It’s amazing where life takes you. Years ago l well remember how much money HTV West invested in ensuring it had a major annual presence at the Bath and West agricultural show – still held on its permanent showground just outside Shepton Mallet and something which celebrates all aspects of farming and rural life.
I had no real idea that the whole sheep-shearing, furrow ploughing, cheese making caboodle originated with a man who moved to the Georgian city of Bath back in 1775. I settled here more recently. A modest seven years ago!
Edmund Rack was a Quaker from Norfolk who made his home here and straight away decided to keep a diary of what he saw and heard. It turned out to be a lively account too. His journal covered everything from the fashion boo-boos of ‘polite’ society, to duels, gambling and dancing.
Edmund was also soon deeply immersed in the intellectual life of the city and writes about his involvement with fellow Bathonian William Herschel, the astronomer, and Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen.
In 1777 he became the founder and first secretary of the Bath and West of England Society – an organsation for improving agricultural practice – and a body that would hold agricultural shows in Bristol and Bath – before settling onto its 240 acre
site in Somerset for its annual 4-day show.
Edmund Rack followed that up by becoming joint founder and secretary of a lively scientific club known to posterity as the first Bath Philosophical Society.
Wow – what a man! His original journal is kept at Bath Record Office and was trabscribed by local historian and writer Trevor Fawcett.
However, for the first time, it will be available in print as ‘The Journal of Edmund Rack – An Enlightenment Gentleman’s Observations of Georgian Bath.’
It’s being published by Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution next Saturday the 24th of March. Edited and designed by Jude Harris – and fully illustrated with many unusual images from the historic library books at BRLSI and other local sources – it will cost £10.
To mark its launch the BRLSI is hosting three talks by local historians under the title ‘Science, Scandal and Society in Georgian Bath.’ That’s between 10 am and 1pm at number 16 Queen Square.
The three talks are:
• ‘Inspir’d by Freedom’ – Catharine Macaulay by Dr Andrew Swift, author and local historian. Catharine Macaulay was one of the most remarkable women of her age — an eminent historian and avowed republican who inspired and influenced both the American and French Revolutions. She shocked Bath society by running off with ‘a stout brawny Scotsman of 21’.
• Experimental Roots: Edmund Rack and the Origins of the Bath & West by Stuart Burroughs, Director at Museum of Bath at Work. Edmund Rack, a Quaker and the son of a Norfolk labouring weaver, moved to Bath in 1775. Dismayed by the poor farming practice in the West Country, he proposed an Agricultural Society to investigate ways of improving the agricultural resources of the country.
• Bath in the 1780s: Quakers, Quacks & Quadrilles by Mike Rendell, writer on 18th century social history. A look at everyday life in the Georgian ‘City of Fun’ — its diversions and eccentricities.