Stories of Gamesters in 18th Century Bath

Thomas Rowlandson The Hazard Room

This week I am moving from the theme of real life 18th Century affairs of the heart, to affairs of the sharper and looking in more detail at the stories of the gamblers or gamesters who populated Bath’s society in the 1700s.

Again this story is taken from the Life of Beau Nash written by Oliver Goldsmith in 1762.

The social society of Bath in the 18th Century included a considerable interest in playing cards and gambling as did other social centres like London and Tunbridge Wells. Gaming was a pivotal part of society and many took full advantage of the money to be made from people’s enthusiasm and addiction for card games. Gaming rooms were set up especially for men and women to meet and play and most evening events included an area of gaming tables, as did the assembly rooms in Bath. They were not simply established for pleasure but for profit.

Yet even those who set up these rooms were not above being caught by sharpers. And Beau Nash as an I8th Century entrepreneur who captured every opportunity for making money was caught several times during his life.

This occasion occurred during a period I have mentioned in an earlier blog on ‘Gambling, Cards and Billiards in the Assembly Rooms of Bath’ at the time when laws were established to cease gambling due to the high number of people being left bankrupt. An Act was introduced by Parliament to prevent fraudulent and excessive gambling, private lotteries and games of Faro, Basset, Hazard, Ace of Hearts and Pharaoh. But those who wished to continue exploiting people hungry for games of chance just invented new games such as ‘Passage’. And when in 1740 Parliament declared all games of chance involving numbers using cards or dice illegal, games not involving numbers were introduced. ‘Even and Odd’, known as E.O. was one of these.

Thomas Rowlandson, The Gaming Table

As I said in my earlier blog, Beau Nash was involved in the development of E.O. C—k invented the game and ran it through a gaming room Nash calls A—e. They shared the profits. But as you might expect of these gaming rooms their morals were rarely high and their activity frequently unfair. A—e broke the agreement with C—k. C—k and his friends then employed a town crier to walk the streets, shouting out that people should not play E.O. at the A—e club because the game was not fair. This is when Beau Nash becomes involved as the orchestrator of society and entertainment A—e asked him to stop the crier.

Beau Nash did and in recompense for his involvement accepted a percentage agreement with A—e.

C—k then also asked Beau Nash to sponsor his own gambling room, probably having recognized the need to influence Beau Nash if he was to continue in business, but Nash claims to have refused the offer.

However when another room was set up, playing the same game, by J—e, Beau Nash agreed a further arrangement between the rooms and a cut of the profits for himself.

All seemed well, but let’s remember the nature of sharpers, they did not play fair among themselves and Nash discovered that they were pocketing profits which were not declared to him. He had A—e arrested and J—e claimed that everyone was fiddling their agreement with Nash. But it would appear Nash never had his losses returned.

His comments on the episode below included reference to the psalm;

For the Lord hateth lying and deceitful lips.

Here is his own account of his opinion of the shapers involved and what occurred.

“THE curse denounced in my motto, is sufficient to intimidate any person, who is not quite abandoned in their evil ways, and who have any fear of God before their eyes, everlasting burnings are a terrible reward for their misdoings and nothing but the most hardened sinners will oppose the judgments of heaven, being without end. This reflection must be shocking to such, as are conscious to themselves, of having erred from the sacred dictates of the Psalmist, and who following the blind impulse of passion, daily forging lies and deceit, to annoy their neighbour. But there are joys in heaven which they can never arrive at, whose whole study is to destroy the peace and harmony, and good order of society in this place.

E O was first set up in A—e room, the profits divided between one C—k (the inventor of the game) and A—e.

The next year, A—e finding the game so advantageous, turned C—k out of his room, and set the game up himself, but C—-k and his friends hired the crier to cry the game down; upon which A—e came running to me to stop it, after he had cried it once, which I immediately did, and turned the crier off the walks. Then A—e asked me to go a fourth with him in the bank, which I consented to; C—k next day took me into his room which he had hired, and proffered me to go half with him, which I refused, being engaged before to A—-e.

J—e then set up the same game, and complained that he had not half play at his room, upon which I made them agree to join their banks, and divide equally the gain and loss, and I to go the like share in the bank.

I taking them to be honest, never enquired what was won or lost, and thought they paid me honestly, till it was discovered, that they had defrauded me of 2000 guineas.

I then arrested A—e, who told me I must go into Chancery, and that I should begin with the people of Bath, who had cheated me of ten times as much; and told my attorney, that J—e had cheated me of 500, and wrote me word that I probably had it not under his hand, which never was used in play. Upon my arresting A—e, I received a letter not to prosecute J—e, for he would be a very good witness. I writ a discharge to J—e for 125l. in full, though he never paid me a farthing, upon his telling me, if his debts were paid, he was not worth a shilling.

Every article of this I can prove from A—e’s own mouth, as a reason that he allowed the bank keepers but 10 per cent because I went 20; and his suborning **** to alter his informations.

RICHARD NASH.”

