocent young Gainsborough girls who gazed down upon them, as we shall see.

Meanwhile, family ties were so strong within the Gainsborough clan at Sudbury that no fewer than ten of Thomas's relatives eventually followed him to live in Bath. His sister Mary Gibbon the milliner was among the first, arriving in 1762 to set up shop in Abbey House itself, an excellent commercial site standing in the shadow of the Abbey. Here Mrs Gibbon soon made a name for heself as a most fashionable shop-keeper dealing in expensive small items such as perfumes and gifts as well as millinery. Later she became known as a leading lodging-housekeeper in Bath, or a lodging-house "cat" as Gainsboroughd described her to a friend.

He was fond of his sister to the point where he shared his secret life with her to some extent. He confided to her some of the problems he faced in his relationships with his wife and daughters and later with his son-in-law. Mrs Gibbon was a staunch supporter of the Methodist Chapel and appears to have lived a rigidly disciplined life. However, that did not stop Gainsborough from revealing his sexual exploits to her, or from borrowing money from her to help women he had been involved with. He freely admitted that he wasted far too much time running after pleasurable pursuits while Margaret constantly nagged him to get back to his easel to earn more money.

He was especially tempted by the pleasures of life, particularly when he was away from home. London offered him not only endless delights but, in those days of leisurely communication, a certain freedom from restraint in the form of his wife. His letters are often frank and revealing. Writing to a friend shortly after moving to Bath he described how he had been dangerously ill. He was suffering from venereal disease but, he wrote, he was on the mend and praised his "Dear Good Wife" who sat up every night to care for him.

Bearing in mind his shameful behaviour in London a few weeks earlier he wrote that he would never be a good enough soul for his wife, no matter how he might try to mend his wicked ways. However much Margaret must have loathed his infidelity and the consequences of his cavorting with prostitutes, there was nothing she could do about it. Her own father's sensational divorce had set the gossips' tongues wagging when she was a girl, but divorce was not an option open to women in her situation. Georgian men had undisputed control not only over the family's finances, but also over the lives of their wives and children. If a woman did take the shocking decision to leave her home, she had to kiss goodbye to her children as well as her husband and her home. There was simply no future in life for a married woman who abandoned her family. She was, in turn, abandoned by society.

A week or two before the Gainsboroughs arrived in town Samuel Symmonds's advertisement appeared in THE BATH JOURNAL warning the public that his wife, Hanmnah, had eloped five days earlier "without cause or provocation." He would no longer be responsible for any debts she might incur from that day forward. And unless she was unusually lucky in her admirer's intent, Hannah's future looked grim indeed.

In the 187 years from 1670 to 1857 there were only 325 divorces registered in England, all but four of them obtained by men according to Amanda Vickery's book A GENTLEMAN'S DAUGHTER, P 73. Forced marriages were occasionally wrecked by an unwilling bride. Lady Mary Coke scandalized society by refusing to consummate her marriage and as a result her embarrassed husband kept her a virtual prisoner at Holkham Hall in Norfolk for a year before she was humiliated by a public annulment.

Pp. 132-139 3 October 2010

18th C
Visitors to Bath arrived in the spa town often with no reservations and having no idea of where they were to stay for a period which might last weeks or even months. In 1767, when Margaret was living in The Circus, the young teenager and future writer, Fanny Burney, paid her first visit to Bath, a city she grew to love. Travelling with wealthy friends the party stayed the first night in an inn before seeking help from a friend who recommended lodgings in South Parade. They stayed at No. 14 for the next three months. Today a plaque on the building commemorates the author's visit.

Families usually preferred to rent a whole house if available but most visitors occupied a suite of rooms in lodging houses. Men travelling alone, and staying for a considerable period, usually found accommodation in inns.

Privately owned coaches were the usual means of transport to Bath, and up to about 1750 these were predominantly London built. Several firms of coach builders set up in Bath mid century. Edward Morton in Kingsmead Square was active throughout Margaret Gainsborough's time. By the last quarter of the century roads had improved, carriages were more comfortable and travelling in general had become much less hazardous.

These impovements led to a popular diversion familiar today: day trips by coach to tourist attractions in the area. Destinations included scenes of natural beauty, architectural and industrial sites, impressive institutions like hospitals and almshouses and gentlemen's country houses. One of Gainsborough's contemporaries when on holiday personally escorted his family, including his young daughter, to see a paper factory, a coal pit, a picture gallery, ships unloading at the docks and a china auction. Visits as diverse as these were seen by parents as a necessary part of the education of their young.

For residents of the town and the hundreds of seasonal visitors to Bath there were really only two options for getting about: shank's pony (walking) or hiring a sedan chair carried on poles by two chairmen. This mode of transportation was introduced first in Italy, arriving in London about 1630.

Sedan chairs were well suited to navigate Bath's hilly streets which horse-drawn vehicles found difficult to negotiate, especially in severe winters when, even today, black ice presents hazards to walkers and vehicles alike.

By Act of Parliament in 1708 the Bath Corporation was empowered to licence chairmen for an annual fee of three shillings plus that old bugbear, stamp duty.

Drastic fines of thirteen shillings and four pence were imposed on men caught using unlicensed chairs. There were about eighty registered sedan chairs operating in Bath in Margaret's day. They were all painted black and bore a distinguishing number, the forerunner of the car number plate. Comfortably upholstered inside, with three glass windows, the occupant's view directly ahead was obscured by the jogging figure of the chairman running between the front poles. The roof was hinged to allow it to be raised as the passenger entered and left at the front of the vehicle. This was a particularly important aspect of design which allowed room for the elaborate towering head-dresses worn by women at that time. This fashion led to the publication of THE CHAIRMEN'S LAMENT:

"We've always endeavour'd to make you sit easy
And modell'd our chairs to your fancy and taste;
But now we despair any longer to please ye,
Since your heads are grown double the length of your waist."

Most chairs were made by cabinetmakers like John Bryan and John Walton who were working in Bath in Margaret's time. Each new chair cost about £15 in 1750.

Bathing in the hot water was one of the prime reasons for visiting the town and the sedan chair played a vital role in transporting the visitor to and from the baths. One by one family members were collected from their rooms early in the morning and after a sojourn in the baths each would be picked up and returned, warmly wrapped in a blanket in the enclosed chair. The chairmen would run them home, in through the main door (specially built extra wide) along the hall and up the stairs to the bedroom where a maid would help her mistress into bed to rest and, as one female visitor wrote frankly, to sweat until she had recovered sufficiently to rise and dress for the day's pleasures.

Sedan chair travel was relatively comfortable, although with two carriers it was labour-intensive and therefore an expensive method of transport. It was also a hazardous operation for all concerned, including passers-by. The passenger prayed the chairmen were nimble-footed. If they stumbled on Bath's narrow cobbled lanes the result could be disastrous. The chair was often overturned, shattering its glass windows over the occupant who was frequently injured, as were the chairmen. Broken legs were their most feared injury: legs were the engines of the sedan chair. These 18th C chairmen were celebrated for their strength and endurance but they suffered severely from rheumatism.

On one occasion a chair was roomy enough to take two lightweight schoolgirls sitting side by side when travelling from the Misses Lee's boarding school for girls at Belvedere House on Lansdown to attend a social function at the Assembly Rooms. Susan Sibbald and her friend, identically dressed in white muslin gowns with primrose sashes and wearing wreaths of primroses in their hair, were terrified as the chairmen trotted down the steep Lansdown hill in pouring rain and turned sharply into Bennett Street, fearful at any moment the men would slip on the wet surface and throw the girls out on to the road. The Misses Lee hired a fleet of chairs on this occasion, paying about a shilling for each of them.

Fares were charged according to a schedule of distances covered, as taxis are today: sixpence for up to 500 yards; one shilling from 500 yards to a mile, and if a passenger were unwise enough to command them to stop en route to gossip to a passer-by, the chairmen were entitled to charge an extra sixpence.

Privately owned sedan chairs were granted registration at the Guildhall on condition that they were never to be hired out. Eminent men like William Pitt and Beau Nash often hired a chair and its men for their exclusive use for a week at a time, just as cars are hired today.

Privately hired chairmen cost twelve shillings and sixpence per week, one man usually being senior to the other and named, the second hired by him when needed. They were required to arrive with the chair at the premises at ll am and remain there until ll pm, transporting the hirer's family or clients whenever they were called, and running errands at other times.

When walking about town Margaret Gainsborough soon learned to give chairmen a wide berth, skipping aside whenever she heard their warning shout: "Have a care!" because the runners had no respect for pedestrians and they rushed along at a great rate. Indeed, it was extremely difficult for even a fit young man to keep up with the chairmen in their distinctive uniform of large cocked hat, blue woollen coat or greatcoat, black knee breeches, white stockings and buckled shoes.

Like taxis today, there were sedan chair ranks in dedicated places in the old town. When the girls' school on the hill required a chair, bootboy Billy, the equivalent of today's mobile phone, was sent running down the hill to alert the nearest rank.

The chairmen were a rough and ready lot, dedicated drinkers and fighters and fond of swearing at all and sundry. If reported and charged for using bad language they were heavily fined, the sum varying from a shilling to ten shillings, equivalent to the fee for jogging between the poles for one to ten miles. After dark all chairs had to carry a lighted lamp or be accompanied by a linkboy holding a flaming torch.

The life of Bath's sedan chair service came to an end in 1829 when the Guildhall authorities permitted a hackney carriage service to operate in the city. This was a fleet of one-horse vehicles, each known as a 'fly.' Soon after, the only people to use chairs which, by this time, were wheeled vehicles, were the sick or elderly.

Pp.121-131 18 Sept 2010

18th C
In October 1759 Margaret Burr Gainsborough packed up and left her modest house in Ipswich. Before leaving the Gainsboroughs sold off not only items of furniture from the Brook Street house but also a number of Gainsborough's earlier painings and drawings, sending off the remaining household goods by waggon across country to Bath. Margaret and her small daughters prepared themselves for their first lengthy and arduous journey presumably by public coach, first to London, then on to the most renowned Spa town in the country.

Wealthy individuals had no need to use public transport. When the noted writer Fanny Burney was eighteen she made her first visit to Bath travelling in style as the guest of a family using their own splendid coach drawn by four horses. They were followed in procession by a poste-chaise conveying the family's maids, followed in turn by all the male servants splendidly attired in the family's colourful livery and riding horse-back, the whole cavalcade a spectacular sight as it clattered over the cobblestones and entered the high street. For the less wealthy there were regular stage-coach services running from London to Bath and back. Bath was, mid 18th C , home to about 15,000 permanent residents.

Journeys by road were uncomfortable, exhausting and hazardous. Footpads and highwaymen were a living nightmare. Some time later, in 1775, Gainsborough was travelling in a chaise heading towards Hammersmith in London when the vehicle was attacked by two men on horseback who threatened the artist before snatching his pocket watch and two golden guineas. Both highwaymen were eventually arrested, found guilty of several crimes and bath were sentenced to death. one of them, McAllister, was hanged at Tyburn two months later.

Large sums of money were necessarily carried by coach passengers in order to pay for their accommodation and food at inns enroute, not only for themselves, but for any servants accompanying them, turning these vehicles into honey pots for highwaymen.

Travelling by stage coach required the Gainsboroughs to go first to London to stay overnight and then face no less than three full days journeying on the coach to cover the distance of a hundred and twenty miles to Bath. The roads were rocky, narrow and rutted, jolting the passengers unbearably, the fear of attack constantly present.

Luggage on board was strictly limited and packing for the journey was as difficult for Margaret as it is now when travelling by air with new restrictions constantly being imposed. When James Boswell planned to travel from London to Oxford he wrote a note to remind himself to buy a small 'portmanteau.' If he could not find one he decided he would have to pack up his shirts, stockings and slippers into a 'bundle' and carry that to the coach. Always aware of the necessity to economise, Boswell was then in a quandary when comparing the cost of a night's rest at the inn, from which the sage-coach departed, against the disadvantage of sleeping in his own bed and having to rise at an unreasonably early hour in order to leave home to be at the inn on time for the coach and so save a shilling on the hire of the room. It was necessary for him to reserve his seat in the coach which he referred to as 'the machine.'

The stage-coach mid 18th C was a heavy lumbering vehicle which carried six passengers inside, drawn from all social levels, offering a wide variety of experiences otherwise unfamiliar. People ascended and alighted at different stages, characters in a play who might offer any number of strange encounters in the crowded interior of a vehicle which became a kind of theatre as passengers chatted about themselves. The coach arrived at inns at inconvenient hours, often stopping for too short a time for passengers to eat or sleep as long as they would have wished.

On one occasion as a young man Boswell was called at 3 am to take his seat in a coach travelling from London to Scotland. The other passengers were first his own brother, a commercial traveller then joined him followed by a Scottish maid servant and Lord Tankerville's steward. As passengers spent days on the road together and stayed in the same inn at night, a certain intimacy was difficult to avoid.

