Posts Tagged ‘Regency Bath’

Interested readers, my association with Austenprose’s month-long and comprehensive coverage of Northanger Abbey continues as I visit Beechen Cliff this week. The setting of this site includes some of Catherine Morland’s and Henry Tilney’s most interesting conversations. Here is where Catherine exhibits her wide-eyed naivete towards travel, and her lack of knowledge about art and the picturesque, and where Mr. Tilney’s wit shines:

Henry Tilney, however, is a genuinely witty character. But Jane Austen allows him to flirt with being defined by convention too. When he takes his sister and Catherine for a walk to Beechen Cliff above Bath, he expresses, if he does not actually hold, conventional attitudes toward women, suggesting that they have so much brain power that they seldom use half of it and showing why the narrator cautions a woman in a man’s society, “especially if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing,” to “conceal it as well as she can. – The Invention of Civility in Northanger Abbey, Joseph Wiesenfarth

To illustrate Jane Austen’s words, I will quote only a partial scene from Northanger Abbey, but you can find the entire conversation on The Republic of Pemberley.

Beechen Cliff Above Queen Square, photo by Rob Hardy

Beechen Cliff Above Queen Square, photo by Rob Hardy

They determined on walking round Beechen Cliff, that noble hill whose beautiful verdure and hanging coppice render it so striking an object from almost every opening in Bath.

“I never look at it,” said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, “without thinking of the south of France.”

“You have been abroad then?” said Henry, a little surprised.

“Oh! No, I only mean what I have read about. It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho. – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen, a hardy walker, would have had no hesitation in writing a scene that had her heroine and hero walk from Bath’s center, follow a path along the eastern bank of the Avon River, and take a steep sloped path and a flight of steps (known as Jacob’s Ladder) up to Beechen Cliff, which sits 127 meters above sea level. As Ellen Moody writes on her blog: “Northanger Abbey had not conveyed how steep this hill really was. I had attributed Catherine Morland’s satisfaction on Beechen Cliff almost wholly to the lingering memory of a hard-won battle: to go on this country walk with her real friends she had had to fend off the pressure and deceits practised upon her by a brother and two false friends”

Beechen Cliff in relation to the old center of Bath

Beechen Cliff in relation to the old center of Bath

Click on the images for a clearer view. The area is still mostly an open public space and almost without development. The flat top of the hill is now known as Alexandra Park, a formal park opened in 1902, and the only extant building on the site is Beechen Cliff School.

Beechen Cliff is still wild today

Beechen Cliff is still wild today

Once Henry, Eleanor, and Catherine had attained the Cliff’s heights, they would have been rewarded with a breathtaking view.

It was on Beechen Cliff that Catherine Morland was walking with the Tilneys when Henry discoursed upon the picturesque in Nature – talking of “foregrounds, distances, second distances, side-screens and perspective, lights and shades, and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar, that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape.”- Constance Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, page 120

The slopes to the south and west are much shallower than the north face. One aspect that makes the view from Beechen Cliff so distinctive is the large expanse of uninterrupted sky. This is due to the hill being so high and quite separate from its neighbors.

(Click here to see a spectacular interactive panoramic view of Bath from Beechen Cliff.)

Panoramic view from Beechen Cliff

Panoramic view from Beechen Cliff

“The steep wooded slope of Beechen Cliff includes a number of well used walkways which are one of the main ways of experiencing the area and accessing the viewpoints.” (Land Use and Buildings, Beechen Cliff and Alexandra Park.) A series of wooden steps leads hikers up the wooded, wild garlic scented hill to the breathtaking views on top. One can see from this series of prints how rapidly Bath grew from 1735 (image below) to the early 19th century (2nd image). There are concerns about modern architectural projects that may mar the view in the future, and about the wild, unclipped bushes and trees that are obscuring the panorama today.

