Bath Experiences: In the neighbourhood of the Circus

Another iconic Georgian architecture in Bath, designed by John Wood and completed by his son, is the Circus. John Wood, the senior, apparently had surveyed Stonehenge and ensured the diameter of the Circus was the same, as he believed that Bath had been the main Druid centre of Britain. The circular space surrounded by townhouses is in the vicinity of a couple of Bath’s museums.

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Turning off one of the three entrances to the Circus, onto Bennett Street and walking a few steps brings one to the Assembly Rooms and Fashion museum.

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The Fashion museum, housed in the Assembly rooms, was founded by designer Doris Moore in 1963 and initially opened as the Museum of Costume with the private collection of Doris. It is now owned by the Bath and North East Somerset Council.

I was handed an audio guide before I started my walk through the collection. The interesting collection started from fashion during the Tudor period and how a man or woman living in 1600 would have dressed for different occasions. In this post, I share what I learnt about the evolution of fashionable wear in Bath, during my visit to the museum.

This linen waistcoat, is thought to have belonged to Lady Alice L’Estrange, wife of a member of parliament during James I’s time. The waistcoat, worn over a petticoat and loose gown, is considered an informal dress worn at home in the 1600s.

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The open robe, worn with a silk petticoat designed to be seen, was the formal dress for social occasions in Bath during the 1730s, the heyday of Georgian Bath.

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The brocade woven silk closed robe was the alternative choice for a lady of fashion in the mid 1700s.

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By 1800, there was a huge demand for simple muslin, produced in Scotland with lightweight cotton fabric from India.

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Crinoline came into fashion by the mid 19th century, and a lightweight printed cotton dress with a separate bodice and skirt worn over a cage crinoline, was considered fashionable day wear. At one point, the cage crinoline was halved and became the bustle though I still can’t quite imagine how women sat on chairs with the bustle or full cage crinoline.

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The collection continues on till present day, but I didn’t find them as interesting as the 16th to 19th century fashion.

Emerging from the fashion museum, I asked about the Assembly rooms but they were closed to visitors that day, as there was a function taking place. I returned to the Assembly rooms on another day, and though the rooms were being set up for yet another function, I was allowed to have a look this time. The Assembly rooms, opened in 1771, were purpose built for an assembly – an 18th century form of entertainment. The two main rooms were the ball room and the tea room, with the octagon room connecting both.

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Ball room

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The octagon room was originally intended as a circulating space, where guests could listen to music or play cards. A new card room was subsequently added and which functions as a cafe today.

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Tea room

I walked around the three rooms, trying to imagine what Jane Austen would have observed on her first visit to the rooms.

On Bennett Street, opposite the Assembly rooms, is the Museum of East Asian Art.

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The museum’s website states that it is the only museum in the UK dedicated to the arts and cultures of East and South east Asia. The museum’s collection, of around 2000 objects spanning from 5000 BC to-date, is housed in a restored Georgian townhouse. While the museum was interesting, I was a bit tired after having just spent several hours in another museum and so I briefly browsed through sections of the museum. Of the different objects on display, the ruyi scepters caught my eye. Apparently, ruyi scepters have had various uses in Chinese history from being a conversation stick, where the person holding the ruyi scepter could talk, to being a backscratcher.

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After exploring the museums near Circus, I decided to stop for lunch at the cosy family run restaurant, Same Same but Different on Bartlett Street. The restaurant’s website proudly announces that they only use local Bath based suppliers for their food, which in turn is made from scratch.

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I had their tasty soup of the day with toasted bread, though I think they are more popular for their all-day breakfast/ brunch menu from what I observed from the orders placed at adjacent tables.

The Circus is certainly a neighbourhood that one needs to walk around, admiring the 18th century architecture. Dropping into the Assembly rooms to see the primary public rooms that provided entertainment to the visitors to Bath in the 18th century is also not to be missed and if you have time, and the interest in the evolution of fashion in Bath over the last 400 years, do explore the Fashion museum.

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Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary pass to Bath and regional attractions, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to the Fashion Museum and Museum of East Asian Art. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #59]

Wander Mum
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26 thoughts on “Bath Experiences: In the neighbourhood of the Circus

  1. I enjoyed reading about the clothing you shared in this post. It was interesting seeing how the styles changed over time.

    I’m sorry you were too tired to fully enjoy the Museum of East Asian Art. Maybe next time? 🙂

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    • Thanks, Amanda. I had not originally planned to visit the Fashion museum but I am glad I did that when the Assembly rooms was closed for visitors. The museum is well organized and very informative. As for Museum of East Asian art, I would certainly need to visit it next time to do it justice.

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  2. Very interesting. My girls would surely love the dress collection (although their interest in such exhibits tends to fade after 10 minutes or so unless they get to try some on! 😉 ). I applaud the local food initiative too. Thanks! #CityTripping

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    • The fashion museum is fascinating indeed and they apparently have 100,000 objects in their collection. I also found it interesting that they have study facilities, which one can book for the day you visit. This allows you private space for a self-directed study of a selection of items from the collection. Great for those studying clothing fashions across periods.

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  3. I love the fact about the diameter of the circus matching that of Stonehenge. Those costumes are beautiful: I’ve come over all ‘Pride and Prejudice’ looking at your photos!
    #citytripping

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    • I liked that people and organizations donated the clothes to the museum so each piece does have a story to it, where they do know the original source, besides illustrating the type of clothing that was worn in a particular time period. There is one of Queen Victoria’s gown in the 1899 display of cage crinoline.

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  4. I love the fact about Stonehenge- I never knew that. And the fashion museum sounds a lot more intriguing than I’d realised too: fascinating to get a glimpse of how people lived through what they wore. #citytripping

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    • The fashion museum is intriguing and I like their various programmes and exhibitions. They even have one for schools and students at different levels. Toys of the past, a 90 minute explorer session, is designed for key stage 1 students.

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    • Yes, you certainly should visit Bath since you will love the historic city. And, the audio guides at the Fashion museum do give interesting detailed narratives to the exhibits.

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  5. It’s so funny, I visited Bath with my uncle and had a completely different experience…rugby match, a quick tour of the roman baths, and then we were back on the train to London. I would have loved to go to the Fashion museum. Your photos are lovely. 🙂

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    • Thank you! I am glad I decided to explore Bath for a few days rather than take a day trip because there is so much the little city has to offer. Sounds like you had a fun day trip nonetheless.

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