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Inquiring reader: The city of Bath is a topic that guest writer Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street, knows well, having immersed himself in Bath’s history and environs for his novel. For this article he examines Jane’s life in Bath and how the city must have looked and felt to her in the years that she lived there. Enjoy.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice opens with the sentence, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” It is one of the best written and best known opening lines of any novel. It is also one of the best examples of “comic irony” because, as Austen makes clear throughout the novel, it is primarily the women (or more particularly their mothers) who are desperately in search of a rich single man as husband-material.

Historically Bath was undoubtedly one of the most favoured locations for such husband hunting, both in fact and in fiction. Though the city is relatively small today, it had grown faster than almost any other in Britain during the 17th Century. In 1801, when Jane moved to the city it was the ninth largest conurbation in England with a population of 35,000. Its spa facilities and entertainments were renowned throughout Europe and visitors flocked to the city for “The Season” (roughly from the beginning of May to mid-September). This was the time for match-making.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Bath. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Bath. Wikimedia image.

There were balls and gatherings, concerts and card games in the Upper and Lower Assembly Rooms. Each day people met in The Pump Rooms to see who was newly arrived in the city, to make introductions (and to be introduced) and perhaps most importantly to exchange gossip, and arrange social events. The theatre too, was well attended with a continually changing programme of popular contemporary productions, drawing some of the finest actors and performers of the age.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Pump Room. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Pump Room. Wikimedia image.

People also entertained at home, and yet one of the most favoured social events (weather permitting) was simply “promenading” in the popular shopping areas like Milsom Street, or the many purpose-built, Parades and Parks, like Jane’s favourite, Sydney Gardens. These were the places to see and be seen, the places where accidental meetings might be expected, or could be contrived. As Catherine Morland remarks in Northanger Abbey – “a fine Sunday in Bath empties every house of its inhabitants, and all the world appears on such an occasion to walk about and tell their acquaintance what a charming day it is.”

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Ball. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Ball. Wikimedia image.

It would be easy to be swept away by images of “beautiful people” in a social whirl of high society events, set against a back-drop of some of the finest Georgian architecture in the world. Indeed that is the world that Jane Austen seems to present in her novels, yet that was not the whole truth, at least for Jane. The notorious British weather certainly often made promenading, or even attending events or visiting friends, difficult. As Jane said in a letter to her sister, Cassandra,

“We stopped in Paragon (a prestigious address where her wealthy uncle lived) as we came along, but it was too wet and dirty for us to get out.”

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Gouty person fall on steep hill. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Gouty persons fall on a steep hill. Wikimedia image.

It must also be remembered that Jane lived in Bath continuously (throughout the years) from 1801 to 1805, and the city was a very different place, out of season. Being primarily a Spa, many of the resident population of Bath were of retirement age and not always in the best of health. As for eligible young men, only 39% of Bath’s population were male in 1801, and it is safe to assume that relatively few of these were eligible, and that even fewer were young. As Sir Walter Elliot observes in Persuasion –

“There certainly were a dreadful multitude of ugly women in Bath; and as for the men! they were infinitely worse. Such scarecrows as the streets were full of! It was evident how little the women were used to the sight of anything tolerable, by the effect which a man of decent appearance produced.”

Rowlanson, The Comforts of Bath, The Breakfast. Wikimedia image.

Rowlanson, The Comforts of Bath, The Breakfast. Wikimedia image.

Many of the eligible young men were of course in the army or navy and away fighting the Napoleonic Wars for much of the time that Jane was living in Bath. And while officers in the services were expected to be at least literate, they came from vary varied educational and social backgrounds. Contrary to popular opinion, although an officer was supposed also to be a “gentleman”, this usually referred to an expectation rather than a predisposition. And often officers fell short of those expectations, which perhaps accounts for Jane’s portrayal of characters like George Wickham, the ne’er-do-well seducer in Pride and Prejudice.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Coaches arriving. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Coaches arriving. Wikimedia image.

I’m sure there were lots of George Wickhams in Bath. It was, and still is, the perfect setting for a novel. It was a place where, given enough money or access to credit, all the trappings of wealth and position could be rented or hired or borrowed for The Season, and where people were often not who they appeared to be. As Jane observed in Persuasion.