Beechen Cliff, 1734

Beechen Cliff, Harvey Wood, 1824

Beechen Cliff, Harvey Wood, 1824

View from Beechen Cliff, 1876

View from Beechen Cliff, 1876

Bath Abbey from Beechen Cliff today

Bath Abbey from Beechen Cliff today

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Lower Assembly Rooms, Bath

Lower Assembly Rooms, Bath

Dear reader, If you will recall in last week’s post about the Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath, poor Catherine Morland had to sit out the dance, having made no acquaintance with any gentleman. Luck was on her side later in the week when she and Mrs. Allen visited the Lower Rooms:

They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck. There was little leisure for speaking while they danced; but when they were seated at tea, she found him as agreeable as she had already given him credit for being. He talked with fluency and spirit – and there was an archness and pleasantry in his manner which interested, though it was hardly understood by her. After chatting some time on such matters as naturally arose from the objects around them, he suddenly addressed her with – “I have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether. I have been very negligent – but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly.” – Chapter 3, Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

South Parade, Thomas malton, 1775

South Parade, Thomas Malton, 1775

The lower rooms, built in 1708, were Located on Terrace Walk near beautiful South Parade off the banks of the Avon River. James King, the Master of Ceremonies who introduced Henry Tilney to Catherine Morland, was an historic figure who actually performed as Master of Ceremonies in the lower rooms from 1785 to 1805. He then became M.C. of the upper rooms, which had recently been built in the newer more fashionable neighborhood uptown near The Circus. The Lower Assembly rooms sat in the older city center lower down, hence the distinction between upper and lower rooms.

The lower rooms were used during the day for promenading and visiting and at night for dancing. Beautiful stone walks and terraces surrounded the building, which encouraged people to gather to see and be seen, and dawdle away a few pleasant hours.

Lower Assembly Rooms at Terrace Walk, Benjamin Morris

Lower Assembly Rooms (right) at Terrace Walk (With Bath Abbey in the distance), Benjamin Morris, late 18th century.

As with my previous posts about Bath in conjuntion with Austenprose’s celebration of Northanger Abbey, I shall feature a series of quotes from original sources that will help to illuminate what Bath, its people, and the Lower Rooms were like during the latter part of the 18th century.

The role of Master of Ceremonies was narrowly defined. He presided over social functions, welcomed newcomers, and enforced an official code of regulations designed to preserve decorum and promote social interaction. For this treason, the Master of Ceremonies was often referred to as the “King,” because his social authority within the city of Bath was regarded as absolute.” Psychosocial Spaces: Verbal and Visual Readings of British Culture, 1750-1820, Steven J. Gores, p 71

Walks and Old Assembly Room, 19th c. copy of an 18th c. painting

Walks and Old Assembly Room, 19th c. copy of a painting

The above image from the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath shows the beautiful Terrace Walk made of bath stone around the lower rooms and the shops that faced the walk. Wiltshire’s Assembly Rooms, the building on the left with the three arched windows, did not survive competition with the Upper Assembly and was demolished.

Constance Hill, Jane Austen’s 19th Century biographer, provides a vivid description of the Lower Rooms in this passage:

Beau Nash in Bath

Beau Nash in Bath

It was at a ball in the Lower Rooms, we remember, that Henry Tilney was first introduced to Catherine Morland, and that when he was “treating his partner to tea,” he laughingly accused her of keeping a journal in which he feared he should make but a poor figure. “Shall I tell you,” he asks, “what you ought to say? I danced with a very agreeable young man introduced by Mr. King; had a great deal of conversation with him; seems a most extraordinary genius.” This Mr. King was, it seems, a real personage. He was Master of the Ceremonies at the Lower Rooms, from the year 1785 to 1805, when he became Master of the Ceremonies for the Upper Rooms. A code of rules compiled by him was used for about thirty years. One of these rules, originally laid down by Beau Nash, forbade gentlemen to wear boots in the rooms of an evening. It is said that when a country squire once attempted to defy [Page 114] this rule, in the days of the King of Bath, Beau Nash asked him why he had not brought his horse into the ball-room, “since the four-footed beast was as well shod as his master.”

The ball-room was used during the daytime as a promenade, for which it was well suited from its size and pleasant situation; its windows commanding extensive views of the Avon winding amidst green meadows and flanked by wooded hills. The accompanying reproduction of an old print taken from a design for a fan, shows the ball-room when used for this purpose. It was the fashion also for the company to invite each other to partake of breakfast at the Lower Rooms after taking their early baths or first glass of water.

