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Many of you were intrigued by the post on Mrs Eleanor Coade’s house, Belmont, in Lyme Regis, which I wrote last week. I thought you might like to know of this very reasonably priced book, published by Shire, which gives a very good over view of Mrs Coade’s life and works. Her “stone” ornaments were used extensively by Georgian architects and there are many, many examples of her works still surviving today- although because of their resemblance to stone it has sometimes been difficult to attribute them to her manufactory!
This book is only 48 page long but it is packed with information about Mrs Coade and her manufactory, dispelling some myths along the way. In particular, the story that Mrs Coades formula for her stone or Lithodopia,as she termed it, was a secret:
The formula for Coade stone was never a secret, as has sometimes been claimed. The architect, David Lang(1174-1856) who used Coade stone, described its composition in a book (1818) on his Custom House in London:”[Coade stone is] a material which, although composed of various ingredients, may be described as a species of terracotta. It combines in one mass pipe-clay, flint, sand, glass and stoneware that has already passed the furnace. These are ground to provide a very fine powder and are mixed in the proper proportions and the whole is kneaded together by means of the addition of water. In this stage it forms a kind of paste which has the ductility of clay usually employed in modelling”
The modelling procees used by Mrs Coade is explained, as is her use of sculptors, notably John Bacon and Joseph Panzettta. But what is most important and interesting to me is the second half of the book which is a gazetteer of the many of the Coade stone pieces that are still extant and are relatively easy to access. Among the examples listed are this amazing statue of George III at Weymouth, below. George III and and his family, Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax in Emma used to visit this seaside resort (though not at the same time!) and the statue dates from 1809. This photograph is reproduced with the very kind permission of my Twitter friend, Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints. Do click on it to examine the intricate detail of the piece.
Another very interesting example of Coade stone is the intricate and beautiful pediment in King William Court at the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich which was designed by one of Jane Austen’s favourite artists, Benjamin West. Joseph Panzetta modeled the piece, and a detail of the central section can be seen on the cover to the book at the beginning of this post. It depicts Britannia, representing Britain, receiving the dead body of Nelson from the sea-god, Neptune. Nelson’s body lay in state at Greenwhich when it was returned to England in 1806 after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21st 1805.
This was erected in 1813, and was one of the Coade factory’s largest and most ambitious commissions. It is 40 feet long and ten feet high. The Coade factory also made other Nelson monuments including the statue of Nelson for the Nelson column erected in Great Yarmouth in 1819.
If your appetite for more information on Eleanor Caode and her wares has been whetted by the post on Belmont in Lyme Regis, then I can throughly recommend this astoundingly reasonably priced book( £5.99) to you . I am keeping a copy in my car so that I can seek out Coade stone examples on my travels.
A dear friend of mine, who loves the story of Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot in Persuasion , cherishes the notion that, after they are married, they took one of the lovely villas overlooking Lyme, set in the hills leading back from the sea front overlooking the Cobb, and live happily ever after there in sight of the sea and at the place where Wentworth’s admiration for all Anne’s admirable qualities (and not a little jealousy) was first revived. One such house is the subject of a restoration project and I thought you all might be interested to hear of it, and may even want to help out by giving donations.
Belmont, shown above, is a fascinating house on the hills that surround Lyme, overlooking the Cobb, where Louisa Musgrove took her unfortunate tumble.
It has intriguing historic and literary connections and the Landmark Trust , who now own the building, are trying to raise £2.1 million to restore it so that it can be used by the public as a rather special holiday let, and the adjoining stable block can be used as an exhibition space with full public access. The Landmark Trust is one of my favourite organisations. It saves and restores threatened historic buildings and gives them a new life and purpose. I’ve stayed in two of their lets: The East Banqueting House in Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds and Auchinleck House in Scotland.
The house was, until very recently, the home of the author, John Fowles , shown above, who loved Lyme with a passion, and who was also the curator of the Philpott Museum. He wanted the house to be saved for public use, and this wife has generously allowed the Landmark Trust to take on the building so that it can be renovated and re-opened. However it was the home a very famous woman of teh late 18th century, Eleanor Coade, who is famous for her “secret” formula used for creating a form of artificial stone which was more durable than natural stone and which took her name, Coade Stone.
The Coades were a West Country family, and Eleanor’s uncle built the house sometime before 1784 which was the date when it was transferred into her ownership. She embellished the house with her stone ornaments. Her business,based in Kings Arms Stairs, Narrow Walk, Lambeth, produced some of the most accurate and detailed stone ornaments and they were famed for their strength and durability,and of course, for their cheapness in comparison with stone which had been individually quarried and sculpted.
The ornaments,- made from moulds, were used by many of the most famous architects of the 18th and early 19th centuries. They included Robert Adam, James and Samuel Wyatt, Sir William Chambers, John Nash, and John Soane. Some of her most famous and quirky designs are to be found on the entrance to Twinnings tea shop and museum in The Strand in London.
(©Victor Grigas via Wilkepdia Commons)
©Robert Freidus via The Victorian Web,
The Chinese figures atop the pediment are made from Eleanor’s stone. Jane Austen know this place for she obtained tea from this long-established firm of tea merchants here and wrote to her sister, Cassandra of it in her letter, written from her brother Henry’s house in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, which is just a little further along the Strand:
I am sorry to hear that there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining till later in the day, when we may order a fresh supply.
(See letter dated March 5th 1814)
In her next letter to Cassandra of the 9th March she is annoyed with her mother for forgetting to reimburse her this extra cost:
I suppose my mother recollects that she gave me no money for paying Brecknell and Twining, and my funds will not supply enough.
