‘No place in England, in a full season, affords so brilliant a circle of polite company as Bath. The young, the old, the grave, the gay, the infirm, and the healthy, all resort to this place of amusement. Ceremony beyond the essential rules of politeness is totally exploded; everyone mixes in the Rooms upon an equality; and the entertainments are so widely regulated, that although there is never a cessation of them, neither is there a lassitude from bad hours, or from an excess of dissipation. The constant rambling about of the younger part of the company is very enlivening and cheerful. In the morning the rendezvous is at the Pump-Room; from that time ’till noon in walking on the Parades, or in the different quarters of the town, visiting the shops, etc; thence to the Pump-Room again and after a fresh strole, to dinner; and from dinner to the Theatre (which is celebrated for an excellent company of comedians) or the Rooms, where dancing, or the card-table, concludes the evening.’
Christopher Anstey, The New Bath Guide, or, Useful Pocket Companion, 1799
The Pump Room
Neighbouring the Roman Baths, The Pump Room is named after the water pumped into the room from the baths’ hot springs. Its creation began in 1789, and although the Romans bathed in the city’s water, Georgian England took to ‘taking'(drinking) the waters to remedy ill-health. As you enter, you encounter tall, Corinthian columns, glittering chandeliers and magnificent paintings bedecking each wall. We even had the pleasure of experiencing a pianist playing during our time there – a true delight!
The Pump Room in Austen:
‘With more than usual eagerness did Catherine hasten to the Pump-room the next day, secure within herself of seeing Mr Tilney there before the morning was over and ready to meet him with a smile; – but no smile was demanded – Mr Tilney did not appear. Every creature in Bath, except himself, was to be seen in the room at different periods of the fashionable hours; crowds of people were every moment passing in and out, up the steps and down; people whom nobody cared about and nobody wanted to see; and he only was absent. “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.’
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey Chapter IV
The Assembly Rooms
The Assembly Rooms were designed by John Wood the centre for fashionable Georgian society in Bath, once depicted as ‘the most noble and elegant of any in the kingdom…’, visitors would engage in public events and balls. The Assembly became a crucial part of the season in Bath, where mothers would present their daughters to the world, hoping to assure a marriage alliance.
The Assembly Rooms in Austen:
‘Mrs Allen was so long in dressing, that they did not enter the ball-room till late. The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. As for Mr Allen, he repaired directly to the card room and left them to enjoy a mob by themselves.’
‘Sir Walter, his two daughters, and Mrs Clay were the earliest of all their party at the rooms in the evening; and as Lady Dalrymple must be waited for, they took their station by one of the fires in the Octagon Room.’
The Sydney Gardens
Pleasure Gardens became a significant part of social interaction in the 18th century – they were public gardens which were opened primarily for public entertainment and were often the place where concert halls, bandstands, amusement rides took place. The Sydney Gardens were laid out in 1790 by Thomas Baldwin and were an enticing place of public display and grandeur.
The Sydney Gardens (Pleasure Gardens) in Austen:
‘I join with you in wishing for the environs of Laura Place, but do not venture to expect it. My mother hankers after the Square dreadfully, and it is but natural to suppose that my uncle will take her part. It would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens; we might go into the labyrinth every day. ‘
Jane Austen to Cassandra Wednesday, January 21, 1801
No. 4 Sydney Place
You can still visit Austen’s first home in Bath, No.4 Sydney
Place. It is just opposite the infamous Sydney Gardens which Austen writes of
with such excitement within one of her letters to Cassandra.
‘It would be very pleasant to be near Sidney Gardens! We might go into the Labyrinth every day.’
Jane’s letter, January 21, 1801
The Royal Crescent and the Circus
The Royal Crescent stands as an elegant row of 30 terraced houses, fashioned in an elegant crescent shape. Not too far away is the historic Circus, which follows a similar design but appears circular in shape. Both architectural creations were designed by the Wood family, with the Crescent constructed between 1767 and 1774 and the Circus from 1754-1768. Both structures represent the epitome of Georgian architecture, with cascading columns and Romanesque structures.
‘Nothing can exceed incorrectness of architecture and elegance of design the houses surrounding this area’
A Picturesque Guide to Bath 1793
Following the passing of Mr Austen, the Austen’s (with a family income which was significantly reduced), moved to No. 25 Gay Street, which is now home to the Austen Centre.
I was so enamoured with Bath during my first trip in July, and I thought I would share with you some of my favourite spots…
Housed inside the infamous Assembly Rooms, Bath’s fashion museum showcases an array of historic, 18-19th century clothing, up to contemporary pieces from Dior and Giambattista Valli.
One of the main pieces which caught my attention were garments dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The dresses designed within the 1760-the 1770s were the robe a la francaise and robe à l’anglaise, which were silk open robes which originated as loose negligee gowns with pleats and ruffles – both became a formal dress in the 18th century. Furthermore, within this period fashion and dressing transformed into an essential part of etiquette and enshrined within the lives of the social elite. By the Regency era, this transformed into dresses inspired by the Neoclassical style, with high Empire waists and long skirts often paired with Spencer jackets made of wool or silk (as you may have seen in Emma, 2020)
The Holburne Museum
On our first half-day, we decided to remain closer to the hotel as we were rather exhausted from travelling for most of the day so we decided to visit the Holburne Museum, which we were glad to see was just down the road from our Hotel, near Austen’s home at No.4Sydney Place in the Sydney Pleasure Gardens.
Alongside being the home of Lady Danbury in Bridgerton (2020), the Museum is the home to a collection of decorative arts built around Sir William Holburne. The collection includes works from Gainsborough, Ramsay and Zoffany and I was particularly struck by….
The Jane Austen Centre
Once we had basked in the delights of the Pump Room, my mother and I wandered over to No. 40 Gay St, home to Bath’s Jane Austen Centre. You are greeted at the door by a gentleman clothed in full regency attire and as you step inside, you feel as though you have been transported to the Regency era of Austen’s novels. The Centre has the friendliest staff, all dressed in accurate period clothing and each part of the museum’s experience details how Bath influenced Jane’s life and writing.
Sweet Little Things
Nestled on the corner of the Lower Borough Walls, Sweet Little Things is a darling little bakery and tea-room serving the sweet treats of your dreams! Cascading, delicate pastel blooms adorn the interior & exteriors of the tea shop and as the weather was so warm during our visit, we decided to be seated outside. I ordered their lemon and raspberry cupcake, (with tea of course) and it was a sheer delight.
Fruzsina Vida is the Arts & Culture Editor at The Yorker. If you have any questions or queries, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.