It was in the year 1820 that these old Assembly Rooms were burnt to the ground. They had been founded by the great Beau Nash himself, and had flourished for more than a hundred years. Jane Austen:Her Homes and Her Friends, Constance Hill

The Lower Rooms, Bath, from an old print of a fan design

The Lower Rooms, Bath, from an old print of a fan design

The dances called out by the Master of Ceremonies would have been those that were popular during the period, such as the one shown in this YouTube Clip of a dance scene with Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney in the 2007 ITV NA adaptation. Dress balls were offered every Friday in the Lower Rooms, when the Upper Rooms were closed; Fancy balls were scheduled every Tuesday. One of Nash’s edicts, which was still enforced during Jane Austen’s day, was that dancing was to “begin as soon as possible after six o’clock, and finish precisely at eleven, even in the middle of a dance.” (Lane, p 77.)

The dances that were popular at the beginning of the 19th century were those that had been popular at the end of the 18th century; the Minuet, Cotillions, and Country Dances. With the arrival of the waltz in the teens, we see the beginning of the modern ballroom era. Until this time social dances done by couples were done with limited physical contact; the gentleman and lady barely touched hands. The waltz however was done with a couple in a close embrace, the gentleman’s hand around the lady’s waist as they continually spun around the ballroom together. This intimate “waltz position” was initially shocking to a society where close physical contact with a member of the opposite sex, especially in public, was nothing short of scandalous. – From “Elements of the Art of Dancing”, Alexander Strathy, 1822

Bath’s glittering social whirl changed rapidly towards the end of the 18th Century at a time when the cost of the war ground Bath’s expansion to a halt. This Georgian guidebookdescribes Bath at the height of its glory:

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; every one 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)

Detail of a map of Bath, c. 1800

Detail of a map of Bath, c. 1800

In the above map detail, you can see the position of the lower rooms in relation to the upper rooms. As the new century progressed, the middle classes, invalids, and people seeking to retire began to replace the aristocrats who had lent such glitter to the social whirl. Sir Walter Elliot, if you recall, chose to remove his household to Bath where he could still lord it over others as a man of consequence. As an impoverished and lesser peer in London, he would have led a life of relative obscurity, which his enormous ego could not abide. The social changes in Bath, along with new anti-gambling laws and the death of Beau Nash, led to the city’s decline in social caché.

Physical expansion came to an abrupt halt in 1793 with the financial crisis brought on by the war with France. This led directly to several schemes going unfinished, most notably perhaps Great Pulteney Street, the suburbs of which were never built, leaving the main street in relative isolation. When stability returned in the 1820s, building energy was channelled into the newly popular semi-detached villas. The population continued to grow quickly and Bath’s reputation became that of a quiet refined resort, in architecturally excellent surroundings. City of Bath World Heritage Management Plan

Due to Beau Nash’s edicts as social arbiter, Bath was known for its egalitarianism, where classes from the various social orders could mix and mingle. The ambitious Thorpes were particularly aware of this fact, and Isabella and John kept their eyes out for the most likely prospects. Not everyone thought that gentry rubbing shoulders with tradesmen was such a good idea. Matthew Bramble, a late 19th century poet, wrote archly:

Distinction of rank, in a moment is gone,
And all eager for tea, in one mass, now move on;
And Mistress O’Darby the dealer in butter,
Now sweats by the side of the sweet lady Flutter,
Who would certainly faint, but her senses so nice,
Are supported by smelling fat Alderman Spice.”

Miles Breen as James King, Master of Ceremonies in 2007 Northanger Abbey

Miles Breen as James King, Master of Ceremonies in 2007 Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen mentioned James King as Master of Ceremonies in the Lower Assembly Rooms, which forcibly reminds us that Northanger Abbey , while written in 1798 or 1799 (according to Cassandra), was not published until after her death. For full details, read my post: The Long Publishing Journey of Northanger Abbey. In the passage below, noted Jane Austen scholar Deirdre Le Faye points out the changes in Bath between the time when the novel was written and when it was eventually published:

Apart from these two additions, it is clear from the tone of the text that it still dates to the turn of the century. By 1816 ladies had ceased to pile their hair up into huge powdered ‘heads’, muslins were no longer a novelty fabric worthy of discussion, and the Bath assembly rooms were no longer quite so smart – the city had become less of a fashionable holiday resort and marriage-mart, and more of a residential retreat for invalids, elderly spinsters and widows, bachelors and widowers, the atmosphere which Austen creates in Persuasion. James King had retired as Master of Ceremonies in the Lower Rooms in 1805, and it would have been easy enough for Austen to change this name if she were attempting to update the story. Likewise, she mentions ‘Union-passage’ in the centre of Bath, but does not mention the larger Union Street, which opened in 1807. In any case, the novel’s structure could not easily have accommodated any large-scale revisions; Austen pins both her plot and her characters so tightly to parodies of the conduct novel and the gothic romance that to change any of this would require substantial rewriting. It can therefore be assumed that the text as we now have it is substantially as it was in 1803. Northanger Abbey the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen, Jane Austen, Deirdre le Faye, excerpt

During the 18th Century, both the Lower and Upper Assembly rooms were able to attract enough visitors to keep profits healthy for each establishment, but the Lower Assembly rooms were small in comparison to the larger more modern Upper Rooms and situated in an inconvenient part of town. With time they fell into disuse. The competition between the two assembly rooms was not as harmonious as one first supposes. When the Upper Rooms were built, there was an attempt by the Master of Ceremonies who replaced Beau Nash, Captain William Wade, to preserve the order of things and to divide the competing markets. However, the builders of the new assembly rooms saw no need to adhere to an arbitrary set of rules, and they placed the following notice in the Bath Chronicle:

Captain William Wade, Gainsborough

Captain William Wade by Thomas Gainsborough, 1771

They (the Proprietors) beg leave to declare, that as they cannot think it reasonable that they should submit the management of their property and servants to any set of men, much less can they be willing to submit the control of them to an individual. They always have been, and still are willing to allow, to a Master of Ceremonies, every power and authority requisite to preserve and promote order, decorum and regularity at the public amusements held at their rooms; but they must ever think it necessary to determine for themselves, what use shall be made of their property, and what servants shall take care of it. (Bath, 1680-1850, p. 222)

The proprietors of the new assembly rooms then declared that their rooms would be open every evening except Fridays and alternate Sundays. They also announced that a ball would be held every Monday and a concert every Thursday. The small old-fashioned lower rooms simply could not compete. When they burned to the ground in 1820 they were not replaced, and today only a remnant of their former glory remains.

Remains of the lower rooms

Remains of the lower rooms

The Old Assembly Rooms, the scene of Beau Nash’s glory, erected in the half of the last century, were destroyed by fire in 1820, excepting the portico and exterior walls, which now form a part of the Literary Institution. Nash was master of the nearly 50 years from 1710 to 1760. Handbook for Travellers in Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, and Somersetshire, By Edmund Venables, John Murray (Firm), W E Flaherty, 1869.

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Dear Reader: This is the second post in the Bath series for Northanger Abbey, which is being featured this month on Austenprose. My first post about the Pump Room sits here.

Catherine circulating through the crush at the Assembly Rooms

Catherine circulating through the crush at the Assembly Rooms

Mrs. Allen was so long in dressing that they did not enter the ballroom 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. With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protegee, Mrs. Allen made her way through the throng of men by the door, as swiftly as the necessary caution would allow; Catherine, however, kept close at her side, and linked her arm too firmly within her friend’s to be torn asunder by any common effort of a struggling assembly. But to her utter amazement she found that to proceed along the room was by no means the way to disengage themselves from the crowd; it seemed rather to increase as they went on, whereas she had imagined that when once fairly within the door, they should easily find seats and be able to watch the dances with perfect convenience. But this was far from being the case, and though by unwearied diligence they gained even the top of the room, their situation was just the same; they saw nothing of the dancers but the high feathers of some of the ladies. Still they moved on—something better was yet in view; and by a continued exertion of strength and ingenuity they found themselves at last in the passage behind the highest bench. Here there was something less of crowd than below; and hence Miss Morland had a comprehensive view of all the company beneath her, and of all the dangers of her late passage through them. It was a splendid sight, and she began, for the first time that evening, to feel herself at a ball: she longed to dance, but she had not an acquaintance in the room. Mrs. Allen did all that she could do in such a case by saying very placidly, every now and then, “I wish you could dance, my dear—I wish you could get a partner.” For some time her young friend felt obliged to her for these wishes; but they were repeated so often, and proved so totally ineffectual, that Catherine grew tired at last, and would thank her no more. – Chapter 2, Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

Assembly Room near the Circus; You can see the dome of the Octagon Room from the air

Assembly Room near the Circus; You can see the dome of the Octagon Room from the air, near Bennet Street and Saville Row.