“Sir Walter had at first thought more of London; but Mr Shepherd felt that he could not be trusted in London, and had been skillful enough to dissuade him from it, and make Bath preferred. It was a much safer place for a gentleman in his predicament: he might there be important at comparatively little expense.”

Company at Play, Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Company at Play

Very few of Jane’s letters survive from her time in Bath and some say that she wrote very little while she was there. Yet it’s well known that Jane was a consummate editor, writing and re-writing, polishing and refining her work until she was satisfied it was good enough. She may well have been working on drafts of her later novels even then. She was certainly observing and remembering what she saw.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath. Private practice previous to the ball. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath. Private practice previous to the ball. Wikimedia image.

We do know that Jane wrote the beginning of her unfinished novel, “The Watsons” while in Bath. Some say it remained unfinished because it was a time of upheaval in her life (with the death of her father). Others believe it so clearly mirrored her own experience (particularly the financial precariousness of the family) at the time that she found it too painful to continue. And perhaps the chapters that she did complete lack some of the refinement and polish of her later novels, yet I find them very poignant and touching. I can’t help thinking that someone of Jane’s intelligence and sensitivity must at times have been hurt by a Society where people were judged so much in terms of title, wealth and appearance; as opposed to their true nature and accomplishments. Perhaps it’s little wonder then that Jane Austen makes such good use of comic irony.

Paul Emanuelli holds up his novel, Avon Street

Paul Emanuelli holds up his novel, Avon Street

Find more information about Paul Emanuelli and Avon Street on his blog, unpublishedwriter, where you will find a thoughtful discussion on the demise of book stores, and his Twitter account. Click on image to find his book.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: The History Press (March 28, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0752465546
ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

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Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street (click here to view the book and order it), has contributed posts for this blog before about the City of Bath as a Character ,  Law & Order and Jane Austen’s Aunt,  Walking in Austen’s Footsteps, and Food – To Die For: Food Preparation in the Georgian EraHe has graciously sent in an article about crime and an incident involving Jane Austen’s aunt, Mrs James Leigh-Perrot. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

Workhouses are thought to date back as far as the fourteenth century and the aftermath of the “Black Death.” The plague was merciless in Britain and outbreaks recurred at intervals throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. As a result, the working population was decimated and the shortage of labour pushed up wages. To try and halt this, several Acts of Parliament were passed aimed at forcing all able-bodied men to work and to keep wages at their old levels, but their main effect was to create itinerant labourers who travelled around the country looking for areas where they could earn more.

bathmap1902-2500

Layout of Bath Workhouse in 1848

The Poor Law Act of 1388 tried to stop this by introducing regulations restricting the movements of all labourers and itinerant beggars. No one could leave their own parish to seek work elsewhere without the written permission of the local Justice of the Peace, and the poor were prohibited from begging and could only receive help from the Parish in which they were born. Alms houses were built for the destitute but the earliest known reference to the term “Workhouse” dates back to 1631, when the mayor of Abingdon (near Oxford) records:-

“wee haue erected wthn our borough, a workehouse to sett poore people to worke”

A further Poor Law Act in 1597 governed the care of the destitute right up until the 19th Century. This law required the local justices of the peace to appoint, annually, “Overseers of the Poor” to find work for those in need, to apprentice children, and to provide,

“the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old, blind and such other being poor and not able to work”.

This Poor Law required poor rates to be charged as a local tax, replacing voluntary charitable funding. The rate of charge and arrangements for distribution were to be decided by the Overseers. Though most parishes had houses set aside for the old, infirm and destitute these were more like alms-houses than workhouses and most support was given in the form of subsistence payments known as “out relief.”

bath1

Aerial photo of Former Bath Workhouse taken in early 20th Century

The real growth in workhouses took place in the nineteenth century, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Hundreds of thousands of troops returned home to find there was no work for them. Most had been agricultural workers before the war and the new technology in farming had reduced the need for labour. At the same time a series of poor harvests had pushed up food prices and the Importation Act of 1815 had prohibited the importation of cheaper cereals from abroad. For most people, bread was the main part of their diet and yet they could no longer even afford bread. So many had become destitute and were starving by the early 1830s that the system could not support them. The Government sought a cheaper alternative to “out relief.”