Back to Belmont…Eleanor was a talented modeller in her own right and she exhibited at the Society of Artists between 1773 and 1780. As her mother’s name was the same as her own, it has for a long time been mistakenly assumed that Mrs Coade, her mother, ran the factory until her death in 1796, but , in fact,‘Mrs’ was a courtesy title given to any unmarried woman in business at that time, recent research by Alison Kelly ,who has written Mrs Coades biography, into bills in the firm’s archive show that Eleanor Coade , and not her mother, was in charge of the firm from 1771. Her “stone” has recently been analyzed and has been shown to be a ceramic material,which is why it has been more durable than stone, even though it has the appearance of it.
Belmont boasts many examples of her stoneware, and as her works are no longer in existence, it would seem that this house, where she lived, could be one of the main monuments to her taste, art and skill. These include the rusticated ornament around the entrance, below…
The swagged frieze around the parapet…
and the masks on the key stones around the building…
including this very appropriately nautical example which depicts Neptune, the god of the sea, which is to be found on the main entrance to the house:
The house was in existence when Jane Austen visited Lyme, in 1804, so it is very probable that she saw it when walking about the lower part of the town, on looking up towards the surrounding hills, and she may even has passed by it on one of her walks around the area.
The Landmark Trust’s plans for the house can be seen here, below, in a video of their house and its history. If you can help with any donations I am sure they will all be gratefully received.
I was very kindly invited to an evening at the Lyme Regis Museum recently, to celebrate a very important gift ( or, more correctly, a series of gifts) that have been made to the Museum’s collection by Diana Shervington.
©The Philpott Museum Lyme Regis
Diana, pictured at the evening, above, is, as you know, descended doubly from Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Knight,( booth her grandmothers were his grand-daughters) and she has given many a talk at the museum using Austen family relics to illustrate them. She has now decided to donate these items to the museum permanently, and they will be on show there as part of the permanent collection.
©The Philpott Museum Lyme Regis
The items she so generously donated include those in the photograph above: spectacles and their case which both belonged to Mrs Austen, Jane Austen’s mother; a set of “spilkins” a game at which Jane Austen excelled according to The Memoir of her written by her nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh;
Jane Austen was successful in everything that she attempted with her fingers. None of us could throw spilikins in so perfect a circle, or take them off with so steady a hand.
A set of bone counters inscribed with the alphabet rather like the ones mentioned in the word game section of Chapter 41 of Emma,and some gaming fish.
She also donated some bone counters and a box for the game of “Merelles”; a kerchief with lace edging and a very lovely and fine lace cap worn by ladies indoors during Jane Austen’s era. Go here to see all the items and read about the evening which I sadly could not attend due to previous commitments.
So…this very generous donation now gives us all another excuse to visit that lovely town in Dorset, with its remarkable situation:
… the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which in the season is animated with bathing-machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood.
Persuasion, Chapter 11.
and it is, of course, where Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s love began to revive, and where Jane Austen herself appeared to have been so happy attending balls at the Assembly Rooms and renting Mr Pynes house.
I should like to thank the Museum for permission to use their lovely images in this post.
will be given this weekend, on Sunday 6th November at 2.30 p.m by Diana Shervinton, whom you can see in the photograph below,
and who is a direct descendant of Jane Austen’s brother Edward. Her talk is on the perennially fascinating topic to we Janeites of Jane Austen and the Navy. The talk is free, and promises to be very interesting, so if you are in the area, please do go.
The talk is part of the Maritime Lyme celebrations which have been on–going throughout the year.
I cannot tell you how desperate I and to go and hear one of these talks! I think its high time I paid another visit to Lyme, the last time I was there was three years ago….far too long a period of time.
Dr Andrew May of the Lyme Regis Museum took copious notes at Diana Shervington’s latest talk, Jane Austen-Why Didnt She Marry?- which she gave there last Thursday, and was kind enough to give me the ”heads up” notice of his report which can be found here at the Lyme Regis Museum’s excellent blog.
Do pop over and read it as it sounds as if it was a fascinating afternoon. I know of a lot of you wanted to attend but couldn’t so reading this report is the next best thing!
This is a short post to remind you that Diana Shervington, descendant of Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother who gave his sisters and mother the cottage at Chawton in which to live from 1809 onwards, is to give a talk tomorrow on the reasons why Jane Austen failed to marry. The talk will be held at the Philpott Museum in Lyme Regis at 2.30p.m. I should love to be there, but as ever life has intervened….but if you are in the area, do go as it sounds like it promises to be a very interesting and entertaining afternoon.
The Lyme Regis Museum has recently launched a fascinating blog. Yesterday they wrote about Jane Austen and Lyme for the first( but obviously not the last!) time and a little about the filming of Persuasion in 1994.
Here is an intriguing photograph taken while the filming was underway in the town:
I do hope there is more of this to come ;)
Literary and artistic topics of interest covered thus far are, apart from Jane Austen in Lyme, James McNeill Whister and G. K. Chesterton who both came under the town’s spell. An easy thing to do…As I know only too well…..;)
So do go and visit the new blog, as I sure you will find it interesting. I certinaly did.
The Philpot Museum in Lyme Regis has recently announced an interesting programme of events for May and June this year. I thought you might be interested to hear of those that relate to Jane Austen.
First, some events inspired by Thomas Corum, whom we know from my posts on The Foundling Hospital in Brunswick Square and on their recent exhibit Threads of Feeling. Captain Corum was born in Lyme circa 1668. The Philpot Museum is to be host to the Foundling Museum’s touring exhibition on Thomas Corum’s life entitled, Foundling Voices. The Museum’s press release tells us:
This exhibition celebrates one of Lyme’s famous sons, Thomas Coram, who established the Foundling Hospital in London. Hear voices of former pupils of the Foundling Hospital recounting life before, during and after their time in the institution. Stories range from the heartbreak of leaving foster families to laughter of recalled childhood mischief; from the excitement and fear of going out into the world at the age of fourteen, to meeting unknown brothers and sisters and finding love and happiness with families of their own. This touring exhibition from London’s Foundling Museum will be in the ground floor gallery from 21 April to 31 May.
