English Towns
From Travellers in Eighteenth-Century England by Rosamond Bayne-Powell

MANY foreigners stopped short at London and saw no more of England.Others, as we have seen, visited the Universities. There were a few who made an extended tour of the country, visiting such places as Bath, Tunbridge Wells, the cathedral cities and other towns. Some came on business and journeyed to the manufacturing centres. These travellers came, for the most part, in the latter half of the century. In early days manufactures were mainly the products of the country. Villages made not only their own bread and beer, their saddlery, carts, furniture and leather goods; but wove cloth, linen and cotton fabrics, which were sent to the towns for distribution.

Bristol disposed of the cloth goods which came from the Cotswold country. Leeds and Halifax collected bales of stuff from the Yorkshire dales, and factors assured Macky that they got £30,000 from London every week for materials made near Colchester. Exeter specialized in serges and gloves. Baretti was told that serges of the value of £100,000 had been sold there in a week, and that they were exported to Catholic countries to make habits for monks and nuns. He also declared that he saw several store-houses in that city "which contained as many bales of serge as would have sufficed to make an entrenchment round the camp of the Austrians".

Industrial Towns
There were, of course, even in the early days of the century, some towns and cities which were, at least partially, industrial. London had its china and pottery works at Chelsea, Bow and Lambeth, Birmingham was a manufacturing city. Before the industrial revolution, there were children of seven or eight being employed in candle-making at Frome in Somerset. We are told that they earned half a crown a week, and that four hundred were employed.

Travellers, who came from less industrialized countries, were shocked at the conditions prevailing in English manufacturing towns. Faujas de St. Fond says that the dirt, fog, noise and miserable condition of the workers frightened and distressed foreign visitors. This was in 1784, when the industrial revolution, growing steadily if sporadically, had cast its dark shadow over "England's green and pleasant land" and over the lives of thousands of the inhabitants. Visitors from the Continent who wished to examine our industries were frequently disappointed. Faujas de St. Fond, who, in spite of their horrible surroundings, was anxious to see the cotton mills at Soho, near Birmingham, was refused admission and when he protested he was told that a French colonel, when taken round the works, had been detected making drawings surreptitiously of some of the machinery. Frederick the Great, who wanted to introduce steam power in his mines, sent men to steal or bribe their way into the secrets of Watt's engine. Baron von Stein had tried to get particulars of the plant used at Barclay and Perkins's brewery and had also endeavoured to entice away one of the workmen from Bolton's works.

The extraordinary advance of English manufactures had not been unnoticed on the Continent, and it was the wonder and envy of other nations. They wanted to know the secret of it, and there were few, if any, who could have told them. Most Englishmen would have suggested, and sometimes quite politely, that it was due to the innate genius of the English people, others would have murmured something about the near proximity of iron and coal in the north of England, though they would have been reminded that there was a lot of iron and coal to be found and often near together both in France and Prussia. Perhaps there was something in the English character which predisposed men like Watts and Cartwright, Trevethick and Jethro Tull to invent and introduce mechanical appliances which were to revolutionize English manufactures and the practice of agriculture. The influence of the Royal Society, too, did much to encourage scientific inquiry and invention. Founded in the reign of Charles II and under the patronage of the King and his uncle Prince Rupert, it was in the van of discovery, though some men were heard to murmur that the members had divergent views, and spoke with an uncertain voice.

Although some works were barred to them the interested foreigner was able to visit several mills and factories. Von Uffenbach went to see pins made.

"To begin with" he says "we saw the English pins, which are so much liked by all females",

and he gives a long description of how they were made, of course by hand. English pins were much appreciated by foreigners, who seemed to find difficulty in making them. They were expensive, but a necessity for every woman in an age when clothes were pinned across the person, and buttons and other fastenings not much used.

Von Uffenbach also saw taffeta, damask and velvet being made, and mentions the small children who worked so wonderfully.