On another trip Boswell's sole stage companion was first a young chambermaid travelling alone, replaced at the next stage by a gentlewoman, also travelling alone. (Clearly, women of different social classes travelled unchaperoned at this time). Then a strolling player came aboard and after he dismounted, a schoolboy on holiday took his place.

On one journey Boswell described how he and his companion shared the more expensive but infinitely preferred journey by chaise which accommodated only two passengers. For the first few hours the two young lawyers studied their legal documents and then passed the time by singing, Boswell's companion choosing arias from The Beggars' Opera.

Main roads tended to follow the ancient Roman roads by then fallen into a sorry state and at times disappearing into narrow muddy lanes or rutted cart-tracks crossing water-logged bogs or stony waste land. Powerful horses were required to haul the heavy coaches and running footmen were often employed by wealthy families to run alongside carrying heavy poles to ease the vehicle out of holes in the road or over difficult stretches. Coaches overturning were frequent events with consequent injuries to passenges and horses. Broken linch pins or axles were a common cause of accidents and delays. In one of the Duchess of Portland's many journeys in the UK a maid following her mistress's coach in a waggon was thrown out in an accident. The wheels of the heavy vehicle ran right over her. She died in agony three hours later.

Sometimes it was considered more comfortable to walk beside the coach than to be thrown about inside. In winter passengers bundled themselves up in cloaks and wraps and huddled together to keep warm. Pity the cheaper fares clinging on up top, braving icy rain and freezing gales, with no shelter but a great coat to protect them.

In 1769 London society buzzeed with the talk of a new machine that operated WITHOUT HORSES. A man sat in this 'horseless carriage' and turned a handle which worked a spring that drove the machine forward. Wise old Dr Johnson was, on this occasion, unwilling to be impressed. The only gain he could see was that the operator had a choice: whether to move himself alone or move himself and the machine as well, so dismissing perhaps the first intimation of the invention of the motor-car.

Today the local Bath authority is everely criticized by citizens and visitors alike for car-parking problems and consequent high rate of charges. Surprisingly, the first parking fine was introduced in the city as early as 1650 when a new by-law was passed prohibiting anyone from permitting any kind of 'beast' to stand in any street in any one place for more than fifteen minutes for any purpose, including feeding the animal.

Traffic jams are not a recent problem. At the coronation of William and Mary in April 1689 Peers of the realm were requested to leave their coaches at home and arrive at Westminster Abbey BY SEDAN CHAIR ONLY to prevent serious congestion in the vicinity.

21st C

Writing about coach travel reminded me of the following incident published in my book on ghosts: TRUE GHOST STORIES OF OUR OWN TIME, Faber and Faber, London, 1991, pp 15-17. Reprinted several times the book is now out of print and only available second-hand or on the internet. The following is an example of what is known as a timewarp experience:

"A friend told me about the bizarre experience of Susan, her highly respected employee. A woman of mature age, neat, precise, and rather shy, Susan is reluctant to discuss the event with strangers, and wishes to remain anonymous. She did agree to talke to me, however, and the following story is taken from a recording of our conversation made in Bath on 10 May 1988.

In about 1968 Susan and her late husband were driving along a tarmac road near Marksford on the outskirts of Bath. It was very familiar territory to the couple, who often walked their dogs in that area, near their home. Susan was sitting in the passenger seat next to her husband who was driving. There was no one else in the car.

The journey was uneventful until all at once, with absolutely no warming, Susan found heself flung backwards in time.

'Suddenly the road was a track and there were a lot of people around a stage coach which had overturned. There were armed men, boxes strewn about the ground and deafening noise. But no one appeared to be hurt. I don't know what century it would have been - probably about a hundred years ago I should think.'

The coach, painted black and trimmed with red, appeared to have overturned recently, spilling boxes and baggage all over the rutted track. The four horses were hysterical with fear, but still in harness, struggling to keep on their feet as the armed men, who appeared to be highwaymen, rushed around shouting orders to passengers and coachmen. The confusion was indescribable. Susan wa unsure of her own role in this scene:

'I don't know what part I was playing in this, whether I was boy, man, girl or woman, but I was right in the middle of it, and totally unafraid.'

This aspect of the experience seems to be the one which surprised her most of all. She emphasized how utterly unafraid she was of the armed men (whom she described s being dressed in dark coloured clothing, perhaps red). The confidence she felt in the midst of the confusion was quite foreign to her normal reserved nature. In retrospect she believes she might have been a member of the highwaymen's gang.

Beyond that she could not say whether she was young or old, male or female, or what kind of clothes she wore. She had the impression that the people involved in the scene were young rather than old. She could not see any individual's facial features, or estimate the number of people involved in the chaos. But she was convinced that she had arrived on the scene at the precise moment the coach had overturned.

Projected without warning into the centre of this noisy disaster in time past Susan was acutely aware, throughout the experience, of her other self, her current life in 1968. She was conscious of being two people at once, she told me, but in two different time scales.

She described her raction as one of impatience and almost anger, certainly of deep regret, at being dragged back into the present when her husband stopped the car at a crossroads and spoke sharply to gain her attention. He demanded to know what was wrong - he had spoken to her several times and she had not replied. When he glanced at her as he waited for the traffic to pass, he was disturbed by her appearance. 'You look so strange, ' he said.

A straightforward, matter-of-fact man who had never experienced anything remotely resembling what his wife then described, he accepted her explanation because, he said later, Susan was so clearly not with him on the half-mile stretch of road between the time of her last remark and the moment at which they reached the crossroads....It was only when her husband spoke her name for the third time that Susan was drawn back from the scient of the stage coach disaster to re-enter the 1960s."

The experience was never repeated.

Pp. 116-120


The Gainsboroughs arrived in Bath at the end of 1759. The Bath Journal was boastfully patriotic: the British had conquered Quebec! Bath City Council sent an illuminated address to the King congratulating him on his army's success in "North America" by taking the capital of the extensive province of Canada. In the same newspaper two weeks later Bath Council offered a generous bounty of two guineas to any "able-bodied landsman" who voluntarily entered the King's service in the Regiment of Royal Volunteers.

The Gainsborough girls might have been more interested in an advertisement in the same journal inviting them to visit the Market Place to see "The Great Christmas Loaf." This was an annual event in whichMr Brookmen at The Jolly Butchers amused his customers by baking a giant loaf measuring twelve feet long, over five feet in circumference and weighing four hundred pounds.

At this time Britain and Fance were engaged in a bitter struggle over possession of North America. Many families had relatives involved in the war and the press was full of reports from the front, often delayed for weeks, of course, as editors had to rely on sailing ships crossing the Atlantic to carry news of the latest battles.

Bath was at the height of its fame as a spa town. Every winter London's most fashionable individuals crowded the streets surrounding the notorious Pump Room and the Assembly Rooms in which gossip and rumour ran rife and folly, wit and wealth ruled the day. Outstanding authors and playwrights like Sheridan, Goldsmith and Fanny Burney drew on the extreme behaviour of many of these colourful individuals who provided material for their successful novels and plays.

Bath was a winter destination, fashionable from October onwards, but by the end of May everyone of distinction had fled, leaving the resident population of about 15,000 to complain about the heavy humidity of summer. James Quin, the actor who became Gainsborough's friend, famously described Bath as being "the cradle of age and a fine slope to the grave." Today some residents believe that nothing has changed in the intervening years, choosing to ignore the increasing influence of the University of Bath and its thousands of young resident students. Nevertheless, an old friend of mine always refers to Bath as Toy Town. "Let's get out of Toy Town and go to London," he cries.

Gainsborough's decision to reside in Bath indicated his reluctant acceptance of the fact that, in order to make a comfortable living for himself, his demanding wife and his two young daughters, he had to devote himself to a life dominated by what he described despairingly as the drudgery of face-painting.

Strange as it might seem now, given his ability to achieve a remarkable likeness (a talent envied by most of his competitors and one which thrust him to the top of his profession) he took no pleasure in the process. There was never any doubt that his real love was reserved for painting landscapes. The sad truth was that in mid 18th C England there was virtually no market for his work based on the natural world he loved so dearly. He faced a dilemma on coming to Bath but really had no choice in the matter. Margaret's legacy was sufficient to provide a basic living while the family lived in the country town of Ipswich, but no longer. Gainsborough had no option but to comply with Margaret's constant urging to promote himself as a portrait painter. To do this successfully he needed to find a central location in premises large enough to house his family as well as providing himself with a painting room and an exhibition room spacious enough to display his full-length portraits to advantage.

Margaret's aristocratic connections were now to come into play and it was not long before the elite socialites living in and around Bath were making appointments with the newly-arrived artist. Gainsborough complained frequently that 'gentlemen' were his enemies in the sense that his painting time and energy were exhausted by having to paint their portraits. He clearly preferred to devote his time to painting the rural scenes and folk as he observed them in the countryside, but he realized Margaret was right and he was forced back to his easel to paint faces, and found himself on the road to fame and fortune.

Margaret's major contribution to her husband's life appears to have been in providing a stable base for the family. And there is no doubt that Gainsborough loved his family. However, domestic life in his eyes was linked forever with the constant demand to produce portraits, more and more of them as his fame increased, while all he wanted was freedom to paint the landscapes he loved. Always a rebel in his soul he escaped whenever he could from the discipline Margaret imposed upon him at home to indulge the darker side of his character in the inns and alleyways frequented by a lower social order.

Pp 114-115 16 August 2010

21st C

Over the past few weeks I have celebrated the big O birthday. I spent five lovely days in London staying at the Sloane Club in Chelsea, a present from my daughter. Wearing an Australian vintage gold brooch (a gift from my son and his partner) I sat down to lunch at The Ritz with my partner Iann. We were guests of two close friends, Charles and Henry. I can't imagine a more delightful setting in which to celebrate a major birthday. Neither can I have imagined I would ever reach the big O. I'll leave you to work out which one. Like all my contemporaries I don't feel old. But when I sit at my dressing table facing south and look in the mirror with the sun shining on my face I can't believe that that old woman staring back at me is me.

Didn't get far with my lengthy correspondence with the local MP, Don Foster, the Council and First Bus, protesting at the lack of what I consider an essential .piece of equipment: an illuminated departure board in the recently built Bath Bus Terminal to tell me which bus I need to catch to wherever I am going. Don Foster and Bath and North East Somerset Council responded promptly, making full enquiries, but the organization responsible for provision of this major item, First Bus, replied NO, they can't afford it, although BANES points out that it was included in the plans originally passed by the Council's planning department. A friend suggests a blackboard and a piece of chalk might be the solution.

PP 105 - 113 15 August 2010

18th C
Gainsborough's burgeoning career in Ipswich led him to make many good friends drawn from all levels of society. Together with a reputation for being convivial, generous and kind, he was much loved by pretty well all who knew him. Margaret's reputation did not serve her as well. In many ways they appeared to be an incompatible couple. He was generous, she was frugal to the point of meanness and was notably unwelcoming as far as his friends were concerned. In the twelve years since their wedding day she had gained a lot of weight and although Gainsborough declared he loved her dearly "My wife is weak but good," he wrote, admitting at the same time that she was "never much formed to humour my Happiness," but believed there was nothing he could do to alter her attitude.

In the portrait he painted of Margaret at this time she wears no wedding ring. Was she making a statement? Or had she simply outgrown her wedding band? Gainsborough includes in this affectionate portrait of his wife a spray of honeysuckle, a flower long associated with romance, love and eroticism. In the fens of East Anglia honeysuckle, otherwise known as woodbine, if displayed indoors, was believed to induce erotic dreams in young girls. Gainsborough's decision to include honeysuckle in this painting might have reflected the couple's first embraces spent among the scented hedgerows of the countryside. Whatever his reason, inclusion of this flower, "the Bonds of Love," as it is sometimes called, is significant.

After a few lean years Gainsborough began making a name for himself in Ipswich, largely by painting bust-length and small full-length portraits, perfecting his own inimitable style. He was the first English painter to portray rural life and habits. He painted small portrait groups set against park-like backgrounds, an original style first used in the paintings of his own family as described earlier.

But he was ambitious and spurred on by his wife's evident love of high fashion and a marked preference for living at a level suitable to her status as she perceived it, he felt the need to move on to a more fashionable centre where richer clients might be found.

Quite unexpectiedly, at the end of 1759, Margaret was on the move again, this time planning a journey across country to set up home in Bath Spa in Somerset. Thomas had been persuaded to visit the town some months earlier by his quixotic friend, Philip Thickness, a new acquaintance, who was fated to play a significant role in the life of the couple. Thomas stayed in Bath for some weeks. He was so inspired by what he recognized as a splendid opportunity to attract sitters wealthy enough to pay handsomely for their portraits that he rushed back to Ipswich in October 1759 determined to sell up and move the family immediately to Bath.

