The Circus

The Circus

P. 186

21st C

One of the silliest ideas I have heard for a long time is the current proposal put forward for discussion at the forthcoming AGM of the Circus Area Residents' Association to be held in May. The proposal is to place a monument on the Circus Green (see picture above) to commemorate John Woods, Senior and Junior.

For heaven's sake! All you have to do is look around you! The Circus in its full architectural glory stands there as a permanent memorial to these inspired men.

Instead of a useless piece of stone or whatever stuck in the middle of the Circus (under the trees and on top of a water cistern buried beneath them) I propose the reinstatement of lighting in the form of the iron lantern overthrow designed to illuminate each entrance to each building. There is one original still in place to be admired. Overthrows have been restored to each house in Landsdown Crescent and look wonderful.

Finance will be the stumbling block but might, I believe, be overcome with the aid of European and British heritage funds, while many residents of The Circus might be willing to make donations. I have rarely been so incensed by so senseless a suggestion as I am about this superfluous memorial.

Pp. 182-185

18th C

Gainsborough appears to have had an ambivalent attitude to the young Fischer. He did not consider him to be a suitable husband for his daughter but clearly enjoyed making music with him, so much so that his wife swore that the two men were so carried away with their playing that a gang of thieves might have crept in, stolen everything portable and set fire to the house before either man would have noticed.

Fischer received an important appointment in 1781 when he was appointed to Queen Charlotte's Band, receiving a generous salary of £200 a year to play in concerts at Court. Gainsborough's doubts about the marraige were well-founded and the couple were soon in trouble. Apparently Fischer had lied about his finances. He was in desperately in need of money following the wedding and before he received the royal appointment. A few months after their marriage Gainsborough discovered that Mary was acting illegally by buying goods at one shop and trying to make money by selling them at another, a serious felony carrying the dire threat of transportation to the American colonies or to the West Indies if caught. (Australia did not become a British penal settlement until 1788).

Her father was furious, blaming the whole epsiode on Fischer, believing that Mary had acted, and would always act, to serve her husband, even to the point of going to the gallows for him if necessary.

Describing the incident to his sister, Mrs Gibbon, Gainsborough admitted that Margaret had begged him to cover up the whole embarrassing story, asking him not to discuss it with anyone. He wrote in secret to his sister, admitting that he preferred to tell her the truth. He had managed to stop the transaction before anyone was hurt and now begged his sister to approach Fischer (not his daughter) to discover if he had initiated the plan, and then to give Mary a good ticking off for any part she might have played in the scheme.

Mary suffered from a mental illness which became apparent when she was quite young, at just thirteen, and again in 1771. The condition worsened with age and might have had some bearing on her behaviour on this occasion. Whatever the reasons for his initial doubts about the marriage, Gainsborough's instincts had been right and the couple soon separated.

Mary returned home to live with her parents and her sister and her father became extremely worried about her mental health. In his will he made specific arrangements for her future maintenance, ensuring that Fischer had no chance whatsoever of taking control of Mary's money received from her father. His wife Margaret, however, as we have seen, remained on good terms with her son-in-law but she, too, made provision for the care of Mary should she outlive her sister Margaret, as indeed she did.

FOOTNOTE: Margaret never married. She became rather eccentric as she grew older but was not affected by mental illness. She died in Acton, Middlesex in 1820. Mary declined into madness several years before her death and was deranged by the time her sister died. Sophia Lane, Gainsborough's niece, took care of Mary until she died in London in 1826. The sisters were buried in a tomb at Hanwell in Middlesex. Fischer died in 1800 . [Ref. D. Tyler: Gainsborough's House Review 1992-93, pp 42-46]

Pp 179-181

21st C The photograph above is how The Circus in Bath looks today. I wanted to show you how it appeared in Margaret Gainsborough's time. I have a picture by John Robert Cozens in front of me, drawn as if he were looking through the windows of this house, No. 17. He depicts a huge stone-paved circle surrounded by probably the most famous terraced houses in the world forming an outer circle, just as it does today. But there are no towering London Plane trees in the centre and not a blade of green grass to be seen. In this acquatint of 1773 the sense of empty, echoing space is paramount. There are two horse-drawn carriages shown, one heading into Brock Street to the right as seen from No. 17, the other coming out of Brock Street and heading for Gay Street, the coachman probably dreading the steep and slippery descent he faces to reach the heart of the town below. Where the trees now stand, there is a well provided for communal use. No trees, bushes, plants or flowers of any kind soften the stony landscape, but there is a female pedlar walking over the cobbles towards No. 17, her basket of wares balanced on her head. Is she aiming to sell to the kitchen maid below stairs? Further back a well-dressed male figure bows to two women, their long skirts trailing behind them and another female walks nearby carrying a large sunshade. But the picture is dominated by two sets of chairmen, one pair passing directly in front of this house. Each of the four men is bent forward, taking the strain on the carrying poles of the two sedan chairs to balance the weight of the hidden occupants. Why can't I show you this print? I wanted to include it here, together with Gainsborough's self-portait as a young man and his charming portraits of his wife and their children but no - the Society of Authors advised me (a long-time member) that if I did so I would be in danger of infringing copyright. Most of Gainsborough's original paintings of his family are held by major institutions all over the world who might well sue me for reproducing them here without permission. As many of you will know, the prices charged to obtain permission to publish are often exorbitant. So, sadly, I can't include them here. If you are interested in seeing what the family looked like just Google their names to find many of their portaits on line. But...taking a quick look at many personal sites on the internet, and seeing the wide range of images used to illustrate them, I wonder if, in this case, the Society of Authors has been, perhaps, a little too cautious?