Poor Catherine, how frustrated she must have felt decked out in her new finery and forced to watch others dance and enjoy themselves. Etiquette deemed that at a public assembly no young lady could dance with a partner unless they had been properly introduced. Because Mrs. Allen had no acquaintances in Bath, Catherine had to sit on the sidelines. If the ball had been private, she could have danced with any of the gentlemen who solicited her for a set. On another evening, in the Lower Assembly Rooms (located near Bath Abbey), Henry Tilney would arrange for the Master of Ceremonies to formally introduce them. But for now, in the Upper Rooms (which were situated near the Circus),  Catherine would have to remain at her chaperone’s side.



Public assemblies were a way for young couples to meet a potential partner from outside their immediate social circle. One purchased a subscription for a series of balls (which included supper) or for the entire season.

SUBSCRIPTIONS and ADMISSION. Pierce Egan, Walks Through Bath, 1819

“(Dress Balls.)

5. “That a subscription of 1l. 10s. to the Dress Balls shall entitle the subscriber to three tickets every ball-knight; one for the subscriber, not transferable, and two for ladies. These two latter tickets will be transferable, on being endorsed by the subscriber, without which form the bearer will not be admitted. A subscription of 15s. shall entitle the subscriber to one ticket, not transferable.

“(Cotillon Balls.)

6. “That a subscription of 1l. to the Cotillon Balls shall entitle the subscriber to one ticket every ball-night: this ticket not transferable.

7. “That no person whatever be admitted into the Ball-Rooms without a ticket; nor any visitor or stranger, unless he shall previously have inserted his name and place of abode in a book to be kept for that purpose, under the controul of the Master of Ceremonies.

8. “The subscribers are respectfully requested to observe that their subscriptions cease when they leave Bath; and it would be of much public utility, if they would be pleased to give notice at the Rooms of their departure, which would prevent their tickets being improperly used.

The crowds as described by Jane Austen at the Upper Rooms, the newest and largest Assembly Rooms in Bath, were a crush. Balls were held twice a week and attracted from 800 to 1,200 guests at the height of the season, which drew to a close in May. Because the social whirl was so popular in this fashionable spa city, the Upper Rooms and Lower Rooms held dances on different evenings so that visitors would have a chance to attend them every night they were offered.

Dancing in the Upper Rooms, Bath, Rowlandson

The following Rules and Regulations, published by the Master of the Ceremonies, are hung up in the NEW ASSEMBLY ROOMS. Pierce Egan, Walks Through Bath, 1819

The public amusements during the season are as follow:—-

Monday Night……..Dress Ball.

Wednesday Night……..Concert

Thursday Night……..Fancy Ball.

Friday Night……..Card Assembly.

Beau Nash, the arbiter of taste and fashion in the 18th century, was the first Master of Ceremonies to preside over the Assembly Rooms. His rules and regulations allowed for people of different rank and distinction to mingle at the public assemblies. He reprimanded those who invoked social precedence in dance and prevented those who threw private parties and balls from creating an atmosphere of exclusion. By 1819, the city’s reputation as a fashionable resort for the rich had waned, but the city was still a quite popular destination, especially with the rising middle classes.

Upper Assembly Room Entrance

Upper Assembly Room Entrance

The Upper Rooms, designed by John Wood the younger, were opened in 1771. While the exterior was plain, the buildings were beautiful on the inside. Five enormous crystal chandeliers hung over the dancers in the ballroom, casting their golden candle light over the assembly. Tall ceilings provided air circulation and second story windows afforded privacy. Constance Hill writes in Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends:

“Rauzzini” in his tie-wig, conducting his famous band in the musicians’ gallery. We seemed to hear the strains of their music accompanied by the tread of the dancers’ feet. “The Monday dress-ball,” says a contemporary writer, “is devoted to country dances only. At the fancy-ball on Thursday two cotillions are danced, one before and one after tea.” This fancy-ball was not a bal costumé, but simply an occasion on which the stringent rules regulating evening dress were relaxed. “In the height of the season,” continues our author, “there are generally twelve sets, and as the ladies, on this occasion, exert their fancy to the utmost in the display of their shapes and their dress, the spectacle is magnificent.” The ladies, we read, wore comparatively short skirts for the cotillion with their “over-dresses picturesquely looped up.” Does not this remind us of Isabella and Catherine “pinning up each other’s train for the dance”?