Margaret must have been thrilled by her husband's decision to swap rural Ipswich for the highly fashionable spa town which lay only a few miles from her deceased father's estate, Badminton, a place she had never visited. There is no evidence that she was ever to be welcomed at the great house but her family connections were to prove invaluable to her husband as his fame as a portrait painter blossomed in the heady and wealthy social climate of Bath.

Artist John Constable was born in Suffolk and nine years after Gainsborough died he recorded a few comments about his fellow artist's early life in the county. As late as 1902 there existed in Ipswich an inn situated next to "The Ancient House," a splendid Tudor house in the Butter Market which is today occupied by the firm of Lakeland. Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower visited this particular inn in 1902 while preparing to write his book on Gainsborough which was published the following year.

He wrote that locals drinking at the bar told him that Gainsborough had spent many enjoyable evenings in that inn with his companions, who were all music lovers. Constable recorded that Gainsborough was often the butt of his Ipswich companions' humour. He had taken to wearing a wig in his early twenties and Constable wrote "His wig was to them a fund of amusement." It was often snatched from his head and thrown about the room, a clear indication that Gainsborough was at ease with this tomfoolery and was not overly concerned about his dignity.

Unfortunately Margaret does not appear to have had a similar playfulness of character which so endeared her husband to his friends, nor did she appear to appreciate it. She was always conscious of her aristocractic connections and treasured them. Although fully aware of being born on the wrong side of the blanket, she sought to retain her dignity at all costs.

And at this point in her life in Ipswich she made a life-long enemy: Philip Thickness came to call.

In the year of Gainsborough's death Thickness published a short account of his friend. In it he claimed that he, Thickness, was solely responsible for persuading the Gainsboroughs to move from Ipswich to Bath where he himself owned a house. Later he lived at 9 The Royal Crescent where he spent the social season every winter.

Thickness was the son of a clergyman. He bought the governorship of Landguard Fort, and with it he acquired his impressive title, Lord of Landguard Fort. This building was a massive old defence fort situated on the east coast near Harwich. Widely known as being arrogant, selfish, self-assertive, patronising and irritable, Thickness would do anything, it was said, even to the point of deliberately creating a scandal, to draw attention to himself. He chased acquaintance with anyone who had a title and boasted endlessly of his own rank, Lieutenant-Governor of Landguard Fort which he had, of course, purchased.

Thickness met Gainsborough soon after Thomas returned to Suffolk from London. Following his first visit to Gainsborough's painting room in the little house in Ipswich he wrote that he considered a few of the portraits on display true likenesses, being familiar with the subjects concerned, and commented on their being well-drawn "but stiffly painted and worse coloured." He was, however, bowled over by Gainsborough's landscapes and drawings of landscapes, finding them charming subjects giving "infinite delight" to the viewer. A little later he commissioned Gainsborough to paint a coastal view of Landguard Fort as a panel to be placed over his chimney-piece, for which he paid a fee of fifteen guineas. He was so pleased with the result he sent the picture to a London engraver to have it copied. The resulting print is now the only record of the panel which was destroyed by being hung on a damp wall. This was considered to be a sad loss as Gainsborough painted very few seascapes.

Gainsborough was widely acknowledged to be a kind and forgiving friend but his relationship with Thickness did eventually prove too difficult to sustain. By all contemporary accounts Philip Thickness waged a perpetual war with mankind, never losing an opportunity to diminish a reputation or cast doubt upon a character. Margaret soon became one of his prime targets. Caring nothing for her sensibilities he published critical comments about her in her lifetime.

He claimed that when the Gainsboroughs eventually arrived to set up home in Bath in 1759 he invited Margaret and the girls to remain in his house while he and Gainsborough went off in search of suitable lodgings, bearing in mind the need to find a well-lit painting studio together with family accommodation. On their return Gainsborough described to his wife the lodgings they had discovered for £50 per year (they had paid £6 per year in Ipswich) which he thought acceptable but she considered far too expensive.

"The poor woman," wrote Thickness, in a pamphlet published in 1788, "Highly alarmed, fearing it all would come out of her annuity, exclaimed 'Fifty pounds a year, Mr Gainsborough! Why, you are going to throw yourself in gaol!' But upon my telling her if she did not approve of the lodgings at fifty pounds a year he should take a house of a hundred and fifty and that I would pay the rent if he could not, Margaret's alarms were moderated."

Margaret was sixty years old when Thickness publshed these belittling comments. He had made no secret of the fact that he heartily disliked Mrs Gainsborough and criticized her at every opportunity.

However, she might have had good reason to suspect that Thomas was more than capable of living far beyond his means once he was tempted to follow society to Bath with, at first, little evidence to show that he had the ability to attract wealthy clients.

PP 91 -104 3 JULY 2010

Margaret Burr Gainsborough and her husband lived in Britain when many of its European neighbours envied the freedoms enjoyed by its citizens. The British could and did publicly criticize and lampoon their betters to their hearts' content, safe from any libel charge. They were free to read whatever they liked, to travel wherever they wished. The country was openly envied for its central stability.

Strange, then, to find that the farthest the Gainsboroughs travelled was within a county or two - the east coast, London, and areas adjacent to Bath in the south-west. Gainsborough occasionally visited clients in grand houses further afield but neither he nor Margaret appear to have left the safety of the shores of Britain. This is surprising, given the interest Gainsborough displayed in studying the work of great artists exhibited in the houses of the aristocracy, some of which were open to him. He famously adored the work of Van Dyck and was strongly influenced by his work and by the techniques of several Dutch artists, but he appears to have made no effort to cross the channel to further his knowledge of European art and apparently Margaret made no demands to travel abroad. In fact the Gainsboroughs lived very much within the family circle in a relatively confined geographical space.

After leaving the Gainsborough family home in Sudbury and moving to Ipswich Margaret must have been extremely grateful for her father's generous annuity regularly deposited in her husband's bank account because they depended on it for survival initially as Thomas failed to find much work as a portraitist and found no market for his beloved landscapes.

Shortly after their arrival in the town one landowner, hearing Gainsborough was a painter, invited him to his mansion. Believing he had a potential client requiring portraits of the family or at least a painting of his house and garden, Gainsborough knocked on the imposing front door. He was taken aback but quite amused when the squire asked him to quote for painting fences on the adjoining farm.

One friendship the Gainsboroughs formed when they lived in the Brook Street house proved highly beneficial. One day Thomas took his sketch pad down to the banks of the Orwell River where he met another artist, a painter of coaches and houses by the name of Joshua Kirby, who was eleven years older than Gainsborough, a fellow countryman born nearby in Parham. The two men became close friends, so much so that Gainsborough expressed the wish that he should be buried next to Kirby in the old graveyard at Kew near London. In time, his wish ws granted. As the friendship between the two families grew Kirby, influenced by his younger friend, turned his talented brush to landscapes and became so successful he decided to follow Gainsborough's lead and he left for London to study at his friend's former academy. Ultimately Joshua Kirby was appointed drawing master to the Prince of Wales who, later, as George III, appointed Kirby to the prestigious and influential position of Clerk of the Works at Kew Palace.

The two familes became so close that when the Kirbys moved to London in 1753 they left behind their son, William (who had inherited his father's artistic talents) in Thomas's charge, to live with the family as his pupil.

At this time Margaret had two infants aged three and two to care for, in addition to the newcomer. William's sister Sara, later to become the renowned novelist, Mrs Trimmer, friend of Dr Samuel Johnson, admired Thomas, advising her brother to copy Gainsborough's "gentleness of manner." Sadly, William died young in 1774. His father followed him to the grave soon after.

William Kirby was the first of a number of children who came to live with Thomas and Margaret and their daughters. The Gainsboroughs were a large and close family who followed the common 18th C practice in which a successful brother or sister would offer to bring up the child of a less fortunate sibling. What Margaret Burr Gainsborough, an only child, thought of this practice is not known but in time she became "mother" not only to William Kirby but to several of her husband's nieces and nephews when he generously offerd to assist their parents by taking their offspring into his own household.

In addition to these family members Gainsborough extended hospitality to the children of the poor whom he persuaded to sit for him, paying their parents handsomely in return. In the mid 1780s in London he met Jack Hill, an intelligent and handsome boy, and offered him a home with his family. Hills' parents agreed and Margaret, on this occasion, took a liking to the little boy. Her daughters, too, adored him. Mary, by then married, even talked of adopting him. Jack Hill became part of the household. Gainsborough used him as a subject in two or three paintings but the lad never settled and finally ran away. He was found and brought back to the house but in spite of being treated kindly, was not happy, and on Gainsborough's death Margaret managed to have Jack accepted as a pupil at Christ's Hospital in London.

Marget appears to have been content with life in the little house in Ipswich. Her days would have been fully occupied with domestic duties and coping with her two little girls and WIlliam the apprentice painter. The Gainsboroughs would not have been able to afford more than a servant girl and perhaps extra help with the weekly laundry at this point in their lives. Housekeeping duties in the days before electricity were highly demanding for any woman, even those who could afford several servants. Many middle-class women complained of the never-ending drudgery it entailed. They were required to perform throughout endless pregnancies and in most cases, unlike Margaret, they had to contend with the many children who made their appearance at regular intervals. Ten or twelve offspring were the norm, the fifteen produced by George III and his Queen were not at all unusual. Perhaps Margaret counted herself lucky to have only two daughters and young William plus the family's two dogs to care for.

As a young and attractive wife and mother of two toddlers Margaret had to adjust to living in the relatively small country town of Ipswich in the early 1750s, after enjoying all the pleasure and delights of life in London. The Gainsborough's house was small. She was now alone, without friends or the benefit of the support of the Gainsborough women in Sudbury;.

Bearing in mind her belief that she must dress as elegantly as possible at all times because of her aristocratic connections, she had now to cope with life in a town where streets were more often than not narrow, muddy lanes, piled with unspeakable filth on either side. Aristocratic ladies wore delicate silk fabric shoes which never came in contact with a common road or pathway but stylish women like Margaret had to wear more substantial footwear, with shapely heels but uppers made of stout linen or woollen fabrics. Over these they slipped on wooden pattens or clogs to protect the shoe by raising it above the mud.

One fashionable woman complained bitterly when the friend she was visiting in York pressed her to wear her beloved best floral muslin dress and then led her up stinking muddy back streets, on foot, to visit York Minster. Her delicate gown was badly stained and ruined as a result. She was furious with her friend according to author Amanda Vickery in her excellent book "A Gentleman's Daughter" (p. 186).

Margaret now had to come to terms with the daily grind of living en famille. Clean personal linen was a constant and demanding aspect of 18th C life, for a man in particular. The male leg, like its female counterpart, was considered to be the sexiest part of the body. In Margaret's time some ultra fashionable young men known as macaronis wore artificial calves strapped to their legs to enhance their appeal. Close-fitting male breeches were at times so tight they were unbearably painful to wear on a long country walk. Occasionally, some more sensitive souls had their breeches lined with fabric designed to be removed and washed.

Thomas Gainsborough would have worn white drawers, tied in at the knee and held in place by a string around the waist. Over that he wore breeches with stockings. His shirt would have been made in white linen, perhaps with lace fronts and cuffs, making it clear to everyone that he was a gentleman and clearly did not work toiling in the fields.

He would have worn up to twenty shirts in a week, all to be washed by hand and then ironed, using hand irons heated at the fire, all forty lace cuffs requiring delicate attention. The laundry bill of a bachelor was a major expense - one of the main reasons bachelors contemplated marriage was to be relieved of the cost and trouble of endless laundry bills by acquiring a wife to cope with them.

Relaxing at home with his family Gainsborough would have dressed informally in a loose-fitting long robe, similar to a dressing gown, wearing a cap on his head.

As breeches became tighter the drawers disappeared. An actor appearing in a filmed version of Jane Austen's SENSE AND SENSIBILITY in the 1990s described how unbelievably uncomfortable his breeches were. As instructed, he wore no underwear and was told to fold his knee-length white shirt from the back, between his legs and up over his genitals like a babys' napkin or diaper as he described it. To relieve himself, he said, was a complicated process. He had to take off all his tight-fitting outer clothing to get at his breeches which had no fly or codpiece to make matters easier.

Embroidered waistcoats and handsome coats complete the male attire. In bed at night Gainsborough wore a long linen nightshirt topped off with a night cap, sometimes tied fetchingly under the chin. James Boswell was so fond of his nightcap that he kept it on when taking breakfast at home in the company of his male friends.

Sometimes clothing accessories were not as innocently decorative as they appeared. The Duc de Chartres wore overrsized buttons on his waistcoat sporting scenes so clearly pornographic that Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, reported that her sister nearly died of shock when she examined them.

