Where Mrs Smith Bathed.....
…and other hotspots on the Jane Austen’s Bath walking tour.
On a typical Bath morning, alternating between sudden showers and warm sunshine, we were collected from the KC Change Visitor Centre in the Abbey Churchyard in Bath by Moira, a tour guide from the Jane Austen Centre. Wedged in between a restaurant and a patisserie, the Visitor Centre is easy to miss; but, set in the shadow of Bath Abbey and immediately across from the Roman Baths and the Pump Room, major social hubs in Jane Austen’s day, it is an obvious place to start.
Although Jane would have known the Abbey much as we see it today, the Roman Baths, in her day, were obscured by houses. Going on into the Pump Room, however, it is easy to think away the modern features of the restaurant it now houses, and see the colonnaded room in which Catherine Morland met Isabella Thorpe and was ogled in Northanger Abbey.
There is no time, while on the tour, to taste the famous waters; but, going out through the back of the Pump Room, and down the colonnade used for the touching conclusion of the 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion, you will see the therapeutic baths patronised by Mrs Smith in Persuasion, and Jane’s brother Henry in real life. Looking down a side street, you will even get a glimpse of the infamous Westgate Buildings, where Anne Elliot visited her impoverished friend, Mrs Smith.
The tour goes on to take you to famous addresses of the Austens themselves, and the characters of Jane’s fiction. Both Bath novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, receive ample mentions on the tour: we stopped in one spot, overlooking the river, from which were visible, on one side, the site of the Lower Rooms where Mr King introduced Catherine and Mr Tilney, and on the other, the former Upper Camden Place, where Sir Walter Elliot took a house befitting his station. Moira informed us that Upper Camden Place was built on precarious ground, and left unfinished because the buildings slid down the hill on which they were constructed, making this choice of address a subtle hint regarding Sir Walter’s financial circumstances.
The tours, although they are run by the Jane Austen Centre and usually take in similar places, are researched by the guides themselves, making each walk unique. Our guide, the lovely Moira, is herself a Jane Austen detective. Specialising in architecture, she can tell you a great deal about the neo-Classical front of Bath and the visionaries who created it; but as a Jane Austen enthusiast, she peppers her factual knowledge with frequent references to the novels.
As part of her research, she posed as a potential buyer in order to get a look at the privately owned house in Laura Place that might have been Lady Dalrymple’s in Persuasion. As part of the tour, she will dash you through the archway from Abbey Church Yard to glance up Union Passage, since this is what Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland did, in pursuit of the good-looking young men that had stared at them in the Pump Room.
The tours finish at the Jane Austen Centre, where you will be welcomed by an attendant in period dress. From here, you are free to make your way into the Centre shop, tea room, or straight into the exhibition. To top it off, your ticket to the walking tour will get you discounts on entry into the exhibition or purchases in the Regency Tea Room.
The Jane Austen’s Bath walking tours take place at 11am on every Saturday and Sunday and on Bank Holidays throughout the year. Throughout July and August, there are extra tours on Fridays and Saturdays at 4pm. Walks leave from KC Change Visitor Centre in Abbey Churchyard, and take approximately 1.5 hours. Tickets are sold at the Visitor Centre, and are priced at £6pp for adults.
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