Read the rest of Paul’s fascinating post and the workhouse in Bath at this link:

Click Here

In keeping with December, Charles Dickens’ anniversary, and a Christmas Carol, Paul sent this message:

 In “A Christmas Carol” the Spirit of Christmas Present reveals two children hidden under his robes. Scrooge asks him if they are his children and the Spirit replies that they are the children of Man – “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.’

‘Have they no refuge or resource.‘ asks Scrooge.

‘Are there no prisons.‘ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses.‘”

OliverTwistOliver Twist

Oliver Twist Workhouse image

The well known passage from Oliver Twist:

“Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

‘What!’ said the master at length, in a faint voice.

‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’

More about Avon Street: Order the book

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The History Press (March 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752465546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

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The period between 1811 and 1820 is known in British history as the Regency. In 1811 King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince Regent, ruled in his place. On his father’s death in 1820, the Prince was crowned King George IV. Coincidentally, Jane Austen’s novels were published between 1811 and 1818 and her writing has come to define how we imagine life was lived in the Regency era.

Miniature of the Prince Regent, Courtesy of the library archives of Canada

Yet so successful has Jane Austen been in implanting images in her readers’ minds that there is a danger that we begin to accept fiction as fact, to confuse the lives of her heroines with her own life, to interpret the lives of the few as being the lives of the many. And in that process there is also the risk that we lose sight of her skill and imagination as a writer. She was without doubt a keen observer, but the settings and people she describes, come as much from her imagination as from what she saw or experienced.

Company at play, the Comforts of Bath, Thomas Rowlandson

Jane chose to set two of her novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) in Bath. She lived in the city between 1801 and 1806 and it’s still possible to retrace her footsteps, to see some of what she saw. The pattern of roads is largely unchanged in the older part of the city. Many of the places she would have frequented are still there; The Royal Crescent, The Circus, Queen Square, Milsom Street, Pulteney Bridge, the Upper Assembly Rooms, the Pump Rooms, the Guildhall, and Sydney Gardens, to name but a few.

South Parade, Bath, Thomas malton, 1775 (the year of Jane Austen’s birth).

It is easy to imagine these places as she depicts them in her novels, yet it is almost impossible to separate fact from fiction. For example, in “Northanger Abbey” we read;

They arrived in Bath. Catherine was all eager delight; – her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.”

Yet Jane also records on moving to Bath, her own “first impression” of the city, in a letter to her sister, Cassandra, on May 5th 1801;

The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see more distinctly through rain. The sun was got behind everything, and the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion.”

Panoramic view of Bath from Beechen Cliff, 1824

Again in “Northanger Abbey” she describes a formal ball held in the Upper Assembly Rooms;

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 protégé, 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.”

Fancy Ball at the Upper Rooms, Bath, Thomas Rowlandson

Yet her own experience was somewhat different, as she reports in letter to her sister on May 12th 1801;

By nine o’clock my uncle, aunt, and I entered the rooms, and linked Miss Winstone on to us. Before tea it was rather a dull affair; but then the before tea did not last long, for there was only one dance, danced by four couple. Think of four couple, surrounded by about an hundred people, dancing in the Upper Rooms at Bath.

After tea we cheered up; the breaking up of private parties sent some scores more to the ball, and though it was shockingly and inhumanly thin for this place, there were people enough, I suppose, to have made five or six very pretty Basingstoke assemblies.”

They say you should write about what you know and Jane Austen certainly knew about people, but was her life really comparable to those of her heroines? She attended dinner parties, suppers, formal balls and had some insight into high-society. Yet that society was very stratified with rigid conventions and social etiquette. Those rules defined who was on a level with whom, and Jane was certainly not part of its upper echelons. She was part of that “society” but in truth she was fairly low down in the “pecking order.” Her Uncle and Aunt were wealthy and lived in the Paragon. They might have provided her with opportunities to glimpse their way of life, but they do not seem to have been over-generous to Jane or her family.

