Tales of walking, eating, watching and playing. Vintage treasures and simple pleasures ... the things that make her happy.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Bath and Babycham ...

Babycham is a light, sparkling alcoholic perry drink (only 6%) made from fermented pears.  Invented by Francis Showering of Shepton Mallett in Somerset it was launched in 1953 as ‘genuine champagne perry’.  Aimed at female drinkers at a time when wine was not readily available in UK pubs, babycham was sold in miniature Champagne style bottles and was the first alcoholic product to be advertised on UK television.  It is still available today but it’s popularity has waned and it has been the subject of many a poor joke.

Yesterday I found a set of 6 Babycham glasses in perfect condition.  Each glass has a perky white, straight standing fawn printed on the bowl with ‘Babycham’ in blocked print on the foot of each glass.  The white fawn dates them to the 1950’s.  In the 1960’s the logo was changed to a golden brown left leaping fawn with a big blue bow.  From the 1970’s on the deer changed to a right leaping yellow fellow.    

The sight of the huge Babycham fawn outside the factory at Shepton always brings a smile to my face as we pass it on the way to Bath for a day trip.  As a child I made frequent trips to Bath with my parents and the giant deer was always pointed out and was the highlight of what seemed a very long journey.  We now find ourselves doing the same and pointing it out to little man, with a great build up from a mile in advance! 

One of the reasons for our frequent trips to Bath was to visit a very dear great aunt called Norah.  She was the sweetest, most delightful little old lady you could ever imagine.  Born in Newcastle , Norah was youngest of three children, living at home and caring for her elderly mother until well into her forties.  When her mother died she decided to move south to be closer to her brother (my paternal grandfather) and secured a job as a housekeeper for a doctor who lived in a grand house on Bathwick Hill in Bath .  He treated her as one of the family and she remained there until her early 70’s when she finally retired.  She came to stay with us every Christmas and constantly made us smile with her innocent naivety.  Dear Norah always used to get ‘bamboozled’ when playing cards, especially when we upped the stakes from 1p to 2p, which used to make my granny angry and made us laugh even more!  Grandad was deaf, didn’t appear to know what was going on but always won the game of cards!  

As she had no home of her own and few belongings, on her retirement the good doctor managed to secure her a flat in Bath ’s St John’s Hospital .  The ‘hospital’ was founded in 1180 and the current building erected in 1716.  It was not a hospital as such but, under the control of Bath Abbey, provided almshouses and flats for the poor infirm. 

By the time Norah moved there it was operating as a shelter for 90 of the local elderly and poor.  However, it was a fantastic place to live.  Her flat was within the main building and to get to it you had to walk along beautiful timber clad corridors and wide sets of wooden stairs.  It was always very quiet and I never remember seeing anyone else there, apart from the occasional nun, who in my child’s eyes, always seemed to glide everywhere and I was very much in awe of.  She had just two rooms in her flat, a large typically Georgian high ceilinged living room cum kitchen and a very simply furnished bedroom with a beautiful walnut wardrobe that I later inherited (along with a pretty little necklace that she often used to wear).  To get to the bathroom, you had to go out into the corridor where there was a small bathroom that she shared with a couple of other ladies.  I used to love bravely going to this bathroom on my own – a huge key would be placed in my hand (I think that is where my obsession with collecting big, old keys comes from) and I would enter the bathroom which always smelled sweetly of violets and contained a bath which was a deep tub with a seat in it; something that fascinated me!  There was also a beautiful, simple little chapel within the building.

The hospital complex with the circular cross bath to the top left of the pic

Great Aunt Norah's necklace

From her bedroom window I could look down into the small thermal Cross Bath and watch the bathers through the steamy waters, although sadly in the late 70’s after a bather contracted meningitis the baths were closed (it was never proven that he contracted it in the baths) and left to become derelict.  Now, of course, the baths have been re-opened and are a great place to go for a relaxing treat.  We have visited the main Thermae Spa on a few occasions and it is a wonderful place to relax in the warm open air waters on a cold night.
Her flat was on the top floor, about four windows along from the left

The good doctor continued to visit Norah right up until she died in her early eighties and when I go to Bath now I still go and have a little wander through the courtyard at the hospital.  If you are ever in Bath , do go and visit – it is a truly peaceful place right in the heart of the city, just opposite the main Thermae Spa building.
The Courtyard


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Marina:
This is an absolutely fascinating and delightfully written post which we have enjoyed very much indeed.

We have a niece who also practises as a doctor in Bath as it happens and so we do find ourselves there on occasion. However, we have never visited St. John's Hospital but we shall make a point of doing so next time we are there.

As for Babycham, well, to put no finer point on it, we always considered it to be a rather nasty drink. But, the history of its production was of great interest. We had no idea that the fawn changed its colours over the decades!

Liz said...

What a lovely story - such great memories! I used to quite enjoy the odd glass of babycham!

Susy said...

What a beautiful story, very charming,
if you think of Bath, a beautiful town
I've been there twice!
Thank you, Susy x

mrs cheese said...

What a wonderful story, thank you for
sharing your memories

My Spotty Pony said...

A lovely story which I have enjoyed reading and has brought back some treasured memories for me. An elderly nanny who looked after me when I was little always enjoyed a babycham with lemonade.
I have never been to Bath but will certainly seek out the places you mention if I ever visit. Abby

Alix said...

I loved reading your memories of Norah- very evocative. Somehow, it reminded me so much of visiting my great-grandmother when I was young, especially the bit about the bathroom (old ladies' bathrooms are always different!) and the key. Thank you!

julie whitmore said...

Sounds like Norah led a charmed life really, and how fondly you've written of it!