Strictly Jane Austen

Bath in May with Jane Austen

It’s May 1801 and Jane Austen is in Bath staying with her uncle and aunt. Historian, author and Jane Austen aficionado Diana White reveals what our favourite novelist was doing as spring arrived in our beautiful home city.

Jane is just twenty-five, still an attractive young woman and hopeful of romance, and Bath, with its Balls, the Theatre Royal, its promenades and pastry shops, and the extravagant displays and public breakfasts in Sydney Gardens, is a marriage market for the unattached.

Bath Assembly Rooms Assembly Rooms Ballroom Copyright  – Bath Tourism Plus

Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra about her adventures in Bath, and it is these letters that tell us how Jane was spending her time. First on her list is a shopping expedition as she needs a new ball gown. Clothes are very important as they show your status and Bath is a shopaholic’s paradise. Both elegant Milsom Street and Old Bond Street feature in Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (you can still see the pretty curved windows of the original shops and follow in the footsteps of the characters who walked there today), but these are the haunts of the rich; Jane must find a linen draper where Indian muslins and Spitalfields silks can be bought more cheaply for her gown.


Bath city street


May sees the end of the season in Bath, but there is one last Ball in the Assembly Rooms and this is when Society will see Jane in her new gown. How proud her Uncle must have been escorting his niece into the Rooms lit by hundreds of candles in the magnificent crystal chandeliers. People are thronging the Little Octogen greeting each other, and Jane boasts to Cassandra how she correctly identifies the adulteress everyone is talking about! In the Grand Octogen, the whist tables are being set up for the chaperones, and the Tea Room is busy taking orders for refreshments. And when the dancing begins, Jane pins up her train and forgets everything except the pleasure and excitement of being whirled and twirled by her partner, the man who might bring her love.

Jane Austen ball dancing Photo Jane Austen Festival 2013

Why not discover the delights of Bath in May for yourself on one of our Guided Walking Tours. Find out more here