Number 1, Paragon, where the Leigh-Perrots lived. Image @Austenised

When Jane’s family moved to Bath they leased a house at 4, Sydney Place. It was a fine house in a good area, near the popular Sydney Gardens, but it was not a prestigious address in comparison with other parts of the city. And when the lease ended they moved to a house in Green Park Buildings. This was an area the family had dismissed when they first moved to the city and it’s easy to see why from Jane’s description;

Our views on G. P. (Green Park) Buildings seem all at an end; the observation of the damps still remaining in the offices of an house which has been only vacated a week, with reports of discontented families and putrid fevers, has given the coup de grace. We have now nothing in view. When you arrive, we will at least have the pleasure of examining some of these putrefying houses again; they are so very desirable in size and situation, that there is some satisfaction in spending ten minutes within them.”

Before leaving Bath the family also lived for a while in 25, Gay Street. (The Jane Austen Centre is nearby at 40 Gay Street). It was a “good address” but by then, after the death of Jane’s father, they were reduced to “taking rooms” as boarders rather than occupying a house as tenants. By then the family were largely dependent on the charity of relatives.

Old Houses. Westgate Street , Bath, Thomas Elliot Rosenberg, 1820. Image @Victoria Art Gallery, Bath

It’s obvious too that Jane was well aware of the plight of the genteel poor. In “Persuasion” Sir Walter Elliot refers to Westgate Buildings as, “Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations.” Westgate Buildings was by no means the worst of streets but it was situated on the border of the Avon Street slum area. My own novel “Avon Street” has an opening scene in Westgate Buildings and explores the darker aspects of the City.

Brock illustration of Captain Wentworth entreating Anne Elliot to read his letter, Persuasion.

Opinion is divided on whether or not Jane Austen actually liked Bath, but she certainly knew how to use it as a setting. Jane Austen created an image of Regency life which still survives today. That is a testament to her imagination and skill as a writer. She chose to depict a way of life in her novels that did not always reflect her own everyday experience. Indeed it was not representative of the lives of most, yet it pleased her readers then and still pleases them today.

Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street (click here to view the book and order it), has contributed a post for this blog before about the City of Bath as a Character and Law & Order and Jane Austen’s Aunt, and Food – To Die For: Food Preparation in the Georgian EraHe has graciously sent in an article about crime and an incident involving Jane Austen’s aunt, Mrs James Leigh-Perrot. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The History Press (March 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752465546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

Read Full Post »

Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street, has contributed posts for this blog before about the City of Bath as a Character and Law & Order and Jane Austen’s Aunt. He has graciously sent in an article about food preparation in the 18th and 19th centuries. The content will astonish you. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart–a very little bit. Ours are all apple-tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard.”

Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse, Emma, 2009

So says the ever-cautious, Mr Woodhouse, in Jane Austen’s Emma as he entertains his guests at supper. Yet Mr Woodhouse’s fears were not entirely in his imagination. At the time it was relatively common for commercially bought pickles and preserves to contain poisonous sulphate of copper to improve their eye-appeal. And even when prepared at home, the copper pans in which they were cooked, unless properly looked after, could also poison the ingredients.

Churning butter

Yet for most people who lived in the country, as Jane Austen did for much of her life, food-safety was not a major concern. Food was prepared and preserved either by the family themselves or by their domestic staff, and cooking and baking was done at home.

Food preparation in the kitchen.

The ingredients were for the most part grown and bought locally, and word travels quickly in small communities. Meat came from local farms or estates, and farmers and landowners had reputations to maintain, as did the local mill for flour, and the local shopkeepers for all that they sold.

Costermonger from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, 1840s.

The situation though, was very different in towns and cities. Here it was the shopkeepers and “costermongers” who sourced, stored, prepared and supplied the produce. And with a wider market at their disposal these tradesmen were often less concerned with quality, as they were with cost. The worst affected were the poor. For the most part they lived from hand-to-mouth and bought food in “pennyworths” or even “half-pennyworths.” Buying in these smaller quantities (enough for the day) meant goods often cost four or five times more than they would have cost had they been bought in regular quantities.

Bread Seller, William Henry Pyne, ca. 1805

Bread itself could be bought as quarter or half loaves and the poor subsisted largely on bread. But even then, bakers used chalk to make the bread whiter, and alum to enable the use of inferior flour, and while alum was not poisonous it inhibited the digestion and decreased the nutritional value of anything else their customers ate.

