Some may recall the original Beau Nash House in
’s town centre before the war. It stood in Swansea Goat Street, at the top of what is now Princess Way, and
like the large Wesley Chapel opposite was destroyed during the aerial
bombardment of February 1941. It had
been the premises of Sidney Heath’s draper’s shop, and was believed to
have been the birthplace of the Regency dandy ‘Beau’ Nash. When Sidney Heath re-located after the war to
(now Yates’s Wine Bar), he named the larger premises with the mock Tudor façade
Beau Nash House.
But who was Beau Nash?
By contrast with Thomas Bowdler, the ‘censor of Shakespeare’ who was from
but moved to Swansea, Nash was born in Swansea but lived much of his life in . Born Richard Nash in 1674 in Bath , his father ran a
bottle-making business. With the growth
of the wine trade and demand for medicinal waters his father could afford to
send Richard (he also had two daughters) to Swansea . Richard Nash boarded in Carmarthen until he
was 17, and went on to Carmarthen Grammar School Jesus College, . He was never forthcoming about his past, and
as his fame increased he ignored rumours and let admirers embellish anecdotes
about him. Oxford
He had the streets patrolled by night watchmen, ordered residents to hang lanterns outside their houses to deter crimes in the hours of darkness, and excluded vagrants and professional beggars who would prey on wealthy visitors. He regulated the conduct of the sedan chair porters and, instead of the variable quality of local musicians, he booked
musicians to play at the Pump House during the daytime, and at the evening
dances in the Assembly Rooms. With his
charm, assurance and confidence, Nash was a superb Master of Ceremonies,
enforcing standards of civility and politeness.
As he raised standards people took pride in their appearance -
households began to have more than just one mirror! Nash gentrified behaviour, holding court at
the Pump Room and acquiring the nickname ‘Beau’. He laid down rules of mutual respect,
including “that all whisperers of lies and scandals be taken as their authors.” London
Visitors would walk, ride, bathe in the Baths, dance, play card games like whist, piquet or quadrille (an early form of bridge). A keen gambler himself, Nash would restrain compulsive gamblers and warn players against risky games or suspected cardsharps.
As Master of Ceremonies he observed distinctions of rank at minuets - initially just one couple would begin the dance, before Nash would bring forth a different partner, and so on. With his be-jewelled snuff-box he became a distinctive figure.
It was a great coup for him when
was visited in 1738 by Frederick, Prince of Wales, with his consort Princess
Augusta. Nash transformed the spa
city into the most fashionable place in Bath , organising magnificent
public balls and raising nearly £20,000 to improve the state of the roads. England
It was said that he ‘was the life and soul of all their diversions’ - in some ways he was the prototype of the modern celebrity: famous for being famous. Today he would be an impresario, or in PR.Among Bath Abbey’s memorial tablets is one to this