The Circus

The Circus

Pp 164-166

18TH C

Gainsborough 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 not only with his wife but with his daughters and later his son-in-law. Mrs Gibbon was a staunch supporter of the Methodist Chapel and appears to have lived a rigidly disciplined life, but that did not stop Gainsborough from revealing his sexual exploits to her, or from borrowing money from her so that he might help the women involved on occasion. He freely admitted that he wasted far too much time running after pleasurable pursuits while Margaret nagged him to get back to his easle to earn more money.

He was easily tempted by the pleasures of life, especially when he was away from home. London offered him not only endless delights of the flesh but, in those days of leisurely communication, a certain amount of 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 a venereal disease) but was now 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 teenager but divorce was not an option to women in her situation. Georgian men had undisputed control not only of the family's finances, but over the lives of their wives and children as well. 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 abandoned in turn by society.

Women of high rank suffered the same fate as their more lowly sisters. Margaret Gainsborough must probably knew the aristocratic Grace Dalrymple Eliot because Thomas painted her portrait. He shows her as a tall, slender figure, wearing a striking gold silk gown, her powdered hair dressed in a fshionably towering style. Known as Dally the Tall, she committed a faux pas of a nature her husband could not ignore. He rejected her and threw her out of the house. She had no alternative but to create a career for herself "on the town" in order to survive. In other words, she became a Georgian call girl.

Pp 161-163 8 Feb 2011

18TH C

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 of Bath was an exciting adventure for them but possibly a more difficult time for their mother.

Gainsborough finally settled on living in the centre of town in Abbey House, a large, impressive building erected for the 2nd Duke of Kingston and leased from him. The house easily met the artist's needs for work and family. From the moment he signed a seven year lease on the property in June 1760 Gainsborough made a life-long habit of increasing his income by letting out rooms to lodgers. When he first moved into Abbey House he placed Margaret and the girls exactly in the middle of both social and commercial life in Bath, living as they did in the noisy and smoke-filled centre of the town. The handsome building, since demolished, lay between Pump Room and Abbey. It was so close to the King's and Queen's Baths that 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 adjacent houses were not always suitable for the eyes of the innocent young Gainsborough girls who might have 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 the shadow of the Abbey. Mrs Gibbon soon made a name for herself 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-house-keeper in the city, or a "lodging-house cat" as her brother Thomas described her.

PP 159-160 3/2/2011

21st C

You never think it will happen to you but today it did. A 999 call and the ambulance outrider was outside the door while my friend and neighbour was still speaking to the operator.

Within minutes I was strapped into a chair, carried downstairs, trundled over the icy pavement to the waiting ambulance, blue lights flashing, lighting up The Circus. How many neighours were watching? Not many I guess, at 6.30 am on a freezing winter morning.

All tests are over now, but an overnight stay in a medical assessment ward is mandatory. In this area of the hospital there is no access to radio or television, no flowers allowed, but patients are permitted to use mobile phones. A few books would be welcome, but I must make do with a magazine from the hospital shop.

There is a screamer in the bed next to mine, a mature Italian woman who fights the staff and screams blue murder whenever a nurse or doctor tries to administer to her. She sounds like a wounded animal in pain, deeply disconcerting to all within earshot.

I wish doctors would return to wearing white coats. They walk the wards in street clothes and consequently bring street germs in with them. Young female doctors are often fashionably dressed, many of them wearing shoulder bags stuffed with pens and notebooks as well as makeup and mobile phones, stethoscopes looped around the neck as a necessary accessory. One, long dark hair flying over her shoulders, wears a course knitted woollen coat, so hairy I swear you can see infectious bugs clinging to the fibres just waiting to fall on to patient's bedcovers.

BUT the care and attention of all staff inv0lved was invariably kind and concerned. I left feeling deeply grateful to the NHS.