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Posts Tagged ‘Regency seaside resorts’

Nobody could catch cold by the sea; nobody wanted appetite by the sea; nobody wanted spirits; nobody wanted strength. Sea air was healing, softening, relaxing — fortifying and bracing — seemingly just as was wanted — sometimes one, sometimes the other. If the sea breeze failed, the seabath was the certain corrective; and where bathing disagreed, the sea air alone was evidently designed by nature for the cure.” ― Jane Austen, Sanditon

Inquiring readers, I have spent this week at the seaside with my extended family, an unusual occurrence for us, but one that a Regency traveler would have easily understood. The great grandparents are resting in a cool spot, while grandparents and parents have taken the grandchildren and great grandchildren to the beach. A lady’s companion and an auntie (me) are also in attendance, doing what is required to maintain family unity, feed the masses, and provide comfort and mobility for the elders.

A Calm, 1810, Gillray

A Calm, James Gillray, 1810

Life near the sea shore today is different than depicted in this 19th century image by James Gillray. Or is it really?  We still come to the beach to relax and holiday with friends and family, and to enjoy the bracing sea air and the entertainments that are available for the entire family. While modern sea-goers are more scantily dressed, we still enjoy sitting on the beach, swimming in the sea, walking along the seashore, watching ships or dolphins pass by, eating fresh seafood, reading the latest best sellers, and ogling others.

While we no longer swim behind bathing machines that have been pulled into the waters by sturdy horses, we use other equipment to make our swims more enjoyable – floats and surf boards or paddle boards. Like the women in the image, many of us wear hats for protection from the sun and sit under beach umbrellas. We comb the sands for shells and the waters for clams and crabs.

My family frequently vacations at Bethany Beach in Delaware, where my brother owns a vacation house. Each year, new vacation resorts seem to spring up on what once were cornfields and farmlands. If it weren’t for my GPS system, I would get lost, for so many of the landmarks I once knew are disappearing. It was much the same in Jane Austen’s day, when fashionable sea resorts also sprang up to satisfy the masses.  London became a convenient day’s ride from the coast as roads improved, and the benefits of fresh air and sea water were appreciated for invalids and healthy alike. In this passage from Sanditon, Mr. Parker’s and Mr. Heywood’s topic of discussion is similar to the one I had with my family as we lamented the increasingly crowded conditions and traffic jams, even as we confessed our addiction to the sea:

“Yes, I have heard of Sanditon,” replied Mr. Heywood. “Every five years, one hears of some new place or other starting up by the sea and growing the fashion. How they can half of them be filled is the wonder! Where people can be found with money and time to go to them! Bad things for a country, sure to raise the price of provisions and make the poor good for nothing, as I daresay you find, Sir.”

“Not at all, Sir, not at all,” cried Mr. Parker eagerly. “Quite the contrary, I assure you. A common idea, but a mistaken one. It may apply to your large, overgrown places like Brighton or Worthing or Eastbourne, but not to a small village like Sanditon, precluded by its size from experiencing any of the veils of civilization; while the growth of the place, the buildings, the nursery grounds, the demand for everything, and the sure resort of the very best company, those regular, steady, private families of thorough gentility and character who are a blessing everywhere, excite the industry of the poor and diffuse comfort and improvement among them of every sort. No, Sir, I assure you, Sanditon is not a place …”

“I do not mean to take exception to any place in particular,” answered Mr. Heywood. “I only think our coast is too full of them altogether. But we had not better try to get you …”

“Our coast is abundant enough. It demands no more. Everybody’s taste and everybody’s finances may be suited. And those good people who are trying to add to the number are, in my opinion, excessively absurd and must soon find themselves the dupes of their own fallacious calculations. Such a place as Sanditon, Sir, I may say, was wanted, was called for. Nature had marked it out , had spoken in most intelligible characters. The finest, purest sea breeze on the coast, acknowledged to be so, excellent bathing, fine hard sand, deep water ten yards from the shore, no mud, no weeds, no slimy rocks. Never was there a place more palpably designed by nature for the resort of the invalid, the very spot that thousands seemed in need of! The most desirable distance from London! One complete, measured mile nearer than Eastbourne, Only conceive, Sir, the advantage of saving a whole mile in a long journey. But Brinshore , Sir, which I daresay you have in your eye, the attempts of two or three speculating people about Brinshore this last year to raise that paltry hamlet, lying as it does between a stagnant march, a bleak moor, and the constant effluvia of a ridge of putrefying seaweed, can end in nothing but their own disappointment. “

Alas, our sojourn at the beach has ended. We must pack up our belongings and return to our daily routines. Would that vacation had lasted a week longer!