21st C

Surprisingly, buttons have played an important role in historical records. A few years ago David Posnett of the Leger Gallery told me he had discovered a portrait of Captain James Cook which he believed to be the original work of painter William Hodges, a contemporary of the Gainsboroughs. Known only because an engraving of the painting existed, the original portrait appeared to be lost to the world. Fosnett, however, was convinced he had found the original and he offered the portrait for sale at what was then a hefty sum of £700,000.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich was interested in purchasing the painting but needed to examine its provenance to make sure it was an original work. The most likely time for it to have been painted was established as being after Cook's return from his second voyage. Neither Captain Cook nor Hodges, the artist on board, would have had time for the portrait to have been painted during the voyage.

This view of the date of execution was confirmed by experts on naval dress at the National Maritime Museum who pointed out the importance of the placing of the uniform buttons. Those grouped in pairs in both painting and engraving indicated that this order was correct for a captain under three years seniority. Commanders (the rank below captain) wore their buttons in groups of three. Cook was a commander when he sailed with Hodge on the second voyage and he was appointed captain on 9 August 1775, a month after his ship RESOLUTION returned to Portsmouth.

This tiny detail of the placing of the buttons therefore proved that the portrait was painted between 9 August 1775 and 12 July 1776 when Cook left on his third and fatal last voyage. Accepting the evidence of what might be regarded as insignificant haberdashery as validation of Hodge's original work, the National Maritime Museum bought the portrait, considered to be the most powerful of the three known portraits of Cook. The others were painted by nathaniel Dance and John Webber.

In future, finding similar proof of period for the early 21st C might not be so easy given the constant repeats of "retro" fahions in an industry today which seems incapable of designing a truly original style.

18th C

In Ipswich, as in later life, Gainsborough proved to be a most popular figure, much loved by his many friends. Nevertheless, he had a quick temper, but soon recovered from whatever upset him. When he was cross with Margaret at this stage in their marriage, he had the rather endearing habit of writing a little note asking for forgiveness, signing it with the name of his favourite dog, Fox, and addressing it to Margaret's pet spaniel, Tristram. She would reply to her "own dear Fox." On one occasion she wrote admitting that her husband "was always loving and good and that she was a naughty little woman 'to worry you as I too often do, so we will kiss and say no more about it. Your own affectionate Tris.'"

Gainborough was noted for his ability to write charming letters to his friends but, with the exception of this note, no correspondence between Thomas and Margaret is known to survive, and the letters he wrote to his daughters when they were at school in London were lost in their lifetime.

PP. 80 - 90 Posted 18/6/2010

18th C Ipswich

When Mary was two and Margaret one, Margaret Burr Gainsborough found herself on the move again in 1752, packing up, leaving the comfort of the old family home in Sudbury and the loving presence of the childrens' grandmother, aunts and uncles, to take up residence further north in the town of Ipswich, a move she and Thomas hoped would prove to be more fruitful in providing subjects for his brush. As much as he loved painting landscapes in Suffolk, those pictures were difficult to sell and he needed to find more affluent clients who could afford to have their portraits painted.

20th C

Last night, here in Bath, the full moon shone brightly in a clear sky, lighting up the interior of the rooms with south-facing windows overlooking The Circus. I had been reading the young Rev. James Woodforde's diaires describing his days and nights travelling in the west country around Bath. He and his contemporaries all emphasize the importance of moonlight to the 18th C traveller.

18th C

It might not be too fanciful to imagine Thomas and Margaret Gainsborough consulting the almanac to ascertain the position of the moon on the day they planned to travel from Sudbury to Ipswich. Towns were lit at night in the 1750s but villages and country roads were not, and the night of a full moon was chosen whenever possible to travel through the counryside. Although a destination might not, as in this case, be far distant, carriage break-downs were frequent, causing long delays when help with repairs had to be summoned from a village sometimes miles distant, while all 18thC travellers, on horseback or using any form of transport , had to cope with the ever present threat of an attack by highwaymen.

One village shop-keeper was so aware of the danger of walking about at night that, to visit his gravely ill mother living only a mile or two across the fields, he not only waited for the night of the full moon to do so, but also hired a sturdy villager to walk with him there and back, for protection. The same fellow was again employed a night or two later but this time in an additional capacity. The shop-keeper and his wife had stayed out late playing cards and drinking with friends until 2 o'clock in themorning. It was clearly time to make tracks for home but the shop-keeper's wife was legless, and the sturdy villager was called from his bed again, not only to accompany the couple but also to hoist the drunken woman on to his back and carrry her all the way home.

The young Gainsboroughs appear to have owned neither horse nor carriage at this point in their lives and presumably hired a cart or waggon to convey whatever household goods they had acquired to their new home in Ipswich, while they travelled by the regular public coach service operating between the east coast towns.

Had they chosen to travel with their daughters sitting on their laps inside the coach the children's fare would have been reduced to half price. The same reduction was offered to passengers prepared to sit outside and brave the elements.

In Ipswich Gainsbor0ough rented a small house in Brook Street, paying a yearly rent of six pounds. For centuries the English have shown a marked preference for living privately, unlike their European and Asian contemporaries. Ninety percent of houses in Georgian times are believed to have been rented, indicating that people at all levels of society preferred living in a house of their own, eschewing the European practice of communal living in flats or apartments. And it was not necessary at this time to own property to achieve status. By choosing to rent a house, however small, in Ipswich Gainsborough became head of the household. As such he was required to pay rent and rates and taxes and that, in turn gave him as a male, the right to vote and enabled him to take office in local government if the occasion arose. A woman, of couse, had no such rights, even if she were a widow responsible for running her own household.

Socialite and artist Mary Delany suffered what would now be considered a serious injustice when she was more or less forced into a marriage she did not want in order to please her family. She was seventeen and her bridegroom, Alexander Pendarves, was nearly sixty. His appearance and behaviour were repulsive to her but she knew she had no option but to agree to her family's wishes. After some year Pendarves died unexpectedly and, sadly from his young wife's point of view, within hours of his promising her he would immediately alter his will in her favour. He died before he could call for pen and paper. As a result his valuable estate passed to his niece, leaving his young wife on the breadline.

Learning to cope on a very small inheritance Mary felt strongly that fathers in the 28th C provided too little for daughters in their Wills as their sons had many means of increasing inheritances through professional employment totally denied to their sisters. This unfairness angered her and she advised distressed gentlewomen left alone with no private income to seek employment in the houses of the rich. Even so, she knew the remuneration offered would never be sufficient to support them in old age, a common fear of many of her contemporaries.

She herself was lucky to have the support of a wealthy family and influential friends although in later years she, in turn, caused her own family some heartache when she insisted on marrying Dr Patrick Delany, a man her critical batchelor brother considered totally unsuitable. Why? Because he was the son of a servant employed by an Irish Judge. Her brother remained unimpressed by the Irishman's academic success, strong religious beliefs, and the happiness of his sister's second marriage.

In middle-age Mary Delany was highly critical of the lifestyle of men in general. They were, she noted, completely free to "sin without limitation or blame." A woman, on the other hand, who committed the faintest indiscretion was severely criticized and often ostracized by society.

21st C

"We have something in common," said the head waiter in the restaurant at Fawsley Hall Hotel this morning. "I love Marmite and I see you do too!"

The hotel staff in this ancient building in Northamptonshire are drawn from all over the world, he told me, and when he tries to persuade them that marmite is the food of gods they are less than entranced by the sticky black stuff. So far he has failed to convert any one of them. I am staying here for Easter with two friends, Charles and Henry.

Fawsley Hall is a delightful mix of ancient and modern. The site itself has been lived on or in since the 8th C. The current building boasts wings dating back to early 16th C still in use, while the spa is a model of modernity. I am disappointed with the pool. The water is only waist-high and I prefer it to be at least lapping my chin when I am on my feet.

As I write I am sitting in the impressive Great Hall, a light and airy space with massive windows on either side, well-furnished with plump sofas and comfortable armchairs, and a fireplace large enough to roast the proverbial ox on its blazing log fires. Last night we treated ourselves to the special menu devised by the chef, Nigel Godwin. Given the splendour of the building we were disappointed to be shown to a table in a small, cold, odd-shaped area described rather loudly by a disgruntled fellow guest as being the equivalent of the inside of a caravan. She insisted on withdrawing to a table in the bar and I didn't blame her. The room was freezing in spite of two or three temporary heaters placed here and there. But the food was superb and the staff could not have been more pleasant. We attended Easter Sunday service in the ancient church standing entirely isolated in a field near the hotel. There was no sign of the original village which once surrounded it: the occupants in the Middle Ages were victims of the Black Death and their houses had long since disappeared.

18TH C

In the year of their marriage Margaret had agreed to sit for a joint portrait of herself and her husband. She could not have known how famous this painting, introducing a particular form of portaiture, was to become hundreds of years later, she in her voluminous dress and face-framing bonnet, Thomas cross-legged beside her, both sitting on a bench in a leafy garden setting. This painting now hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

Her husband followed the same format to paint one of his most famous compositions, a joint portait of Robert Andrews and his wife Frances who, clad in her pretty blue dress, is depicted in exactly the same position as Margaret a year earlier - in fact so similar are the poses and faces of the two wives they can hardly be distinguished one from the other. This portrait of the Andrews is one of the most famous and frequently recognized of all Gainsborough's paintings, now in the collection of the National Gallery in London. In the book"10,000 YEARS OF ART" published by Phaedon in 2009 this image by Gainsborough was chosen as the sole example to represent painting in mid 18th C.

Margaret must have been quite happy with the results of her husband's depiction of her because, shortly before her second daughter's birth, he painted a similar portrait of himself and his wife, this time with the infant Mary standing between them as they sit upon a bench in front of a leafy background.

Then, four or five years later, when Mary and Margaret were abourt six and five years old respecitvely and living in Ipswich, he painted the delightful study of his little girls entitled "THE ARTIST'S DAUGHTERS CHASING BUTTERFLIES," a much loved painting now hanging in the National Gallery in London.
This painting surely touched Margaret's heart. It would be hard to find a more loving portrayal of his children by any father. But Thomas Gainsborough did not always please his wife, nor she him.

Pp. 66 -79

18th C
Presumably Margaret was confined in the Gainsborough family home at Sudbury where she would be fortunate to have the support of not only her mother-in-law but presumably some of her many sisters-in-law as well.
The leading obstetrician in her day was William Hunter, one of the first men to become known as a "man-midwife."
These were men who were qualified medical practitioners, often products of well-known medical schools. They prided themselves on being less interventionist than the traditional female midwives and were more inclined to let nature take its course in the birth process.

The first book on midwifery was published in 1752, the year after Margaret's second daughter was born and that book, and the arrival of the male doctor in the previously female dominated area of childbirth caused rapid changes, at least among the gentry. Forceps were first used in the 17th C and were in common use by the time Margaret herself was born in 1728.

Once her labour pains began, Margaret would have been attended by the female members of the Gainsborough clan, accommodated in a small room with a large fire roaring in the fireplace. Georgians believed it was necessary to induce heavy sweating in the patient, with the result that the room became unbearably stuffy and the air foul as it was so crowded. The mother-to-be was urged to drink large quantities of strong liquor mixed with warm water to help her bear the pain.

As soon as the child was born a woman in affluent circumstances would be well wrapped up in bed with extra covers, the curtains drawn round the bed and pinned together, and every crevice in the windows and doors stopped up, even the keyhole in the door was blocked. The windows were shuttered and covered over with blankets - all to exclude fresh air. The new mother was not permitted to put out an arm or even her nose for fear of catching cold. She was fed from the spout of a teapot with quantities of warm liquors to keep up perspiration and sweat and confined like this for many days.

21st C

I gave birth to two children, both in the 1950s. Husbands were not permitted anywhere near the labour ward in those days and were barely tolerated in the waiting room where they paced up and down puffing away at cigarettes or their beloved smelly pipes to relieve anxiety as they awaited news of the birth.

For the first-time expectant mother it was a frightening experience and in my case a lonely one, left entirely by myself in a small room in a private hospital and told to get on with it. Nurses popped their heads in from time to time but no female friend or family member was permitted to keep me company and after the embarrassment of being subjected to an enema and the shaving of the pubic area - neither optional in Tasmania fifty odd years ago - I was left alone for something like twelve hours until the birth was imminent when my own doctor was summoned from his Sunday lunch at home to deliver the baby.

Attitudes have changed for the better in the intervening years and first-time mothers have so much more support now, much as they did in Margaret Gainsborough's day, although personally I believe it is wiser in the long run to choose a female birth companion during this rather messy ritual: a number of young fathers have confided to me that the experience threatened to put them off sex for life when they had had to commit to being present against their own instincts in order to please their partners. A tricky subject, I know, and one to be left entirely to the couple concerned, but there is wisdom in the ancient practice of keeping the birth process a female mystery as far as male partners are concerned.

18th C

Margaret's new born daughters were looked after in a surprisingly modern manner. In the 1750s children's nurses were advised to care for baby by allowing the infant plenty of fresh air (unlike the poor new mother, cocooned in her bed in a sealed room) and freedom from tight clothing to promote kicking which would strengthen the limbs. The newborn was washed in warm water initially, gradually cooling the bath until, it was said, the baby actively liked being washed in cold water at the age of one month. Mother's milk was considered to be the best possible food for the infant.

