Angela Youngman provides literature lovers with a tour of one of England’s most beautiful cities… If you love Jane Austen and her books, then you just have to visit Bath. The elegant, genteel streets filled with pretty yellow stone buildings still bear a resemblance to the Bath that Jane would have known. Walking the streets and parks, it is very easy to imagine Jane and her characters roaming this same area.
In fact at times, this certainly happens. There is an annual Jane Austen Festival when scenes from her life and books are re-enacted by people dressed in period costume. The sight of ladies dressed in long, muslin Empire line dresses and gentlemen wearing breeches, high collars and waistcoats fit in perfectly with the elegant surroundings.
This is a town that has retained its Georgian charm. There have been no major developments to scar the townscape. Just like Jane, you can walk along the Royal Crescent, stroll round the Circus, shop in the Arcade, or along Milsom Street before hurrying along Gay Street.
It is no surprise that film makers have turned to Bath as a location when filming her novels. For the 2007 film of Persuasion, they used the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Abbey Churchyard, the Grand Parade and Queen Street, as well as turning Bath Street into a period market. Over at the Theatre Royal, coaches were filmed drawing up to the old entrance at the back of the theatre.
Jane first visited Bath in 1799 when she stayed with her brother. Two years later, she and her family moved to Bath when her father retired from his position as a clergyman. They lived in several houses around Bath – in Sydney Street, Gay Street, Green Street and Queen Square. Visiting the Jane Austen Centre at 40 Gay Street enables you to get a good idea of what her life in Bath would have been like.
Wherever you go in Bath, you are never far from a building with a connection to Jane Austen. You can drink the warm, mineral rich waters of Bath from the elaborate fountain decorated with giant fish just as Jane and her brother did. Explore the Assembly Rooms (now a costume museum) where Jane and her characters danced and met young men; walk in the footsteps of Catherine Morley along the Royal Crescent, or go and watch a play at the Theatre Royal.
Sydney Place was one of her favourite locations. Her family rented a house here, and she frequently walked in the nearby Sydney Gardens just as visitors can do today. Jane would stroll into Bath via the elegant Pulteney Bridge, often visiting the shops, which line the bridge on either side preventing any views of the river underneath.
The grandeur of Queens Square was also appreciated. She wrote that: “I like our situation, very much; it is far more cheerful than Paragon, and the prospect from the drawing-room window, at which I now write, is rather picturesque, as it commands a view of the left side of Brock Street, broken by three Lombardy poplars in the garden of the last house in Queen’s Parade’. The obelisk and garden in the centre of the Square would also have been familiar sights.
Her father, the Reverend George Austen, is buried at St Swithin’s Church, The Paragon. Although this is now a Georgian church, the earlier medieval style church would also have been known to the Austen family for it was here that George Austen first met and married his wife, Cassandra.
Although Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy never walked these streets, it is still a world they would have recognised. Jane Austen and her many characters are never far away in this pretty, elegant town set in a valley amid the hills. Angela Youngman
For more information about Jane Austen and Bath see ‘Jane Austen: the writer, the story and places to go’ by Angela Youngman, on www.bookrix.com