Lichtenberg, more fortunate than Faujas de St. Fond, was admitted into Bolton's works at Birmingham. He saw the new steam engine which raised 20,000 cubic feet of water to a great height. He also watched the manufacture of buttons, watch-chains, sword hilts and watches as well as papier-mâché snuff-boxes, tea caddys and the bodies of coaches. He was one of the travellers who complained of the horrible noise of the factories and of the bad conditions in which the people worked. Sophie de la Roche did not speak of any bad conditions when she visited Wedgwood's factory, indeed she broke into one of her not infrequent paens, and declared "that the Briton is born for all that is noble is a true and not a biased statement".

She might well be moved by the beauty of Wedgwood ware, and in the days of the great Josiah, and under his rule and that of his successors factory conditions were some of the best.

Faujas de St. Fond met Watt and Priestley at Birmingham. He also speaks of the Huguenots who, he tells us,

"were allured into England and Germany by toleration, liberty of worship and sound policy ".

They certainly added much to the wealth and prosperity of manufacturing England. Other things besides pins were appreciated on the Continent, notably cloth and serges. Campe speaks of a suit of clothes and a hat which he had inherited.

"A blue suit" he says "which my father brought from London at the beginning of the last (the eighteenth) century fell to me and my brothers in the years 1750 to 1760 for Sunday use, after having been worn by my father for forty years. As one boy grew out of them they descended to the next. I was the third in succession. Both, when they came to me were so little worn that for some years they still made me swell with pride and attracted envious looks. The cloth appeared to be made of the softest leather, and where the surface had rubbed new hair always appeared since the whole hat was made throughout of hair down to the last fibre."

The status of the merchant and shopkeeper surprised foreigners. On the Continent there was generally a wide gulf between the upper classes and those engaged in trade. In England, in the early part of the century, this was not the case. The younger sons of country gentlemen often became merchants and shopkeepers. There were few openings in the army or the professions and the idea that there was anything derogatory in trade came in with the Hanoverians and only slowly permeated English society.

"When Lord Townshend was minister of state" Voltaire tells us "a brother of his was content to be a city merchant. This custom, which begins however to be laid aside, appears monstrous to Germans, vainly puffed up with their extraction."

De Saussure was astonished to find gentlemen and the younger sons of peers engaged in commerce.

"Some merchants" he says "are certainly far wealthier than many sovereign princes of Germany and Italy."

The English merchant, though he might be wealthy and live in great comfort, was seldom ostentatious. This would have been considered unbecoming and might have raised doubts as to his solvency. He dressed soberly, usually worked very hard, and in the early days of the century lived in the city over his place of business.

"No walls, no gates, no sentries, no garrisons" is Pastor Moritz's delighted comment on the cities of England.

Some travellers might have no concern with manufacturers, but have wished to see something of English country towns. They showed little interest in architecture; Meister described Salisbury Cathedral as a "glaring building" though he admired its spire. Stratford-on-Avon had become a place of pilgrimage and some foreign travellers went to see it. Lichtenberg tells us how he sat on Shakespeare's chair from which people were beginning to cut away pieces. He made the custodian cut some fragments for him, for which he paid a shilling. He would, he said, have them made into rings. When Pastor Moritz visited Stratford he found that the chair had been so much cut about that it no longer resembled a chair. This, however, did not deter him from taking away a small piece which, one is glad to know, he afterwards lost. The souvenir hunter was an even greater menace in those days then he is in these.

If foreigners went for a tour of pleasure they usually included in it some spa or watering-place. The most popular resort was Bath. The elder Wood had begun to rebuild this beautiful city in 1724, and a few years later it was attracting a concourse of people including some foreigners. In 1750 the stage-coach would convey passengers from London to Bath in three days, and by 1776, the time had been reduced to twenty hours.