 

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

The Card Room, Assembly Rooms Bath

Stories of Amore in Eighteenth Century Bath – Miss L—

‘Company at Play’, Thomas Rowlandson, Plate 8 from Comforts of Bath, 1798

This week I am going to tell another true story of the life behind the closed doors of 18th CenturyBath, taken from Oliver Goldsmith’s, The Life of Beau Nash.

The story begins one evening in the Upper Assembly Rooms of Bath, where Beau Nash was in attendance. And although the author does not tell us how, Beau Nash must have had heard some rumour, or known something specific was about to occur. He must therefore have been entangled in all gossip and perhaps played confident too.

But by whatever means he came by the information on the evening in question, he approached a lady of ‘no inconsiderable fortune,’ and her daughter, and ‘bluntly told the mother, she had better be at home:’ It was an ‘audacious piece of impertinence, and the lady turned away piqued and disconcerted. Nash, however, pursued her, and repeated the words again.’

The second warning was observed, as the mother perhaps realised the impertinence had some purpose, ‘and coming to her lodgings, found a coach and six at the door, which a sharper had provided to carry off her eldest daughter.’

The sharper, a Colonel M—- ‘At the conclusion of the treaty of peace at Utrecht,’ ‘was one of the thoughtless, agreeable, gay creatures, that drew the attention of the company at Bath. He danced and talked with great vivacity, and when he gamed among the ladies, he showed, that his attention was employed rather upon their hearts than their fortunes. His own fortune however was a trifle, when compared to the elegance of his expense; and his imprudence at last was so great, that it obliged him to sell an annuity, arising from his commission, to keep up his splendour a little longer.

However, ‘he had the happiness of gaining the affections of Miss L—-, whose father designed her a very large fortune. This lady was courted by a nobleman of distinction, but she refused his addresses, resolved upon gratifying rather her inclinations than her avarice. The intrigue went on successfully between her and the colonel, and they both would certainly have been married, and been undone, had not Mr Nash apprised her father of their intentions.

The old gentleman, recalled his daughter from Bath, and offered Mr Nash a very considerable present,

While ‘In the mean time colonel M— had an intimation how his intrigue came to be discovered; and by taxing Mr Nash, found that his suspicions were not without foundation. A challenge was the immediate consequence, which the king of Bath (Beau Nash), conscious of having only done his duty, thought proper to decline. As none are permitted to wear swords at Bath, the colonel found no opportunity of gratifying his resentment, and waited with impatience to find Mr Nash in town, to require proper satisfaction. 

During this interval, however, he found his creditors became too importunate for him to remain longer at Bath, and his finances and credit being quite exhausted, he took the desperate resolution of going over to the Dutch army in Flanders, where he enlisted himself a volunteer. Here he underwent all the fatigues of a private sentinel, with the additional misery of receiving no pay, and his friends in England gave out, that he was shot at the battle of —.

When the Colonel left England the noble man continued to pursue Miss L—- and ‘pressed his passion with ardour, but during the progress of his amour, the young lady’s father died, and left her heiress to a fortune of fifteen hundred a year.’

She thought herself over the Colonel, after an absence of two years ‘and the assiduity, the merit, and real regard of the gentleman who still continued to solicit her, were almost too powerful for her constancy.’  

But in this period Beau Nash, ‘took every opportunity of enquiring after colonel M—, and found, that’ his rumoured demise was untrue ‘he had for some time been returned to England, but changed his name, in order to avoid the fury of his creditors, and that he was entered into a company of strolling players, who were at that time exhibiting at Peterborough.

Beau Nash must have seen or heard something that twisted his conscience over his actions of two years before, for, ‘He now therefore thought he owed the colonel, in justice, an opportunity of promoting his fortune, as he had once deprived him of an occasion of satisfying his love.

To make amends, Beau invited the lady. Miss L—, along with her adoring noble man, to be a member of a party visiting Peterborough, ‘and offered his own equipage, which was then one of the most elegant in England, to conduct her there. The proposal being accepted, the lady, the nobleman, and Mr Nash, arrived in town just as the players were going to begin. Colonel M—, who used every means of remaining incognito, and who was too proud to make his distresses known to any of his former acquaintance, was now degraded into the character of Tom in the Conscious Lovers. Miss L— was placed in the foremost row of the spectators, her lord on one side, and the impatient Nash on the other, when the unhappy youth appeared in that despicable situation upon the stage. The moment he came on,’ he saw her ‘but his amazement was increased, when he saw her fainting away in the arms of those who sat behind her. He was incapable of proceeding, and scarce knowing what he did, he flew and caught her in his arms.

“Colonel,” cried Nash, when they were in some measure recovered, “you once thought me your enemy, because I endeavoured to prevent you both from ruining each other, you were then wrong, and you have long had my forgiveness If you love well enough now for matrimony, you fairly have my content, and d–n him, say I, that attempts to part you.”

Their nuptials were solemnized soon after, and affluence added a zest to all their future enjoyments. Mr Nash had the thanks of each, and he afterwards spent several agreeable days in that society, which he had contributed to render happy.

 

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark