Tuesday morning finds me fulfilling my duties as a member of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides and pleased today to be able to take my group of Italian, Spanish and Israeli visitors on a tour of the (Upper) Assembly Rooms.
The A-board outside tells you if the ‘historic rooms’ are open to view.
You have to check the A board outside the entrance to see if it’s a good day for a visit. If it says historic rooms ‘open’ you can sign in your group and show them around this Georgian centre of entertainment – designed by John Wood Junior – and opened in 1771.
The second sedan chair is back in place!
Imagine my pleasant surprise to be greeted – in the central crossing point between rooms – by the return of the second of the two genuine sedan chairs that have been on display here for years.
Both were taken away after it was discovered they were suffering from an insect infestation. The first of the two came back last December after treatment – and now the second has been returned.
Sedan chair – number 68 – returned last December.
These late 18th century Bath ‘taxis’ were licensed by the Corporation and would have brought people to the doors of the Assembly Rooms for concerts and balls.
This ‘new’ form of transport – introduced from continental Europe in the 16th century – was well suited to Bath’s narrow and crowded streets.
They were used to take people to the thermal baths for treatment and also to transport them to public entertainments like concerts and balls.
By the 1850’s most sedan chairs had been replaced by wheeled bath chairs for short trips in the city and fly carriages to take people to the suburbs.
The return – after conservation work – of at least one of the original sedan chairs to its usual resting place in Bath’s Assembly Rooms has prompted some of you to set me looking for others in the city.
The newly conserved sedan chair is positioned just outside the ballroom.
Sally Helvey tells me she remembers seeing one at the Royal Crescent Hotel – which l did manage to find tucked under a staircase – and was kindly allowed to photograph. No one seems to know much about its history.
The sedan chair at the Royal Crescent Hotel.
The hotel has changed hands several times and this now rather faded example of Bath’s Georgian glory – sort of came with the furniture. It would be nice if it could be restored.
Bath’s much-loved Mineral Water Hospital – now better known at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases – has its own example – according to Bath Newseum follower Elizabeth Davies.
The sedan chair at the Mineral Water Hospital
It’s a surviving example of the hospital sedan chairs designed and built in the early 1700’s to ferry patients to and from the bath sites.
As if these were not enough, the relatively new Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel has a beauty of it’s own.
The Turin-made sedan chair on display at the Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel.
It’s a Turin Portantina and one of around 50 known to exist of this shape – the fourth most common style surviving in Europe. The chair – made in Turin around 1745 – has a low pole height to help increase ground clearance to help negotiate flights of steps and hills or mountains.
This chair is on permanent loan from Mr Stephen Loft-Simpson who is a sedan chair specialist based in Bristol. Check out his website on www.sedanchair.co.uk
Please let Bath Newseum know if you spot another sedan chair somewhere else!