In conjunction with this exhibition on Thursday 5th May at 2.30 p.m., Anne Sankey will be giving a talk on Thomas Corum and the Foundling Hospital, again at the Philpot.
On Thursday 12 May at 2.30 p.m. Diana Shervington will be giving a light hearted talk entitled, JANE AUSTEN…WHY DIDN’T SHE MARRY? Diana Shervington is a Vice-President of the Jane Austen Society, and is a direct descendant of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Knight of Godmersham, and I think this would be a fascinating talk to attend.
Continuing with the Jane Austen theme, on Thursday 26th May, again at 2.30p.m. David Coates will be giving a talk on LYME’S LITERARY LINKS. Over the past 200 years, Lyme has been associated with many great literary figures and his talk will be a comprehensive one, beginning with Jane Austen and ending with John Fowles who was of course not only an outstanding novelist but also the curator of the Philpot Museum.
Then on Monday 13th June an event I really would love to be able to attend, beginning at the lifeboat station in Lyme, a walk around the town entitled LYME REGIS –AS JANE AUSTEN SAW IT, conducted by Fred Humphrey in the guise of Admiral Croft from Persuasion.
I confess I would ADORE to take a walk around Lyme with Admiral Corft…..but I fear commitments may prevent me from being there. You, however,may be luckier than I …if you do go give the Admiral my love won’t you?
The Philpot Museum in Lyme Regis is holding a talk which may interest Janites in the area. It is to be given by John Dover on the 24th March at 2.30 p.m., and the subject is Thomas Hollis. He was the man who founded Lyme’s tourist industry in teh early to mid 18th century.
This is of interest to Janeites because it was probably due to his tourism promoting activities, that Jane Austen ensured that Mr Hollis, the first husband of Lady Denham in her last unfinished novel, Sandition, shares his name
Thomas Hollis (1720-1774) was an interesting character. He was a political propagandist and a radical but also a supporter of the house of Hanover. He was a benefactor, amongst other institutions, of Harvard University and owned an estate of 3000 acres at Corscombe near Beauminster.
He kept, however, a suite of rooms in the original Three Cups Hotel at Lyme, the one shown above (and now sadly derelict)replaced it, and he bought up much of the slums and derelict property in Lyme in order to demolish them and improve the town. He created the first public promenade by purchasing land on the shore to create what Jane Austen would have referred to as The Walk ( it is now part of Marine Parade). He knocked down a series of warehouses to clear a site for the building of Lyme’s Assembly Rooms complex and these were completed in 1775 just after Hollis’s death. These are the Rooms that Jane Austen visited in 1804, and which I wrote about, here.
I do hope that some of you can go to listen to what promises to be a very interesting talk about a larger than life character, whose legacy made a strong impression on Jane Austen.
This week, in order to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the First Publication of Sense and Sensibility, I’m taking a slightly different tack and am writing not about an edition of the book, or about literary criticism or illustrations( my main emphasis thus far) but about Dorset, a county that features in the book.
(Do remember you can enlarge all the illustrations in this post by clicking on them)
Jane Austen clearly had mixed feelings about the county. She appears to have despised the fashionable sea-side town of Weymouth, made famous by the visits of the Royal Family, in particular George III who visited the seaside resort to recover his health:
(This marvellously gaudy photograph of George III in Weymouth is reproduced here by kind permission of my Twitter friend Patrick Baty, the renowned Historical Paint Consultant)
Weymouth is altogether a shocking place I perceive without recommendation of any kind and worthy only of being frequented by the inhabitants of Gloucester…
(See Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 14th September 1804)
But she liked Lyme Regis immensely:
They were come too late in the year for any amusement or variety which Lyme as a public place, might offer. The rooms were shut up, the lodgers almost all gone, scarcely any family but of the residents left; and as there is nothing to admire in the buildings themselves, the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which in the season is animated with bathing-machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood.
Pesruasion, Chapter 11
She certainly approved if its country estates, for it is in Dorset we find that Colonel Brandon lives, in Sense and Sensibility. His delightfully old-fashioned home, Delaford, is situated in that country. Mrs Jennings tells Elinor Dashwood and, of course, us of its quiet , old-fashioned charms:
Delaford is a nice place, I can tell you; exactly what I call a nice old fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country: and such a mulberry tree in one corner! Lord! how Charlotte and I did stuff the only time we were there! Then, there is a dovecote, some delightful stewponds, and a very pretty canal; and everything, in short, that one could wish for: and, moreover, it is close to the church, and only a quarter of a mile from the turnpike-road, so ’tis never dull, for if you only go and sit up in an old yew arbour behind the house, you may see all the carriages that pass along. Oh! ’tis a nice place! A butcher hard by in the village, and the parsonage-house within a stone’s throw. To my fancy, a thousand times prettier than Barton Park, where they are forced to send three miles for their meat, and have not a neighbour nearer than your mother…
Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 30.
The Delaford living is eventually given to Edward Ferrars and this is, of course, where he settles with his new wife, Elinor. A few months later, the marriage of Marianne Dashwood to the deserving Colonel Brandon reunites the sisters to live within a very small distance of each other:
Between Barton and Delaford, there was that constant communication which strong family affection would naturally dictate; and among the merits and the happiness of Elinor and Marianne, let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that though sisters, and living almost within sight of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves, or producing coolness between their husbands.
Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 50.
Dorset therefore becomes the home county of four of the leading characters in the book. What did their new home county look like? What did their neighbours look like? Was Dorset then a sleepy backwater or a hive of intellectual and industrial achievements Well, these questions are more can be answered by visiting an exhibition that is currently on show at the Dorset Country Museum in Dorchester, Georgian Faces: Portrait of a County, curated by Gwen Yarker.
