Search This Blog

Monday, 22 September 2014

Jane Austen and Bath I

During the 18th century Bath was one of Britain’s most fashionable resorts, thanks to its health-giving waters. John Wood the elder and his son created elegant streets like the Circus and Royal Crescent, each building faced with the area’s characteristic cream-coloured freestone from Combe Down. By Austen’s day Bath was perhaps no longer quite as fashionable as formerly, but it was still a bustling, thriving spa.  
Paragon, Bath.

Jane Austen’s first stay in Bath is thought to have been in 1797, when she was about 22 years old. A visit to her aunt and uncle, Mr and Mrs Leigh-Perrot, at No 1 Paragon, is mentioned in a letter to her sister Cassandra (17 May 1799), ‘Our first view of Bath has been just as gloomy as it was last November twelvemonth’.
13 Queen's Square, Bath.
On her 1799 visit, she was accompanied by her mother, and her brother Edward and his wife Elizabeth. 

They stayed at 13 Queen Square: ‘We are exceedingly pleased with the house’, Jane continued in her letter, ‘the rooms are quite as large as we expected. Mrs Bromley [presumably the landlady] is a fat woman in mourning, and a little black kitten runs about the staircase...we have two very nice-sized rooms, with dirty quilts and everything comfortable...There was a very long list of arrivals here in the newspaper yesterday, so we need not immediately dread absolute solitude; and there is a public breakfast in Sydney Gardens each morning, so we shall not be wholly starved...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 of Queen’s Parade ’.
Brock St, Bath.

Jane may well have had this stay in mind, and was probably smiling to herself, when she added a little family in-joke to Persuasion (written during 1815–1816). 
The young Musgrove ladies tell Anne Elliot and their parents: ‘We 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!’
Illustration from the author’s collection: Fashionable eighteenth century folk on the Parade in Bath. Engraving by E Gascoine, from a drawing by Hugh Thomson, English Illustrated Magazine 1883–4, (Macmillan, New York, 1884).
Photos © Sue Wilkes.


  1. What I always have a chuckle about Sue when I go to Bath are the two sides to to Bath, literally. John Woods Royal Crescent for instance is a beautiful sweeping elegant repeated design frontage. If you walk around behind the crescent it is all higgledy piggledy. Not one back is the same. John Wood sold the fronts of houses with the land behind left to be developed by the purchaser. I think the Circus was developed in a similar way and other Bath streets too.

  2. That's very interesting, Tony. I love exploring Bath and would love to visit again!