Jane Austen's England - Bath, Wednesday 2008 September 24


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September 24th 2008
Published: June 3rd 2015
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Bath Roman BathsBath Roman BathsBath Roman Baths

Prehistoric site of a healthful spring
Our goal this morning was the free City walking tour, meeting just outside the Pump Room. By 10:30 there were 30-40 people there, and the guides roughly divided us. Deirdre and I were lucky to be in Michael’s group – a man with a clear voice and good sense of humour. We had already made a pact to stay close to the guide so we could hear every word.

He started with stops at each side of the Abbey, although he talked more about the environs than the Abbey. He recommended the Roman Baths as the best value for money in Bath. (Later on, we agreed, even at £10.50 each) As we moved on further, he explained about Georgian or Palladian architecture. He brought forth the importance of John Wood father and son, as architects who designed and built many buildings and streets. He talked very humourously about decades of delays in building the Guildhall (beside the Abbey) which now houses a goods market and public rooms on the upper floors. He talked at length about the architects, and I have since noticed that Bath has great respect for architects, often citing their names on plaques.

We saw many sites famous because of individuals.
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Victorian statues illustrating Roman dignitaries
Beau Nash was the Master of Ceremonies in his heyday; he organized social events and officially introduced strangers to each other in the Pump Room and Assembly Rooms so people could talk to each other and meet prospective spouses. He is commemorated by a plaque on one of his homes, next to the Theatre Royal; he lived a very long life - into his eighties. The Actor David Garrick has a pub named for him, with a large bust above, but Michael wasn’t sure if he had ever acted in the Theatre.

Of course, Jane Austen is the most famous Bath resident, but not in her own times, so there is little to commemorate her. He did point out for me, after being made aware of our interest, the "Gravel Walk" from the dénouement of Persuasion. He did name John Wood the elder as the architect who built it to conveniently connect town with the Royal Crescent. This is a very long, half-lozenge (guide’s word) row of Palladian townhouses. When built they were rented to families who came to Bath for several months to enjoy the entertainment and find spouses. Personal servants came also, and Bath people were hired to do the cooking,
Bath AbbeyBath AbbeyBath Abbey

Imposing centre of the historic city
heavy work, etc. The expansive lawn in front is still a private space for the residents. Privacy is maintained by a fence and a “ha-ha” (ditch and retaining wall not visible from the houses higher on the hill). Originally the “ha-ha” kept the cattle in their field between Bath town and the Crescent. Now the field is public parkland and trees have grown up and obscured the view.

From here we returned to town through the shopping streets of Bond, George and Union and later walked down Cheap, Trim and Stall streets. Many of the streets are mentioned in Persuasion and Northanger Abbey,.

The tour ended late (benefiting us with more information) but still in good time to attend the summer weekly organ recital in the Abbey. We moved right up the centre aisle to the choir stalls so we could really enjoy the intricate architecture. From our seats the pipe organ was very loud on the big notes and very intimate on the higher small notes. Perhaps more than a hundred people attended the concert.

The Abbey took 15 years to build - which I think was fast but the guide thought
Bath Abbey organBath Abbey organBath Abbey organ

Huge sound and delicate notes
was long. The gothic style ceiling was unusual because the top “ribs” were fanned, like a round lady’s fan. At each end of the nave were gigantic stained glass windows. The east window featured many scenes from the life of Christ.

After checking a few places about lunch, I began to look for a telephone booth so I could call home and check about my ticket. What a quest! Everyone uses mobile phones, so there are almost no public phones. We went to the Guildhall market. No public phone, but two vendors got together to decide where was the closest booth. One gave us the somewhat complicated instructions which we followed exactly and came to two phones. One was being used by a young man talking while texting on his mobile. The other booth had a man and woman squished in, and while they talked, they were also smoking and drinking liquor from a bottle! After waiting what seemed ten minutes, and allowing Deidre to shop in Boots, we decided to walk back to our hotel, as the manager had said there was a public phone down the block. We stopped on Pultney Bridge to buy a couple of sausage
Bath Abbey altarBath Abbey altarBath Abbey altar

Intricate stained glass
rolls and failed to see the phone booth. The manager explained where it was again - a plain steel booth down a side road. Deidre went to the room and I went down the road and used my calling card to successfully phone.

After munching sausage rolls and having a quick “cuppa”, we set out again, this time to find the bus station. One of the attractions of Bath, the annual Jane Austen Festival, was disappointing - tickets are expensive and the lecture and workshop topics aren’t very different from our JASNA events. (That perhaps comes from having quite a few JA experts in Alberta.) However, Thursday night there is a play based on Northanger Abbey, and we were advised to take the bus to the (school) theater. So we needed information about the schedule and bus routes. We enjoyed our walk along some of the more commercial streets. At the bus information desk we learned the last bus to the school was 18:14, not too early for a 19:30 play, and we could walk safely down-hill to town in 15-20 minutes at 22:00.

Satisfied, we wandered back up to the Abbey, opting to take the pamphlet-self-guided tour
Bath Abbey naveBath Abbey naveBath Abbey nave

Gothic lightness in stone
for a “donation” of £2.50. We spent all of the 45 minutes that the Abbey remained open. The walls are completely filled with memory plaques.

Particularly intriguing was a modern presentation of drawings and textiles. At various points throughout the church were pairs displayed; one drawn design and one textile worked in a way significant to that location.

This evening we thought we should go to a pub. The Huntsman is old, so in we went. It was also popular, so we went upstairs and found a window seat. Because it was a good deal we had curry again - Chicken Tikka Masala (the great British favourite), Lamb Korma, rice, bad papadoms, indifferent nan and local beer included for £6.95. Enjoyable!

View map of trip.

View video about Palladian architecture.

View video of Bath Abbey.


Additional photos below
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Bath Abbey towerBath Abbey tower
Bath Abbey tower

Depiction of "climbing Jacob's ladder"
Bath Abbey towerBath Abbey tower
Bath Abbey tower

Look way, way up!


6th June 2015

15 years
Boy, I'm with you - I think that was amazingly speedy, given the times. What a fabulous structure!
9th June 2015

15 years
Considering Ken Follett wrote Pillars of the Earth, detailing how long cathedral building can take, the construction of Bath Abbey must represent civic determination.

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