The exhibition attempts, and succeeds, in delineating a portrait of the county as it was in the 18th century. The idea for the exhibit resulted from the purchase of George Romney’s portraits of the Rackett family in 2008.
As Gwen Yarker comments in the preface to the exhibition catalogue:
I became aware , whilst researching the life of the Reverend Thomas Rackett and his extensive circle of friends and acquaintances, of just how formative the century (the 18th century-jfw) was in shaping the county and its institutions not least the Dorset County Museum itself.
The backbone of the exhibition is the Reverend John Hutchin’s History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset first published in 1774. The book contained detialed descriptions of 18th century Dorset. Hutchins surveyed and recorded the country parish by parish. He wrote about the history, the people and the topography of the county.
The exhibtion shows that
… Dorset was not an isolated rural county, but was aware of the latest thinking, ideas and intellectual developments coming out of London. This included rural centres such as Blandford Forum, where a circle of natural philosophers were based. They in turn returned to the capital with their local discourses in natural philosophy, antiquarianism and archaeology.
The portraits are grouped along social lines, downwards from the King and powerful landowners, through to the county’s prosperous merchants, the merchant princes of Poole with its lucrative trade to and from Newfoundland, the members of the Dorset Volunteer Rangers , a corps of light cavalry who were founded in 1794 to defend the county against French invasion, the scientists and antiquarians of the county, right down to rare portraits of servants and gamekeepers.
Only sitters who lived in or regularly visited Dorset are included in the exhibition. Many of the portraits have rarely been seen before in public, and the curator was successful in persuading a number of private collectors to agree to their portraits being shown to the public for the first time.
The Digby family group of portraits are one example of this. All save one had their portraits painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. They amply illustrate the fate the 18th century assigned to them due to their birth order and potion in society, and the pattern of their lives represent exactly the society about which Jane Austen wrote.
The eldest, Edward 6th Lord Digby, inherited the tile and estates, and employed Capability Brown to landscape the garden of the family seat in Dorset, Sherbourne Castle. Charitable and kind he caught a fever whilst visiting the family’s estates in Ireland and died prematurely at the age of 27.
The second son,Henry, became an M.P.He succeeded to the ownership of the estates on the death of his eldest brother.The third son, Robert, entered the navy to eventually become a Rear Admiral of the Red in 1780.
William the fourth son held the family living of Coleshill in Warwickshire. ,Stephen the fifth son was commissioned into the Army. Charles, the six son also went into the church and was given another family living in Somerset.
The exhibition is fascinating, and I thoroughly recommend it . For lovers of the 18th century it provides wonderful and detailed insights into the people who lived in Dorset at this time, their homes and their occupations,
Interestingly, the research for the exhibition was begun on a budget of £1000 only,and unpaid volunteers did a lot of the ground work.What an innovative way to involve the local community and to beat budget cuts. Bravo to all concerned.
If, however, you can’t get to Dorchester to see it, then the catalogue of the exhibition, produced in paper back form is a very readable and interesting book in its own right. It is available to order by post from the Dorset Country Museum in Dorchester.
I thought you might be interested to learn the details of a talk to be given by Diana Shervington at the Lyme Regis Philpot Museum on Saturday 12th February, at 2.30p.m. It will be on the subject of Jane Austen and her two naval brothers, Frank, below
and Charles, also shown below.
The talk promises to be fascinating as Diana Shervington is a descendant of Jane Austen, and is also a patron of the newly formed South West branch of the Jane Austen Society.
If you do go you might be interested to also see the Museum’s new winter exhibition which is about Mary Anning , the great finder of fossils, who had as we have learnt , a slight connection to Jane Austen. The exhibition is entitled Mary Anning and the Men of Science and according to the museum’s website…
explores Mary’s relationships with the great men of science of her day – William Buckland, William Conybeare and Henry de la Beche. It includes unique Mary Anning material on loan from other museums and features the newly-conserved coprolite (fossil dung) table owned by Buckland.
For fun, there is a 3-D re-creation of de la Beche’s famous vision of ancient Dorset Duria Antiquior, created by artist Darrell Wakelam in partnership with local children.
It all sounds fascinating, don’t you think?
London Calling is a newish blog written by General Southerner, aka Tony and while his blog is not Jane Austen specific, he does mention her enough to warrant our attention.
He has a lovely interesting account of a trip to Chawton
(this is the view from the stairs taken from just outside Jane Austen’s bedroom at the rear of Jane Austen’s House Museum) and neighbouring Alton ,the small town where Frank Austen sometimes resided and where Jane would often walk to visit her friends.
A trip to Richmond in Surrey,where the rather demanding Mrs Churchill expired, and a trip to Lyme for a treacherous walk on the Cobb( re engineered in 1825, and overseen by one Captain Darcy ( no relation I’m sure),IIRC!) and much more.
I do recommend a visit over there to Tony’s blog:he is an occasional visitor here. I do hope you enjoy it. Frankly it’s refreshing to get a masculine take on things Jane, don’t you agree?.
I love visiting old assembly rooms. The large and glamorous sets, like the ones at Bath
or Lord Burlington’s magnificent set at York ( now part of the chain of Ask restaurants-they are very kind and will let you in for a peep without you having to buy a meal)
and smaller ones such as my local set, Stamford
Teeny- tiny compared to the first two. But still built on the same plan,as you can see:-a long room for dancing plus a tea room where refreshments were served and a card room for those not wanting to dance:
It is the oldest surviving set in England.
But we can never visit the Assembly Rooms at Lyme Regis which Jane Austen visited in 1804, for they were demolished in 1928.
