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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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