It’s said that Jane fainted at the news they were to leave her beloved Steventon in Hampshire, though her letters at this period of time seem more resigned to her fate. Because Bath was such a distance, the cost of transporting the Austens’ possessions was prohibitive, and many had to be sold or left behind. These included 500 books from their personal library and Jane’s pianoforte. Jane tried her best to be enthusiastic about the move, and in a letter to her sister Cassandra, she wrote:
My mother bargains for having no trouble at all in furnishing our house in Bath - and I have engaged for your willingly undertaking to do it all. I get more and more reconciled to our removal. We have lived long enough in this neighbourhood, the Basingstoke balls are certainly on the decline, there is something interesting in the bustle of going away, and the prospect of spending future summers by the sea or in Wales is very delightful … It must not be generally known, however, that I am sacrificing a great deal in quitting the country - or I can expect to inspire no tenderness, no interest in those we leave behind.
|No 1, The Paragon|
Where would they choose to live in Bath? Jane was afraid Cassandra’s bees might find South Parade too hot. They had relatives living in the city, and at the beginning of May, Jane and Mrs Austen went to stay with the Leigh-Perrots at number one, the Paragon, which they rented. The Paragon is one of the main roads leading into Bath. Today, it is a very busy thoroughfare, but one can still see the house at number 1, where Jane Austen used to visit her aunt and uncle. Later on in 1810, the Leigh-Perrots bought number 50, Great Pulteney Street, and I imagine Jane and her family would have visited them there also.
Jane quickly started her search for a house. The day after her arrival she walked to the Pump Room with her uncle and looked at two houses in Green Park Buildings on the way back. A week later she attended the last ball of the season.
I dressed myself as well as I could, and had all my finery much admired at home. By nine o’clock my uncle, aunt and I entered the rooms and linked Miss Winstone onto us. Before tea it was rather a dull affair; but then before tea did not last long, for there was only one dance, danced by four couple. Think of four couple, surrounded by about an hundred people, dancing in the Upper Rooms at Bath!
|A beautiful chandelier at the Assembly Rooms|
The Assembly Rooms can still be visited today, and house the delightful Fashion Museum, where they have many examples of Georgian and Regency era gowns, frock coats, fans and shoes. To wander through the ballroom with its glittering chandeliers is to feel almost as if you have gone back in time. The Octagon Room and the Tea Room that Jane mentions in her novels can still be seen, and it’s easy to imagine the scenes from Northanger Abbey and Persuasion that take place in this beautiful building.
‘… I really believe I shall always be talking of Bath, when I am at home again - I do like it so very much. If I could but have Papa and Mamma, and the rest of them here, I suppose I should be too happy! James’s coming (my eldest brother) is quite delightful - and especially as it turns out that the very family we are just got so intimate with are his intimate friends already. Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?’
Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey
The Octagon Room makes several appearances in the novels as a meeting place. If you get the chance to visit it today, you can see the fires Jane Austen mentions, and the rococo looking glasses above the mantelpieces reflecting the paintings and chandeliers. This is one of my favourite scenes in Persuasion after Captain Wentworth has declared his love for Anne.
Their first meeting in Milsom Street afforded much to be said, but the concert still more. That evening seemed to be made up of exquisite moments. The moment of her stepping forward in the Octagon Room to speak to him: the moment of Mr. Elliot’s appearing and tearing her away, and one or two subsequent moments, marked by returning hope or increasing despondence, were dwelt on with energy.
|No 4 Sydney Place, Bath|
The Assembly Rooms, the Pump Rooms and the Royal Crescent are just three of the locations used in the filming of the adaptations of Persausion and Northanger Abbey, so even if you can’t get to Bath you can see many locations that Jane Austen would have known.
The search for a house continued. Jane wrote to Cassandra that the houses in the streets near Laura Place were above their price. If you recall, Lady Dalrymple takes a house for three months in Laura Place, and thereby gives us a clue to the type of people who lived in the area. Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey stays with the Allens on Great Pulteney Street, still a smart address and just a short distance from Laura Place.