In Margaret's case she would most likely have breast-fed her own daughters. Wealthier mothers often chose to employ a wet-nurse but not all did so. In an emergency a mixture of one third cow's milk and two thirds boiled water was recommended to augment mother's milk.

In wealthy families wet-nurses either lived in or out. In the latter the newborn was immediately sent to board with the foster mother, usually in the country and often for a period of several months, even years in some cases. This system sometimes resulted in a lack of bonding between mother and child, as in the case of Susan Sibbald nee Mein. She was the daughter of a doctor in Cornwall whose wet-nurse was married to a smuggler and baby Susan was sent out to live with her for some months. As she grew older the girl suffered deeply because she realized her natural mother actively disliked her. Fortunately her father, Dr Thomas Mein RN, was affectionate and caring while her mother, a pretty blonde slight figure, languid in manner, displayed little interst in any of her large br00d of ten children, leaving their upbringing entirely in the hands of servants, presumably having expended all her energy in producing them.

18th C nursery maids were made aware of possible dangers in the manner of placing a baby to sleep and were always warned to be sure the infant was lying on its right side, on its back only when awake and never placed face-down in the bed. They were urged to be constantly alert but, of course, accidents did happen. One girl, employed by the Mein family, was sitting by an open window on a hot day, rocking the youngest infant, Agnes, on her lap when the child suddenly lurched forward and fell over the window ledge into the garden below. She died of head injuries.

Susan Sibbald left a detailed description of her life as a privileged child in the 18th C. The Mein family lived in a large house in Fowey in Cornwall. Some time later Susan attended school in Bath and knew the city well. The ten Mein children were strictly confined to the two top floors of their house, except in the evening, when the eight girls and two boys, clad in their best clothes and warned to keep quiet and look pretty (they were there to be seen and not heard) were ushered by their governess into the drawing room. There they curtsied or bowed to their parents before silently taking their seats on the row of ten upright chairs awaiting them. Silence enveloped the room. A few minutes later they saw their mother signal to the governess. The children stood, bowed again and with not a word being exchanged between parents and offspring, the little army was marched back upstairs to its own part of the house.

If this scene seems unbelieveable to you, as it did at first to me, let me tell you that when I related it to my 96 year old friend she admitted that she was brought up in the same manner, early in the 20th C, her governess taking her down to the drawing room each evening, dressed in her best gown, to meet her mother and father for a few minutes befoe being returned to the nursery upstais to eat her solitary supper while her parents dined formally in the dining room below.

Susan Sibbald remembered sniffing the gorgeous sscents of roast goose, duck and sometimes, an even greater treat, a turkey or a peacock wafting up the stairs from the kitchen, but these meats were for the parents' table and never appeared in the children's quarters. They all longed for the delicious food but all they received were the leftovers stewed up next day mixed with green peas or cucumbers.

All these children, boys and girls, were taught at home while they were small, and never permitted to go beyond that area of the garden marked out as their own for work and play. Their nursemaids and governess kept them in line by thratening them with horrifying stories of smugglers who would kidnap them if they so much as poked their noses out into the streets of Fowey.

Smuggling was rife in Margaret Gainsborough's day. Even the Oxford-educated Rev. Woodforde boldly recorded in his diaries his own dealings with smugglers, purchasing their rum and busily hiding it, even to the point of burying it in his garden. Fines if caught were astronomically high and the Act encouraged informers, so this young clergyman was not averse to taking grave risks in order to satisfy his thirst for contraband.

The Mein girls loved skipping-rope games and whipping away at their spinning tops with their long skirts tucked up to free their legs, and they played endlessly on their garden swing. They were left to their own devices to amuse themselves as long as they stayed in the garden or in their own quarters. The circumstances of the Gaisnborough girls when young were similar to those of this family.

The Mein children's parlour was called the red room because its walls were covered with red flocked paper and hung with old family portraits in ornate gold frames. The women in these paintings wore what Susan considered to be ludicrously elaborate hairstyles. Later, when she was at school at Belvedere House, Lansdown, Bath, owned and run by the Lee sisters, one Miss Lee told her that when she was attending church on a Sunday she saw a mouse peep out of one of the towering hair creations worn by a woman occupying the pew in front of her. The tail of the mouse appeared and disappeared as it wandered in and out of pads and curls of false hair, probably feeding on the liberal application of pomatum and powder that held the hairstyle in place.

The Gainsborough girls would have felt at home had they visited the Mein children's red room in that house in Fowey: the fireplace was decorated with ceramic tiles painted with portraits of Gainsborough's close friend, David Garrick, and his fellow actors and actresses. Garrick was a frequent visitor at the Gainsborough's home in Bath.

Dr Thomas Mein RN, head of this family of ten children, employed a governess and four female servants, a man servant and a gardener. The female servants remained with the Meins for many years, living in the house with them and rejoicing in the names of Grace and Honor, who helped with the children, and Prudence and Patience, who cooked and cleaned. Virtuous names like these were in common use at the time.

John Webber, the man servant, also stayed with the Mein family for many years but Susan described another servant, the gardener, as being a snarling old dog of a fellow who chased the children out of his part of the garden, shouting with fury. Their father, a doctor of some distinction employed by the Navy, rode a horse called Pompadour and with Sancho the turnspit dog (which spent most of his poor little life trundling the wheel turning the spit roasting meat over the hot coals in the kitchen) made up the household.

Dr Mein was rarely at home, often away attending to his naval duties. The children saw him usually on Sundays and on special occasions like birthdays. Unlike his undemonstrative wife he was a loving father, adored by his sons and daughters. On birthdays he always sent for them after dinner and gave them some form of delicious dessert and a small glass each of what he called "pigeon's milk" but was in fact, Susan later discovered, a liquid called Constantia.

Susan was particularly fond of a cook who kept a tame hedgehog which lived in a hole in the wall in the kitchen. She would tap a saucer of milk with a spoon to bring the little creature out to lap up its breakfast.

The Gainsborough girls were in similar circumstances to the Mein children in having a father who adored them and indulged them. The artist's children were lucky because their father worked at home and was constantly present as they grew up beneath the wide blue skies, the chilly winds and bracing air of the east coast.
21st C
I met my partner, Iann, through the society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. At the time I was renting a wing of a splendid 16th C building, Layer Marney Tower, in Essex, owned now by Nicholas Charrington.

Iann lived at Barrow Court, a 16th C building erected on the site of a much earlier Nunnery. An elderly friend, Lady Jenkins, had suggested I join the S P A B because I lived in an ancient building and sh0uld know something about the architecture of the time.

I met Iann on the first night of a weekend organized by S P A B and held at the University of Bristol. I was struggling to operate the automatic coffee machine when this attractive man sporting a mop of grey hair and a cheeky grin came to the rescue and later invited me to visit his house in the country about six miles away. We arranged to meet in the car-park after the first lecture. He told me his white car was parked at the end of the hedge. I couldn't see him but saw a white mini and walked towards it. Iann appeared and waved. "Not that one!" he called. "Over here!" He was standing next to a low-slung white dream of a sports car, a Lamborghini, with doors that rose on either side like angel's wings. We drove a few miles into the country, turned up a narrow rutted lane, swooped past a lodge into the drive of his impresive stone mansion and the rest was history.

I had met the celebrated "Father of the Transputer" so named because of his invention of a new form of technology which enabled microprocessors to be assembled in brain-like systems (his description, not mine: the transputer is a tiny object the size of my little finger-nail yet so powerful in the world of technology.)

Pages 1 to 65

21st C
My partner Iann and I moved into Gainsborough’s House, in The Circus, Bath, in 1987. A bronze plaque on the façade stated that Thomas Gainsborough the celebrated portrait--painter had lived here in the 18th C but the real-estate agent appeared to be unaware of the history of the building. The documentation had not been completed and he showed me the property at the last minute as a favour when nothing else appealed.
I knew as soon as I walked into the dining room at the rear and gazed out over the garden enclosed in high stone walls that this was the house for me. Fortunately, Iann agreed. The house has a warm, welcoming feeling to it and I fell in love with it
The Gainsboroughs were here with us from the beginning. There
was little to be done in the way of restoration as the house had
been sensitively adapted in the 1940’s into separate accommodation - two levels at the top of the house being separated from the three remaining levels, garden, vaults and basement areas. Only the basement required major renovation and the decorators had soon completed their work.

But the embarrassing smell? That puzzled me from the beginning. So many visitors commented on it - an unpleasant fishy, blocked-drains odour emanating from the first-floor room overlooking the garden which Gainsborough had used as his painting room. He had the central Venetian window raised another story to make the most of the northern light preferred by artists This awful smell appeared and disappeared without
warning, always on the first floor, in what is now a guest room
with a Victorian addition containing a bathroom opening off it, and sometimes spreading out onto the first floor landing.
In spite of various investigations into its possible cause, no plumber, builder or architect could determine the cause of the smell, which continues to appear and disappear at will.

A former director of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery encountering the odour for the first time told me he thought it similar to the fish or bone-based glue used by 18th C artists to size canvases before painting them.

I believe that the odour indicates Thomas Gainsborough’s ghostly presence in the house that he loved when he was the first tenant, bringing his family to live here at the end of 1766. He painted some of his most famous portraits in this painting room, including possibly the best-known of his works,

The Blue Boy. 4.
There is, of course, no concrete evidence to prove the ghostly link as Iann, a scientist, constantly reminds me. But whenever I encounter the fishy smell, which in no way is anything but benign, I say “Welcome, Mr Gainsborough!”
As far as his wife is concerned, there is little contemporary documentary evidence. And most of what is recorded was written by her husband’s male friends who tended to be critical, some being actively hostile towards her. I have a sympathy for Mrs Gainsborough. Being the constant companion of a charming, popular and successful man at the height of his career while coping privately with his idiosyncratic demands and indiscretions can be stressful indeed.

So, what do we know of Margaret Burr Gainsborough?

5. 21ST C
I was born in 1930 on the beautiful remote island of Tasmania, within shivering distance of the Antarctic’s icy winter winds.
I enjoyed a care=free childhood as the eldest of four children, all of us lucky to have parents engaged until death in a happy marriage.
18th C
Margaret Burr Gainsborough was born 202 years earlier in 1728, the illegitimate and only child of the third Duke of Beaufort. Her mother, also known as Margaret Burr, was a pretty girl, a member of the Aikman family who were involved in the art world in Scotland as both artists, and packers and shippers of art. The firm had arranged despatch home of art works purchased by the Duke on his Grand Tour of Europe from 1725 to 1727 when he left Italy to return to his estate, Badminton near Bath. The Duke and the attractive girl presumably met and had an affair about this time as their daughter was born the following year. Margaret Burr senior appears to have died before the child turned sixteen 6.
when the Duke settled on his daughter the handsome sum of £200 a year which was paid to her until her death.

When Margaret Burr was a teenager she was confronted by shocking newspaper headlines reporting in vivid detail the unusual proceedings relating to her aristocratic father and his wife. The Duke had decided to part with his notoriously loose and adulterous Duchess, Frances Scudamore, and in 1744
their divorce was granted, only the fourth involving members of the peerage to take place in the history of Britain.

