It is a truth universally acknowledged that any girl in love with Jane Austen’s novels must visit Bath at least once in her life. Ok, so that’s not quite the famous classic quote that opens “Pride and Prejudice”, but it’s true nonetheless. Jane’s novels have fascinated generations of readers who have loved and cherished her heroines, and I have grown to love them so much that over the years I’ve visited many locations tied to the author, trying to understand the time and society she lived in.
There are quite a few towns and places that claim some sort of bond; Steventon, Southampton, Chawton, Kent, but none are mentioned in her books as much as Bath. At the beginning of the 19th century, Bath was the place to be. With its lovely Georgian architecture, it was a fashionable and busy place with plenty of social activities. The city has changes relatively little over time, and most of the venues Jane Austen visited and wrote about still exist today. Bath, in return, holds Jane Austen festival every September, a Regency promenade, and balls that are so charming I’m dying to be part of them sometime soon.
Will you join me on this tour through Austen’s Bath?
Number 4, Sydney Place
This is the house where the Austen family settled for 3 years when Jane’s father retired and decided to move to the city. Their lodgings offered an easy walk into town and handy access to the great outdoor attraction of Sydney Gardens, where regular gala nights were held. Today, Sydney Gardens is the oldest park in town and still keeps most of its Regency charms intact.
The Assembly Rooms
The Assembly Rooms were the scene of many of the elegant balls attended by Austen (and most of her characters). Owned today by the Natural Trust, they can be visited and still retain all of their former glory. Whitefriars crystal chandeliers hang from the plaster-decorated ceilings, and portraits by Gainsborough, Ramsey, and Hoare decorate the walls. The building also houses the Fashion Museum, with one of the world’s finest collections of historical dress.
The Pump Room and the Roman Baths
The Pump Room was one of the trendiest places in Bath in early 19th century. The venue was a focal point of Georgian society and Jane must have spent some time there mingling with friends by the fountain overlooking the natural hot spring (believed to have medicinal properties). The Pump Room operates as a restaurant and is well worth a visit.
The Jane Austen Center
A lovely Georgian building on Gay Street houses the Jane Austen Center, an exhibition space that explores the legacy of the writer in Bath. It is wonderfully set between two of the city’s architectural masterpieces: Queen Square and the Circus. Austen’s characters take strolls in the area quite frequently and the area has retained much of its charm.
Jane’s aunt and uncle lived at The Paragon, a beautiful four-story house with fine views at the back. At the end of the street stands St. Swithin’s Walcott, the church where Jane’s parents were married. Mr. Austen was buried in the churchyard and his resting place is marked by a memorial plaque on the pavement.
This elegant street, scarcely changed, was and is the main shopping area in Bath and also the area where the wealthy families lived. In “Northanger Abbey” Catherine and Isabella visit it quite often, always looking for a new hat or ribbons for their dresses.
In 1806 Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother moved to Southampton. And in 1809 to a cottage in Chawton, where she spent her last years. Of all the places she visited, none left such a mark as Bath, with its vibrant society and life. The days of muslin dresses, horse-drawn barouches and social conventions are long gone, but its charm remains. Perfectly located in the English Countryside, it is ideal for a home exchange, even if you’re not an Austen fan!
Patrícia Cuní is the travel blogger behind Mad About Travel, as well as a journalist and communications consultant. She is passionate about Scotland and loves history, literature ,and nature. When she’s not working or blogging, she can be found hiking, exploring new places, or re-reading Jane Austen’s novels. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.