It was at the very end of Great Pulteney Street in Sydney Terrace, facing Sydney Gardens that the Austen family eventually took a house, renting it from the end of May, 1801 - Number Four, Sydney Place. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the house several times, and although it’s lovely, it’s impossible not to think about how different Jane’s life must have been, living in a smaller property without the land they were used to enjoying. The garden in Bath is very small, and though Sydney Gardens was over the road, and countryside on their doorstep, it would not have been the same as the Hampshire landscape she loved.
Sydney Gardens have changed since Jane Austen’s day, though it’s still possible to walk in the grounds and visit the Holburne Museum. Known as pleasure gardens then, they featured such delights as bowling greens, a Labyrinth or maze, “small, delightful groves”, waterfalls, pavilions and Merlin's Swing, which stood at the heart of the Labyrinth - a revolving swing wheel from where the “lost” could be watched in the maze below. There were alcoves to enjoy tea, castle ruins, a millhouse and wheel, a hermit’s cot and a Grotto with an underground passage leading to the centre of the Labyrinth. The New Bath Guide in 1801 describes some of the walks - “serpentine walks, which at every turn meet with sweet shady bowers furnished with handsome seats, some canopied by Nature, others by Art.” A Ride provided “a healthy and fashionable airing for Gentlemen and Ladies on horseback free from the inconvenience of dirt in winter and dust in summer and not in commoded by carriages of any kind.”
|Sydney Gardens, Bath|
Pleasure gardens developed naturally from the custom of promenading, and in Bath the concept was taken a step further with Sydney Gardens when the traditional promenading area was combined with a scheme of houses so that the owners could look upon green spaces as if they owned the land. Thomas Baldwin, the architect to the Pulteney family who owned the estate drew up the first plans, but only one of his terraces was completed before financial problems hit in 1793. Great Pulteney Street was completed, as were the houses in Sydney Place. Bath stopped at this point, the countryside stretched beyond, and a ten minute walk took you into town, much as it does today. You can see why the Austens would have chosen this end of the city. They were country people at heart, and Jane wrote of walking in the gardens and visiting the Labyrinth, every day.
Constance Hill wrote about the interior of number 4, Sydney Place a hundred years after Jane had left.
We sat in the pretty drawing-room with its three tall windows overlooking the Gardens. The morning sun was streaming in at these windows and falling upon the quaint empire furniture which pleasantly suggests the Austen's sojourn there. The house is roomy and commodious. Beneath the drawing-room, which is on the first floor, are the dining-room and arched hall from which a passage leads to a garden at the back of the house. The large old-fashioned kitchen, with its shining copper pans and its dresser laden with fine old china, looked as if it had remained untouched since the Austens’ day.
|Holburne Museum, Sydney Gardens, Bath|
A silver token was issued to each shareholder as a free pass into the pleasure garden; the coin featured an image of what we know as the Holburne Museum today. Back then the museum was a hotel and tavern at various different stages, and sitting at the end of Great Pulteney Street, makes a fabulous focal point at the end of this classically inspired vista. The museum has recently undergone extensive re-modelling, and the new exhibitions inside are wonderful. There is a lovely café at the back where you can enjoy some refreshment, inside and out, and you can get a sense of what it must have been like to attend “public breakfasts” in Jane Austen’s day.
Sydney Gardens opened in May 1795 with the Tavern building known as Sydney House nearest to the city, containing dining rooms and meeting rooms. There were two wings on both sides of dining cubicles, an orchestra, and a space for fireworks. There was a main, wide walk, and narrower pathways leading off into shrubberies and winding walks.
The gala Jane Austen attended on 4th June 1799 was spoilt by rain, so she went to the repeat performance two weeks later. She enjoyed the fireworks and illuminations, but not the music, which she avoided by not arriving until nine o’clock.
|Pump Rooms, Bath|
When Jane came to live in Bath, it was no longer as fashionable as it had been. The Prince Regent’s enthusiasm for Brighton meant the fashionable set frequented the seaside town instead. Bath was becoming a health resort, rather than a pleasure resort. It was fast becoming a place where people retired, making it a very suitable town for a clergyman, his wife and daughters.
Bath takes its name from a bathing place fed by the hot springs, which still bubble up from the ground beneath the modern Pump Rooms. Legend says the discovery that water from Sul’s spring had healing properties was made about 500 BC by Prince Bladud, who was banished from court for being a leper. Farmers in the Avon valley took pity on him and gave him work as a swineherd. One day he noticed that some of his pigs wallowing in the hot mud around the spring were cured of their skin disease. When he also bathed in the waters he was cured too.
