A Georgian Springtime

 

“Your lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. I had a pleasant walk in Kensington Gardens on Sunday with Henry and Mr Tilson - everything was fresh and beautiful, ” wrote Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra in April 1811.  After a long winter, Jane was clearly enjoying the warmer weather and new growth of springtime.

Lilac tree

In Georgian times, as is true today, spring also marked a time of much bigger changes. In Sense and Sensibility, having moved into her new cottage, Mrs Dashwood optimistically declares, “perhaps in the spring, if I have plenty of money, as I dare say I shall, we may think about building.” On a practical level, it was a time for the lady of the house to air out the rooms, check houseware itineraries and address any staffing needs for the busy season ahead.

For the highest levels of society (commonly known as ‘the ton’ during the Regency period), February marked the beginning of one of the most important times of year, both politically and personally. The London season ran in line with the opening of the new parliamentary session until its June recess. The aristocracy were entertained with balls, galas, races and the theatre. 

Jane Austen dance

 

Most crucially, the season served to further the ‘marriage market’ for eligible young females central to the plot of Austen’s novels. Debutantes, dressed in their finest and educated in accomplishments such as dancing and playing the piano forte, were presented to society and the expectation was that they should find a husband with suitable wealth and status. For many of these debutantes, success was nothing short of a necessity. It is entirely appropriate therefore that in Persuasion, Captain Wentworth makes his second proposal to Anne Elliot in late February. Spring, a time of change, but also of renewal, lies ahead for them both. 

We hope you too will enjoy the promise of this season in the warmer weeks ahead.

 

Jane Austen Bath

 

Our new Jane Austen’s Bath programme features a specialist talk from local historian Diana White, author of ‘Jane Austen: The Life and Times of the Woman behind the Books’. We asked her to talk to us about some of the themes she will explore.

ECT: How did Jane’s view of her world affect her writing?

DW: Jane Austen was an early feminist and, right from the start, her writing expressed her views about the status of women as third class citizens. Very pertinent to the fact that she began to write more seriously was her decision to turn down a proposal of marriage from Harris Bigg Wither, despite the security that would have brought. It wasn’t easy being a single woman at that time, but she didn't love him and didn't want to risk not being able to write as his wife.

ECT: When did your interest in Jane Austen begin?

DW: When I first came to Bath 30 years ago. I joined a Jane Austen group and took up Regency dancing, which I went on teach myself for many years. (I only gave up when my knees gave out!) 

ECT: You’ve also been a Mayor's Guide for Bath for many years – do you think Jane would still recognise the city today?

DW: Yes, I think so. Despite the many changes, it is still possible to follow in her footsteps, and those of characters from Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, the two novels she based here.

The Circus Bath

Image courtesy Visit Bath

 

ECT:  So, what are your top three sites for conjuring the spirit of Jane Austen?

DW:  Milsom Street, the fashionable shopping street prominent in both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, The Pump Rooms and, of course the Assembly Rooms. Jane’s uncle was a wealthy man and was a subscriber to the Tontine (an investment plan for raising capital, devised in the 17th century) that funded the building of the Upper Rooms, Regency Bath’s most elegant meeting place. Jane and her characters often gathered here for evening balls, concerts and other social functions.

Assembly Rooms

Image courtesy Jane Austen Festival

 

Find out more about our Discover Jane Austen’s Bath with Diana White programme here

A Georgian Christmas

 

 "I sincerely hope your Christmas...may abound in the gaieties which the season generally brings," writes Caroline to Jane in Pride and Prejudice. In the early 1800s, those 'gaieties' included splendid dining parties, yuletide balls and a variety of parlour games.

The Christmas day feast was a high point with goose, rather than turkey, the typical poultry of choice. Bakeries would roast birds for people who lacked a sizable oven to collect on their way home from church. Another fashionable choice was Wassail, a bowl of spiced punch prepared from sweetened or spiced wine or brandy, which was passed along the table and sipped from in turn.

Georgian Christmas Meal

Some parlour games included children, as when Fanny Austen played ‘Pass the Slipper’ at a Twelfth Night Ball. Sitting in a circle, they passed - or pretended to pass - the slipper in secret under their knees whilst a child on the outside tried to work out who had it. For adults, country dances and card games like cribbage were particularly popular in the long winter evenings.

Georgian festive ball

Christmas trees may not have appeared in British homes until the Victorian era, but the Georgians were great decorators. By the late 18th century, kissing boughs and balls made from holly, ivy, mistletoe and rosemary, and decorated with spices, oranges, candles or ribbons, were very popular, but the centre piece was a blazing Yule log. Chosen on Christmas Eve, this large lump of wood was wrapped in hazel twigs then dragged home to the fireplace where - if the householders were lucky - it burned merrily until Twelfth Night.  

fireplace

Today, Yule logs are more often made of chocolate than wood and trees wrapped in flashing lights tend to take centre stage, but Christmas is still a time of feasting and celebration when, as Emma's Mr Elton observes, "everyone invites their friends...and people think little of even the worst weather."  

