Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Creation of Georgian Bath!

This is the City in which Jane Austen removed to from Hampshire, at a time in her life when the realities of renting property and feeding a household required a frugal existence. She related her findings of hardship within Sense and Sensibility, though her existence as a Parson's daughter was in stark contrast to that of the Dashwood's fall from the grand lifestyle of a vast country estate to the meagre confines of a little cottage in Devon. Nonetheless, rent paid for a house in Bath and no land on which to grow meat or produce for the house, monies soon fell short in Jane's life. Later, from her letters, we see she relied more and more on family charity and thereby a roof over her head, thus she moved from one residence to another with a great deal of regularity. There is a strange circumstance too, which is rarely spoken of - why did the Austen children live elsewhere rather than within the family house. Why did the Knight family adopt Edward? It was common practice in Jane Austen's time and long before and you can read why here. Cassandra too lived away a great deal, residing with family and the family her brother married into, hence numerous letters betwixt Jane and Cassandra. Read Jane's letters in Diedre le Faye's book compilation of Jane Austen's Letters.                

The City of Bath, set within the Vale of Avon, and within the County of Somerset, has long been looked upon as the Georgian City of Bath. And ever since Jane Austen lived there, albeit for a short while, few people realise her preference lay with Bristol, Clifton, in particular. Why might that be? If you've been to, or know Clifton, the answer lies in its elevation and the views which were spectacular in her day. 

Click on picture to enlarge!

View from Clifton before the grand terraces and crescents of Georgian Bristol were built. 

From Clifton she looked out across Bristol and the surrounding countryside to the River Avon below, and to the River Severn and the Bristol Channel (tidal waters) running betwixt the West Country and Wales. Clifton was quite unlike Bath, or the old City of Bristol. Although both city centres are set down in a basin surrounded by hills, quite small in modern terms, and at one time consisting of mediaeval buildings. Bristol had the advantage as the second most important sea port in England during the 16th-17th centuries, it was fought over time and time again throughout the years of the English Civil Wars (1642-1649), but as with other great sea ports, such as Plymouth, in the days of Sir Francis Drake, other ports gradually took precedence with shifting fortunes, political and military necessities of war with Napoleon. 

Sadly, in the height of the slave trade Bristol became blighted with a bad reputation for harbouring slavers. Hence as the abolition movement increased in momentum and focus centred on Bristol port in the late 1700s, slavers sought other ports and moved ships up north and to London with wares brought back from the West Indies to disguise their other trade.       

Bristol port was originally in the heart of the city, long since built on and all but disappeared barring a few remnants of the port, and the new port lies farther out on the Western edge of the city.

Bristol Harbour in the 1700s.   

The building of Georgian Bath began with the building of Milsom Street and other in 1762, instigated by Thomas Lightholder. The majority of the buildings were grand town houses incorporating existing detached properties, and it quickly became a commercial street when a bank took up residence followed by goldsmiths, modistes, tailors, et al. Bath was beginning towards a hub of social activity associated with the taking of the waters at the hot springs of the Roman Baths. Thus, Pulteney Bridge was completed in 1774, and likewise Great Pulteney Street and Laura Place became desirable residences. Before all that bridges were far lesser and required a little forethought in which route to take from Keynsham bridge to old bridge in bath, the same in coming from London to Bath, and schooners actually navigated upstream to Bath from Bristol on high tide. 

Old Bridge Bath. 

Earlier John Wood the elder (architect) had a grand visions for new build projects. He leased large tracts of land beyond the old city walls - his plan included Queen Square, the Parades, the Circus and other great ventures. His perception involved the grandeur of palaces combined with the practicality of mini mansions as private houses. Similar to today's builds, plots were individually leased to builders & tradesmen, all able to cater for tenants of differing purses, but each build was subject to Wood's fa├žades of uniform Georgian splendour. His grand plans were created with the visions of Palladian grandeur, not altogether new within England, for similar could be seen with vast country estates such as Blenheim Palace, the Duke of Marlborough's grand house completed in 1722, and of course, the Duke of Devonshire's country estate Chatsworth, the new build which began in 1687, though both have Stuart influence as well.    

Two images of Pulteney Bridge to show how beautiful it was during the late 1700s

In both pictures one can see the original diagonal weir, not the modern weir of today that was built in the 20th century. At either side/end of the weir stood two grain mills!

One of the first Crescents to be built was The Royal Crescent and later, Lansdown Crescent (upper edge of pic in the distance) - note the boats on the Avon.

Another view of Lansdown Crescent.

And here we have the Royal Crescent - originally known only as The Crescent.  

Second perspective of the RC. 

And of course, as authors, we have to remember only the Lower Assembly rooms existed in the early part of Georgian Bath along with the original Pump Room.

Lower Assembly Rooms with Harrison's Walks (Gardens) Now part of the Parade, since the lower assembly rooms no longer exist.

The Pump Room - 
And one simply cannot mention Bath and leave Beau Nash out of the frame, he, who became the master of ceremonies within the City of Bath's social whirl, and he really did rule the social order with a metaphorical iron glove. 

Thus, the building of Georgian Bath plays a small background roll to my novel -
In Love with a Portrait

Sometimes it's nice to escape Regency England and step back in time to the Georgian period proper. And that's what I did. 

And this is Harrison's Walks in the present day - Parade Gardens.

This is Francis Cavendish the hero!

Book Blurb:

... “No one, absolutely no one will dare disturb us, unless the house catches fire”...

Cassandra never envisaged a week in the countryside with her cousin would lead to childish mischief. The prospect of the village stocks looms when they are caught trespassing within a grand country house. However, the law is the law, and the price of freedom in Cassandra’s case proves more costly than imagined, for she loses her heart to the very man whose portrait Sarah had fallen in love with, the man Sarah insists she will tempt and seduce at will. Cassandra’s release from custody by the man himself fuels jealousy and rivalry between her and Sarah. But when shocking revelations of a scandalous affair and illicit passions set precedence for a hasty elopement, stunned by it all, Cassandra discovers passionate asides can lead to true love and romance in the strangest of circumstance.