The Romans came later following the invasion by the armies of Emperor Claudius in AD 43. The city was not large, but the three great plunge and swimming baths took up a large part of it. The largest, which can still be seen today, was originally open to the air with alcoved colonnades, but later roofed over.
A museum dedicated to Roman history in Bath attracts many visitors each year, but, Jane Austen knew almost nothing of the extent of the Roman city; it had lain buried for more than a thousand years. Workmen digging a sewer in Stall Street in 1727 had discovered the head of the statue of Sul-Minerva, but the great Roman Bath wasn’t discovered until 1878, long after Jane Austen’s death in 1817.
|Tompian Clock, Pump Rooms|
Richard Nash, or Beau Nash as he became known, made Bath synonymous with good taste and high fashion at the beginning of the 1700s, and fashionable society came to take the healing waters and attend the balls and assemblies that he organised. He ensured the roads were kept in good order, the streets paved and provided with lamps. He issued licences to sedan chair carriers, and controlled their prices. He forbade the wearing of swords inside the city, banned riding boots from ballrooms and prohibited smoking in the public rooms. He encouraged the building of the Assembly Rooms and engaged an orchestra. There is a statue of Beau Nash, which can still be seen in the Pump Rooms today, along with the Tompian clock Jane Austen mentions in Northanger Abbey.
“What a delightful place Bath is,” said Mrs. Allen as they sat down near the great clock, after parading the room till they were tired; “and how pleasant it would be if we had any acquaintance here.”
|Prior Park, Bath|
Richard Allen was responsible for developing the nationwide postal routes, making himself a fortune in the process. He built his mansion, Prior Park, now a school, though the National Trust now owns its landscaped grounds, and can be visited today. The house was built in the Palladian style, which was greatly enhanced by the beauty of the Bath stone, and the Palladian bridge is a wondrous sight, complete with Georgian graffiti. The architect was John Wood, who had been in Bath since 1727. With his son, they were responsible for Bath’s classical appearance, the first major project being Queen Square. You may recall the Musgrove sisters talking about Queen Square in Persuasion.
“I hope we shall be in Bath in the winter; but remember, papa, if we do go, we must be in a good situation: none of your Queen-squares for us!”
By the time Persuasion was written, Queen Square was not very fashionable, although Jane Austen had stayed there earlier and wrote the following extracts to her sister from number 13, Queen Square, on Friday May 17, 1799. She was 23 years of age and had come to Bath with her mother and her brother Edward and his wife. It is a moment’s walk from the shops in Milsom Street and very handy for the Pump Rooms and Baths. Edward was there to try the waters for his health. This is what Jane had to say about their lodgings.
We are exceedingly pleased with the house; the rooms are quite as large as we expected. Mrs. Bromley is a fat woman in mourning, and a little black kitten runs about the staircase. Elizabeth has the apartment within the drawing-room; she wanted my mother to have it, but as there was no bed in the inner one, and the stairs are so much easier of ascent, or my mother so much stronger than in Paragon as not to regard the double flight, it is settled for us to be above, where we have two very nice-sized rooms, with dirty quilts and everything comfortable. I have the outward and larger apartment, as I ought to have; which is quite as large as our bedroom at home, and my mother's is not materially less. The beds are both as large as any at Steventon, and I have a very nice chest of drawers and a closet full of shelves -- so full indeed that there is nothing else in it, and it should therefore be called a cupboard rather than a closet, I suppose. I like our situation very much; it is far more cheerful than Paragon, and the prospect from the drawing-room window, at which I now write, is rather picturesque, as it commands a perspective view of the left side of Brock Street, broken by three Lombardy poplars in the garden of the last house in Queen's Parade.
John Wood’s masterpiece, the Circus, was not started until 1754, the year he died, and was completed by his son, also called John, who continued to build such devolpments as the Royal Crescent and the Assembly Rooms.