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Sidmouth is now talked of as our summer abode” – Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, January 1801

Sidmouth: A History. Book available at. Click on link.

Sidmouth: A History, edited by Geof Holmes. Book at this link. Click on image for source.

In the summer of 1801, Jane Austen and her sister and parents visited Sidmouth, a seaside Devon town made unexpectedly popular by a visit from King George III in 1791. The Austens came at the invitation of Richard Buller, a newly-wed vicar and former pupil of Jane’s father, Rev. George Austen.

Jane was happy to escape Bath which, even then, she found confining after the freedom of Steventon; and, furthermore, she liked Mr Buller and was satisfied, she wrote, that ‘he would not oppress me by his felicity and his love for his wife…he simply calls her Anna without any Angelic embellishments.’-  Sidmouth, Dawlish, and Weymouth

For a few short weeks there Jane experienced the happiness of new love, although scant proof exists.  Cassandra, according to many accounts, made brief remarks about that visit to her nephews and nieces years after Jane’s death. Her memories, according to David Cecil, author of A Portrait of Jane Austen, are not in complete agreement.

All we can be reasonably sure of is that at Sidmouth Jane met a young gentleman who showed signs of being extremely attracted by her. We do not know his name nor his profession, though there is a suggestion that he was a clergyman. We do know that he was handsome, intelligent and possessed of unusual charm; so much so that Cassandra, who hardly ever praised anybody, praised him warmly and even thought him good enough for her sister Jane. – Cecil, p. 97

Morning Dress, 1797, from Nicholas Heideloff’s Gallery of Fashion.

Morning Dress, 1797, from Nicholas Heideloff’s Gallery of Fashion. Click on image for source.

Jane was apparently as smitten with the young man as he was with her. After only two or three weeks acquaintance, in which Cassandra was convinced that their attraction towards each other had blossomed into love, the young man had to leave to meet an obligation.

It was understood that he would soon come back and join the family again. Cassandra had no doubt that he would then state his intentions and that Jane would receive them favourably. – Cecil, p. 97

Sadly, this hope did not come to fruition. Before the budding lovers could meet again, the young man’s brother wrote to say that he had died suddenly. We know no more about the story. Jane’s letters are missing for many months afterwards – either she was so grief stricken that she was unable to write or her letters were destroyed by Cassandra. We will never know.

“Her sister and Bingley standing together.” Isobel Bishop image @Morgan Library

“Her sister and Bingley standing together.” Isobel Bishop image @Morgan Library

We can only surmise that Harris Big-Wither, Jane’s next suitor who did propose (and was accepted one evening and rejected the following morning) did not live up to Jane’s standards for a husband, not in the way that her mysterious lover had. While rich and able to support Jane and her family, Harris lacked looks, intelligence and charm. (“Mr Wither was very plain in person – awkward, and even uncouth in manner – nothing but his size to recommend him” – The Suitor: Harris Big-Wither, JASA.)

Jane’s doomed love affair occurred in a small seaside town in Devon that had increased in popularity after the King’s visit. Until 1800, Sidmouth was a fishing village situated on the Channel, between Lyme and Exmouth, one hundred and sixty-two miles from London. By 1801, Sidmouth offered an elegant ball room, tea-room, and some shops. By the mid-19th century there were seven or eight bathing machines, which were private property. Several rows of good houses were built by the gentry, a numbers of whom made it their summer residence. The market-days were Tuesday and Saturday, with no coaches or waggons going regularly to or from this small resort. In an 1814 panorama, one can see the Georgian verandas and awnings  and the fashionable dandies and well-dressed ladies parading up and down the esplanade.

Sidmouth 1803 engraving

Sidmouth, 1803 engraving. Fronticepiece.

For the Frontispiece the Author is indebted to the friendly and elegant pencil of Hubert Cornish, Esq.; and he feels happy in thus acknowledging his obligations, for a drawing of one of the most interesting bathing-places in the kingdom.