Beau Nashe's Rules
"The Bath people" Macky tells us "live entirely on strangers" and certainly everything was done for their comfort and entertainment. Any distinguished visitor arriving at Bath was greeted by a peal of bells from the Abbey, and early on the following morning, he was serenaded by a band outside his lodgings. Both the bellringers and the musicians expected a handsome remuneration. Thanks to the architectural developments of the two Woods, their patron Ralph Allen and the exertions of that King of Bath, Beau Nash, the old dilapidated houses had been swept away, the paths cleaned and repaired and a horde of beggars and footpads swept from the streets. So safe was it that ladies could even venture to walk about the city unattended and Beau Nash insisted that all gentlemen should lay aside their swords when at Bath. He also drew up a list of rules, which everyone in the town was expected to observe. It says much for his strength of purpose and for the awe which he inspired that so many of these rules were actually obeyed. The eighteenth century did not like to be dragooned and had little respect for laws to say nothing of mere rules. It is true that they were very cleverly drawn up; Nash's first rule was

  1. That a visit of ceremony at first coming and another at going away are all that is expected of ladies of quality and fashion except "impertinents".
  2. That ladies coming to the ball appoint a time for their footman coming to wait on them home to prevent disturbance and inconveniences to themselves and others.
  3. That gentlemen of fashion never appearing in gowns and caps show breeding and respect.
  4. That no person takes it ill that anyone goes to another's play or breakfast and not theirs, except captious by nature.
  5. That no gentleman gives his ticket for the balls to any but a gentlewoman. N.B. unless he has none of his acquaintance.
  6. That gentlemen crowding before the ladies at the balls show ill manners and that none do so for the future except such as respect no one but themselves.
  7. That no gentleman or lady takes it ill that another dances before them, except such as have no pretence to dance at all.
  8. That the elder ladies and children be content with the second bench at the ball, as being past or not come to perfection.
  9. That the younger ladies take notice how many eyes observe them. N.B. this does not apply to the ` Have at alls '.
  10. That all whisperers of lies and scandals be taken for their authors.
  11. That all repeaters of such lies and scandals be shunned by all company except such as have been guilty of the same crimes. N.B. several men of no character, old women and young ones of questioned reputation are great authors of lies in these places, being of the sect of the "levelers."

Life at a Spa
Macky gives us an interesting picture of the life at Bath.

"In the morning early" he says "the company of both sexes meet at the Pump Room, in a great hall inrailed and drink the waters and saunter about till prayer time, or divert themselves by looking at those that are bathing in the bath. Most of the company go to church in the morning in dishabille and then go home to dress for walks before dinner. The walks are behind the church, spacious and well shaded, planted round with shops, filled with everything that contributes to pleasure and at the end a noble room for gaming, from whence there are hanging stairs to a pretty garden for everyone, the time they stay, to walk in."

Macky wonders why physicians prescribe gaming for their patients, and supposes that it is to keep their minds free from business cares and the ordinary worries of life, though he would have thought that

"one cross throw at play must sour a man's blood more than ten glasses of water well sweetened. The King and Queen's Baths" he continues "are the baths where people of common rank go in promiscuously, and indeed everybody except the first quality. The way of going into them is very comical. A chair with a couple of chairmen come to your bedside be in what storey you will, and there strip you and give you their dress without your shift, and wrapping you in blankets carry you to the bath."
"The steam of the bath, which ascended in clouds, the slime and stench, the multitude of people with only their heads and hands above the water"

reminded Macky of pictures of purgatory. From a hygienic point of view the effects of crowding masses of people, many of whom were far from clean, in the one bath must have been extremely bad. The authorities did, however, draw the line somewhere and had a separate bath, Macky tells us, for lepers. Leprosy was becoming rare in England and the bath was a relic from earlier days. Had not Bladud, a British prince, been cured of leprosy by the hot springs of Bath? Diagnosis in the eighteenth century was elementary and we may suppose that anyone with a repulsive skin disease whose presence might have raised a riot in the common bath was consigned to the lepers. There was a hospital at Bath for

"poor indigent persons" Kielmansegg tells, us; "the inmates are well cared for free of charge and enjoy every comfort".
"Many women came to Bath" Macky says "hoping that the treatment might give them children. Others came from curiosity or for less innocent reasons"

and he mentions a Lady who told Dr. Radcliffe when he asked what she went to Bath for "only for wantonness, doctor". "And pray Madam did it cure you" he inquired. Dr. Radcliffe was noted for his outspokenness. He it was who had told the Princess Anne that her illness was nothing but the vapours. Other doctors were more accommodating and were quite ready to recommend Bath to their patients. The Abbé le Blanc tells a correspondent