Jane Austen famously danced there on her visit in 1804:
The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for Thursday. My father staid contentedly till half-past nine (we went a little after eight), and then walked home with James and a lanthorn, though I believe the lanthorn was not lit, as the moon was up, but sometimes this lanthorn may be a great convenience to him. My mother and I staid about an hour later. Nobody asked me the two first dances; the next two I danced with Mr. Crawford, and had I chosen to stay longer might have danced with Mr. Granville, Mrs. Granville’s son, whom my dear friend Miss A. offered to introduce to me, or with a new odd-looking man who had been eyeing me for some time, and at last, without any introduction, asked me if I meant to dance again. I think he must be Irish by his ease, and because I imagine him to belong to the honbl. B.’s, who are son, and son’s wife of an Irish viscount, bold queer-looking people, just fit to be quality at Lyme
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 14th September 1804)
I’ve been scouting round my books and have found the following images and descriptions for you, so that we can try to piece together exactly what they were like:
Here is a description of the rooms from my copy of John Fletham’s early tourist guidebook, A Guide to all the Watering and Seabathing Places dating from 1803, which is slightly apologetic in tone:
Lyme has a small Assembly-Room, Card-Room and Billiard-Table all conveniently ranged under one roof ; and had the Library been joined to it, all the amusements which the place can furnish would have been comprised in one building. The situation for this edifice is happily chosen, as it commands a charming marine view as far as the Isle of Portland, eight leagues off, and the interior is compact and well arranged. Magnificence is not essential to enjoyment: often more happiness is found in a cottage than in a palace; and the rooms at Lyme frequently exhibit as cheerful countenance as are to be seen at Bath or Brighton.
Here is a 1825 map of Lyme which shows you the position of the Assembly Rooms at the bottom of the town ( note, Jane Austen was staying at Mr Pyne’s house which is also shown on the map)
And here is a close up of the part of that map that allows you to see the position of the Assembly Rooms in more detail:
We have one description of the interior of the rooms, by Constance Hill in her book, Jane Austen :her Homes and her Friends first published in 1902. She managed to visit the Assembly Rooms at Lyme before they were demolished, and recorded her impressions as thus:
The Assembly Rooms used formerly to be thrown open to company during the season twice a week, namely on Tuesdays and Thursdays…The ball-room is little changed since Miss Austen danced in it that September evening nearly a hundred years ago. It has lost its three glass chandeliers which used to hang from the arched ceiling, but these may still be seen in a private house in the neighbourhood. The orchestra consisted, we are told, of three violins and a violoncello. We visited the room by day-light, and felt almost as if it were afloat, for nothing but blue sea and sky was to be seen from its many windows. From the wide recessed window at the end, however, we got a glimpse of the sands and of the harbour and Cobb beyond.
Just outside this recessed window there is a steep flight of stone steps which leads from the Parade down to the beach. In former times this flight was much longer than it is now, part of it having been removed to make room for a cart track. On these steps the author of “Persuasion” effected the first meeting of Anne Elliot and her cousin, when his gaze of admiration attracted the attention of Captain Wentworth. Anne and her friends were all returning to their inn for breakfast, as the reader will remember, after taking a stroll on the beach.
The Assembly rooms were extended in 1866 . These are some old photographs of the exterior of the Rooms taken in the late 19th century:
Here the rooms are shown on the left of the photograph: you can clearly see the bay window as described by Constance Hill, and which looked out onto the sea. The rooms eventually ceased to function as assembly rooms and by 1900 they became a tea room:
Here is a picture taken of the rooms as they were being demolished
And in this picture you can clearly see the gap where the assembly rooms once were:
The above photographs were taken from a smashing book, Lyme Regis Past and Present by Jo Draper: it is filled to the brim with very atmospheric photographs from the extensive collection held by the Lyme Regis Museum. It is available to purchase from Lyme Regis Books, a marvellous resource for books on the town and its literary history:
I find it so sad that we can no longer visit these rooms,where Jane Austen was accosted by her “Irish” gentleman….I do love to visit these smaller provincial sets of rooms as I feel they give a very different impression of the assemblies of the 18th century, than the glamorous and large sets in the large cities. For the majority of people who attended assemblies they were visiting much smaller places and I think we ought to remember that not every set as was glamorous or as large as the exiting set in Bath or York.
I do hope you have enjoyed this little reconstruction of the Lyme Assembly Rooms.
Mary Anning was a famous fossil hunter who lived in Lyme Regis, England – a part of the country that is today known as the Jurassic Coast. Her story has recently been fictionalized by Tracy Chevalier in a novel, Remarkable Creatures, which I recently enjoyed reading:
And there is a slight Jane Austen link, so let’s continue her story.
Mary was the daughter of Richard Anning, a cabinet-maker of Lyme Regis. He had a supplementary string to his financial bow- he was a finder of curiosities-fossil as we would now call them- which could be found on the coasts -the cliffs and the beaches- around Lyme and Charmouth.
This is a view of the beach and cliifs of Charmouth,
and this is the view of Lyme from Charmouth beach: if you click on it to enlarge it, you can see the town, rushing down to the sea, with the arm of the Cobb jutting out into Lyme Bay.
With the death of her father in 1810, Mary and her brother Richard were the sole survivors of ten siblings and her parents . Mary took over her father’s secondary trade of fossil hunting, desperate to support her now diminished family in the only way she knew.
She had a stall on the beach where she sold her finds to the middling- sort tourists who visited Lyme in the season. In fact it is thought by some that the tongue-twister, She sells sea shells on the sea shore was inspired by Mary Anning and her finds.
Which were amazing.
In 1811, aged just 12, Anning discovered the fossilized skeleton of an Ichthyosaur Although Ichthyosaurs had been known from fragments since at least 1699, this was the first complete skeleton found . Mary first found the skull, and only later found the rest of the animal after a storm washed away the part of a cliff which contained it. Her later finds included a Plesiosaur in 1821, and the first complete specimen of a Pterosaur in 1828.
