Beau Nash  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Beau Nash (18 October 1674 – 3 February 1762), born Richard Nash, was a celebrated dandy and leader of fashion in 18th-century Britain. He is best remembered as the Master of Ceremonies at the spa town of Bath.


Nash was born in Swansea in Wales. He attended Jesus College, Oxford, served as an army officer and was then called to the bar, but made little of either career. In 1704 he became Master of Ceremonies at the rising spa town of Bath, a position he retained until his death. He lived in a house on Saw Close (now at the main entrance to the Theatre Royal), and kept a string of mistresses. He played a leading role in making Bath the most fashionable resort in 18th-century England.

His position was unofficial, but nevertheless he had extensive influence in the city until early 1762. He would meet new arrivals to the city and judge whether they were suitable to join the select "Company' of 500 to 600 people at the centre of Bath society, match ladies with appropriate dancing partners at each ball, pay the musicians at such events, broker marriages, escort unaccompanied wives and regulate gambling (by restraining compulsive gamblers or warning players against risky games or cardsharks). He was notable for encouraging a new informality in manners, breaking down the rigid barriers which had previously divided the nobility from the middle-class patrons of Bath, and even from the gentry.

Although the Corporation of the city funded an elaborate funeral for Nash, he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. There is a memorial to him at Bath Abbey church in Bath.

The death of Nash caused quite a stir at the time, with the celebrated author, Oliver Goldsmith being moved to write The Life of Richard Nash as early as 1762.

Nash was a notorious gambler who was forced to move in with his mistress, Juliana Popjoy, due to his debts. Upon his death, Juliana Popjoy was so distraught, she spent the majority of her remaining days living in a large hollowed out tree.Template:Citation needed Near her own death, she moved out of the tree and back to her birth home where she did perish.

Beau Nash and Tunbridge Wells

In 1735, Nash appointed himself Master of Ceremonies in Tunbridge Wells and retained control of the entertainments provided for visitors until his death in 1762. Bath, it was said, was his kingdom, and Tunbridge Wells a colony of that kingdom. Nash had been interested in taking control at Tunbridge Wells for some years, but had been excluded by the formidable Bell Causey, who 'presided as absolute governess' until her death in 1734. As well as organizing entertainments, Nash established strict rules for correct behaviour. In order to ensure that visitors paid subscriptions for services provided, he introduced Sarah Porter, 'Queen of the Touters', who eagerly pursued defaulters. Under Nash, Tunbridge Wells attained the height of its fame as a fashionable resort, attended by royalty, nobility, and the most famous names in the country. It is notable that there is a pub in Tunbridge Wells named after Beau Nash himself, whilst The Ragged Trousers exhibits a plaque on the exterior of the building in Nash's honor.


John Eglin, The Imaginary Autocrat: Beau Nash and the invention of Bath, Profile 2005 ISBN 1-86197-302-0 [reviewed by Timothy Mowl in the Times Literary Supplement 8 July 2005 p 32]

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