Archive for October, 2008

Gunter's Confectioner's Oracle, 1830


The very interesting blog, Regency Reader, which features historical romance novels, authors, and series, also publishes interesting posts about the Regency World. Titled Hot Spots, the site includes information about:

  • Jackson’s: Famous pugilist and title champion, 1795


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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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Thank you for nominating my blog, Elizabeth (1) and Kelly & Alyssa (2). I am deeply moved by these two honors:

1) Elizabeth from Scandalous Women, one of my favorite blogs, has nominated Jane Austen’s World for a Premios Dardos Award:

This award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing…that’s the general idea. Here it is, more eloquently put, in Portuguese:
O conceito deste prémio passa por reconhecer valores culturais, éticos, literários e pessoais, transmitidos de forma criativa e original nos pedacinhos rabiscados por cada blogueiro que o receba.
The rules of this award are as follows: show the image of the award on your blog, link back to the blog that gave the award, and nominate 15 other blogs that you consider deserving the same. I shall not repeat Elizabeth’s nominees: So here are my 15 blog nominations in alphabetical order (I would have voted for the three blogs sitting at the bottom, but they were already nominated):
  • Adventures in Reading: All about books. ‘Nuff said.
  • Austenblog: Because she’s everywhere.
  • Austenprose: Because Laurel Ann finds new ways to celebrate Jane Austen and because she knows her stuff. This blog is worth a visit time and again. Congratulations on your blog’s first anniversary, LA!
  • Book Mine Set is an online book discussion forum. This dedicated Canadian writer has varied tastes and interests. I love his Wednesday Compare.
  • Bronte Blog: Fabulous.
  • Ellen and Jim Have a Blog Too: Ellen covers all things Austen, including the film adaptations. A must stop for serious Austen lovers.
  • Emma Adaptations: Kali blogs only about Emma. Can you bear it?
  • Jane Austen Addict: I just love Laurie’s take on all things Jane Austen.
  • Jane Austen in Vermont: This new blog has taken off in spectacular fashion because of the hard work and spot on research by its two authors, Deb and Kelly.
  • Jane Austen Sequels by Jane Odiwe: In this unique blog, Jane combines her writing, art, and interest in history.
  • Moderato: This and that about literature around the world and through the ages.
  • Ripple Effects: Arti is attuned to topics that interest me, including Jane Austen.
  • The Vapour Trail is an historical research blog and well worth regular visits.
  • Versailles and More, Catherine Delors’ lush blog is addictive.
  • The Victorian Peeper: This history/lit blog covers all things Victorian.

I would have included Edwardian Promenade, The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide, and Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide, but Elizabeth had already nominated these splendid blogs.

2)  Alyssa Miller from The Love Coach, has included my blog along with Austenblog and 48 other blogs on her 50 Best Chick Lit Blogs list. You might want to hop on over there and check out the other fabulous blogs that were nominated.

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Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment is a re-release of a Joan Aiken novel that was originally published in 1984. The book begins four years after Fanny and Edmund marry. Sir Thomas Bertram has died unexpectedly and his interests in Antigua need tending. Fanny and Edmund, now parents, are chosen to go, since Lady Bertram is hesitant to part with Tom, the heir. They take their son with them but leave their young daughter behind. As readers, we re-meet Fanny briefly, but the major protagonist is Susan Price, her young sister, who has turned into a sensible young woman – more forceful in her opinions and actions than Fanny – but equally devoted to Lady Bertram’s comfort.

Mrs. Norris has also died. Julia Yates, sister to the pariah Maria (did Jane Austen intend for those two words to rhyme?) takes over the Mrs. Norris role as a petty, peevish, mean, and spiteful woman.

Miss Julia Bertram, having been so ill-judged as to marry the younger son of a peer, had soon, on becoming more closely acquainted with the limited extent of her huband’s fortune, decided to quit the doubtful pleasures of life in London on a straitened income, and console herself by becoming queen of a smaller society. She had persuaded her husband, the Honourable John Yates, to purchase a respectable property in Northamptonshire, not too far distant from Mansfield Park, therefore able to be illumined by some of its lustre. Since the, by almost daily visits to Mansfield, and by longer visits amounting to several months during the course of the year, Mrs. Yates was able to reduce materially her own domestic expenditure …

While Julia tries to make Susan’s life miserable, she does not succeed, for Susan can see right through her. Thus she ultimately fails to put Susan in her place, despite her repeated attempts to lord it over her younger cousin. Tom and Susan are like oil and water for no discernable reason, except that Tom feels that Susan often oversteps her bounds and Susan thinks him lacking in substance and character. He spends his time learning the ropes as the heir to the Bertram fortune and pursuing his love of horses and racing. More sober and grown up than the man limned by Jane Austen, Tom still has much to learn about life and women.

