Half a minute conducted them through the pump-yard to the archway, opposite Union Passage; but here they were stopped. Everybody acquainted with Bath may remember the difficulties of crossing Cheap Street at this point; it is indeed a street of so impertinent a nature, so unfortunately connected with the great London and Oxford roads, and the principal inn of the city, that a day never passes in which parties of ladies, however important their business, whether in quest of pastry, millinery, or even (as in the present case) of young men, are not detained on one side or other by carriages, horsemen, or carts. This evil had been felt and lamented, at least three times a day, by Isabella since her residence in Bath; and she was now fated to feel and lament it once more, for at the very moment of coming opposite to Union Passage, and within view of the two gentlemen who were proceeding through the crowds, and threading the gutters of that interesting alley, they were prevented crossing by the approach of a gig, driven along on bad pavement by a most knowing-looking coachman with all the vehemence that could most fitly endanger the lives of himself, his companion, and his horse.- Northanger Abbey
“Oh, these odious gigs!” said Isabella, looking up. “How I detest them.” But this detestation, though so just, was of short duration, for she looked again and exclaimed, “Delightful! Mr. Morland and my brother!”
The Walking Tour of Bath provides a map that mentions many of the streets described by Jane Austen in the above passage, accompanied by images from medieval times to today.
Cheap Street runs just north and parallel to the Abbey. In this turn-of-the-century post card of Union Passage, which intersects Cheap Street, one can see how drastically different Bath looked back then – many of the Georgian features are hidden under shop signs.
The Walking Tour mentions how Bath’s 18th century forefathers were concerned about preserving the nature of Bath’s gentrified renovations.
Incidentally, a friend who used to live in an 18th c. flat just round the corner in North Parade Buildings had some amusing conditions attached to the terms of his lease. He was prohibited from hanging bedding out of the window, holding public auctions and keeping livestock. One can only presume that the Georgian city fathers, having gentrified Bath at great expense, were concerned to prevent the locals spoiling things by falling back into their old peasant ways.”
The creamy colored limestone stone used in many of Bath’s architectural treasures have been used for building since the days of the Roman occupation. The above image from European Adventure demonstrates how soot from coal fires blackened the buildings. Jane Austen was probably more familiar with these blackened facades than the creamy stones we are accustomed to viewing nowadays.
…in 1956 a clean air act was imposed. The townspeople were no longer allowed to burn coal and the buildings were painstakingly cleaned. He’s not sure why, but one building was left untouched, giving us the chance to see how they had looked.”
Today, the authentic nature of the buildings are still enforced legally. The Enforcement Policy in Bath Shopfronts Guide today requires:
Colour: No other single aspect of design has so much effect on the character of a shopfront than its colour. A good design can be completely spoilt by poor colour, or a nondescript design uplifted by the right choice of colour. Colour also has an effect on the Street Scene; out of key or aggressive colour will be damaging to everything within the field of vision.
Signs: The design and disposition of signs and the style of the lettering should always be historically credible and correct in design and detail for the design of the shopfront.
Illumination: The character of a shopfront and of the street will be altered by external illumination. This is often not acceptable, particularly where the shopfront is part of a listed building.
Appearance: Changes of a radical nature such as moving door positions are not normally acceptable. These may however be viewed more favourably if they can be shown to produce a permanent benefit such as the provision of a door to the upper floors.”
The cases described in The Bath Heritage Watchdog shows how vigilant the planning commission must be to preserve Bath’s unique heritage, and how historic preservation often clashes with business interests.