Hester's eightieth birthday ball & final year

  • Posted on: 26 September 2009
  • By: David Thrale

Hester Lynch Thrale portrait in 1818 by Roche
Hester Thrale celebrated her eightieth birthday party in the finest of style at the Kingston Rooms - also called the Lower Assembly Rooms - in Bath on 27 January 1820. Seven to eight hundred invited guests helped her to celebrate her birthday at very great expense. There was a reception, then a concert, a supper and a ball. 

The ball

Good fortune ensured that the party was two days before the death of King George. It was estimated that between seven and eight hundred people attended. This may have been an overestimate. Those absent included 'the Misses' - her daughters.

The concert began at 10 p.m. Mr. Leoni Lee sung with Miss Wood, Miss Camplin, Mrs Windsor, Miss Kitty Sharpe and Mr Rolle. The guests were delighted with the singing. At midnight the supper began. After two hours of banqueting, Admiral Sir James Saumarez proposed a toast to Hester to all round cheering. The dancing was started at 2 a.m. by Hester and her adopted son, Sir John Salusbury of Bachygraig, High Sheriff of the County of Flint, and continued until 5 a.m.

Accounts of the event

The Morning Post

One of the most extraordinary and agreeable persons it was ever my good fortune to know.

— Edward Mangin on Hester Lynch Thrale.

The Morning Post newspaper made some terse remarks about her…

Lord!, will this Mrs. Piozzi never have done singing and dancing?

Mr Mant replied…

Sweet Puritans! don't frown severe
On dear Piozzi's dance and cheer;
Groaning beneath your loads of sin,
She does not bid you enter in…
She bids the ignorant of wrong,
Her dance attend, a jovial throng,
And friends long lov'd she calls to see
The scenes of liveliness and glee…
Induced by arguments so weighty,
She dares to give a ball at eighty.

E. Mangin

Mr E. Mangin described a ball…

Glittering in the gayest attire, and composed of all that Bath contained of exalted station, talent, genius, youth and beauty … a profusion of delicacies, lights and jewelry. Hester stepped out with astonishing elasticity, and with all the true air of dignity which might have been expected from one of the best bred females in society.

Bath and Cheltenham Gazette

Hester Lynch Thrale after J Hogwood on her 80th birthday
A reporter from the Bath and Cheltenham Gazette reported…

It exhibited a scene, which, if not calculated to feast the reason, gave a promise of at least stimulating and heightening its enjoyments; in short, it was substantial as well as elegant, and displayed not only the liberality of the mistress of the feast, but the skill of the provider.

The ease and vivacity of manner which characterizes Mrs. Piozzi as an individual, pervaded every scene of her splendid entertainment, and as she had shown herself to be the living centre of good taste, as portrayed in social life, the present entertainment will undoubtedly form an epoch in the annals of fashionable amusement.

Kingston rooms

Later in the same year the Kingston Rooms were destroyed by fire.

Her final year

Tom Moore, who breakfasted with her after she was turned eighty, speaks of her as still a…

Wonderful old lady, faces of other times seemed to crowd over her as she sat, — the Johnson's, Reynoldses, &c. &c: though turned eighty, she has all the quickness and intelligence of a gay young woman.

When nearly eighty Hester took a great fancy to a young actor William Augustus Conway and it is reported, but not confirmed, that she proposed to marry him.