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FAMOUS PLAYERS

Beau Nash ( 1674-1762 )
b. 18 October 1674
d. April 30, 1792


Richard "Beau" Nash was originally from Swansea the son of Richard Nash, a glass maker of modest means, and his wife, the niece of the royalist army officer Colonel John Poyer. From about the age of twelve Nash was educated at Carmarthen grammar school, and in March 1692 he matriculated from Jesus College, Oxford. His father intended that this costly education result in a legal career. However, for Richard, Oxford's attractions were social not intellectual. By the age of seventeen he had been involved in an ‘intrigue’ with a local woman to whom he proposed. The affair, becoming known to his college, led to Nash's dismissal from the university and the start of a brief period as a would-be womanizer.

Nash was no doubt drawn to Bath in 1705 for the same reasons as many other gamblers and philanderers. Yet it appears to have been Nash's talent for showmanship, for gauging the popular mood, and for understanding the economic realities facing the town's corporation that prompted him to transform an outing into a lifelong career. But he came to Bath to make his fortune from gambling having already served as an army officer and as a lawyer. Although he had no social standing (his father had been a bottle maker), he was considered rather a 'dandy' and when Webster, Bath's Master of Ceremonies, was killed in a gambling quarrel "Beau" Nash took the title and all the powers it yielded. His influence was soon to be felt by all of Bath's residents. He conducted lavish public balls, dictated dress and social etiquette and even offered his opinion on new building proposals. Strict rules were put in place governing what time public balls could begin and end and Nash dictated that the opening dance was always to be a Minuet.

His position also enabled him actively to promote gambling in Bath, in which he also had private interests. Nash's growing reputation among the visiting company also owed much to a series of pronouncements by which he shaped the emerging culture of Bath fashionable society. Nash put into practice aspects of the current theory of social conduct which equated politeness less with an adherence to manners than with an easy and enjoyable sociability. Mindful of his predecessor's fate, he banned the carrying of swords to reduce the risk of disputes ending in violence. Anti-social customs such as smoking and drinking were also regulated, as was the duration of evening dances, at which he presided and promptly called time at 11 p.m. Nash codified these principles in a series of ‘Rules to be observ'd at Bath’ which, though humorous, indicate his attachment to civilized co-existence.

In enforcing his rules Nash at times behaved rudely, even cruelly, to individuals whom he publicly criticized for lapses in dress code or etiquette as a lesson to the watching assembly. For Nash to upbraid a gauche tradesman or country squire might be expected. That he was able to criticize the duchess of Queensberry for wearing an apron to the assembly, or to forbid Princess Amelia to continue dancing after 11 p.m., indicates the extent of his authority. That recipients of such rebukes accepted them as coming from the reigning ‘monarch’, as he was often described, highlights a readiness among the company to accept the singularity of Nash's vision for the resort. The corporation, aware of the cultural and commercial benefits he brought, granted Nash honorary freedom of the city in October 1716.

Nash's private life consisted of two known relationships, both of which appear to have taken place during the early 1740s. The first was with Frances (Fanny) Murray, née Rudman (1729–1778), a former child lover of Jack Spencer, grandson of the first duke of Marlborough. According to her colourful and often unreliable memoirs, Murray met Nash (‘Mr Easy’) and moved into his house on St John's Close, where Nash had lived from 1720, when she was fourteen and he in his late sixties. Young and beautiful, Murray attracted a number of suitors, with one of whom Nash is said to have duelled. However, according to Murray, Nash also grew to resent her rival celebrity and ended the affair. He had a second relationship with Juliana Popjoy (bap. 1714, d. 1777), the daughter of an innkeeper from Bishopstrow, near Warminster, whom he may have met while travelling to London. A former dressmaker, in Bath she was known for her grey horse propelled by a many-thonged whip for which she gained the name Lady Betty Besom. Popjoy appears to have been with Nash at the time of the visit by George II's daughter Princess Mary, and her niece Princess Caroline, in 1740. The couple separated, possibly in the mid-1740s, and contrary to several biographies there is no evidence to suggest that she returned to care for Nash in his final years

Notwithstanding his popularity Nash was seldom without critics, many of whom resented the authority of a man dedicated to pleasure and the practice of triviality. However, such jibes were slight compared with what was to come, much of it of Nash's own making. As age impinged on his talent for self-promotion he found himself involved in a series of scandals, the number and volume of complaints becoming a dominant characteristic of his old age. Observers had long been aware, and accepted, that his interest in Harrison's, and other, assembly rooms brought him financial reward through a share of the entertainment receipts. But there was less tolerance for Nash's additional income from the assembly's gaming tables, which he managed and promoted among the company. Involvement in gambling was of particular concern to the religious groups who gathered to censure Bath's diversions and its master of ceremonies.