No blushes were spared in the public account of it. The Duchess attempted to defend herself by claiming that the Duke was impotent. To everyone’s surprise the Duke rejected an ancient rite permitting him to be accompanied to a brothel to prove his virility to the Court. Instead, and to what must have been the intense embarrassment of his sixteen year old natural daughter,
he elected to perform behind a screen in the presence of Court officials and doctors to prove he was not impotent. Newspapers and gossips alike gloried in the detail: one London wit wrote to a friend describing the delight of society in passing on this news, saying that His Grace’s cock was in everybody’s mouth.
Within a year the Duke was dead and his daughter left an orphan, a pretty young girl with a handsome income, a prize waiting to be won by some ambitious young man.
21st C
At sixteen I was living at home in Tasmania with my parents and three much younger brothers, loving the sharp-scented eucalyptus bush walks and swimming from golden beaches fringing the island. Several years later I met my future husband on the newly-established science campus of the University of Tasmania, not the most romantic of settings as it was then accommodated in stark wooden ex-army huts situated on the old rifle range in Sandy Bay, a few miles from the centre of Hobart. 8.
18TH C
At sixteen Margaret Burr lived in Duke Street near Grosvenor Square, a fashionable part of London then as now. In spite of her father’s recognition and financial support she had no social contact with him although it is possible that he employed her in some capacity for a short while at his grand house in London. But she, as an illegitimate child, played no part in the Duke’s personal or social life and seems never to have visited his estate at Badminton, even when she lived close by in Bath.
21ST C
Speaking of aristocratic connections, my only encounter with the royal family was at one remove. In the early 1950’s I was invited by the local authority to stand in for Her Majesty The Queen at the rehearsal for one of her State visits to Launceston, Tasmania. As a professional radio actor and broadcaster I was asked to “arrive” at the airport, and taking the role of The Queen, I emerged from a stationary passenger plane commandeered for 9.
the occasion, proceeded to walk down the aircraft steps, waving to the crowd, greeted The Governor of Tasmania waiting on the tarmac and then, accompanied by various Army dignitaries, I inspected the guard of honour, before boarding Her Majesty’s limousine and driving with the Governor to the Town Hall to repeat the official functions there. Of the two of us, nervous as I was, the Governor was more so. His hands were shaking as he kept on taking courage from his little silver hip flask as we were driven along behind a police escort, sirens blaring, assuring me I was coping very well in what to him was clearly a shattering experience. And this was only the rehearsal.
I, of course, never lived down the headlines and striking photograph which appeared on the front page of the local newspaper the following day. “Queen for the day!” My friends and family have never let me forget it. 10.
18th C
Margaret was fully aware of both her aristocratic and her lesser Scottish connections and so was her husband who, in later years, tried to find work in England for one of her poor relations, a turner, who had fallen on hard times in Scotland.
Margaret was a pretty girl who had inherited her mother’s nose and eyes, offset to some extent by the double chin of her father. She was immensely proud of her aristocratic connections.
“I have some right to this,” she said on one occasion, caressing the richly ornate gown she wore as she spoke to her grown-up niece, Mrs Lane. “For you know, my love, I am a Prince’s daughter!”
Although widely acknowledged as being illegitimate she could truthfully claim a royal bloodline, descending directly from Edward- III through his son John of Gaunt to Henry Somerset, third Duke of Beaufort. 11.
Life could be cruel for illegitimate children in the 18th C, girls in particular, especially when born to aristocrats. Boys were often taken into the father’s household, brought up as children of the house and given titles, but girls were dismissed, unrecognised, sent out to live in the country to be raised by a wet nurse or a farmer’s wife and were usually never permitted contact with the family again. This was certainly the fate of any female child born as the result of an unfaithful aristocratic wife’s indiscretion.
Legitimate children of loving parents were also often sent out from home immediately after birth to be brought up by a wet-nurse in the country, frequently left there for a year or two. One new-born baby, the daughter of a wealthy family living in Cornwell was despatched to the country in care of her wet-nurse who was married to a smuggler. Susan Sibbald was a much- loved legitimate child, but because she was the only one of a large brood to have dark hair and eyes, while all her siblings were fair and blue-eyed, she was convinced as a young teenager that she 12.
was the child of the smuggler who had brought her up.
It was not until she first met her uncle, who had the same dark colouring as herself, that she was convinced that she was her father’s daughter.
As far as Margaret Burr was concerned the Duke’s generous funding saved her from living life as a servant and gave her the opportunity of finding an acceptable suitor although, pretty as she was, as an illegitimate child she would be unlikely to attract a husband of high status.

At 17 Margaret lived in a fashionable part of London, bereft of both mother and father but enjoying the company of influential friends. Members of the family of James Unwin, a successful London lawyer and property developer, were kind to her and she frequently stayed with them at their property in Essex, just a few miles away from the family home of a certain young man, Thomas Gainsborough, in Sudbury.
Unlike Gainsborough’s early patron, Philip Thickness, who made no secret of the fact that he heartily detested Margaret throughout his life,
James Unwin was always fond of her and he was to become influential in her life.
Margaret Burr was about to embark on a most important encounter. How much of it was coincidental, how much of it was planned?
Thomas Gainsborough was a charming young man who had the ability all his life to make and keep friends. Generous to a fault, gregarious and fond of entertaining he was always in demand.
He was born in Sudbury in 1727, the fifth child and youngest of the five sons of John Gainsborough and his wife Mary Burroughs. They had four daughters in addition to their sons and lived in an old house, formerly an inn, The Black Horse, now known as Gainsborough’s House, a museum dedicated to the painter.
At the time Thomas was born his father was a prosperous cloth merchant, the family having been connected with the woollen industry in East Anglia for many years. However, in the 1730’s John’s business suffered a serious down-turn and he faced difficult times in providing for his large family.
For many years the Gainsborough clan had traditionally supported the dissenters, attending chapel rather than the established church, and generally displaying an independence of
mind which was soon apparent in the case of Thomas and his brothers.
Nevertheless Gainsborough attended the local Old Grammar School in Sudbury, truly an old school as it was founded in 1491 and run by his uncle, The Rev Humphry Burroughs, his mother’s brother, who was a clergyman of the Church of England.
Thomas’s artistic ability was obvious from an early age, a talent perhaps inherited from his gifted mother who was known for her elegant flower-paintings. His father struggled to bring up his family of nine children as his shroud-making business failed failing and John decided to send the boy off to London at the tender age of thirteen in 1740-1 to become a pupil of Hubert Francis Gravelot. He was a French draughtsman and engraver who taught at the St Martin’s Lane Academy. Gravelot taught drawing using dressed-up dolls. One of these 18th C dolls survives in the British Museum complete with wardrobe. Gainsborough might well have used this doll to practice his renowned skills for 16
painting fabrics in his later portraits. Francis Hayman also taught at the Academy and he too was destined to have a marked influence on the young artist, not always to Gainsborough’s advantage, as Hayman was notorious for his love of spending his leisure in taverns, clubs and brothels and encouraging Thomas to do the same.
Three or four years later, while still a teenager, Gainsborough was ambitious enough to set up his own studio in rented rooms in Hatton Garden, Clerkenwell.
And in no time at all he was married.
Although Gainsborough now lived in London he retained a strong link with his birthplace. Sudbury was then a quiet Suffolk market town. Rich meadows and gentle hills bordered tranquil valleys and the clear waters of the River Stour flowed by banks bordered with willows. He loved dearly the countryside of his birth and retained his affection for it throughout his life.
Tradition has it that he first met Margaret, his future wife, when 17.
he was out sketching in the woods, his usual practice whenever he returned home. He was concentrating on drawing a flock of sheep grazing beneath a copse of leafy trees when a pretty girl came into view.
As Margaret Burr was a frequent visitor to the area when staying with the James Unwin family the two young people might well have met this way. Equally, it is likely that James Unwin was pulling a few strings in the background.
Thomas and James were known to each other at a very early stage in their lives as both families were engaged in the manufacture of cloth and lived close-by. Later James, a brisk little man by all accounts, became a wealthy and influential banker who resided in an impressively grand house, Wootton Lodge, in Staffordshire. At first an intimate old friend, James Unwin later became Gainsborough’s trusted business adviser. Indeed, so close was this relationship that Susan Sloman suggests in her excellent book GAINSBOROUGH IN BATH, 2002 (pp26-7) that Unwin might 18.
have been responsible for arranging Gainsborough’s marriage to the natural daughter of the Duke of Beaufort. And the reason he could have done so was that Unwin was personally associated with the Badminton-based business affairs of the Duke from 1737, ideally placed to be aware of his decision to make a generous annuity to his daughter in 1744.
Unwin later became involved in shady financial dealings involving the Badminton estate and his reputation suffered accordingly. Although Gainsborough remained on friendly terms with him personally, he rarely called on Unwin’s services after 1762. 19.
In later life Margaret was to become known for her penny-pinching attitude concerning the family’s finances. She must at this stage have been fully aware of her value as a bride bringing a handsome dowry of £200 per year to her marriage.
Gainsborough’s ambitious move to open his own studio in London had not been a success. At nineteen he was recognized as an artist of considerable talent but he was penniless, with no financial support likely to come from his family.
Margaret’s money offered him an immediate source of income sufficiently generous to cover the needs of a young couple setting up house in the mid 18th C and offering him time to live comfortably while he endeavoured to build up his reputation as a painter. As much as he always preferred painting landscapes throughout his life there was little demand for country scenes at this time and he soon realized that “face-painting,” as he disdainfully dismissed portrait-painting, was to prove far more lucrative. 20
The average age for men to marry in mid 18th C was twenty- seven. Why, then, did Thomas Gainsborough commit himself to the serious responsibilities and limitations of marriage at the youthful age of nineteen?
The reason is not so difficult to discover. At eighteen Thomas was described as being uncommonly good-looking with refined features and singularly brilliant eyes. His pleasant manners and natural courtesy were much admired.
Margaret was a most attractive girl impressing one old villager in Sudbury on seeing her for the first time to declare that “Master Tommy’s wife was handsomer than Madam Kedington” who was at the time the noted belle of the neighbourhood.
Clearly there was an immediate physical attraction between the two, whatever the circumstances of their meeting, arranged or otherwise, and it was a fortunate choice for Gainsborough, given 21
the uncertainty of his income as a young artist.
Thomas and Margaret were married in 1746 at Dr Keith’s Mayfair Chapel, London, a venue well-known for the celebration of clandestine weddings.
And this might well have been a secret marriage on two counts: Margaret appears to have been pregnant at the time. More significantly, the Gainsborough family (except perhaps for his mother Mary who might have converted to her husband’s faith on marriage) were firmly nonconformist in their beliefs, and might have objected strongly to the match because of Margaret’s illegitimacy.
21st C
Speaking of weddings, I was married in the stone church standing opposite the A G Ogilvie High School in Hobart where I suffered the indignity of wearing a horribly unflattering brown uniform for some years. My wedding dress was virginal white of course - we were all virgins in 1952 before the advent of the contraceptive
pill. We were vigorously guarded by our mothers and their constant command “Never let him touch you below the waist!”
The last time I saw my white gown was in the 1970’s when it was included in a display of wedding dresses exhibited in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, Tasmania. (Dear reader: I married the Director). My dress was made of satin, sleeveless, with a ruched bodice and a matching long-sleeved fitted jacket fastened with a row of buttons shaped liked pearls. The marriage lasted 25 years. I don’t know about the dress. 23
18th C
There is no account of Margaret’s wedding day but brides in mid 18th C often wore white or silver gowns and carried a bouquet of flowers and fruit, often made of wax. When diarist James Boswell married his cousin Margaret Montgomery a few years later he carried up to Scotland with him in his coach her wedding gown of silvery-white fabric. Not to be outdone he dressed himself from head to foot in an all white outfit before sliding a plain gold wedding band on to her finger.
Gainsborough’s portrait of his wife painted on her 30th birthday does not show a wedding ring but she had put on a lot of weight in the intervening years and perhaps it no longer fitted her finger. Queen Charlotte wore a silver gown for her marriage to George II1 in 1761 and another less fortunate bride was appalled when she caught sight of decorative waxen strawberries in her bouquet melting in the heat of the fire at her wedding celebration.
Through his close friendship with James Unwin Gainsborough was fully aware before proposing marriage that his future bride enjoyed an income of £200 per year which was, in 1746, a generous sum. Moreover, at that time a wife’s property following marriage automatically became her husband’s so the impecunious artist’s financial situation improved markedly overnight. After their marriage day Margaret’s annuity arrived in his bank account twice a year as regularly as clockwork and by law it was his to spend as he chose. Life for women in the 18th C compared with mine two centuries later was unbelievably difficult in so many ways.
Margaret Burr Gainsborough was just eighteen on the first night of her honeymoon and her bridegroom only nineteen. But for neither of them was this a new experience. He had previously enjoyed the experience of undressing his bride: she was already pregnant.
Mention knickers, panties or underpants to Mrs Gainsborough and she would have been deeply puzzled. Georgian women enjoyed the freedom of going commando or being knackeries under their voluminous skirts. Drawers were not worn in England until the 19th C. Accidental exposure of bare thighs and even bottoms on occasion was not unknown owing to the difficulties of managing the hoop, so fashionable an undergarment at the time.
When Susan Sibbald accompanied her French school mistress on a country walk in the fields of Landsdown in Bath in the 18th C they came to a wooden stile.
“I’ll go over first,” said Mademoiselle, with one eye on a local lad 26.
hovering nearby, “And you stand behind me and spread out your skirts so the boy won’t see me.”
The plump little French woman took so long clambering over the stile that Susan turned away to see what the boy was carrying, thoughtlessly dropping her own skirts and leaving Mademoiselle half way over, her hoop rising to expose bare thighs for all to see. She was furious with the schoolgirl and scolded her severely.
These 18th C hoops were difficult to control in a strong wind and even turned inside out on occasion. It was fashionable to push the hoop to one side when walking sedately in town, provocatively exposing a glimpse of petticoats and a hint of a slender ankle from time to time.
One smartly dressed woman tilted up her hoop in this manner just as a flock of sheep was being driven past her. At that moment an old ram escaped and running onto the pavement collided with 27.
the woman, thrusting his horns up inside her hoop and entangling himself in her petticoats. Screaming in panic, she let the hoop fall, imprisoning the creature. She tried to flee with the desperate ram bleating, the shepherd panicking, his sheepdog barking and a mob gathering, shouting advice. Finally separated from the ram, the woman’s highly fashionable yellow gown and petticoats, bare thighs, stockings and shoes were covered in the terrified creature’s filthy excrement.
A crinoline-hooped skirt offered discreet cover if a woman needed to relieve herself when travelling in a coach. By using a bordalou, which was a gravy-boat-shaped porcelain container held between the thighs beneath the skirt, the deed was done, and the world was none the wiser.
The absence of knickers raises a question when considering how women in Margaret’s time managed their periods. According to a conversation I had with one of the staff 28.
at the Fashion Museum in Bath recently 18th C women fastened a washable rag pad to their shifts using straight metal-headed pins as safety pins had not then been invented.
Throughout the ages various areas of the female body have been held to be the most erotic. Breasts were considered to be so in the 17th C but when Margaret married Thomas Gainsborough the legs of the female attracted the most erotic excitement and continued to do so for the rest of the 18th C. Later, when the Gainsboroughs were living in The Circus in Bath the following satirical advice was widely published:
“Make your petticoats short
That a hoop eight yards wide
May decently shew how your
Garters are tied.”
Garters, of course, were tied over the knee at the time.
Hoops were sometimes put to bizarre uses. On one historic occasion in the year of Margaret’s marriage a young man was 29.
fleeing from pursuers after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and he took refuge in his financee’s family home. Hearing his enemies at the door the girl lifted her skirts and gestured to him to crawl inside her crinoline. Hidden under her hoop skirt he remained undetected. 30.
21ST C
Last night I held a drinks party in Gainsborough’s House. Twenty-two friends attended. This was the first party I had given for ages. There were several writers present. One has written two wonderful books on JEWELS and COLOUR. I introduced another, a scholar who is an authority on several well-known 17th C individuals, to a friend who writes on matters relating to conservation. They discovered many interests in common. I admire another friend of my vintage who is off in a day or two to spend a year in Hong Kong in order to write a biography of an eccentric millionaire who died recently. Another guest studies an unusual subject: medicine used in the Royal Navy in the 18th - 19th C and another, with her colleague, has introduced a new venture in Bath by running writers’ workshops and lectures for and by authors. Two guests, both neighbours in the Circus, are highly successful interior designers, and one friend makes the 31
most delicious cakes, An invitation to tea at her place is an indulgence much coveted.
This room, so familiar to Margaret Gainsborough two centuries ago, rang with the sound of laughter and conversation. Thomas Gainsborough was the one who really enjoyed using this parlour to entertain friends. Margaret was much less hospitable, criticising her husband for his excessive generosity. I often think, as I close the original wooden shutters over the windows facing the Circus Green in the evening, how often the Gainsboroughs and their girls must have performed the same action, their hands then mine, two hundred and fifty years later, moving the same wooden panels to conceal much the same view. 32.
18TH C