Rabbit seller, William Henry Pyne, 1805

The wealthier residents in towns and cities could afford a “better” diet, yet this too carried its own dangers. There was of course no refrigeration at the time and little concept of hygiene. In towns and cities most meat was killed locally, but then it had to be stored, sold and transported to the home. As late as 1862 the government estimated that one-fifth of butcher’s meat in England and Wales came from animals which had died of disease or were carrying considerably disease. And at the start of the nineteenth century butcher’s boys would deliver meat to the wealthier homes, carried on their heads, in baskets or trays, open to the heat and dirt of the day.

A butcher’s shop, by James Pollard

As the Industrial Revolution took hold, the British population grew, and so did the towns and cities. The nation became more dependent on imported and processed foods. The growing “middle classes” were acquiring a growing taste for tea, coffee, sugar, cocoa, and sauces and spices from around the world. The problem that the fictional Mr Woodhouse had been concerned about a few years earlier rapidly became a fact of life as the century progressed.

Coachman, seated, holding a tankard. Mezzotint by Ryley, printed in colours for John Bowles in London Feb. 1st, 1768

The “adulteration” of food and drink became increasingly commonplace. Producers, importers, merchants and sellers were all adding ingredients to increase bulk or “improve” appearance. The making of beer had more to do with chemistry than the brewing process. As Dr Richard Wetherby says, in my novel, Avon Street,

Have you any idea of how they adulterate the beer in the ale houses around Avon Street? It is full of foxglove, henbane, opium and God knows what other concoctions. They use chemicals so that they can water down the beer, keep its taste and appearance, but make it stronger, and still sell it cheaply.”

Cow Keeper’s Shop in London, 1825, George Scharf

Milk too, was often watered down, sometimes by as much as 50%. So common did the adulteration of food become that books on housekeeping routinely carried warnings and tests for detecting added chemicals like plaster of Paris. Mrs Beeton in prefacing a recipe for a popular anchovy paste warned against shop-bought pastes,

In six cases out of ten, the only portion of those preserved delicacies, that contains anything indicative of anchovies, is the paper label pasted on the bottle or pot, on which the word itself is printed.”

Typical coffee house, late 18th century

In 1851 The Lancet, medical journal, commissioned a doctor from the London Royal Free Hospital to examine the adulteration of thirty common foods. The study revealed that China tea contained 45% sand and dirt together with traces of sulphate of iron; lard contained carbonate of soda and caustic lime; coffee included chicory, mangel wurzel (root vegetable) sawdust, and acorns; cocoa and chocolate were coloured with earth and included arrowroot and Venetian lead; sweets (candy) were found to contain chromate of lead, sulphate of mercury and various other noxious flavourings and colourings. Red lead and other chemical colourings were found to be routinely used in foodstuffs such as “Red Leicester Cheese.”

Six pence a pound, fair cherryes

Even after the study was published the merchants, tradespeople and government were slow to respond. It was not until 1860 that the Adulteration Act was passed. Thankfully, technology and innovation helped in the interim. In 1857 a process for the mass production of ice was patented allowing foods to be better preserved and transported. The availability of canned goods also increased. The army had been supplied with canned foods since 1820, but the cans had to be opened with a chisel or a bayonet, until the can-opener was invented in 1858. As technology improved, mass-produced processed foods like soups, sauces, biscuits, chocolate, pickles and egg-powder became more popular and were prepared to more rigorous standards. And though the Adulteration Act was still largely resisted, in 1872 official inspectors were created with the power to test food and impose substantial fines. Quality and safety of food gradually improved, which I am sure would have pleased the fictional Mr Woodhouse.

Old Covent Garden market, 1825, Scharf

More on the topic:

Refrigerated milk cart, 19th c. This design, from the USA, used ice to keep the air temperature cool for the transport of milk. Holes in the compartments allowed air to circulate from where the ice compartments to the milk compartments.

