Jane Austen and the Pleasure Garden’ a walking tour of Bath with Dr Moira Rudolf
On a mild Saturday morning in May, the Jane Austen Detectives met outside the Holburne Museum in Bath, within view of 4 Sydney Place, Jane Austen’s first address in the city after the family’s move there in 1801. We had come to the former Sydney Hotel for a long-anticipated walk with one of our favourite Jane Austen experts resident in Bath, the wonderful Dr Moira Rudolf, who had agreed to take us around Sydney Gardens and show us the sites on her ‘Jane Austen and the Pleasure Garden’ tour.
Moira’s public tours normally take place on Fridays, but the Jane Austen Detectives were able to benefit from one of her private tours, which she tailored perfectly to all our different interests. In the course of the two hours we took to weave our way from Sydney Place down to Abbey Churchyard and into the Pump room, she addressed architecture, Georgian and Victorian trading opportunities, the position and sometimes curious duties of Georgian servants, the chemical make-up of the famous Waters, and a rich variety of other subjects related to Jane Austen’s novels and the time she spent in the city.
The subjects of Moira’s walks all emphasise both her wide interests in different historical and cultural aspects of Bath and the thoroughness and originality of her research and literary detection. Besides the Pleasure Garden, other available tours explore Bath’s architectural history, the Austens’ house hunt through the city, and references in the cityscape to one of Jane Austen’s great literary inspirations, Fanny Burney. The tours are dynamic and interactive, revealing many hidden gems – often hunted out by the avid Moira herself – and allowing ample room for comments and questions from the audience.
We will not give away too much of the content of this particular tour, as it is best to experience it for yourself, but with Moira’s permission we will divulge some of the locations we stopped by, which many tourists keeping only to the city centre are likely to miss.
The wealth of quotations and images that Moira carries with her in a sturdy water-proof folder formed the basis of our ramble through the damp and muddy but beautifully green gardens. Some references to Jane Austen’s letters and contemporary illustrations helped to set the scene of supper-boxes, live music from the gallery, and frequent ‘illuminations’ or fireworks in the Bath equivalent of Vauxhall Gardens in London. But as we stood behind the former Sydney Hotel, the site of the public breakfasts and dances that Jane Austen reports attending regularly, we were also surprised to be informed that the Gardens contained many more marvels of Georgian technology, making it effectively the Georgian equivalent of a modern-day theme park. This led to a marvellous hunt off the beaten track of your average Jane Austen tour, to discover the sites of such Georgian attractions as the sham castle and the grotto, and not failing to take in the ruins of what Moira has good reason to believe is the Sydney Tap, the pub where sedan-chair bearers went to drink whilst they awaited the return of the wealthy patrons they had dropped off at the Sydney Hotel – not unlike a modern-day taxi rank.
In the course of our zig-zagging progress past Jane Austen’s old address to the site of the chapel where the Austens may have worshipped, down to the river to gaze wistfully at the site of the Lower Rooms where the Master of Ceremonies introduced Mr Tilney to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, Moira showed us hidden aspects of Bath which we had never stopped to notice before – including the coin shop from which she purchased the Georgian penny she carries with her for luck. Our tour finished in the Pump Room where, to the sound of live piano music and in view of the Tompion Clock under which Mrs Allen and Mrs Thorpe renewed their acquaintance in Northanger Abbey, we rounded off our visit with a glass each of the famous Waters.
The Jane Austen Detectives would highly recommend Moira’s tours for their richness, originality and liveliness. They are guaranteed to give you a fresh perspective on Bath and Jane Austen’s presence in and depictions of it. Come prepared with waterproof footwear and a reliable umbrella, and nothing will compromise your enjoyment.
Moira’s public walks take place on Fridays at 11am and 2.30pm. Privately tailored group walks are also available. For more information please refer to the Regency Walking Tours page on the Visit Bath website.
Credit for all images in this post goes to Kimberley Davies.
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