Gem from the Archive: Letters from Bath, 1790s-1800s

By Jon Bauckham, 1 March 2013 - 12:00am

Our most recent Gem from the Archive feature explores the letters of Margaret Graves, which form part of the collections at Devon Heritage Centre. Read two of these fascinating documents here 

Monday 8 April 2013
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If you’ve already picked up the May issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, you will have probably seen our Gem from the Archive feature exploring the letters of Margaret Graves. Taken from the collections held at Devon Heritage Centre, the documents not only tell us about Margaret’s lavish social engagements but also provide a fascinating insight into life in Georgian Bath.

We’ve teamed up with the archive to bring you two of these letters in full. The first letter, which is mentioned by Renée Jackaman in our original article, concerns Margaret’s visit to an exhibition of Maillardet’s Automatons in February 1802. As well as describing a mechanical fortuneteller and a spider, Margaret recalls her awe at seeing the “Draughtsman-Writer”, which had the ability to draw and write poems using its clockwork memory. Having narrowly escaped destruction, this particular automaton has been fully restored and now resides at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. You can see a video of it working here.

Below, we have also included scans of another one of Margaret’s letters, in which she tells her niece about a Phantasmagoria she had seen just a few weeks before. This was a form of theatre that used a modified magic lantern to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens. The description is one of very few to have survived to actually tell us how it affected a captive audience, even if Mrs Graves herself was not particularly impressed.

All images © Devon Heritage Centre
 

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Maillardet's Automatons

1038M/F/1/134: Letter from Margaret Graves of Bath to her niece, Eliza Simcoe at Wolford Lodge, dated 3 February 1802

Phantasmagoria

1038M/F/1/164: Letter from Margaret Graves of Bath to her niece, Eliza Simcoe at Wolford Lodge, dated 23 February 1802
 
 
TAKE IT FURTHER

Find out more about the collections at Devon Heritage Centre

 

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