In Plaque To The Future, our first blog in this series looking at Bath’s array of historical plaques and the stories behind them, we focused on five of the city’s most distinguished former residents. In our second blog on this subject, we have carefully combed through the names which adorn our Georgian walls and looked into the lives of five lesser known characters.
Online research being what it is, we have decided to avoid one website which informed us that Jacob von Hogflume, inventor of time travel, dwelt on Milsom Street a mere three hundred years before his birth. Not only are the below plaques real, they also come with very interesting stories.
1. Sir James Brooke
1 Widcombe Crescent
Here lived Sir James Brooke, K.C.B. First Rajah of Sarawak b.1803 d. 1868
Although Brooke spent part of his youth in Bath, he built a significant reputation as far afield as Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, where he was appointed Rajah by the Sultan of Brunei. In 1833, the 30 year old James Brooke splashed a £30,000 inheritance on a 142 tonne schooner which he promptly navigated to Borneo. Upon his arrival, he assisted in quelling the uprising against the Sultan, thereby winning his affections and, in 1841, he was granted the governorship of Sarawak – a title which he kept until his death in 1868.
The Brooke dynasty, known as the ‘White Rajahs’, continued to rule Sarawak until the Japanese invasion in 1941. Unlike other British occupancies during the same era, the Brookes endeavored to protect the indigenous population against exploitation, and by 1941 were working towards a new, more democratic constitution.
2. William Smith
29 Pulteney Street
In this house, William Smith, the father of English geology, dictated “The Order Of The Strata” December 11th 1799
During his lifetime, William Smith was the great unsung hero of British Geology. He has since been credited with creating the first nationwide geological map, as well as the first ever large scale map of the area around Bath, but was shunned by his contemporaries and the scientific community. It is thought that his humble education and upbringing prevented him from moving in particularly learned circles. As a result, his work was plagiarised and flogged at a fraction of the cost for which he was trying to sell it.
His famous map of Great Britain, for which he spent his unemployed years traveling the length and breadth of the country, did not receive the credit it deserved until 1831 when Smith was formally recognised by Geological Society of Great Britain. By this point, he had spent time in a debtor’s prison and his home had been seized by bailiffs.
3. James Quin
4 Pierrepont Street
Here lived James Quin b.1693 d.1766
James Quin was a celebrated thespian whose colourful antics makes the lives of today’s Hollywood stars seem particularly humdrum by comparison. At the age of 25, with a couple of high profile performances under his belt, the actor was convicted of manslaughter for killing another actor in a duel. The general public, however, viewed this as more of an accident than a tragedy, as the victim had provoked the standoff, rather than Quin. Not to be dissuaded by this experience, Quin had an almost identical episode later in his career when accosted by a younger actor who had taken offense at some sarcastic criticism from his elder fellow performer. When heated words turned to voilence, Quin drew his pistol and killed the man, with similarly forgiving legal consequences. Quin’s confidence in the face of danger even followed him into the theatre, where he once drew his weapon on a drunk who had taken to the stage and threatened the life of the venue’s manager.
Away from the threats of drunken punters and bitter actors, Quin enjoyed a remarkable career in the theatre, populating some of London’s best known stages with high profile Shakespearean interpretations, including a great working rivalry with David Garrick, whose attempted to lure Quin away from his theatrical home in Covent Garden. Instead of accepting the bait from one of theatre’s most influential names, Quin used the offer to elicit a salary of £1000 per year from his manager which, by my calculations, equates to a modern annual salary of about £85,000.
4. Frederic Weatherly
10 Edward Street
Here lived Fred E. Weatherly, K.C. Song writer 1919 to 1928 b. 1848 d.1929
Fred Weatherly was a barrister who, unlike others in this blog, remained rooted to the West Country for the majority of his life. Born and raised in Portishead, he later moved to Penn Lea Road in Weston, and then on to Edward Street in central Bath. As well as being a practising lawyer and an author of prose publications, Weatherly is undoubtedly best known as a lyricist having written words for more than 3,000 popular songs.
Whilst living in Bath, he wrote a song entitled ‘Danny Boy’ which, to his dismay, was did not meet with great success. Two years later, his Irish-born sister-in-law sent him an old traditional tune called ‘Londonderry Air’; Weatherly matched his lyrics to the tune and the following year gave the song to singer Elsie Griffin. It went on to become one of the most popular songs of the century. Other songs whose lyrics were penned by Weatherly include ‘Roses of Picardy’, one of the most memorable songs from World War I and ‘The Holy City’, a song that earned a mention in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
5. Beau Nash
Here lived Beau Nash M.C. 1743-1761
By far and away our favourite plaque to adorn Bath’s walls, is this aptly slinky gold and black number marking Bath’s dandy and glitzy Master of Ceremonies from 1704 until his death in 1761. Always elegantly, if outrageously, attired (hence the nickname ‘Beau’), Nash was responsible for arranging balls, dances and social gatherings, at which he would ensure that correct and proper conduct was adhered to. At the time, Bath’s natural spa waters and regular visits from royalty were provoking a steady influx of visitors to the city, something which Nash capitalised on to such an extent that Bath’s population grew from 2,000 to 30,000 in the space of just 100 years.
Nash is also credited with introducing a new code of conduct into Bath’s social circles which allowed for greater social integration. He banned swearing in public places, the wearing of swords and even prohibited ‘exhibitions of resentment from either gentlemen or ladies, on the grounds that someone had danced out of turn’. Nash was a great gambler, something which would be part of his making and also his downfall. Whilst the high-flyers flocking to the city reveled in this indulgent pastime, which was closely and conscientiously regulated by Nash, new anti-gambling laws were introduced in 1745 which altered people’s perceptions towards gambling its greatest advocate – Beau Nash. His life ended with him in severe financial straits, but having given the city more than it ultimately gave him.
From Rajahs to dandies to dueling actors and lyricists, Bath’s properties have hosted a fascinating array of characters whose lives have included an astonishing range of accomplishments. But… who have we missed? Is there a jewel amongst Bath’s plaques who we have not yet included in our blogs? If so, let us know on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ and, as long as they’re not called Jacob Von Hogflume, we might include them in our next blog.