"that a visit to Bath is very probably the result of six months of intrigue and consideration. The fair patient has had to feign illness, to win over servants, to corrupt a doctor, to persuade an aunt, to deceive a husband . . . she naturally seeks compensation for all the trouble she has taken. Ladies" he assured his friend "are different beings at Bath, no longer melancholy."

Bristol was but a short journey from Bath, and some visitors may have gone there to see the city or drink from the hot springs. These became fashionable in the reign of Anne who granted the city a charter in 1710. Cheltenham was visited by George III in 1788, and this made its fortune as a spa though its great days were in the following century.

Tunbridge Wells
Tunbridge Wells was a lesser Bath. In the previous century Queen Henrietta Maria had retired there to drink the waters after the birth of Prince Charles. She had made it fashionable and fashionable it continued to be. The journey from London was comparatively short and easy, the little town was pleasantly situated among wooded hills and the chalybeate springs were considered to be most beneficial to many ailments. Beau Nash visited the Wells and tried to make it a second Bath. He introduced many of the social practices which he had established in the " Queen city", including daily services in church.

The season in Tunbridge Wells lasted from the end of May till the end of September. As at most of the health resorts those taking the waters got up early in the morning. Fashionable ladies, who seldom, in the ordinary way, rose till noon found themselves gazing out of their bedroom windows at the rising sun. They then went out on to the Pantiles and drank the waters, they took a turn on the walks, which, according to Macky, were " crowded with gay and glittering company ". Most of them attended Divine Service and it was not until after this round of water drinking, parading and church-going that the fashionable company sat down to breakfast. During the remainder of the morning there was more strolling on the Pantiles with visits to mercers and milliners or to the booksellers. One of the latter kept a book in which the young men, who frequented the place, wrote verses to various ladies or in praise of the fair sex in general. This was open to inspection and it was the ambition of many a girl to see her name and charms thus celebrated. After dinner the company paraded again up and down the Pantiles dressed as if for a party. There were balls twice a week at the Assembly Rooms, and card parties and assemblies on the other nights, Sundays of course excepted.

Writing from Tunbridge Wells Elizabeth Montagu says:

"Here are Hungarians, French, Portuguese, Irish and Scotch . . . I never saw a worse collection of human creatures in my life."

The same pleasant informality reigned at Tunbridge Wells as at Bath. Macky tells us that

"you engage with the ladies at play without any introduction only they do not admit of visits at their lodgings, but every gentleman is received by the fair sex upon the walks ".

At Epsom, he tells us, such visits were received. Epsom had, however, already begun to deteriorate. In the seventeenth century it was a quiet spa where a few people came to drink the waters and enjoy the air. In 1706 a certain John Livingston, an apothecary, conceived the idea of making it a fashionable resort. He sank a new well, erected Assembly Rooms and other buildings where dicing and all kinds of card games could be indulged in. With these diversions, balls and routs, good shops and good music, Livingston hoped to attract the nobility and gentry. For a time he succeeded; but it began to be said that the waters of this new well that he had opened were not nearly so efficacious as those of the old one. Horse racing was permanently established at Epsom in 1730, though meetings had been held there occasionally since the reign of James I. An eighteenth-century racecourse was infested by every kind of rough and sharper and the ladies who received promiscuous visits in their rooms would have been of the class which frequented these places. Macky declared that the "town of Epsom was swarming with that vermin called Sharpers". The nobility and gentry, who had never come in large numbers, fled away.

Hampstead had the same unenviable reputation. From being a country village, largely inhabited by laundresses, it became a spa. The waters, which contained iron, magnesia and lime, were thought to be

"beneficial for diseases arising from languor of the circulation or general debility of the system".

