As I’ve mentioned several times before on here, I am fortunate enough to live less than twenty minutes train journey away from Bath, that most revered and iconic bastion of Georgian elegance and although the town can get a bit much in the summer at the height of tourist season, it’s still rather lovely to have it pretty much on my doorstep as it offers some great museums, lovely shops and ample mooching around pretty streets opportunities.
I was therefore pleased as punch to be offered the opportunity to pay another visit to the Fashion Museum there to see their brilliant Georgian: Dress for Polite Society exhibition and also the brand new show, The Great War in Costume, which features some amazing costumes from ITV’s Downton Abbey and which I will be talking about in a separate post.
Visiting the Fashion Museum really does feel like stepping back into the time of Frances Burney and Jane Austen as it is located inside the former Assembly Rooms, where their ingenue heroines Camilla Tyrold and Catherine Morland flirted with eligible young gentlemen and gossiped with their friends. It’s an amazing setting for one of the finest collections of historical dress in the country and it’s always especially wonderful to see examples of their Georgian clothing out on display in all their shimmering, luxuriant glory.
The Georgians exhibition is deliberately intended to evoke a sense of the opulence of eighteenth century high society at play in the town during its heyday when all the great, good and fashionable flocked there in their masses to drink the fabled restorative spa waters but more importantly to see and be seen. With the likes of Georgiana of Devonshire, Beau Brummell, the Princesse de Lamballe, the Duchesse de Polignac and Sarah Siddons all gracing Bath with their presence over the years, it’s no wonder that anyone else with even the smallest aspirations to fashion flocked there in their droves, hoping that a bit of that special celebrity glitter would rub off on to them too.
The Fashion Museum exhibition concentrates, therefore, on the more well heeled side of fashionable Bath life with a definite focus on the opulent evening gowns that wealthy ladies and gentlemen would have worn to the assembly rooms, balls and concerts that made up the town’s social whirl during its season. As you might expect, this makes for a stunning display of wonderfully vibrant colours, textures and all manner of razzle dazzle from sequins to intricate gold lace.
Most astonishing of all though are the amazing wide panniered dresses that would have been worn to the court gatherings of George III by fashionable women in the 1750s and 1760s. Such gowns were strictly for court dress only but their inclusion here is a reminder of just how over the top Georgian fashion was and the difference between the insane ostentation enjoyed by the very wealthy and the aristocratic and far less over the top clothes worn by those lower down on the social scale. Just like the tiny bound feet of Chinese courtesans, the exaggerated panniers of these court gowns are a silent reminder that the wearer is a rarefied being whose sole apparent purpose in life is to entirely decorative rather than useful.
After taking some ridiculous selfies dressed up in Victorian dresses (I really think I rock the whole Evil Victorian Governess look), my friend and I left the Fashion Museum and headed off to see the wonderful Royal Crescent which isn’t too far away from the Assembly Rooms and is, I think, one of the finest and most perfect examples of Georgian urban architecture. It really is a splendid sight, especially on sunny days when the soft beige Cotswolds stone glows gold in the sunshine. It even cast its spell over Marie Antoinette’s friend, the Princesse de Lamballe as she resided at number one Royal Crescent (now a museum) during a visit to the town in September 1787 and there entertained Calonne and his mistress to dinner.
By now feeling rather peckish, we then decided to wander down through beautiful, graceful streets to the Brasserie Blanc at the MGallery Francis Hotel for a splendid lunch. The MGallery Francis was an eminently suitable choice on such a day as it is located inside a beautiful Georgian townhouse on Queen’s Square and was a calm and lovely oasis away from the swirling tourist hordes outside.
Ushered inside by the lovely staff, we made ourselves comfortable in the elegant dining room and settled down to a wonderful meal with choices picked from the summer menu, which was perfectly pitched for such a broiling hot day. As a vegetarian, I opted for a summer vegetable and herb salad topped with a poached free range egg, followed by summer vegetable risotto (that must seem like a LOT of summer vegetable but honestly they were entirely different and I would kill to have that risotto again. KILL.) with tomato and basil essence and then finally the home made profiteroles with Cointreau crème patissière and hot chocolate sauce as pudding along with a complimentary glass of rosé wine. It was absolutely superb and, I thought, a bit of a bargain at just £14.45 each for three courses.
Unwilling to leave the hallowed hush of Brasserie Blanc, we then ended our meal by ordering a jug of PIMMS between us, which we then pronounced to be the best PIMMS that we had ever had in our entire lives as it was perfectly made and also incredibly fizzy, which just goes to show how much woefully flat PIMMS we have had inflicted upon us in our time as I’d actually FORGOTTEN that it’s supposed to have a bit of fizz to it.
After this it was time to drag ourselves back to the bustle of Bristol but I will definitely be back again soon, Brasserie Blanc as you’ve now scored yourself a bit of a fan.
Many thanks to MGallery Hotels for such a perfect day of Georgian fun and fizzy PIMMS.
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