To many his reputation as a sinner, or at least a prodigious gambler, was already well established. Cards and dice had been an important part of Nash's life since his youth, and became central at Bath and Tunbridge Wells, where gaming was a principal source of entertainment. To many memoirists, Nash was an experienced, persistent, but ultimately unsuccessful gambler because of his natural generosity and openness. But losses at the table were slight compared with the damage done to Nash's reputation following revelations about his clandestine involvement in gambling schools at Tunbridge Wells and Bath.

Parliamentary legislation in 1739–40 and 1745 considerably reduced the number of permitted games involving cards and dice. In response new means of gambling were devised, the most successful being a form of roulette, E.O. (evens and odds), invented by Humphry Cleak and first tested at the Tunbridge assembly room. Popular with the company, the game was also lucrative for its organizers, Cleak and Metcalfe Ashe, the room's manager, who formed a syndicate to maximize their income. Nash became involved after settling a dispute over the division of profits and was, for a cut, charged with tempting players to participate while appearing to outsiders to have no interest other than as a fellow gambler. The success of E.O. led to the establishment of a rival table at Tunbridge under Thomas Joye, whom Nash persuaded to join the original syndicate with the master of ceremonies receiving a quarter share. Nash subsequently introduced the game to Bath and, for a fifth of the profits, set up a similar network with John, Walter, and William Wiltshire, owners of Wiltshire's assembly room.

The game's popularity promised an easy route to considerable wealth. Nash's mistake, however, was to leave the accounting to his partners. By the early 1750s he was convinced that he had been cheated of his share at Tunbridge to a sum, by his own calculation, of 2000 guineas. In 1754 he brought a suit in chancery against Ashe and Joye, and he repeated the action against the Wiltshires three years later. Depositions show that in 1746 Nash had received £80 from Ashe and Joye, with subsequent annual payments falling to £20 in 1750. Nash's former partners maintained that these sums were not, as he maintained, reduced profits from their gaming school but one-off gifts to their friend. In Bath, John Simpson offered a similar defence, claiming that a bequest of £50 had been made on account of Nash's increasing age and his having been ‘a great friend to Bath’

Crucially, by arguing for the syndicate's existence, Nash revealed that he had misled visitors for personal gain. Via his own testimony the public servant and ally of the company became an example of the artifice and corruption that many saw as endemic to resorts such as Bath and Tunbridge Wells. The exposure, which followed allegations in 1748 concerning Nash's profiteering from public subscriptions, led to a severe loss of faith in a man whose purpose had previously seemed dedicated to regulating society for visitors' benefit and entertainment. In so doing, the scandal undercut two of the principal foundations—civic responsibility and personal generosity—on which he had successfully based his authority. That Nash was prepared to pursue his money through the courts, regardless of the public consequences of the lawsuit, also exposed the limited funds of someone who had hitherto presented an image of effortless affluence.

By the late 1750s Nash had been forced to sell many of his personal effects to placate his creditors, and in February 1760 the corporation granted him a monthly pension of 10 guineas. Nevertheless it is estimated that he still owed upwards of £1200 at his death.

He died in Bath at age 87 leaving his partner Juliana Popjoy impoverished and, who following their separation had left Bath and, resolving ‘never more to lie in a bed’, spent the next thirty years living in a hollow tree near Warminster until her death in March 1777.

In the 1960's, Nash's memory lived on with the establishment of a casino operating under his name in Bristol a mere 10 miles from Bath. It closed in the 1980's but re-opened in the same building as Annabels. It is now a Stanley Casino.
 
 
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