The view is taken at low water, and from Salcombe-hill, which rises on the east side of the town; A part only of Sidmouth is included; but the Beach, and the distinguishing features of its coast, are sketched with fidelity and spirit.

The cliffs of Torbay are seen in the western distance—High Peak succeeds; and Peak-hill, with its signal-post, near which runs the road to Exmouth, exhibits the western side of Sidmouth valley. Peak-house, the residence of Mr. Baruhr, and the elegant cottage of Miss Floyd, are seen above the town. – An Excursion from Sidmouth to Chester, 1803, Google ebook

Sidmouth during Jane Austen's day. Image@Sidmouth Library. Click on image.

Sidmouth during Jane Austen’s day. Image@Sidmouth Library. Click on image.

The town consists of about three hundred houses and, in the census taken by order of Parliament in the year 1803, was said to contain twelve hundred and fifty-two inhabitants. This number, according to the census in 1813, was increased to above 1600. Beginning from what is termed Mill-cross, at the north end of the town, and ending at the beach, its length is about the third part of a mile. For rather more than half of this space it is, principally, one street; the remainder is divided into two branches like the letter Y. In the eastern branch, which seems rather the best of the two, are shops of almost every description, and two of the inns of the town, the London Inn and the New Inn. In the western branch of the main street is the Post-office. Both branches of the Y, as well as the main stem, contain lodging-houses, very various both in size and price. – The Beauties of Sidmouth, 1816

Sidmouth today. Image @ Google Maps

Sidmouth today. Image @ Google Maps

Today, much of the Regency architecture remains and one can readily imagine Jane and her beau walking along the coast, inhaling the bracing sea air and feeling the ocean breezes. Years later Jane mentioned Sidmouth briefly, for William Elliot had visited the town before visiting Lyme and meeting Anne in Persuasion.

Years after her death:

Sidmouth became an epicentre of the craze for cottages ornées – gentlemen’s residences designed in faux rustic style. Look at the thatched roofs on the seafront. When the future Elizabeth Barrett Browning came to Sidmouth in 1832, the house she rented had previously been occupied by the Grand Duchess Helena of Russia. Sidmouth had found its form.  – Sidmouth mans the barricades

Sidmouth's Esplanade today. Image @Google maps.

Sidmouth’s Esplanade today. Image @Google maps.

Another version of Jane’s romance with a stranger has recently surfaced. In Jane Austen: An Unrequited Love, author Andrew Norman asserts that the young clergyman was called Samuel Bicknall. According to the Daily Mail, a British rag, “Not only were her dreams of marrying Sam thwarted, but the match was sabotaged by her own beloved sister, Cassandra, who also lusted after him.”

Oh, dear (and how contrary to our knowledge of Jane’s and Cassandra’s deep love and respect for each other!)  I ordered this seemingly spiteful book for my Kindle. More on Mr. Norman’s assertions later!

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Contributed by Tony Grant, all rights reserved. Images by Tony Grant.

Brighton, the old Pavilion and Steyne, Charles Richards

Towards the end of her life Jane Austen was writing a new sort of novel, Sanditon. It appears to have been, in it’s far from completed form, an analysis of change going on in the world of the 18th century.The main female character in this story, Charlotte Heywood, is an observer of Sanditon, its development and its occupants. Through her eyes we the reader can see the social and environmental forces that are unfolding at Sanditon and the forces that act on its attempts to be attractive to people.

Brighton pier

In our own day we are creating new communities that we hope will be sustainable in materials, energy production and lifestyle. A community called Bedzed, near Croydon in Surrey, is just such a new development.

Brighton today

Sanditon is an 18th century exploration of how a new settlement may have occurred and mistakes made and Bedzed is a modern version showing how we can learn from the past.

Royal Pavilion at Brighton

Charlotte soon learns on her way to Sanditon that there are two Sanditons. There is the old fishing village set in a sheltered valley leading down to the sea and there is the new Sanditon high on a hill with cliffs overlooking the sea. The old home of the Parkers is set in the valley just outside the fishing village and it has orchards, gardens and meadows, all the resources for self-sufficient living and it is in a sheltered aspect away from gales and the worst of the elements.

Scarborough Beach

..in a shelterd dip within 2 miles of the sea, they passed by a moderate-sized house,well fenced and planted,and rich in the garden,orchard and meadows which are the best embelilishments of such a dwelling.”
The new Parkers home, Trafalgar House, is set high on a hill with no orchards and meadows and gardens and when they first arrive is being windswept by a minor gale.