Her finds were immortalized by Henry de la Beche, in his watercolour: Duria Antiquior, A More Ancient Dorset, lithographs of which were sold for Mary’s financial benefit.
Mary’s patron and supporter during her life time was Elizabeth Philpot, a genteelly impoverished daughter of a London lawyer who moved to Lyme with her other sisters in 1805, thereby missing Jane Austen by one year. Its tantalizing to think that they might have been attending the same assembly rooms in Lyme had Jane Austens family visited Lyme one more time….
Though both Mary and Elizabeth’s knowledge and talents were widely admired in the scientific community and their finds were pivotal in allowing theories of evolution to develop, neither were ever eligible to join any scientific societies, such the Geology Society. Which is thought provoking in itself…
So what does all this have to do with Jane Austen ? (which is of course the only reason for writing about anything here) Simply that Mary Anning’s father in his role of cabinet maker came into contact with Jane Austen when the Austen family stayed at Mr Pyne’s house
in the lower part of Broad Street in Lyme in 1804.
I have written to Mr Pyne on the subject of the broken Lid: it was valued by Anning here we were told at five shillings and as that appeared to us beyond he value of all the furniture in the room together We have referred ourselves to the Owner.
Oh,dear….Mr Anning does not appear to have been very good at his job: over estimating the cost of a broken lid and not impressing the shrewd Jane Austen at all.
The museum at Lyme is the Philpot Museum, named in Elizabeth Philpot’s honour by her nephew Thomas Philpot and it has interesting collections celebrating Mary Anningand Elizabeth Philpot. And if you care to look at their events page you will see that there are some interesting talks and walks to be had about them in the forthcoming weeks.
But I find it intriguing to think that Jane Austen probably met Mary’s poor incompetent cabinet-makerfather at Lyme, and I do wonder if one her undoubted walks along this coast if she found any fossils and what she thought of them…
Ammonites from my son’s collection , collected on Charmouth Beach in 2006.
By all their calculations there was just time for this; but as they drew near the Cobb, there was such a general wish to walk along it once more, all were so inclined, and Louisa soon grew so determined, that the difference of a quarter of an hour, it was found, would be no difference at all; so with all the kind leave-taking, and all the kind interchange of invitations and promises which may be imagined, they parted from Captain and Mrs. Harville at their own door, and still accompanied by Captain Benwick, who seemed to cling to them to the last, proceeded to make the proper adieus to the Cobb.
Persuasion, Chapter 12
Unless we are lucky enough to live at Lyme Regis, then the answer is probably, no.
But if you go here, you will able to watch the view from the Cobb all day, every day via the good offices of the official Lyme Regis Web Cam ;-) Enjoy yourselves do, but watch your steps….Remember what happened to Louisa Musgrove;-)
Today’s post has nothing to do with Sandition, although Laurel’s really fascinating Group Read of Jane Austen’s fragment continues at Austenprose.
But it does concern a seaside resort of which Jane Austen was fond, Lyme Regis, and the Lyme Regis Philpot Musem’s attempt to publish a manuscript “epic” poem about the town written in 1819. Mary Godwin ,the museum’s curator, has very kindly supplied me with some images and quotes from the poem so that I can share news of their project with you here.
The Lyme Regis Philpot Museum has had in its collection since 1978, a manuscript which was given to the museum by the artist, Laurence Whistler.
Called The Lymiad, or Letters from Lyme to a friend in Bath by a Unknown Gentlewoman, the manuscript consists of a series of eight letters all written in verse, about the town of Lyme and it inhabitants as they were in 1819.
Each letter describes in turn, the streets and lodgings, the sea and beach, the civil war siege and Monmouth, the assembly room,; the mayor and worthies of the town, theatrically entitled, the dramatis personae
the surrounding scenery and bad weather; and, finally, departure from the resort. All of which would have been familiar to Jane Austen who visited the town in September 1804.
The writer John Fowles who in 1978 had just started his ten-year stewardship of the Museum as its Honorary Curator, was very intrigued by the new addition to the collection. After reading it he was so impressed with The Lymiad that he regarded it as among the Museum’s most precious possessions.
He liked it for its wit and satirical humour and its vivid evocation of the manners and pastimes of a small Regency seaside resort:
Say, is there not the mostly group among,
One generous bard, one gentle “child of song”
To celebrate thy wonders, matchless Lyme!,
In all the wild luxuriance of rhyme? …
Each letter in turn looks at at the streets and lodgings; the sea and beach; the civil war siege and Monmouth; the assembly rooms; the mayor and worthies; scenery and bad weather; and finally departure from the resort by the narrator.
The Lymiad contains many vivid portraits of local residents: for example in this extract The Lymeiad’s author probably refers to the geologist, Henry de la Beche’s sailing boat:
That “Blood-red flag” which gaily floats
On the full-swelling breeze, denotes
The Conrad Sir Fopling Fossil’s pride;…
He is the most accomplished youth,
That is, if Madame Fame speaks truth;
And more than this I cannot tell,
But some who know Sir Fopling well,
Inform me he’s a F.G.S.
During the 1980s John Fowles made a transcript of the poem, prepared a general introduction and made some explanatory notes on local references within it.
In 1997 the manuscript, which was on display in the Museum, came to the attention of Dr. John Constable, then Professor of English Literature in Kyoto University. During consultations with John Fowles over the next few years, Professor Constable studied the transcript and wrote a substantial introduction to it. He considers that The Lymiad is
“a highly political and a thoroughly Whig poem, with some leanings towards the left of that party, though stopping short of Radicalism itself.”
