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 St Mary's Street, Swansea, in 1674. His father, Richard, a native of Pembroke, had risen to be partner in a glass-works at Swansea, which- although he was "of modest means"- gave him the means to pay for his son's education. Nash's mother was a niece of the Welsh merchant John Poyer, who was mayor of Pembroke town and served during the English Civil War. The Nash family were "known" in the countryside, but the Poyer family was of "gentler blood". Nash's comparatively obscure origins were sometimes the subject of comment; when the Duchess of Marlborough mentioned it, Nash replied "Madam, I seldom mention my father in company, not because I have any reason to be ashamed of him, but because he has some reason to be ashamed of me."
After attending Queen Elizabeth Grammar School at Carmarthen, he went up to Jesus College, Oxford, leaving without a degree. His father then bought him a commission as an Army officer, but found the demands on his time too great, and instead opted to become a barrister, for which profession he had originally been intended. He entered as a student of the Middle Temple in 1693, where he was known for "good manners... his taste in dress, and... leading so gay a life" without any obvious source of wealth that his friends suspected him to be a highwayman. Having been selected from amongst the Middle Temple's students to take charge of a pageant exhibited before King William III in 1695, Nash's success led to the offer of knighthood, which he declined on the grounds of his lack of fortune. He would later be offered a knighthood by Queen Anne, but again refused the honour.
In 1704, Nash became Master of Ceremonies at the rising spa town of Bath, a position he retained until he died. 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 1761. He would meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select "Company' of 500 to 600 people who had pre-booked tables, 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 cardsharps). 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.
Nash was a notorious gambler who was forced to move in with his mistress, Juliana Popjoy, because of his debts. Upon their separation, Popjoy was so distraught that she spent the majority of her remaining days living in a large hollowed-out tree. Shortly before her death, she moved out of the tree and back to her birth home, where she died.
Nash and Wesley
In his journal and letters, John Wesley, preacher and founder of Methodism, tells of a confrontation with Nash in Bath in 1739. Wesley's journey to Bath had been expected for some time, and Nash had made public his determination to confront him. Wesley proceeded to Bath, even though some people, afraid of the outcome, tried to talk him out of it. When Wesley began his preaching, there was "a much larger audience, among whom were many of the rich and great."
Facing Wesley, Nash questioned his authority, comparing the gathering to a conventicle, which was banned by Act of Parliament. Wesley answered that he had the authority of Jesus Christ and the Archbishop of Canterbury and that the gathering was not seditious and therefore did not contravene the Act. Nash complained that Wesley was scaring people out of their wits, but then admitted that he had never actually heard Wesley preach and was just relying on "common report". Wesley rejected this argument, stating that he did not judge Nash "by common report... it is not enough to judge by." When Nash asked why people were coming to the meeting at all, an old woman in the crowd asked Wesley to allow her to answer. She then told Nash that, while he took care of his body, she and others were present in order to take care of their souls. Nash left. Wesley wrote that, after his departure, "We immediately began praying for him, and then for all the despisers. As we returned, they hollowed and hissed us along the streets; but when any of them asked, 'Which is he' and I answered, 'I am he,' they were immediately silent."
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 1761. 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 organising 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, patronised by royalty, nobility, and the most famous names in the country. There is a pub in Tunbridge Wells named after Nash, whilst The Ragged Trousers exhibits a plaque on the exterior of the building in his honour.
Later use of name
A cinema was erected in Westgate Street in Bath in 1920 and named the Beau Nash Picture House in memory of Nash. The building, now Grade II listed, is currently known as the Komedia.
In popular culture
In 1999, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a six-part comedy series entitled King of Bath, written by Arnold Evans and starring David Bamber as Nash, detailing fictitious adventures and mis-adventures of Nash while in Bath. The series has since been re-broadcast on BBC Radio 7 and BBC Radio 4 Extra.
- Williams, Idris (1926). "Beau Nash : King of Bath". Welsh Outlook. 13 (8): 213.
- "Nash, Richard [known as Beau Nash] (1674–1761), master of ceremonies and social celebrity". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/19789. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Beau Nash- Monarch of Bath and Tunbridge Wells, Willard Connely, Laurie 1955, pp. 1-2
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- mym (31 May 2011), beau, retrieved 1 July 2020
- notice of his funeral, Oxford Journal 21 Feb 1761, Burial notice, Bath Abbey parish registers 1761, position of grave from Guide to Bath 1813, and Notes for visitors to Bath Abbey by George Ford, 1982
- "Newspaper article announcing the death of Juliana Papjoy, March 1777". Bath in Time, Images of Bath online. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
- Black, William (2011), "The Citizen of the World.—Beau Nash", Goldsmith, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 50–66, doi:10.1017/cbo9781139083973.007, ISBN 978-1-139-08397-3
- Journal of John Wesley at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website
- The Letters of John Wesley, 1739, at the Wesley Center Online
- "Old 'Beau Nash' reopens tonight". Bath Chronicle. 12 July 2012. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
- "BBC Radio 4 Extra - King of Bath". BBC. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
- "Beau Death". Soho Press. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
- Broadsheet Books (2022)
- The Life of Beau Nash by Oliver Goldsmith
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- New International Encyclopedia. 1905. .
- Seccombe, Thomas (1894). . Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 40.
- Newspaper article announcing the death of Juliana Popjoy, March 1777