Mr Parker has a concept of a seaside settlement centred around fresh air and spectacular views. Two very good ideals but missing many other requirements for a comfortable community to work.

Trafalgar House ,on the most elevated spot on the down, was a light elegant building, standing in a small lawn with a very young plantation around it about a hundred yards from the brow of a steep, but not very lofty cliff.”

Bedzed

Bedzed, near Croydon, has been created to revolutionise people’s lives enabling them to live without wasting the resources of this planet and to live sustainably. It is situated outside a well-established town with major roads and rail links very close by. It is for people who live ordinary lives and it is designed to help them improve those ordinary lives and the planet they live on.

People move to Bedzed with typical lifestyles, and over the years change their behaviour significantly.”

The purpose of Sandition was to attract people to the seaside for health reasons. Seawater and sea air were considered, in the 18th century, the panaceas for all known ailments. They were the elixir of life. While people were there it was also hoped by Mr Parker, that they would spend their money in the new shops, buy the latest fashions, stay in the smart hotels and take part in the events of the new town, billiards, going to the library, buying presents in the gift shops, hiring bathing machines and eating the local produce.

Bedzed

Bedzed was designed for people to interact in ways that improve their lives. Much of what is hoped for Bedzed are things that communities over the ages have provided for their people. It is small enough and big enough to create what is termed a,” a community spirit.” People come together in sports teams, community events such as fetes and to meet and make community decisions; a sort ground level politics. What is necessary for our modern age is to do it sustainably.

the community have created their own facilities and groups to improve quality of life and reduce their environmental impact.”

Sustainability in the 18th century has many of the elements we think of today as sustainability. People grew their own produce, many house roofs were made from straw or reeds, recycled waste was used as food for animals or dug it into the soil to fertilise it, as with human waste and they used the natural elements as a power source. The wind to dry clothes, animals to move machinery and dead wood or sustainable forestry were used to provide fuel. Clay for bricks, rocks, slate and large amounts of wood were also taken for building and these might not have been sustainable practices even the 18th century. The increasingly massive use of coal certainly was not.

A calm, Gillray, 1810

The old fishing village of Sanditon and the Parkers first home, set snuggly in the valley, kept to these mostly sustainable principles. The new Sanditon, on the hill got rid of many of these essential practices. All the services, shops, hotels houses and transport were imposed on the hill and materials had to be got up there.

Ramsgate

People become the secondary thought in that they were expected to fit in. The new Sanditon is what Mr Parker thinks people want. It is an example of modernisation removing peoples connection with the world they live in. It is an example of the designers of our world not listening to the people they are providing for. The new Sanditon is a vision of the way the world has gone. The old Sanditon is an example of where we could go.

Bedzed

Total sustainabliltiy in our modern age is technically possible. Bedzed is run completely on sustainable practices. Water is recycled, the use of insulation, materials from sustainable sources, some of it recycled, the use of local materials as much as possible to reduce transport costs and pollution, the sharing of electric cars and the provision of sustainable energy from it’s own pwoerplant fuelled by waste materials are all sustainable practices. What is most important of all, the people who live in Bedzed make the choices and think of the ideas that create the world they live in.

the design solves problems such as heating and water usage.” And “the design and services offered help people make sustainable choices such as walking rather than driving.”

Windmill, sphagnum moss roof, recycled water

One of the most encouraging things I have seen in recent years in south London, is an enormous DIY store that has recently been built about half a mile from where I live. It uses rain water to flush the toilets, has a sphagnum moss roof, triple glazing for extra insulation, solar panels, a heating system where water is heated naturally through underground pipes, and one enormous windmill surmounting the lot. Impressive? You bet!!!!!! There is a new high rise office tower in central London that looks as though a knife has sliced off the top at a sharp angle. There are three gigantic oval holes in this angular top. Each oval hole contains a wind turbine. The world really is adapting.

Sliced off top and wind turbines

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Circulating libraries in the 18th and 19th century were associated with leisure, and were found  in cities and towns with a population of 2,000 and upward. They were as much of an attraction in wealthy resorts, where people came to relax and look after their health, as in cities and small towns, like Basingstoke, where Jane Austen subscribed to Mrs. Martin’s circulating library.

