Marble mystery

Last week-end, Bath Newseum follower Jude Harris drew my attention to a marble vase in Royal Victoria Park which had been deliberately vandalised.

She wondered whether this was the vase used in Lady Miller’s famous 18th century weekly literary salons held at her home in Batheaston. Guests were invited to place an original verse in an antique vase which had apparently been found near Cicero’s Villa at Frascati in 1769.

On her death it is said that the urn was set up in the park at the end of the lower drive, beneath a canopy, but it was also pointed out soon afterwards that the vase could not have been used by Lady Miller as it was a solid object – not a hollow one – and would have been unable to receive any of those poems.

Robin Whalley has researched and written a history of the Royal Victoria Park – which l will link to later – but in talking about the so-called Lady Miller vase he says:

In 1895 an attempt was made to upset the Batheaston Vase, and assuming such vandalism continued then this was presumably the reason why the vase was removed from its position near Park Lane and re-sited in 1924 on a new foundation at a point just off the Royal Avenue and forming a focal point for those approaching from Upper Church Street. This time it was erected without its canopy which perhaps had already been destroyed.

I have to thank Mayor’s Guide and Bath Newseum follower Michael Noakes for all this interesting information.

He writes:

‘One of my regular walks was into Royal Victoria Park. I have always liked the style of Park Farm House near the Victoria ‘obelisk’ and this prompted me to look further into the history of that building and Royal Victoria Park leading me to create a ‘Virtual Walk in the Park’ for my Sunday morning Mayor’s Guides colleagues.

The attached article by Robin Whalley was a useful source of information which I hope you will find interesting.

The damaged marble vase near the café is not the Miller Vase. The actual Miller Vase was originally installed in the SW corner of the park – see before and after pictures – it would have stood somewhere near the litter bin!

Fig. 10 The alleged ‘Miller’ Vase on Lower Drive, Bath and County Graphic,
March 1903, p.l30. (Courtesy Bath Central Library)
That view today courtesy Michael Noakes

Apparently it was later replicated …..

and now stands opposite the flower beds at the junction of Royal Avenue and the pathway extension of Church Street.”

Picture courtesy Michael Noakes.

Thanks Michael, and here’s that link to Robin Whalley’s fascinating article.

 Vol 05 – 07. Whalley – The Royal Victoria Park.pdf (

Since publishing this article, writer and local historian Kirsten Elliott has been in touch with an article she has written on the Batheaston vase, and l am happy to add it here! It’s apparently part 2 of a piece she wrote about Batheaston Villa for the Local Look magazine.

Where is the Batheaston Vase?

“I began my last article with Lady Miller, who lived at Batheaston Villa and held fortnightly poetical gatherings there, in which rhymes were placed in a vase, drawn out, read, and the winner crowned with laurels. This month we look a little more closely at these gatherings and ask ‘Where is the Batheaston Vase now?’

Although many people scoffed at these gatherings, it attracted some illustrious names, including Robert Graves, Robert Southey, Anna Seward, and David Garrick. When Dr Johnson was told that an acquaintance had contributed verses to the vase, he replied: ‘He was a blockhead for his pains.’  It was almost certainly Garrick that he was talking about. 

The villa today still has a south facing bow window, in which the vase, garlanded with pink ribbons and myrtle, was placed on a pedestal, ready to receive the offerings.  Barbeau, writing in the early twentieth century about life in Bath in the eighteenth century, is a mine of information about the gatherings. The nobility went frequently, including the Duchess of Northumberland who, according to Walpole, submitted a bout-rimé on the theme of a buttered muffin. From these accounts we know that it was an elegant, antique Roman urn of marble.  Its illustration is on the front cover of Barbeau’s book. 

But where is the vase now? Those of you who are about to tell me it is in Royal Victoria Park are, I’m afraid, wrong. When I first qualified as a guide in 1985, I was told – and believed – that it was indeed the vase that stands on the other side of the Avenue from the flowerbed.  I was fascinated by this and told my mother, Mrs Jean Fry.  She first qualified as a Bath guide in the 1960s and had instilled in me a love of history. We went to look at it.  We were rather disappointed. Then my mother said: ‘This can’t be right.  It’s solid – you couldn’t put anything in it.’  She was absolutely right – thereby proving that a good historian should always go and look at what they are researching.  I then told my tutor – the man to whom I owe my love of research and who taught me so much. His name was John Ede – a highly respected figure in the world of Bath historians.  He was horrified, since he had always believed it to be the vase.  Without further ado, he decided to carry out further research.  What he found was this.

In 1858, Francis Kilvert gave a lecture on the vase to the Literary and Philosophical Association, and there is no doubt that he was talking about the correct one.  He too stressed that this vase could be moved – it would be placed on the pedestal we can see in the illustration during the poetical entertainment.  The one in the park could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as portable. However, we now come to a meeting of the Royal Victoria Park subscribers in 1866. The financial affairs of the park were then in a fairly parlous state, so when Dr Watson asked if it was correct that £14 had been expended in erecting a temple in the park, the Chairman had to answer. 

To cut a long story short, the chairman told how a member of the park committee had been offered a vase which had, allegedly, once been at Batheaston Villa but later removed to West Keynton in Wiltshire.  He had persuaded the committee to accept it.  The first glimpse they had was when they were invited to inspect ‘a trolley drawn by a dozen horses, bearing an enormous mass of stone and other material. It was perfectly dreadful.’  The chairman went on to say that one of the committee oversaw the erection of it (which seems to have included the canopy) but they had not expected it to cost £14. He repeated that they thought it a hideous and ugly thing – an opinion with which I tend to concur – and they had tried to hide it by planting shrubs and ivy around it. It was originally at the extreme west end of the park.  So it is only hearsay that it ever came from Batheaston. Yet still the story persists, especially on the internet. But what happened to the real Batheaston vase? No one seems to know.  Perhaps one of the Penoyre family has it in their possession without realising what it is. It would be wonderful if the real claimant for the title of the Batheaston Vase could be discovered.”