In the Regency period the reasonably well-off were able to afford a life of cultivated leisure. Reading, writing letters, sauntering in parks and gardens such as the Sydney Gardens below, filled the day. Conversation was considered an art and concerned itself with the behaviour of others and with romantic entanglements. Bath, with its classical colonnades and neat squares, made the perfect backdrop to this regulated and well-ordered life.
It was in the Regency period that Bath developed from a small provincial spa to being one of the most important centres of social life outside London. The town became the height of fashion for its seasonal social gatherings and grand balls. It had previously been an unremarkable Elizabethan town but was rebuilt in the elegant Palladian style by the father-and-son architectural partnership of the Woods.
In 1755 the original Roman baths were discovered and restored and Bath became an essential part of the social calendar for anybody seeking to improve their health, by 'taking the waters'. It was to the Pump Room, a set of elegant chambers built above the old Roman baths, that the upper classes flocked. The daily gathering in the grand space of the Pump Room to drink the healing waters and exchange news was a popular pastime.
Bath's magnificent 18th century Assembly Rooms were opened in 1771 and endured until destruction by wartime bombing in 1942. They were known as the New or Upper Rooms (to distinguish them from the older Assembly rooms in the lower part of the town which burnt to the ground in 1820 and were not rebuilt). Here, as in the Lower Rooms, the fashionable of Bath came to see and be seen, attend balls, concerts and small theatrical events. Dancing was the most popular activity and public balls were held at least twice a week, attracting 800 to 1,200 guests at a time.