Happy Christmas!

Seasonal Inspiration

Jane Austen loved autumn walks in the Hampshire countryside, often covering five miles a day so, as the leaves turn from orange to yellow, our guest blogger Christine Hughes has been looking at how this most mellow of seasons inspired our favourite author.

 

autumn leaves

In Persuasion, which begins in the autumn, Austen uses the imagery of the waning year as a means for Anne to reflect poignantly on missed chances with the man she loves, as well as her faded youth when compared to the young woman in her bloom who is the clear object of his affection.

“The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together blessed her memory.”

However, she is ultimately given unexpected hope by embracing the beauty of her present surroundings. 

“[Anne’s] pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn--that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness--that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.” 

George Shephard Regency Landscape

 

A Regency landscape in Autumn, by George Shephard

Jane Austen demonstrates how Autumn endures in our imagination as a time of beauty and profound reflection. Meanwhile, there is still time to enjoy the glorious foliage to be found when out and about and, as several wealthy Georgians did, perhaps indulge in some hot drinking chocolate after a brisk walk.  

Seaside

 

As summer comes to an end, English teacher and Jane Austen expert Christine Hughes extols the pleasures of the seaside, Georgian style

 

Bathing Machine

Sea Bathing by Thomas Rowlandson, an 1813 work from this collection Poetical Sketches of Scarborough

 

In 1789 King George III undertook a prolonged stay at Weymouth as an attempt to restore his health after a serious illness. With his son the Prince of Wales simultaneously establishing his patronage at Brighton, it is no surprise that by the late eighteenth century sea bathing at a seaside resort had become a genteel and popular pastime. 

Jane Austen, like other members of the Georgian gentry, visited the seaside in search of similar health benefits to those that had long been promoted at spa towns such as Bath. New and novel treatments were also proclaimed by medical experts such as Dr Richard Russell, whose seminal work Use of Seawater in the Diseases of the Glands, was published in 1752. In  Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon, set in a fictional Sussex fishing village, the character Mr Parker shows how other coastal places were quick to capitalise on the trend, declaring that “this young and rising Bathing-place, [is] certainly the favourite spot of all that are to be found along the coast of Sussex.”

Bathing machines were a common site along the newly fashionable beaches. Tobias Smolett’s epistolary novel Humphry Clinker (1771) contains the following, vivid, description.

“Betwixt the well and the harbour, the bathing machines are ranged along the beach, with all their proper utensils and attendants. You have never seen one of these machines—image to yourself a small, snug, wooden chamber, fixed upon a wheel-carriage, having a door at each end, and on each side a little window above, a bench below—

The bather, ascending into this apartment by wooden steps, shuts himself in, and begins to undress, while the attendant yokes a horse to the end next [to] the sea, and draws the carriage forwards, till the surface of the water is on a level with the floor of the dressing-room, then he moves and fixes the horse to the other end—The person within being stripped, opens the door to the sea-ward, where he finds the guide ready, and plunges headlong into the water—

After having bathed, he re-ascends into the apartment, by the steps which had been shifted for that purpose, and puts on his clothes at his leisure, while the carriage is drawn back again upon the dry land; so that he has nothing further to do, but to open the door, and come down as he went up—Should he be so weak or ill as to require a servant to put off and on his clothes, there is room enough in the apartment for half a dozen people.”

As time went on, the Georgians increasingly came to value seaside resorts for their beauty and freedom, rather than for the sea’s healing powers. Describing the Dorset resort of Lyme Regis in Persuasion, Austen writes “the scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more, its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands, make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation.”  “These places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood,” she says later.

 

Lyme Regis

A print showing a view of Lyme Regis from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places, John Feltham, 1803

 

That there is a timeless value in revisiting favourite places and contemplating the view is a something we can still learn from the Georgians.

Journeying with Jane

 

Summer is one of the busiest times of year for travelling, both at home and further abroad. As Jane Austen and her fellow Georgians show, going on a journey has always involved untold delights, undoubted discomforts and, ultimately, the importance of self-discovery. 

English teacher and Georgian history expert Christine Hughes tells us more.

 

“We were jolted so Cursedly, that I thought it would have made a dislocation of my Bones”, complained author Edward Ward after a visit to Bath in 1700, adding “nor would I advise [many] to Adventure the Fatigue of a Coach to the Bath.”

Georgian coach

A satirical image showing the typical chaos of travel with Thomas Rowlandson’s bawdy humour, 24th November 1785

 

Yet, despite the clear discomfort of getting to this Somerset city, Bath and other nearby places became more and more popular as travel destinations through the following centuries. A far-reaching and enduring cultural shift was sweeping across England and the continent,  driven in part by the increasing pace of the industrial revolution. As roads and transport improved, a rapidly expanding urban population sought new forms of genteel pleasure and entertainment.  