There were concerts and dances in the Long Rooms, races on the Heath and entertainments at Belsize; but its nearness to the metropolis, even though the road was bad and dangerous, attracted an undesirable crowd.

"Its nearness to London" Macky complained "brings so many loose women in vamped up old clothes to catch the city apprentice that modest company are ashamed to appear there."

This is probably an exaggeration. There was good company to be found at the Wells and the Assembly Rooms. The Kit-Kat Club met at the Upper Flask Inn and a small but distinguished society was to be found at Hampstead. Chatham lived at North End. Butler of the Analogy, Joanna Baillie, Steel, Constable and Romney all lived in the neighbourhood. Von Uffenbach, who is not usually a flattering critic, gives a more favourable picture of Hampstead or Hempstede as he calls it.

"It is such an agreeable spot" he says "that not only do many people take the waters there, but several have built handsome houses for themselves. . . .Everything goes very well, and although many harlots ply their trade there . . . the other females are not ashamed to dance in the same rooms with them. Nothing is danced but the new English contre-dances or, as they should really be called country dances, and they are, for the most part, very charming."

Hampstead certainly deteriorated as the century advanced. The road from London was so much infested by highwaymen and footpads that respectable people and those who had anything to lose often hesitated to brave its dangers. Towards the end of the century, when the highways improved and journeys did not take so long, the upper classes preferred Bath or Tunbridge Wells and fashion forsook Hampstead. The same change applied to Richmond. Pieter Burmann tells us that there was a great crowd at the mineral springs, there was dancing every Monday and Thursday night; but he does not describe the company. Probably they were small city shopkeepers, apprentices, and a large number of the usual pimps, prostitutes and pick-pockets who frequented the less reputable spas.

Buxton and Harrogate
In the north Buxton and Harrogate were two of the chief health resorts. Faujas de St. Fond went to Buxton and he did not like it at all.

"It is situated" he tells us "in the midst of the most dismal and cheerless country that I know. Its waters may be excellent; but most certainly the air one breathes is impregnated with sorrow and misery. The houses, almost all uniform, look like hospitals or rather monkish buildings."

De St. Fond affects the usual opinions of his age; wild landscape, moors and crags were considered barbarous and dismal. The early Gothic revival did nothing for them. It stimulated admiration for soft undulating pastures, woods, streams and real or artificial ruins; but it needed the pen of Walter Scott to attract his readers to the wild country north of the border or later to the moors of Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

Sea Bathing
Early in the century a few doctors began to recommend sea bathing and even the drinking of sea water as beneficial to health. The practice spread until it became a fashion and in 1750 Beale set up his bathing machines at Margate. These wooden cabins on wheels were drawn into the sea by horses, a large hood protruded over the water and in this circumscribed space women bathers clad in heavy serge gowns from neck to feet could splash about. Men sometimes used these contrivances especially if they could not swim, and in the eighteenth century the majority could not. Those men who could swam out into the sea, in a state of nature which made it impossible for women to venture beyond their hoods. Macky went to Great Yarmouth, but whether for the purpose of bathing he does not say. He describes the "Yarmouth coaches" as they were called. These were long narrow vehicles, gaily painted and specially constructed to pass through the narrow rows or small streets of the town.

"What they call their coach here" he says "is very comical. It is a wheel-barrow drawn by one horse without any covering in which they carry you all over the town and to the seaside for sixpence."

These coaches were killed by the tax on pleasure vehicles imposed at the close of the century.

Sea bathing was given another advertisement in 1753 when Dr. Russell published his book on Glandular consumption and the Use of Sea Water in Diseases of the Glands. The effect of this and other medical treatises on the subject was the founding of the Sea Bathing Hospital at Margate. Whether foreigners availed themselves of this cure we do not know, but it is improbable. Medical men on the Continent and for that matter in England were usually of the opinion that consumption was incurable, or if the patient's condition could be improved it would only be by keeping him in a very warm room from which fresh air was carefully excluded. Dr. Russell was an innovator and his ideas about the efficacy of sea water and fresh air were never popular.