Nov 112014

A Master of Ceremonies Bath lwlpr08640 Rowlandson 1795Coming across this Thomas Rowlandson sketch on the Lewis Walpole site reminded me of the important role played by the Master of Ceremonies at venues such as Bath. If you went to a ball you couldn’t just go and chat up a bird you fancied – you had to be introduced. And that was one of the functions of the Master of Ceremonies – to vet the attendees, decide who they were appropriate to be introduced to, and later, to effect those introductions so that the evening would be a success. I imagine it was sometimes a case of “mix and match” – a title needed money, and vice versa, while on other occasions it was mixing “like with like”.

I am indebted to the Austenonly site here for the explanation of the MoC role, given by Joseph Moser in 1807. It was their function to:

“… introduce regularity into large assemblies, to keep order, to repress the ebullitions of passion, to banish, if possible, that contraction or thrusting out of the lips which Shakespear calls pouting; to prevent violent suffusions or flushings in the female countenance; to keep the ladies from tossing, and their noses from turning up, when precedence, partners, and people that nobody knows, with a hundred other serious circumstances, excite those emotions.  He has also annexed to his office something clerical, it being his business to join hands:  but he goes still farther, he frequently procures partners, who sometimes under his banners enlist for life.”  (See  The Sports of Ancient LondonThe Sporting Magazine. )

The print dates from 1795 and shows Richard Tyson, Master of Ceremonies, effecting an introduction of a gentleman who is clearly no longer in the first flush of youth, to a pair of ladies who definitely should only be seen by dim candlelight!

1Richard Tyson had been MoC of the New Rooms at Bath for a number of years. Since 1771 there were two separate rooms – in time, the New (upper) Rooms had a separate MoC from the (original) Lower Rooms – a far cry from when there was but one “King” of Bath, in the form of Beau Nash, who was in sole charge of proceedings  from  1704 until  around 1760.

According to Wikipedia “He  (Nash) would meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company’ of 500 to 600 people who had pre-booked tables, match ladies with appropriate dancing partners at each ball, pay the musicians at such events, broker marriages, escort unaccompanied wives and regulate gambling (by restraining compulsive gamblers).”  Not bad for a days work!

It does seem a bit hard therefore, that when he died the long-serving, long suffering Beau Nash ended up in an unmarked paupers grave. He had been a prodigious gambler, with enormous debts. Because of those debts he was forced to move in to the home of  his mistress Juliana Popjoy. The poor girl was so distraught when he died in 1761 that she apparently went to live in a large hollowed out tree. Which is entirely proper for the 18th Century, because of course that is what one did when  feeling bereft and lonely!

Meanwhile, my thanks to Master Rowlandson for a rather lovely piece of observation of the manners, etiquette and style of Bath in its Georgian grandeur. Nice one!

The Celebrated Miss Murray, c British Museum

The Celebrated Miss Murray, shown courtesy of the  British Museum



Post script: when I started this blog I was unaware that Beau Nash figured so prominently in the early years of the illustrious harlot Fanny Murray. Orphaned as a 12 year old, selling flowers and nosegays on the streets of Bath, she had been seduced by  John Spencer. He was a notorious rake – and the grandson of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. He left the poor girl as soon as he had had his wicked way with her, leaving her with little alternative but to make her living as a street-walker. Enter the 66 year-old Beau Nash, who took a fancy to the scrap of a girl (she was just 14) and invited her to come and live with him as his mistress. Which she did, for a couple of years before moving on to greater things in London. She became one of the most famous courtesans of the Eighteenth Century, a fashion icon who rose from the depths of  being a ‘dress lodger’ (working as a prostitute to pay the exorbitant charges imposed by a bawd for the  use of clothing) to being the  mistress of  John Montagu, 4th Earl Sandwich. It was Sandwich who introduced her to the notorious Hellfire Club …

In time she achieved married respectability, but not before being an inspiration for the character of Fanny Hill in John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, published in 1748. Her reputation was also to feature in the trial of John Wilkes for obscenity – he was charged with having published An Essay on Woman ( a parody of Pope’s Essay on Man). It was  dedicated to Fanny, and opened with the immortal words “Awake, my Fanny…”

Which brings me to when I first came to hear of Fanny Murray, because both Fanny and the John Wilkes trial will feature in my next book “Sex, Scandal and Satire – in bed with the Georgians”. Now all I have to do is write it……

  4 Responses to “The Master of Ceremonies, Bath: From Tyson to Nash, and from Nash to Fanny Murray…”


    A really interesting article. While I knew about Beau Nash, I didn’t know about Fanny Murray, who sounds absolutely fascinating and I shall have to read more about her later.

    I love the sound of your next book! I can’t wait for you to write it!


    Get back in the writing closet! I’ll send your missus a new whip to keep you to the grindstone…


    Not just the Georgian period. After my first disco, c. 1973, my grandmother (born 1893) asked me who the MC had been – I had no idea what she was talking about. Enjoyed the blog.


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