By Jane Austen’s time, in the early nineteenth century, war on the continent had made domestic excursions and travel even more popular, a trend Austen reflected in her writing. The importance of travel as a theme in her novels is apparent even when the heroine only goes a very short distance. Anne’s first journey in Persuasion, for example, is a very short one from her family’s estate to Uppercross Cottage. But while it is a mere three miles, it is significant and Anne is struck by how, a removal from one set of people to another, though at a distance of only three miles, will often include a total change of conversation, opinion and idea.”

Country inn

 A familiar inn scene implying a long road ahead for departing travels, 1807 Thomas Rowlandson - reproduced print of an original watercolour

 

It is this necessity for a complete change of company and ideas that Austen places at the heart of Elizabeth Bennet’s self-development in her bildungsroman Pride and Prejudice.  

Her exasperating parents are left at home as Elizabeth travels with her aunt and uncle Gardiner to Derbyshire “in pursuit of novelty and amusement.” Ultimately though, she finds more than simple diversions. When she first sees Pemberley, “Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more.” Travelling away from her home enables Elizabeth to know more of herself and Mr Darcy in their unexpected - and now infamous - meeting in the picturesque landscape of his home. 

So significant is the importance of travel, that Austen ends what is possibly her most famous novel by describing how the Darcys always felt the warmest gratitude towards the Gardiners who, “by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.”

To Austen, clearly who you travel with is just as important as where you visit. We will certainly be catching up with friends in our own travels this summer, as well as enjoying the opportunities to make new ones.

 

Watercolour of Bath, 19C

View of Bath, 1776. Watercolour by unknown artist 
 



 

Bath & its Buns

Hot Cross Buns might be trending but here in Bath, buns are a year-round favourite.

Buns

The original Bath bun is not in fact the Bath Bun, but the curiously-named Sally Lunn. Legend has it that this large, light and yeasty delicacy arrived in our Somerset city courtesy of a young Huguenot refugee called Solange Luyon. Solange came to Bath in 1680 and found work in a bakery kitchen where she began to make a version of the rich Festival breads she had enjoyed in France. Part bun, part bread, part cake (and really rather similar to the brioche we know today), her creation went down so well with her colleagues that they named it after her – or after the English version of her name they’d given her. News travelled fast around the streets of Bath and before long the Sally Lunn was a regular feature at the city’s most fashionable breakfast parties where they were eaten hot, split open and liberally spread with melted butter.

Bath bun

So what of the Bath Bun? Smaller and sweeter than the Sally Lunn, it is believed to have been created in the early 18th Century by one Dr William Oliver as a treat for his patients. (Incidentally, his patient's astonishing appetite for these buns lead the doctor to come up with yet another Bath bakery treat, the plain - but delicious - Bath Oliver biscuit.)

We will be eating all of the above this weekend, safe in the knowledge that Jane Austen was so partial to the city’s buns that she once wrote of ‘disordering my stomach with Bath bunns’.

Happy Easter.

Who can ever tired of Bath?

 

“Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?”  wrote Jane Austen in her novel Northanger Abbey.  

I am a radio editor from Vienna and I´m currently working on a documentary on Jane Austen and her novel Pride and Prejudice for the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF). Although Jane Austen´s famous novel isn’t set in Bath, I really wanted to visit the town she lived in from 1801 to 1806 because I believe that her experiences in Bath made a great impact on the writing of her future novels. So, thanks to ECT Travel and their Strictly Jane Austen Tours, I got the opportunity to learn more about Jane Austen´s time in Bath.

Royal Crescent Bath

My tour guide was Adge Secker, a former policemen who is very knowledgeable in everything regarding Bath and the 19th century novelist. His enthusiasm was contagious and I had a great time walking with him in the footsteps of Jane Austen. We went along the grand Great Pultney Street to 4 Sidney Place, one of Jane’s former residencies, enjoyed Sidney Gardens as she once did, strolled through the city center where Adge showed me, among other things, The Assembly Rooms (where Jane herself went to dance and also used as a setting in Northanger Abbey), The Circus, The Royal Cresent and The Pump Rooms.

$ Sydney Place

Assembly Rooms

Apart from Jane Austen, Adge also told me a lot about the ancient origins of Bath, its architecture and, of course, the famous Roman Baths. Our tour lasted about three hours and Jane was quite right, you never do get tired of the beautiful city of Bath!

Sydney gardens

Julia's programme will be aired on May 26th and May 28th 2019. Click here to book your own Bath walking tour.

Strictly Jane Austen Tours

Step back into Regency England with Strictly Jane Austen Tours. Our unique and immersive tours have been designed to give you a real taste of Jane Austen’s world and provide fascinating facts about one of England’s most famous and respected authors. Based in Bath, the city Jane made her home and where she set two of her novels, we are perfectly placed to create evocative tours featuring special Regency experiences, expert talks and private visits to key sites. 

 

Strictly Jane Austen  2018 Tours link to One Day Tours