Joan Aiken’s talent lies in developing Jane Austen’s characters further, and she captures Lady Bertram with exquisite perfection in passages such as this, when Edmund suggests leaving his daughter, Mary, behind:

The little dear. Of course we shall be happy to have her,” sighed Lady Bertram, anticipating no inconvenience to herself in this arrangement, as indeed there would not be, for she could be quite certain that three-year-old Mary would be devotedly cared for by her aunt Susan.

Mary and Henry Crawford re-appear in the district shortly after Fanny and Edmund depart, which is when the plot truly becomes interesting. Without giving too much away let me just say that I was surprised by the turns this book takes. Mary Crawford has changed greatly, which is all I will reveal, except to mention that Tom becomes intrigued with her and that their association changes his life in a significant way. We also re-meet William, Fanny’s and Susan’s brother, who has now become the captain of his own ship. Several other new and interesting characters are also introduced, which keeps the story fresh.

Joan’s tale moves quickly and at times I could not put the book down. What I found missing from this very short but good novel was Jane’s sure sense of irony and wit. Ms. Aiken has writing talent (how could she not, being Conrad Aiken’s daughter and Jane Aiken Hodge’s sister?) but she fails to convey the tender emotions and human insights that distinguish a great author from a good writer. One key scene in the novel fell decidedly flat, and where I should have cried I could not. Ms. Aiken’s description of the event was so matter-of-fact she might have been describing a simple farewell instead of a wrenching death scene. I kept contrasting this scene with the way Jane Austen wrote about Marianne’s illness in Sense and Sensibility, and it was like comparing night to day.

As I said, the book is short (201 pages) and perhaps this is why I felt a bereft at the end. I wanted more time spent on how Tom and Susan finally change their minds about each other and begin to think of the other in a romantic way. As usual I am finding fault where others may not, for all in all I enjoyed the book thoroughly. Joan Aiken (1924-2004) might not have the stature of a Jane Austen, but she was a darned good writer and could spin an interesting yarn.

You can purchase the book from SourceBooks at this link.

  • Joan Aiken, (1924-2004) the author, is the daughter of the distinguished author Conrad Aiken and sister to Jane Aiken-Hodge, an author who has written about Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.

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Oh, how delicious! Look what I found online: Almack’s: A Novel, by Marianne Spencer Stanhope Hudson and published by Saunders and Otley in 1826. Almack’s, as all followers of the regency era know, was the exclusive establishment where ladies and gentlemen of the Ton could dance every Wednesday night during the London Season. The powerful patronesses of Almack’s were Lady Sarah Jersey (whose lover was the Prince Regent), Lady Castlereigh, Lady Cowper, Lady Sefton, Princess Esterhazy, and the Countess of Leiven. They decreed who could gain admittance to the assembly rooms and who could not, thereby exercising enormous social influence, as described in the novel:

That grand tribunal at Almack’s makes and unmakes fashionables, I understand. The six grand inquisitors decide upon the degree of ton of each of their followers, just as a committee of tailors would sit in judgment upon a cape or a collar.

The following two quotes provide more details from this vivid, digitized 413-page novel. The first is regarding a lady’s appearance:

Almack's Assembly Rooms


… after dinner a man’s heart naturally opens, sur tout au coin du feu: I have often observed, that a comfortable seat will hasten a declaration; men are such lovers of ease, so naturally sensual. I shall persuade the Baron not to order the carriage till eleven o clock, to give time. Pray put on your new white gown, my love, and those turquoise ornaments, with that pretty blue garland, it becomes your light hair so particularly; and a soupcon of rouge, just to give a glow – nothing more! what even Julia herself could not disapprove.”