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Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli has frequently contributed his comments on this blog. Little did I know that he was an author! He has graciously sent in his thoughts about Bath, the city in which he has set his historical crime novel. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

Beau Nash turned the city of Bath into the most fashionable resort in 18th-century England. In his role as Master of Ceremonies he organised the premier social events in the city and chose who should, and should not be invited. He established a select list of people who he defined as the cream of Society, and more importantly he changed the social conventions of the city.

Richard Beau Nash

Nash broke down the old order dominated by the nobility and gentry, and promoted the nouveaux- riches. Whereas in other cities the growing number of wealthy industrialists and tradespeople were still looked down on because of their background, in Bath, Nash welcomed them as elite members of society.

Bath in the 18th century at the time of Beau Nash

For years the city thrived on the wealth of visitors who stayed for the Season. The affluent tourists rented houses and apartments and all the trappings that went with them; crockery and cutlery, silver-ware and ornaments, horses and carriages, servants and attendants. Prominent architects designed fine buildings and the city grew. Milsom Street became one of the most prestigious shopping areas in the country.

Milsom Street and Bond Street with Portraits of Bath Swells.

By 1801, when Jane Austen moved to Bath, the city was the 9th largest in England, with a population of 33,000. Yet the city’s fortunes had already begun to decline. Bath had changed in character and atmosphere. It was becoming less fashionable and the wealthy were visiting less often, and their stays were becoming shorter.

Thomas Rowlandson’s caricature of the Comforts of Bath. The classes noticeably mingled as they awaited drinking the waters in the Pump Room. (Notice the patient in the wheel chair on the left and the sedan chair next to him, which was carried inside the room.) Nash’s statue is in the niche at the top right. You can still see it today.

Built in a bowl of seven hills, Bath’s ever-growing population was increasingly crowded into a relatively small area. It’s little wonder that when Jane Austen moved to the city, she wrote to her sister, Cassandra saying, “The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; … the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion.”

Coal soot darkened the creamy colored stone of the buildings.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that it seemed, “all smoke” when every household depended on coal fires for warmth, that it was “all confusion” when its roads were congested with carts and carriages. And in Georgian cities, once you set foot on the streets there was no escaping the poor drainage and lack of decent sanitation and sewerage systems. As Austen said in a letter to her sister, “We stopped in Paragon (a prestigious address where her wealthy uncle lived) as we came along, but it was too wet and dirty for us to get out.”

The Paragon, Bath.

By the time Persuasion was published in 1817, the larger part of Bath’s population was working class. Industry was thriving in the city, supplying the many fine shops in Milsom Street and drawing people from the countryside to fill the jobs created. Yet the people who worked in the factories and sweat-shops, the costermongers and shop-assistants, the building labourers and hotel staff were, for the most part, poorly paid.

Advertisement for B. Lautier Goldsmith Shop in Bath, 1848

The only housing they could afford was overcrowded and poorly maintained, and the slum areas around Avon Street were increasing in size, as quickly as they were deteriorating in quality and appearance. By 1850, the rookery of hovels and cheap boarding-houses in and around Avon Street were home to almost a quarter of the Bath’s population.

Bath had grown considerably by the 1850’s, the date of this illustration.

My novel, Avon Street is set in Bath in 1850. But Bath isn’t just a setting. It is a character in its own right. In writing Avon Street, I have tried to take the reader beyond the Georgian facades, and reveal a city, where wealth and elegance were never far from poverty and squalor. Bath was a city, where things were often not as they seemed, where people as Austen said, could “be important at comparatively little cost.” In short it is the ideal setting for a story of confidence tricksters and crime, intrigue and betrayal. A city where enemies can seem all-powerful, and friends are sometimes found where least expected.

Image of Avon Street.

In Persuasion Anne Elliot visits a friend in Westgate Buildings despite Sir Walter’s warning of its unsuitableness – “Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations are inviting to you.” (Click here to see an image of Westgate Buildings in 1900.) It seemed only fitting that the first chapter of my book be set in the same location, on the borders of the Avon Street area.

Pickwick Mews, Avon Street, in 1923. Image @The Victoria Art Gallery

More about Avon Street and Paul Emanuelli: Why Avon Street?

Avon Street: Purchase information

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: The History Press Ltd (1 Feb 2012)

Language English

ISBN-10: 0752465546

ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

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