If you visit Queen Square, it’s still possible to see number 13, now a solicitor’s office from the outside, and if you then take a walk up Gay Street, where Jane also lodged the Crofts in Persuasion, you’ll pass the Jane Austen Centre and number 25 where Jane also lived for a while after her father’s death. At the top of Gay Street, the vista opens up to the view of the Circus, and from there you can stroll one way to the Royal Crescent or along Bennett Street to the Assembly Rooms, thus taking in many scenes Jane would have known very well. While you’re up on the Royal Crescent, I would recommend going to see No. 1, a lovely example of a Georgian house, furnished in the style of the day, which is always interesting to visit, and often has exhibitions.
|Pulteney Bridge, Bath|
In 1771, Pulteney Bridge was built to the design of Robert Adam, to link the city with the new suburb of Bathwick across the river, where Sydney Gardens was laid out in 1795. Pulteney Bridge today is a place where people stop and gaze at the river below, and like the Rialto in Venice, has its own shops. The river snakes below, offering boat trips and walks along its serpentine edge in either direction. If you follow the river away from the weir, you can walk to Widcombe, or take a boat trip up to Bathampton and return by foot along the Kennet and Avon Canal, until you come back to a white gate in Sydney Gardens - all locations Jane would have known well.
In 1804, the Austens moved to 27 Green Park Buildings, though the houses seen in that location today are not the original buildings. Mr Austen had not been well, and the move meant they were closer to the Pump Rooms. Sadly, he died a little later on 19 January, 1805, and with his death their finances were greatly depleted. To supplement their income they used the interest on the bequest from Tom Fowle left to Cassandra, but Jane had no money of her own. Their brothers made contributions, but a further move was decided, and they went to live at 25 Gay Street, reducing their staff to one maid. Their friend, Martha Lloyd whose mother had recently died came to live with them, staying until she married Jane’s brother Francis in 1828.
The following year they moved to Trim Street, a short cramped cobbled street you can still visit today, until finally in June 1806, they left Bath, travelling first to Clifton near Bristol. It must have been very hard for them all, used as they were to a different style of living, and so very difficult for them all to come to terms with the death of a beloved husband and father.
When Jane moved to Chawton in 1809, she revised her earlier novels, and when writing Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, she must have called on many memories of the past. The tone between the two books is very different. In Northanger Abbey, we see Bath through the eyes of a very young, naïve girl, who is excited to be in a place so different from her country background. In Persuasion, we have the view of a more mature young woman. Nevertheless, for all Anne Elliot’s “very silent, disinclination for Bath” no one can read this book without recalling the romantic scenes between Anne and Captain Wentworth, and the letter written by him is one of the most beloved in literature.
“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
|Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot|
Anne and Frederick start their walk from Union Street, which is still part of the main shopping area in Bath, and they find themselves ascending the streets as he takes her home. It’s worth exploring Belmont and Camden Place, mentioned at this point in Persuasion, though I should warn you the streets are steep and can be a challenge if you’re not an ardent walker.
But, if there is anywhere I would recommend, it’s that you follow Anne and the Captain’s footsteps along the Gravel Walk, which you can find just off Gay Street, and along the shady walk it’s easy to imagine the lovers strolling, arm in arm.
… soon words enough had passed between them to decide their direction towards the comparatively quiet and retired gravel walk, where the power of conversation would make the present hour a blessing indeed, and prepare for it all the immortality which the happiest recollections of their own future lives could bestow. There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their reunion, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting. And there, as they slowly paced the gradual ascent, heedless of every group around them, seeing neither sauntering politicians, bustling house-keepers, flirting girls, nor nurserymaids and children, they could indulge in those retrospections and acknowledgments, and especially in those explanations of what had directly preceded the present moment, which were so poignant and so ceaseless in interest.
|1995 Persuasion Adaptation|
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of the city. The real fun in coming to Bath is that you can walk in Jane Austen’s footsteps, and find the places she writes about in her novels. Remember always to bring a copy of both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion because until you get here, you never quite know just which book you want to read. Arm yourselves with a good street map, and plan your walking campaign, and I promise, you will not be disappointed. Whether in the summer or winter, Bath has much to offer, and you never know, you might just find Catherine Morland or Henry Tilney teasing one another in the Pump Rooms, Anne and her Captain catching sight of one another in the Assembly Rooms, or Jane Austen herself, standing at one of the windows looking out from Sydney Place.