In this extract the author is poking fun at the fact that Lyme was a “rotten borough” in the control of the Fane family, the most senior member of that family being the Earl of Westmoreland:
Know then my friend, since last I wrote,
Here hath been pass’d a day of note,
When ‘tis the fashion to declare,
Who next shall be our worthy Mayor.
This day is honoured every year
By presence of a noble peer,…
The town of voters hath but few;
So few, that at th’Election last…
Th’Electors, and elected too,
In one horse chaise appear’d to view:
Sadly, John Fowles died in 2005 before any publication of the poem could be undertaken. But now the Lyme Museum has decided to ask for subscribers so that a first and fully annotated edition can be published.
The Museum has already secured some grants towards the cost of producing the book from charitable foundations and other donors, but in order to complete the task of publishing this manuscript they now need to attract 100 subscribers, who will pledge £20 per volume, and whose names will be recorded in the publication itself.
Once sufficient numbers of subscribers have been received the publication project will be able to be got underway.
If you go here you will find a form that can be copied, filled in and sent to the present curator of the Lyme museum, Mary Godwin (and she will even accept subscriptions made by copying and pasting the form in an email: I know because that how I subscribed) .
If you would like any more details of the publication her email address is
replacing “at” and “dot” with the necessary to fool spammers ;-)
The Lyme Regis Museum’s publication of The Lymiad will rather fittingly and touchingly be dedicated to John Fowles’s memory.
Do note that the new edition will not be a facsimile of the original manuscript. Instead, it is being cleverly designed to appear as it might have done in had it been published in 1819 .It will have stitched pages and marbled card covers .
I understand that the edition will contain an essay by John Fowles on Lyme in the early 1800s which he revised in 2003, a general introduction and textual notes by John Constable, a transcription of the text complete with editorial notes by John Fowles, John Constable and Jo Draper and that it will be illustrated with pictures from the Museum’s wonderful collection, which have also been selected by Jo Draper.
I have already subscribed because I am absolutely fascinated by the thought of reading an insider’s view of the place Jane Austen visited and liked so much that she ensured that pivotal scenes from Persuasion occurred there . And also because I adore this museum, and try visit it every time I visit Lyme.
I do hope that some of you may be sufficiently interested to subscribe to this fascinating pubication project too.
Laurel at Austenprose is conducting a Group Read of Jane Austen’s last, unfinished composition, Sanditon, this week,and I have been honoured to have been asked to provide a few background pieces to compliment the Group Read. This first post is set out below….on the subject of Jane Austen and Seaside Resorts
Jane Austen’s unfinished fragment, Sanditon, is set in a small Sussex seaside resort, a place that is being ruthlessly and relentlessly “improved” by Mr Parker, a man obsessed with his creation and the money-making opportunities it affords:
Mr. Parker`s character and history were soon unfolded. All that he understood of himself, he readily told, for he was very openhearted; and where he might be himself in the dark, his conversation was still giving information to such of the Heywoods as could observe. By such he was perceived to be an enthusiast — on the subject of Sanditon, a complete enthusiast. Sanditon, the success of Sanditon as a small, fashionable bathing place, was the object for which he seemed to live. A very few years ago, it had been a quiet village of no pretensions; but some natural advantages in its position and some accidental circumstances having suggested to himself and the other principal landholder the probability of its becoming a profitable speculation, they had engaged in it, and planned and built, and praised and puffed, and raised it to something of young renown; and Mr. Parker could now think of very little besides…
Sanditon, Chapter 2
(Sussex from John Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc.,(1812)..)
Sanditon is also under the patronage of Lady Denham, the wealthy widow of Mr Hollis and a baronet, a social climber though marriage and a woman rather in the mould of Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Pride and Prejudice,. Here she is described by Mr Parker:
“There is at times,” said he, “a little self-importance — but it is not offensive — and there are moments, there are points, when her love of money is carried greatly too far. But she is a good-natured woman, a very good-natured woman — a very obliging, friendly neighbour; a cheerful, independent, valuable character — and her faults may be entirely imputed to her want of education. She has good natural sense, but quite uncultivated. She has a fine active mind as well as a fine healthy frame for a woman of seventy, and enters into the improvement of Sanditon with a spirit truly admirable. Though now and then, a littleness will appear. She cannot look forward quite as I would have her and takes alarm at a trifling present expense without considering what returns it will make her in a year or two. That is, we think differently. We now and then see things differently, Miss Heywood. Those who tell their own story, you know, must be listened to with caution. When you see us in contact, you will judge for yourself.” Lady Denham was indeed a great lady beyond the common wants of society, for she had many thousands a year to bequeath, and three distinct sets of people to be courted by: her own relations, who might very reasonably wish for her original thirty thousand pounds among them; the legal heirs of Mr. Hollis, who must hope to be more indebted to her sense of justice than he had allowed them to be to his…
Sanditon, Chapter 3
In this satire on developing seaside resorts, commercial greed, hypochondria and the type of people these place attracted, it is perhaps no mere coincidence that Jane Austen ensures that Mr Holllis, the first husband of Lady Denham, shares the name of the man who began the development of Lyme Regis from small fishing village to a seaside resort.
Thomas Hollis (1720-1774) was an interesting character. He was a political propagandist and a radical but also a supporter of the house of Hanover. He was a benefactor, amongst other institutions, of Harvard University and owned an estate of 3000 acres at Corscombe near Beauminster. He kept, however, a suite of rooms in the Three Cups Hotel at Lyme and bought up much of the slums and derelict property in Lyme in order to demolish them and improve the town. He created the first public promenade by purchasing land on the shore to create what Jane Austen would have referred to as The Walk ( it is now part of Marine Parade).He knocked down a series of warehouses to clear a site for the building of Lyme’s Assembly Rooms complex and these were completed in 1775 just after Hollis’s death. These are the Rooms that Jane Austen visited in 1804.