When Margaret rose on the morning of her wedding she would have bathed her face and hands in a china bowl of water poured from a matching china jug on a wash-stand in her bedroom in London if she were lucky, otherwise water from the pump in the yard would have had to suffice.
Cleanliness of the upper classes in Georgian England is debatable. Clean linen was important to the young man about town. Boswell was prepared to pay for the privilege of wearing freshly laundered linen daily at a time when he was clearly pressed for cash, but as far as bathing is concerned there is little evidence of the existence of domestic baths.
The house at No 1 The Circus, was, at the time the Gainsboroughs lived here, occupied by one David Nagle. In a highly detailed inventory of the contents of that house in his time a basin-stand is listed in each of the best bedrooms, along with the 33
“necessary” or commode or night-stool, and the ever present chamber pot is listed in the lesser bedrooms. But there is no mention of a bath anywhere in the large house.
Servants and the lower classes used “The Necessary House“, also known as the “Little House“, as a lavatory. This was a hut built in the yard with a wooden bench seat with a hole or perhaps two, below which stood tins that were removed and replaced at regular intervals by the night-soil men and their horse-drawn carts.
Deodorants did not exist and even fastidious individuals were likely to suffer from their own offensive body odour, men especially when wearing layer upon layer of heavy fabric in over-heated Assembly rooms lit by hundreds of candles which gave off intense heat in crowded conditions.
Lice were a serious problem. Even if a wealthy lady managed to keep herself lice-free, she might easily become infected on a visit to a close friend. 34
The first garment Margaret reached for when she had dried her face and hands on the morning after her wedding was her chemise, or shift, usually made from linen with a drawstring threaded through the lace-edged top. This sat low on her shoulders and fell to her knees. The shift had full elbow-length sleeves with lace-edged frills sometimes visible below the sleeves of her gown.
Over this she wore an underskirt or petticoat usually made of cambric, dimity, flannel or calico. Sometimes this garment was so heavily quilted that older women could not bear the weight of it although it proved a valuable winter-warmer. It was cut to a narrow shape and reached to the small of the leg. This petticoat was known as a “dicky”.
Over this she wore the corset and finally the dress.
Throughout Margaret’s life from childhood onwards she had to endure the discomforts of the rigid compressing corset or stays stiffened by cane, whalebone or steel. The corset could not be put 35
on without assistance because it was fastened at the back by threading lacing through silk eyelet holes which had to be strongly over-sewn to take the pressure as metal eyelets were then
unknown. Margaret kept her balance by holding on to the bed-post as her maid pulled the laces as tightly as possible.
Some relief from the torture imposed by the dreaded corset was to be found in a loose un-boned bodice known as “jumps” but this garment was only worn in the privacy of the home or when pregnant to disguise the growing bump.
Margaret and her friends loved their tiny waists transformed by the corset but hated the discomfort of the rigid garment which rubbed the upper arms until they were sore and painfully constricted their midriffs. There was some relief to be anticipated as they grew older and stouter when extra side-lacings were added discreetly to their corsets.
21st C
I remember as a child sharing a cabin with my mother on a ship crossing the tempestuous waters of Bass Strait from Burnie to Melbourne in the 1930’s. She removed her all-in-one tightly
Constricting boned corset with a huge sigh of relief before undressing me and tying brown wrapping paper round my body with string which she convinced me would undoubtedly prevent any feeling of seasickness. It was the fist time I had seen this fearsome flesh-pink corset that practically stood alone when taken off.
Like most women of her class Margaret would probably have had no more than two corsets, her old ones, much favoured because they were well-worn and almost comfortable, and her “best” stays, a form of rigid torture.
The same economies applied to expensive quilted petticoats or underskirts - one old and one new seemed to be sufficient. With a virile husband like Thomas to be contended with, perhaps Margaret was grateful for the voluminous neck to ankle nightgowns then fashionable. Indeed, some experts believe that women remained faithful to these ungainly tent-like garments until the introduction of efficient methods of birth control many generations later permitted them to adopt more seductive garments to wear in bed.
After all, if a woman had already delivered twelve children a baker’s dozen was not likely to be high on her wish list. 38.
Margaret Gainsborough would have recycled her dresses like all her contemporaries living at a similar financial level, often instructing the dressmaker to change the shape of a sleeve or neckline to freshen its appearance. When the garment was too worn for further she might cut it up and make it into a workbag or dusters, or give to her maid. One woman described to a friend how she had cut off the worn feet of a pair of fine worsted stockings and pulled them up over her legs and thinner stockings to keep her knees warm under her long skirts in winter.
Men, too, were forever repairing, renewing or recycling their clothes. The young Rev Woodforde paid two shillings and sixpence to have his favourite morning dressing gown turned inside out and remade. At the same time he actually bought from his own brother a pair of second-hand gloves. 39.

Recycling of this kind continues today. A woman married to a diplomat told me recently how she and her colleagues survived dinner parties in huge but freezing country mansions by cutting out the crotch and feet of tights, pulling them over the head to the waist and thrusting their arms through the legs. In that way they were able to wear fashionable silk evening dresses with low-cut necklines and three quarter sleeves without freezing to death in winter.
From the point of view of 18th C servants, both male and female, a gift of discarded clothing from the master or mistress’s wardrobe was often regarded as an important part of their wages.
In fact, because female fashions remained similar across the social classes at this time, a comely lady’s maid serving a wealthy amily and dressed in her mistress’s cast-offs might easily be mistaken. initially. for a member of the family.
Male servants were expensive to employ. Their wages were
higher for one thing, and their costly and often ornate livery, made up in the employers’ own colours, had to be provided in the form of coat, waistcoat and hat. The man was required to procure his own shoes, stockings, breeches and shirts. 41
A portrait of Margaret by Gainsborough painted early in their marriage shows her as a slip of a girl but over the next twelve years when he painted a delightful portrait of his wife aged thirty, she had put on a lot of weight. She appears as a plump, attractive woman with a thick neck and double chin. She wears her hair in an unusually natural style: the dark brown tresses combed severely back from her face, revealing a marked widow’s peak, completely free of false pads of hair or powder. Considering her splendidly expensive dress, this natural style is unexpected at a time when towering head-dresses of fashionable women were so tall that a wearer was sometimes forced to sit on the floor of her carriage in order to reach a destination with the creation intact.
Her husband, on the other hand, favoured wearing a wig from his early twenties as his self-portrait painted in 1750 reveals.
Gainsborough would have owned more than one wig, as each had to be sent out regularly to be dressed by a barber. One young 42
fashionable man of the cloth owned at least three wigs and ordered a new one to be delivered in time for him to wear to a special dinner the following day. He was delighted when the new wig arrived in its box on time and beautifully curled, the height of fashion in 1774.