Bath’s music culture was quite sophisticated, and many people took music lessons from musicians who lived in Bath or who came to visit:

“Despite a decline since its peak of popularity in the 1790s, the town still remained the wealthiest and most important of England’s resorts, and its musical culture was second only to that of London. The main concert venue was the Upper Rooms (the present Assembly Rooms) in Bennett street, where the veteran castrato Venanzio Rauzzini presided over a series of concerts in which local musicians were joined by leading players and singers from London.”  Samuel Wesley, Philip Olleson, p. 87.

Octagon Room

Octagon Room

As soon as Catherine Morland and the Allens arrived at the Upper Rooms, Mr. Allen excused himself to play cards. Tables were set up in the Card Room. The Octagon Room, a handsome domed room, served as a passageway to the ball-room, the card-room, the tea-room, and the vestibule, through which the assembled company could circulate, flirt, dance, and gossip. The Octagon Room would also serve as a meeting room or music room, as in Persuasion when Lady Dalrymple hosted a concert. (See a site plan of the Assembly Rooms here.)

Dances were proscribed by the master of ceremonies, who presided over the ball and who decided on which dances would be performed and in what order.  A gentleman could not reserve more than two dances with a lady for the evening, and when he did, it was understood that he was interested in her. If a lady reserved more than two dances with a gentleman, she was considered “fast.” As Henry Tilney said to Catherine, men have the power of choice in the Regency ball; ladies have only the power of refusal.(PEERS, Historic Regency Etiquette.)

Today the Assembly Rooms are still available for special occasions. Visitors to Bath can view them (for a cost, of course), and visit the Museum of Costume afterward.

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Image: Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson, Dancing

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In 1900 Jolly and Sons Drapers, of Milsom Street, Bath, published this charming 72-page Handy Guide to The City of Bath, with illustrations. Click on the link to find it in PDF format on the American Libraries Internet Archive. Not only does this guidebook describe the history of Bath and its major institutions, sights, and environs, but you will also be treated to the history of Jolly and Sons Drapers.

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Visitor Books, Pump Room, Northanger Abbey

Visitor's Book, Pump Room

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 were 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

Gentle readers, before you continue please be aware that this post features a series of vignettes and memories from people who wrote their recollections about the historic Pump Room in Bath, so prominently mentioned in Northanger Abbey during Catherine Morland’s visits there with her benefactors, the Allens. In honor of Austenprose’s coverage of Northanger Abbey for the month of October, I have gathered observations about the Pump Room that were placed online from periodicals and journals of Jane Austen’s time. Please enjoy the reviews of Jane’s contemporaries and predecessors:

In 1678 a single woman named Celia Fiennes journeyed to Bath and wrote in her journal:

Promenade in the Pump Room, Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland

Promenade in the Pump Room, Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland

All the baths has the same attendance, the Queen’s bath is bigger than the other three but not a neare so big as the King’s, which do run into each other and is only parted by a wall and at one place a great arch where they run into each other; the Queen’s bath is a degree hotter than the Cross bath, and the King’s bath much hotter; these have all gallery’s round and the pump is in one of these galleryes at the Kings bath which the Company drinks of; its very hot and tastes like the water that boyles eggs, has such a smell, but the nearer the pumpe you drinke it the hotter and less offencive and more spiriteous. (Celia Fiennes (1662-1741), was a grand-daughter of Lord Saye and Sele. It was not unusual for single ladies to travel about the country during the 1600s. Her journal was not published until 1688.)

The Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson, The Pump Room, 1798

The Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson, The Pump Room, 1798

Since Roman times, Bath’s hot mineral springs have pumped a quarter of a million gallons of spring water a day at a steady temperature of 49°c. In 1708, Thomas Harrison built the Bath Assembly House, for which the public paid fees to dance and gamble. During mid-18th to early 19th century, Bath’s population exploded from 2,000 to 38,000, becoming the eighth largest city in England by 1801. Three men – Ralph Allen, post master; John Wood, architect; and Beau Nash, fashion and social arbiter – contributed to this up and coming city’s popularity with the leisure classes. Developer John Wood followed the Palladian concept of the architectural ideal, constructing magnificent squares, parades, and buildings out of softly-hued, beautiful honey-coloured Bath stone. Ralph Allen contributed much of his personal fortune to Bath’s rebuilding, and Beau Nash organized Bath’s social life and balls, bringing in musicians from London, exerting his influence as a dandy, and becoming a leader of fashion. The original Pump Room, erected in 1706, quickly became too small for the increasing numbers of visitors. It was enlarged in 1751, a new portico was added in 1786, and a new frontage was constructed in 1791. Even so, the renovations were inadequate. An entirely new room that was eighty-five feet long, forty-six feet wide, and thirty-four feet high was constructed in 1796.

It was in digging for the foundation of this building that the valuable and interesting remains of the Roman temple of Minerva were discovered. So far did the new buildings surpass those of the old town in architectural beauty that steps were taken in 1789 for modernizing and improving it, and an Act of Parliament was obtained empowering the Corporation to raise the Sum of 80,000 upon their estates and other securities for the purpose of improving the city by the erection of new streets and widening of others. It was under the powers of this Act that the present pump room, Union street, Bath street, and Hot Bath street were erected, Cheap street widened and other improvements effected.The Gentleman’s Magazine

Statue of Beau Nash in the Pump Room

Statue of Beau Nash in the Pump Room

Visitors promenaded up and down the great room, and drank the waters from eight or nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. The main spring that feeds the fountain “is in the centre of the King’s Bath where it is retained in a large leaden cistern at the bottom from which pipes conduct the water used for drinking the principal of which conveys it to the fountain of the pump room and most certainly an uninformed spectator would suppose that the identical liquid was drunk in which the people were bathing.The British Magazine

“In the Pump Room itself, an orchestra played while visitors drank the obligatory quantity of the water. Lydia, in Smollett’s novel Humphrey Clinker, describes the experience: “The noise of the music playing in the gallery, the heat and flavour of such a crowd, and the hum and buzz of their conversation, gave one the headache and vertigo&.” (The gallery in question, reached by a ladder, was semi-circular and contained five musicians led by a trumpeter). The Bath Herald in 1799 was rather more enthusiastic: “The Pump Room Band is one of the oldest and best establishments of this place; it draws visitor and inhabitant to one general place of morning rendezvous, whilst the inspiring melody of the Orchestra spreads a general glow of happiness around. Bath Baroque

Facade of the Pump Room

In 1811 a Canadian visitor visited Bath and described the Pump Room in his journal:

The gentlemen dressed in breeches stockings and cocked hats; the ladies in the most superb manner – pelisses laced with gold cords and Hussars’ hats, having three circles of gold cord round them with two great tassels of gold upon the left side. What is called a reticule, which contains their pocket-handkerchief and work, is hanging by a gold chain to the arm, and is fringed with gold. I went to the Pump Room, which is very large and grand. On one side is the pump, where a woman stands and distributes old King Bladud’s waters to old and young, sick and ill. An old duchess of eighty and a child of four were both drinking the waters while I was there. I had a glass; it is very hot and tastes very mineral. At one end of the room is an orchestra, where bands of music are continually playing. The company at the same time walking up and down in crowds, not minding the music, but buzzing like merchants on ‘change. At the end of each tune they clap their hands and kick up or not for what they don’t know. – The Early Days of the Nineteenth Century in England, 1800-1820 1800-1820. By William Connor Sydney