Real Life in London, p. 148, Almack's

Real Life in London, p. 148, Almack

and this quote is about waiting for one’s carriage when it rains …

At this moment Lionel re-appeared. “Lady Birmingham”, said he, “it pours.  We must not lose a moment for there is sad confusion at the door, and I had great difficulty in getting your carriage up.” The bustle and agitation, the noise of the link boys, the oaths of the footmen, the violence of the coachmen, the kicking of the horses, and the blazing of the flambeaux effectually drove the Author of Waverley out of poor Lady Birmingham’s head; it was busied with other things. Had she ever read our friend Luttrell, she would have remembered that splendid description :

How in a rainy blustering night

The London coach maker’s delight …

Almack’s A Novel … By Marianne Spencer Stanhope Hudson, Charles White, 1826.

Almack's ExteriorMore Links:

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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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“That fellow Weston,” said Brummell, “is an inimitable fellow — a little defective perhaps in his ‘linings,’ but irreproachable for principle and button-holes. He came to London, Sir, without a shilling; and he counts more realized thousands than our fat friend does ‘frogs’ on his Brandenburg. He is not only rich, but brave; not only brave, but courteous; and not alone courteous, but candid. – Beau Brummel

Man's Great Coat by John Weston, 1803-1810


John Weston, Regency London’s most expensive tailor and draper to George, Prince of Wales, was frequently mentioned by Georgette Heyer in her novels. While Ms. Heyer peppered her novels with Weston’s name, I was actually unable to find much about him. This caption from the exhibit a the Museum of London, describes the greatcoat at right: 1803, tailored by John Weston of 38 Old Bond Street.

The prince was passionately interested in clothes and patronised London’s most skilful craftsmen. This slim fitting double-breasted coat, which has a silk velvet collar, is made of high quality British wool facecloth. Charles Jennens, a London button maker, supplied the gilt buttons.

The coat was discovered at Coutts Bank, where the tailor had deposited it for an unknown client, in 1956. A letter accompanying the coat described it as, ‘an exceed[ingly] good blue cloth great coat … made in ev[e]ry respect in the best manner’.

Men of fashion felt a sort of religious awe as they passed over the threshold of Weston, Brummell’s tailor, in Old Bond-street

Read more about London’s tailors at these links:

  • Jean Louis Bazalgette: Fascinating biography of one of the Prince Regent’s earlier, lesser known tailors. (Cached information.)

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Frontice piece of L'Art De La Cuisine Française Aux XIX-E Siècle by Antonin Careme

Frontice piece of L

I have just ordered a new “used” book from Alibris:Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef by Ian Kelly, and I cannot wait for it to appear in my mailbox. Antonin Carême was the first celebrity chef to make his mark as a major international figure in cuisine. A man from humble origins, who unfortunately did not live long (he died before reaching the age of 50), he attained the kind of fame reserved for only a select and talented few. Some of his spun sugar concoctions were so strong that court jesters could dance on them. According to Montagne, nothing was more important to this chef than his art – not money, not fame – and thus he set a standard for chefs and the culinary world for generations.

A post in The Old Foodie entitled An Extraordinary Banquet: describes Carême’s amazingly complex, multi-course banquet created for the Prince Regent at Brighton Pavilion in 1817.

Designs by Careme from All Manners of Food

Designs by Careme from All Manners of Food

Read more about this extraordinary chef in the following links. There will be more to come after I receive my new book!

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Poll: Why did you visit this blog?

Curious minds want to know!  Thank you for voting.

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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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Cathleen Myers wrote this fascinating insight about A Lady of Distinction on the PEERS website. A Lady is the author of The Mirror of Graces, my favorite source for regency etiquette.

Who is the author? Possibly a governess or companion in a diplomat’s family. She has seen a number of foreign courts and discourses intelligently on Continental manners, but is too clearly impressed by foreign titles to be real English Society herself and her table of Precedence contains several glaring errors that reveal the gentlewoman on the edge of Society as opposed to the Real Lady. Still, this is valuable First Hand source material from an author who has actually observed and recorded a great deal about the manners and customs of two generations.

Unfortunately, there is no footnote or source material to this comment, which must be taken at face value. Ms. Meyers seems to know her stuff. According to a 2007 article in SF Gate, she is a board member of PEERS (Period Events and Entertainments Re-Creation Society), a San Francisco Bay area nonprofit that “throws a formal ball every first Saturday re-creating the dress, dances and entertainment of a specific time period, film or piece of literature.” Many of the members of this group are “expert or professional costumers and seamstresses who delight in studying the period details of suits and gowns. Others know an exceptional amount about where to purchase the wigs and find the corset that will give you the best silhouette.”

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