Keeping up with fashion was especially important to women in the 18th C and the latest mode was followed slavishly, although some women, the writer Fanny Burney for instance, found the constant attention to detail boring in the extreme.
Margaret Gainsborough was quite the opposite, the equivalent of a WAG today, known for her interest in fashion, often criticized by her husband’s friends for dressing far above her station, but defending her love of expensive clothing by claiming to be a Prince’s daughter and therefore entitled to dress elegantly. Gifts of clothing were always welcome from her point of view, especially if they came from London.
A certain Dr W Dodd and his wife became friends of the Gainsboroughs when they were living in Bath. Dodd was a popular orator in a chapel at Bath and tutor to the fifth Lord Chesterfield. He sat to Gainsborough for his portrait. When it was finished Mrs Dodd was so pleased with the result that she sent Margaret a generous gift from London: an expensive silk
gown, a present which could not fail to please.
Before marriage young women were expected to display themselves in the most attractive and fashionable manner affordable by their parents. Married women could relax a little, dress less modishly, although Margaret never appeared to lower her standards throughout her marriage perhaps because she clearly regarded herself as an aristocrat and the aristocracy were expected to exaggerate the latest fashions and in this way add to the pleasure of the lower classes by parading their expensive finery on every public occasion.
Women of means were deeply conscious of the latest fashion and
in Bath they were spoiled for choice as far as elegant shops were concerned.
Some years after the Gainsboroughs left the city to live in London Jane Austin’s aunt, Mrs Leigh Perritt, was accused of stealing lace from a shop in Bath Street, Bath. She faced a terrifying sentence of either death or deportation as a result of what proved finally to be a cruel scam involving the shop’s owner, a Mrs Gregory. The case was dismissed after some months of rigorous investigation, causing considerable anguish to all the family and a cost in legal fees of over £1000 to the victim’s husband.
Surprisingly, given the reluctance of women to wear glasses today, spectacles were worn and were considered highly fashionable in the year that the Gainsboroughs came to live in The Circus in 1766. 45
But here we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back to 1746 when the young Gainsboroughs were married. Did they enjoy a visit away on a honeymoon trip? We don’t know. But they certainly did not go abroad at any stage in their marriage - a surprising fact considering how beneficial, not to say enjoyable, a European tour might have been from the artist‘s point of view, if not from Margaret‘s.
21st C
My honeymoon in 1952 was bizarre indeed. My husband was deeply attracted to another woman and like Diana, the Princess of Wales, I could honestly claim that there were three of us in that marriage, especially so on our honeymoon, spent on remote Flinders Island in Bass Strait, that treacherous sea lying between Australia and Tasmania. The fact that the other woman was long dead made little difference: we spent every day, morning to night, exploring the area where she had spent unhappy years of her life. Her name was Trucannini, and she was the last Tasmanian Aborigine to be born and to die in the land of her birth. And the site we trawled over was the old 19th C Aboriginal Settlement at Flinders Island set up by the British Government and presided over by the English-born George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector of the Aborigines who, incidentally, returned to Britain and is buried in Bath. But that is another story and set in another time.
21st C
Here I am today sitting on the fourth floor of the Tate Gallery at St Ives in Cornwall. I am in the café, cappuccino steaming on the table in front of me, a superb view over the slate grey rooftops of houses crammed into the picturesque town below. In the other direction I watch white-crested waves crashing onto the golden sands of Porthmeor Beach.
A four hour journey by train from Bath Spa brought me here in comfort in a first-class seat. This journey would have been long and tedious, one of great hardship and danger in Margaret’s day. However, had the Gainsboroughs ever visited St Ives I have no doubt he at least would have been charmed by its beauty and the unique quality of the light which continues to attract artists to live and work here.
The guest artist exhibiting at the Tate today is Dexter Dalwood, born a few miles from Bath in Bristol in 1960. He works up his enormous colourful interiors from small paper collages made 48
from cuttings taken from magazines and art and history books.
I wonder if his collages have been influenced by those of Mrs Mary Delaney, the 18th C woman who, at the advanced age of seventy-two began to create botanical collages, a thousand of them before she died in 1788, all celebrated for their beauty and accuracy.
18th C
Margaret Gainsborough knew this famous socialite, friend of the King George III and his Queen. Mrs Delaney visited the Gainsboroughs shortly after they moved to Bath to view one of the artist’s exhibitions in 1760.
Later, in 1766 when they moved to the newly - built house up the hill Gainsborough held one of his most important exhibitions using the large front room on the first floor overlooking the Circus as his display area. In the days before cameras and
television channels 18th C artists used every means available to advertise their work. Eminent painters like Gainsborough held
regular exhibitions in their own homes, charging an entrance fee of a shilling a head.
To make an impact on society and to attract affluent clients the portraitist might offer to paint the likeness of some famous individual - an actor like David Garrick for instance, or a noted beauty, charging no fee but stipulating that the painting should be available for exhibition for a certain period.
In Gainsborough’s case he appears to have decided to paint THE BLUE BOY in 1766 as the centrepiece of this, one of his most important exhibitions. By choosing a non-famous sitter (the boy is believed to have been Jonathan Buttall, the son of a friend and patron) and by using a great quantity of the most expensive pigment available, the colour blue, in the most extravagant manner, he managed to bring off an artistic “coup” of the highest order. Both fellow artists and the general public were deeply impressed by the painting of THE BLUE BOY, probably the work most likely to be correctly identified by the man in the 50.
street today as being the work of Gainsborough.
Initially he included the image of a dog in this full length portrait but before it went on show for reasons unknown he painted out the animal which can be seen now only through the use of infra-red techniques. The painting is in the collection of the Huntington Library in California.
21st C
Up to London to stay two nights in The Sloane Club in Chelsea where I have been a member for twenty odd years. Today I am visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum, and I have become a Friend. Now I can enjoy the peace and quiet of the Friends’ Lounge and rest in comfort in between viewing the splendid new galleries and exhibitions.
I am shocked by the lack of decent catering facilities in this marvellous Museum and have complained to the Chairman of Trustees and to the Director about long queues (often 30 to 40 people standing holding trays of hot food rapidly cooling while waiting in line to pay for the privilege) and the lack of a proper restaurant. Compared to excellent facilities provided in other major institutions in London the V and A should be thoroughly ashamed of itself.
On my return to Bath I faced a sad day. The white flowering cherry tree standing in the garden for the last hundred years or so 52
was put to the sword. Several large limbs had to be lopped as they were declared a danger after the high winds of last winter, and the canopy had to be reduced. The old Prunus is the subject of a conservation order and the tree surgeon has to be approved by the local authority. He took his life into his hands, girdled himself with a safety harness anchored to the massive trunk and climbed to the top of the dear old tree to begin work with chainsaw and handsaw. He removed about a third of the tree, a rare example of a Prunus, he told me, to reach such an age. In all the years we have lived here this tree has produced a mass of frilly white blossom about Easter time, a picture enjoyed by all our neighbours who overlook the garden. It is a sorry sight today, wounds gaping, but with a promise of new growth as spring approaches. 18th C
In 1746 the young married couple set up house together in London but it was not long before Thomas realized that he could not find enough work to continue to meet the expenses of living in the capital and after Margaret sadly lost her first child Mary, a toddler, in March 1748, we find them moving back to live in Sudbury the following year.
Here Margaret was suddenly immersed in the activities of the extended Gainsborough Family. Thomas’s brothers were a colourful and lively lot, two in particular vigorously intent on making their mark in the world. Another, Matthias, was less fortunate. When young he ran from a room holding a fork, tripped and fell. He died when the prongs of the fork pierced his forehead.
Margaret’s brother-in-law John, or “Scheming Jack” as he was known locally, was a highly eccentric but gifted inventor who was determined to build a set of wings to enable him to fly through the air from the top of a summerhouse in Sudbury. A crowd gathered 54
on the appointed day to watch the flight. Unfortunately, John chose to construct his wings from heavy metal. Strapping them on, he flapped his arms up and down several times before jumping off the roof and dropping like a stone into a nearby ditch, defeated, humiliated but unhurt.
He did, however, earn both official recognition and financial reward for his invention of a time piece in 1763.
Margaret’s brother-in-law Humphrey became a dissenting Minister. He, too, won public admiration as a gifted engineer whose experiments on the steam engine were far ahead of his time.
The Gainsboroughs appear to be an unusually creative family but what the young Mrs Gainsborough made of her father-in-law when she first met him can only be guessed at. By the 1730’s his
once prosperous woollen business had been reduced to the making of burial shrouds and was in serious decline, but in its heyday John Gainsborough presented a colourful figure in Sudbury, 55
where he was well-known as quite a dandy.
In full dress he wore a sword at his side and he was adept at using it, fencing equally well with the right or the left hand. At its height his business required him to travel frequently to Holland and to France. He was known to his colleagues as being notably liberal towards his employees at a time when this attitude was rare.
Gainsborough senior wore his hair carefully dressed and powdered and was remarkable for the excessive whiteness of his teeth in an age when teeth in deplorable condition was the norm, if they survived at all.
Many a famous portrait in the 18th C is notable for its serious expression. A closed mouth hid discoloured or missing teeth and teeth, a situation which presented a serious problem to Georgian society at all levels.
Prior to the 18th C sugar was a highly expensive luxury and honey was used as a sweetener. When sugar imported from the West 56
Indies became cheaper and was used more frequently in food preparation the teeth of the population at large began to suffer and those of the affluent classes suffered most severely.
One aristocratic young woman about to be married was described by another as having very bad teeth which, she acknowledged, was a deeply objectionable aspect in a wife and one bound to grow worse in time.
Few 18th C portraits reveal the teeth of the sitter and for a good reason: even the most sought after beauties of the day were likely to have missing or badly discoloured teeth. Eminent portraitists
like Gainsborough preferred to paint the subject with, at best, a slight smile with lips carefully concealing the often appalling state of the teeth. The best-known portraits Gainsborough painted of his own wife and children reveal no sign of their teeth: in each case the lips are closed.
And this is true of the vast majority of the hundreds of portraits he painted. Among the few exceptions is his painting of the youth 57
THE PORTMINSTER BOY which was undertaken when he lived in this house in the Circus and which depicts the boy with parted lips revealing his teeth. The boy is obviously young and wholesome and so are his teeth.
There were of course many Georgians whose teeth were healthy. Dentistry specialist Professor D A Luke, Professor of Clinical Oral Biology, points out that in one group of 18thC skeletons recently recovered from Spitalfield’s Church of Enland, London, scientists discovered a considerable amount of tooth-wear and some gum disease but not a lot of tooth decay.
He suggests that a second reason for not painting a smiling subject might have been the difficulty a sitter experienced in maintaining a smile for long periods. Early 19th C photographs show similar non-smiling subjects. Speed photography, a relatively recent technique, has enable and popularised the smiling photographic portrait so familiar to us now. 58
Whatever the reason a serious, non-smiling portrait draws the viewer to focus on the eyes which then dominate the face.
For the Gainsborough family acquaintance with the dentist was to be avoided at all costs. Fifteen year old Georgian Betsey Wynne, then staying with her family in Moravia, wrote in her diary that she had been to church one Sunday morning, enjoyed the music and then had a tooth removed and “suffered excessively” when the tooth-drawer of excellent reputation had a great deal of trouble extracting it. No anaesthetic, no pain-killer of any kind was administered so it is not surprising that young Betsey and her contemporaries preferred to put up with a raging toothache for years rather than face the pain and devastation of losing perhaps a central front tooth and with it a beguiling smile.
In 1728 when Margaret Burr Gainsborough was born the first
description of a method of filling teeth was published.
False teeth or dentures had been introduced a few years earlier. They were made of wood or ivory and were less than attractive. 58
There was also a nasty trade in real teeth which were obtained by buying the living teeth of the poverty-stricken young. Established dentists offered this service to their wealthy clients. The horror and pain experienced by the donors operated upon without any form of anaesthetic can hardly be imagined.
By the time Margaret Gainsborough had moved to Bath the professionally qualified Italian Bartholomew Ruspini had arrived in town.
Advertising himself accurately in the local press as a surgeon-dentist, “an operator for the teeth,” he was the same age as Margaret and had studied under Louis XXV’s personal dentist. He was modern in his approach and innovative, one of the first to promote preventative measures in dentistry. He practised in rented rooms down the hill from The Circus, in Queen Square, but called at the homes of his more affluent patients to perform whatever was necessary.
If the Gainsborough family needed it he could fill a hollow tooth 60
with lead or gold and he offered to provide missing teeth, fixing them permanently, always using human teeth for this purpose.
Ruspini advertised his own brand of toothpaste which was astonishingly expensive at three shillings a pot at a time when a pound of butter cost two pence halfpenny and a pound of bacon seven pence.
He claimed his particular brand of paste not only preserved but also whitened teeth - maybe Margaret’s father-in-law used a similar preparation to preserve the brilliance of his legendary smile. 61
21ST C
Speaking of matters medical: last week I had a cataract removed from my right eye. Like most patients in my position I was deeply worried about having my eyesight threatened by any number of sharp-pointed instruments. In the event it was not nearly as nasty as I had imagined. In the operating theatre my eye was anaethetized but I remained awake, conscious of the whole procedure, the unfamiliar noises and conversations of the medical staff around me. A kind nurse held my hand throughout and I felt no pain whatsoever. The cataract was removed, a lens inserted, and after twenty minutes I was wheeled back to my room in the clinic and left for home two hours later. The following day a miracle occurred: when the eye shield was removed I had perfect 20/20 sight in my right eye. I could see brilliantly, details I had not seen for years. The left eye will be treated in the same way in four weeks time.
The rapid advance in medical technology is nothing short of 62
miraculous. When I think of what might have been Margaret
Gainsborough’s dire future had she suffered from cataracts 250 years ago, I thank my lucky stars I live in this high-tech age.. 63
18th C
Margaret lost not only her first infant, Mary, in 1748, but her father-in-law too, who died that year aged 65.
Her mother-in-law had married at the age of fourteen. She was an admirable housewife with a cultivated mind, noted for her ability in flower-painting and she actively encouraged Thomas’s early attempts at drawing. She survived her husband’s death in 1748, living long enough to enjoy the outstanding success of her son’s painting career. She and Margaret were closely associated as in-laws for twenty-three years before she died in 1769 when Margaret and Thomas were living in The Circus in Bath.
Presumably the elder Mrs Gainsborough supported Margaret through the period when she gave birth to her two surviving 63
daughters, Mary (named after the lost child but often called Molly) born in 1750 and Margaret, nicknamed Peggy, born in 1751. Both girls were born when Margaret and Thomas were living in Sudbury on their return from London. Margaret was 22 and 23. Unusually for a woman of her age she had no more children at a time when large families were normal. The probable reason for this lack of conception becomes clear later in her life.
George III and his wife Charlotte set their subjects an excellent example: not only were they a happily married couple but they produced fifteen children.
Contraception was notoriously unreliable. A potion made of the bark of the poplar tree was believed to be effective. Condoms made of linen were used occasionally but usually only as a protection against venereal disease. They were available in three sizes from women who ran elite brothels catering to upper class men in London and all major cities and spa towns like Bath. 64
Condoms made of sheep gut were introduced in the 1750’s but were not popular with men. When James Boswell first used one after picking up a girl in St James Park in London he described it as like wearing armour.
Margaret Gainsborough had lost her first child in infancy but had she suffered an unwanted pregnancy, abortion was a possibility. Although it was a statutory offence until 1803, the law was only seriously applied after the fourth month of pregnancy.
Like most women of her age Margaret was fully aware of the permissive world her husband inhabited. Men like Gainsborough and his friends were expected to drink heavily, pass the night with prostitutes from time to time and speak openly of these activities in the company of respectable women who were fully aware that a
sober, sexually-modest man was regarded by society as being
insufferably unfashionable and dull. Thomas Gainsborough was never in danger of being so described.
Even young unmarried girls like Mary and Margaret 65
Gainsborough in their teens were fully aware of what went on in a man’s world and they spoke of it frankly among themselves, as their letters and diaries reveal.
Their father adored attractive women, particularly those of the lower classes, and found it difficult to curb his impulses despite the danger he knew to be found in encounters with girls working the streets and taverns of London and Bath, as we shall see.