Taking the Waters

Taking the Waters

We had a busy day yesterday, which is why I did not get to write it up till today. First we went to one of the hot pools to “take the waters” as the say. These are all highly developed, and quite expensive. We went to the Cross Pool, which has no view, and so is less pricey. Though the changing facilities and pool itself are modern, it is surrounded by an old stone wall, so you know people have been bathing here since Georgian times at least. The pool is fairly small and round, with a max capacity of twelve people. The water temperature was slightly cooler than we would have liked, but fine for an extended stay. We had not has a bath since Stourport a couple of months ago, so being submerged in hot water felt great. We got talking to another couple who were very interesting. He was a descendent of James Brindley, the canal engineer, and she was from the Philippines. I have to say, I think California does hot springs better, but we have a lot more to choose from.

On the way back from the spa, we stopped off at the Holburne Museum. Sir William Holburne joined the Royal Navy at the age of twelve, but when his older brother died, he inherited the title and modest family fortune, and spent the rest of his live collecting beautiful things. He never married. Is your gaydar going ping ping ping? Because mine is. The collection is housed in the old Sydney Hotel in Sydney Gardens, which was Jane Austen’s hood.
Holburne Museum
There’s is a ghastly and inappropriate plate glass extension out the back, like a hunchback on the Venus De Milo, but you can’t see it from this angle.

The first thing that caught my eye was a 15th Century Italian plate with some ladies taking the waters.
Hot Tub Plate
Either that or they are posing for one of those overdone marble fountains the Italians love. Unlike 21st Century Bath, the spas (and fountains) back then were clothing optional.
I love the somewhat mangled expressions on the women. One of them is apparently the Goddess Diana, who objected to being seen naked by the hunter Actaeon. I’m not sure why, she’s posed for a lot of nude statues since then. Anyhow, she turned him into a stag, and he was hunted and killed by his own dogs.
Half man, half deer
Does anyone see anything wrong with this picture? Look, the top half is deer and the bottom half is human, albeit with an overlarge codpiece. OK, now which half of a human are dogs most familiar with? The bottom half, right? Are we seriously expected to believe that dogs would hunt down their own master, just because the bit they hardly ever see or smell had grown horns?

Moving along, you may remember a previous post where I admired a portrait of the 18th Century actor David Garrick without his wig, costume or make-up. For a change of pace, here’s one of him in drag.
David Garrick in drag
There is a long history of comedy crossdressing on the English stage. Here Garrick was playing Sir John Brute in a revival of The Provok’d Wife by John Vanbrugh. This was first performed in 1697 (twenty years before Garrick was born). In the first production, the role of Lady Brute was played by an actress called Elizabeth Barry. We’ll get back to her in a minute. More recently, Lady Brute had been played by Prunella “Sibyl Fawlty” Scales, who these days is mostly known for crewing a canal boat while having alzheimer’s.

Gainsborough made a packet by painting fashionable portraits in Bath, but you could tell that he would rather have been doing landscapes. There was usually at least a window showing sunlight and foliage outside, and in some case he went the whole hog and put the family whose portrait he was painting out on their estate.
I had to hotlink that image from elsewhere, as the painting is on loan to the museum, so I was not allowed to photograph it. In the original painting, the dress was pink and there was no kid. A few years later pink was out of fashion and the couple had a child, so the painting was updated to reflect the new reality. Take that, Photoshop!

After lunch it was laundry time. It’s been a while. We had two suitcases worth of dirty laundry to drag to the launderette. While Paula was watching the front loaders do their spinny thing, I went off to explore Sydney Gardens.
Sydney Gardens
The gardens were one of the fashionable spots in Regency Bath, and when the canal wanted to come through, not only did the landowners insist on a substantial fee, they insisted that the bridges and tunnel entrances be ornamental as well as functional.
Ornamental Bridge

The canal company built their headquarters building directly above one of the tunnels.
Office building
There was a hole in the roof of the tunnel that connected to the basement of the office building, so that paperwork could be transferred from boat to office without the clerks having to mingle with the lower class boatmen. I looked for signs of it. Perhaps this missing stone in the ceiling is a hint?
Missing Stone

That evening we went out to see a play: The Libertine, by Stephen Jeffreys. It’s a revival of a play first performed in 1994, and later made into a movie starring Johnny Depp. This production is having a trial run here before transferring to the West End of London, so it had a large cast and name brand actors. It is set in Restoration England, and tells the story of the second Earl of Rochester, and the loves of his life, including the actress Elizabeth Barry. The first act I really enjoyed. It was funny and charming. The second act rather lost me. If you want to show someone fucking up their life and dying of alcoholism, don’t start out as a comedy. Also, deathbed conversions to religion went out with the Victorians. But what really pisses me off is that they left out the very best bit of the real Earl of Rochester’s career.

…Rochester briefly fled to Tower Hill, where he impersonated a mountebank “Doctor Bendo”. Under this persona, he claimed skill in treating “barrenness” (infertility), and other gynecological disorders. Gilbert Burnet wryly noted that Rochester’s practice was “not without success”, implying his intercession of himself as surreptitious sperm donor. On occasion, Rochester also assumed the role of the grave and matronly Mrs. Bendo, presumably so that he could inspect young women privately without arousing their husbands’ suspicions.

How could any playwright not use that bit? It even has a man in drag.

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