In 1801, it was said that there were 1,000 circulating libraries in Britain. Book shops abounded as well, but in 1815 a 3-volume novel cost the equivalent of $100 today. Such a price placed a novel beyond the reach of most people. Worried about a second edition for Mansfield Park, Jane Austen wrote in 1814:

“People are more ready to borrow and praise, than to buy –which I cannot wonder at.”

Circulating libraries made books accessible to many more people at an affordable price.  For two guineas a year, a patron could check out two volumes. Which meant that for the price of one book, a patron could read up to 26 volumes per year.

By 1800, most copies of a novel’s edition were sold to the libraries, which were flourishing businesses to be found in every major English city and town, and which promoted the sale of books during a period when their price rose relative to the cost of living. The libraries created a market for the publishers’ product and encouraged readers to read more by charging them an annual subscription fee that would entitle them to check out a specified number of volumes at one time. – Lee Ericson, The Economy of Novel Reading

The leisurely classes had plenty of time for reading, late 18th c.

The practice of borrowing books was not a new concept in the Regency era. Records from the 17th century show that people were borrowing books from booksellers. As early as 1735, Samuel Fancourt advertised a circulating library in Salisbury for his religious books and pamphlets.

Circulating libraries attracted many patrons, even those who did not necessarily come to borrow or book or read, for they were also places for fashionable people to “hang out” and meet others.

In the resorts the circulating libraries became fashionable daytime lounges where ladies could see others and be seen, where raffles were held and games were played, and where expensive merchandise could be purchased.  – Lee Ericson, The Economy of Novel Reading

Jane Austen well knew the attractions of libraries at sea side resorts. Mrs. Whitby’s Circulating Library operated in Sanditon, and Lydia visited one in Brighton.  In her letters to Cassandra, Jane frequently mentioned circulating libraries, in particular visiting one in Southampton.

Circulating Library and Reading Room, Milsom Street, Bath. Image, Tony Grant

Circulating libraries tended to be located in a convenient location in the center of a resort. Newcomers would find out about them from guide books, such as the one in Brighton. The Royal Colonade Library advertised itself as thus:

MESSRS. WRIGHT AND SON’S ROYAL COLONADE LIBRARY, MUSIC SALOON, AND READING ROOMS.

This establishment is situated in North-street, at the corner of the New Road, and contains between seven and eight thousand volumes of History, Biography, Novels, French and Italian, and all the best Modern Publications. The Reading Room is frequented both by Ladies and Gentlemen, and is daily supplied with a profusion of London morning and evening papers, besides the French and weekly English journals, magazines, reviews, and general popular periodicals. – Brighton As It Is, 1836

In 1836, Cassandra Austen would have been familiar with the costs associated with the Royal Colonade Library’s terms of subscriptions:

Terms of subscription

By the end of the 18th century, Scarborough, a resortt located in the county of North Yorkshire, boasted several circulating libraries. The town’s population had risen to 7,067 by 1811, and one can imagine that, with the many leisurely hours available to tourists and visitors, these libraries managed a booming business.


A circulating library in Scarborough around 1818, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough

The Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, first published in 1813, features twenty-one illustrations of humorous subjects about the many features available in the resort, including a satiric poem about the Circulating Library:

As in life’s tide by careful fate
The mind is made to circulate
Just so each watering place supplies
It’s CIRCULATING LIBRARIES:

Where charming volumes may be had
Of good indifferent and bad
And some small towns on Britain’s shore
Can boast of book shops half a score
Scarbro and with much truth may boast
Her’s good as any on our coast
AINSWORTH’S or SCAUM’S no matter which
Or WHITING’S all in learning rich
Afford a more than common measure
Of pleasant intellectual treasure

One wonders if the following publication could be checked out a Scarborough circulating library at the turn of the 19th century, for the book was written by a local schoolmaster:

A Short Grammar of The English Language. In Two Parts By John Hornsey. Schoolmaster, Scarborough.

THE publick are much indebted to Mr Hornsey for this able and excellent compendium of English grammar. We acknowledge that we perused it with singular satisfaction; and are well persuaded that a more useful introduction to the English language cannot be placed in the hands of our youth. That this work should reach a second edition, did not excite our wonder; may it pass through many succeeding ones!- The Nichols, John.Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 86, 1799, p 1144.

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