Romance and intrigue in England's hotels

A naked woman exiting this pool caused a furor in 1961 British parliament.
  • A naked woman exiting this pool caused a furor in 1961 British parliament.

Meridian Writers’ Group

BATH, England–The Time Out London guide book calls it "possibly the best address of any hotel in Britain." The Royal Crescent Hotel, at Number 16 Royal Crescent, is smack-dab in the middle of Bath’s crowning architectural glory, a curving avenue of pale gold stone, five storeys high, 30 mansions long and fronted with 114 Ionic columns.

In a town filled with neo-classical Palladian architecture the Royal Crescent, completed in 1774 by John Wood the Younger, is its finest example. In the Georgian era (1714 to 1837) the rich and titled would rent a house here when they came to Bath for a season of taking the waters.

The Royal Crescent Hotel is a discreet establishment. There’s no sign; only its street number above the door tells you you’ve come to the right place. Inside, there’s no check-in lobby. You’re ushered into the sitting room or library, where coal fires burn and help maintain the idea that you’ve come to a private home.

A spacious hidden garden leads to the hotel’s restaurant, Pimpernel’s, additional suites (including one Johnny Depp stayed in for four weeks while filming Chocolat ) and the Bath House Spa. The private garden alone is almost as rejuvenating as a spa visit, but for those wanting more attention there’s a range of treatments, from simple massage and exfoliation to a fruit enzyme wrap, plus a grotto-like pool, heated to 37 degrees Celsius.

One of the hotel’s most romantic rooms is the Richard Brinsley Sheridan suite. The story of how it was named begins a few doors down from the hotel, at Number 11. There, a plaque recalls the night of March 18, 1772, when the 21-year-old Sheridan eloped from that address with 18-year-old Elizabeth Linley. At the time, Sheridan was unknown. Linley, on the other hand, was highly regarded for her exquisite singing voice and had already been painted by Gainsborough. Horace Walpole said she had beauty "in the superlative degree." Sheridan himself, shortly after meeting her, said, "Won’t you come into my garden? I’d like my roses to see you."

Linley’s father didn’t approve of Sheridan, especially considering the number of better-off suitors his daughter had. But one of them, Captain Thomas Matthews, became so obsessed with her that he threatened to ruin her reputation publicly if she wouldn’t let him do it privately. Sheridan and Linley ran off together to France, but were brought back by her father. The enraged Matthews called Sheridan out and, after losing the first duel, demanded a second in which he wounded Sheridan badly.

Elizabeth nursed her Richard back to health – and did a marvellous job. Within five years he had become the manager of London’s Drury Lane theatre and England’s hot new dramatist, author of The Rivals and The School for Scandal , both still performed.

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