Pump Room with Chandelier and Music Gallery

Pump Room with Chandelier and Music Gallery

The baths to which the city chiefly owes its celebrity and wealth are five in number: the King’s bath ,the Queen’s bath ,the Hot bath, the Cross bath ,and the Kingston bath, the last of which is the property of Earl Manvers. The others are the exclusive property of the corporation, who retain the management of them and from them and the profits of the Pump room obtain an income of about 1,500 a year. The revenue from the Pump room is derived from subscriptions for drinking the waters. The Pump room is an elegant and spacious hall built in 1797 for a promenade for the company and for drinking the waters it is 85 feet long 48 wide and 34 high the ceiling being supported by elegant Ionic pillars having at the cast end a statue of the celebrated Beau Nash who first officiated as master of the ceremonies. The baths are of course provided with all the appliances which luxury or sensitiveness can desire .The Hot bath derives its name from the superior heat of its waters, which average about 117 of Fahrenheit. The British Gazetteer, Political, Commercial, Ecclesiastical, and Historical Showing the Distances of Each Place from London and Derby-gentlemen’s Seats-populations … &c. Illustrated by a Full Set of County Maps, with All the Railways Accurately Laid Down … By Benjamin Clarke

Pump Room by Palmer

Palmer, Pump Room, 1804

One spring supplies the fountain in the Grand Pump Room, the King’s Public and Private Baths, the large tepid swimming bath, and the New Royal Private Baths adjoining the Pump Room Hotel, and the baths of the Mineral Water Hospital. A continual flow of the mineral water coming straight from the spring is supplied by a fountain in the Grand Pump Room. Formerly the internal treatment was much in vogue and large quantities of the hot water were ordered or taken without orders. At present the amount usually drunk is from four ounces to half a pint twice a day. The Climates and Baths of Great Britain Being the Report of a Committee of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London By Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, Robert Barnes, J. Mitchel Bruce, William Ewart, William Murrell

Entrance to the Pump Room

Entrance to the Pump Room

A year before her death in 1818, Queen Charlotte stayed in a house in Sydney Place.

A house was taken for her at 93 Sydney Place, and lavishly equipped; and a second house at 103 Sydney Place was reserved for her entourage, and for the Duke of Clarence, who arrived in the city on the same day. Bath welcomed the royal party enthusiastically and a contemporary, after describing the decorations, noted that, ‘tho the streets were crowded to an excess, not the least riot or confusion appeared; nor were groups of well-dressed females annoyed in their perambulations by the throwing of squibs or the firing of guns‘.”
Shortly after her arrival, the Queen’s granddaugher died in childbirth. After the funeral, the seventy-three year-old Queen returned to Bath for nearly a month. Queen Charlotte in Bath.

House on Pulteney Street, where Queen Charlotte Stayed

The House Where Queen Charlotte Stayed

“Her Majesty occupied a large house in Sydney Place.  She daily passed in a sedan chair to the Pump Room and graciously as well as gracefully acknowledged the obeisances of those who assembled to behold her.” Historic Houses in Bath, and Their Associations By Robert Edward Myhill Peach.

Taking the waters

Taking warm mineral waters from the King

Bath Timeline (1714-1820)

1738–Start of the construction of The Royal Mineral Water Hospital reflected a new period of faith in the healing properties of the waters. It is also notable as the only building on which the three men most responsible for the construction of Georgian Bath–John Wood the Elder, Beau Nash and Ralph Allen–collaborated. While the beneficial and healing properties of the water have always been acknowledged, modesty and decency have not always been inherent in Bath’s “spa culture.” John Wood the Elder writes at this time: “The Baths were like so many Bear Gardens, and modesty was entirely shut out of them; people of both sexes bathing by day and night naked.”

1777–Hot Bath rebuilt to the design of John Wood the Younger.

1783-98–Cross Bath rebuilt and then enlarged.

1788–New Private baths (now demolished) built between King’s Bath and Stall Street.

1790s–Great Pump Room built. While excavating the foundations for the new Great Pump Room, many of the
first finds relating to the Roman Temple were made.

1798–The publication of “The Comforts of Bath,” a satirical view of life in Bath, reflects the infamous lifestyle of elements of Georgian society. The Pump Rooms and the baths were the center of much revelry throughout this period when Bath became known as the “premier resort of frivolity and Fashion – Bath: A World Heritage Site

2007 Persuasion actors filing into the Pump Room

2007 Persuasion actors filing into the Pump Room, Bath Daily Photo

Pump Room and Roman Baths (blue Circle) and Bath Abbey (Red Rectangle)

Google Map: Pump Room (blue Circle) and Bath Abbey (Red Rectangle)

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