(Lyme Regis from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc (1803)by John Feltham)
The growth of these seaside resorts and the surrounding industry of health tourism from the mid 18th century onwards coincided with the growth but ultimate decline in the inland spas. The pursuit of heath and taking the “cure” -taking the waters-(both mineral and sea) and sea bathing – was perceived as a health benefit and something to be encouraged.
The cessation of hostilities with France in 1815 also added impetus to the habit of visiting towns on the coast : the threat of invasion had been very real, as Jane Austen knew only too well from the experience of her brother Frank Austen at Ramsgate and his service there with the Sea-Fencibles. Kent was especially vulnerable to the threat of invasion due to its closeness to France.
This is a view of the Kent coast facing France at Hythe circa 1820: you can clearly see the rows of Martello towers, defensive towers equipped with cannon and they had been built to defend the Kent coast from invasion: they lined the coast. This daunting prospect had now subsided and the coast could be considered a place of recreation not a means of defence. Resorts proliferated and grew apace as a result
Sea Bathing was promulgated as a serious benefit to a good heath regime from the late 17th century. Though he was by no means the first to do so, Dr Richard Russell, a native of Lewes in Sussex who practiced medicine in nearby Brighton, was foremost in promoting this development.
From the 1740s, and perhaps even before, Dr Russell was prescribing bathing and even the drinking of sea-water for many ailments, and the popularity of sea-bathing rapidly increased.
Here is a picture of the frontispiece of the first Irish edition of his influential work, the Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the diseases of the Glands particularly the scurvy, Jaundice, Kings-evil, Leprosy and the Glandular Consumption:
The fashion for sea bathing rapidly caught on. Bathing machines –used to preserve the decency of bathers- were first used at Margate and Scarborough (which also had the benefits of being able to offer spa water to its visitors)
(Rowlandson’s view of the spa -spelt “spaw”- at Scarborough, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough,1813)
In Sanditon the pompous would-be seducer Sir Edward Denham extols the virtues of sea bathing, quite indelicately, to Charlotte Haywood, the heroine:
To plunge into the refreshing wave and be wrapped round with the liquid element is indeed a most delightful sensation”, he assured them. “But health and pleasure may be equally consulted in these salutary ablutions; and to many a wan countenance can the blush of the rose be restored by an occasional dip in the purifying surge of the ocean. Not, he hastened to add, trying to bow to them both at the same time, “that either of my fair listeners would need the rose restored to their lovely cheeks.”
Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza de Feuillide used sea bathing at Margate in Kent during the winter of 1790 as a desperate attempt to improve the health of her sickly child, Hastings. Sea bathing in the winter was especially recommended for the good of one’s health:
You will find by the date of this I am still the inhabitant of M (Margate-jfw) for altho’ much pressed to spend by Christmas in Surrey, the inconvenience of removing so numerous a family and the great Benefit Hastings has received and still reaps form Sea bathing made me think it better for us to all to remain where we were and putting off jaunting for another year… I had fixed on going to London the end of this Month, but to shew You how much I am attached to my maternal duties, on being told by one of the faculty whose Skill I have much opinion of that one month’s bathing at this time of the Year was more efficacious than six at any other & that consequently my little Boy would receive the utmost benefit from my prolonging my stay here beyond the time proposed, like a most exemplary parent I resolved on foregoing the fascinating delights of the great City for one month longer … Was not this heroic?
(See Letter from Eliza de Feuillide to Phylly Water dated 7th January 1791)
(Margate from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc 1803)
The fashion for sea-bathing eventually overtook in popularity the fashion for taking the waters at inland spas. In his poem Retirement, written in 1791, William Cowper, Jane Austen’s favorite poet, commented somewhat sourly on the craze for sea-bathing and the hypochondria it encouraged:
But now alike, gay widow, virgin, wife
Ingenious to diversify dull life
In coaches, chaises, caravans and hoys
Fly to the coast for daily, nightly joys
And impatient of dry land agree
With one consent to rush into the sea
Jane Austen seems to have agreed with him on this as in most things: Mrs Bennet –the malade inaginaire of Meryton- and her pathetic squeal for attention in the guise of taking the sea cure in Pride and Prejudice that
“A little sea-bathing would set me up for ever.”
Though she was careful in Sanditon, in the case of the longed for heiress, Miss Lambe -( as she was in the case of Mrs Smith in Bath in Persuasion )- not to ridicule those who were truly ill and were bravely putting a good face on their situation be they rich or poor, Jane Austen obviously had little time for those who were unnecessarily obsessed with their own health, and in Sanditon she presents to us the healthily–built, freakishly heath-obsessed Arthur Palmer as the object of her scorn:
In Miss Lambe, she decided, Arthur had encountered someone quite unique in his experience — a genuine invalid, who despised her own weakness, disliked talking about her symptoms, and overtaxed her strength in her eagerness to lead a normal life whenever she was capable of it. And Arthur, who did not usually spare much thought for anybody’s comfort but his own, had lately been forced into recognising the difference between selfish indulgence and necessary prudence. He wanted Miss Lambe’s sketches of seaweed and she was very willing to execute them; but he had begun to realise that health, which he had always regarded as an excuse for behaving exactly as he liked, could also intervene in one’s pleasures and prevent one from carrying out a favourite scheme, His sisters had always encouraged Arthur to discuss his minor ailments at such length that it astonished him when Miss Lambe denied having a headache, pretended to feel better than she really did and made so few complaints as to seem almost ashamed of her condition.
In Sanditon, Arthur Parke is portrayed mercilessly as a supreme hypochondriac, and a voluble one at that: Jane Austen obviously did not approve. Her poor heroine Charlotte Haywood clearly didn’t either, viewing his “health related” antics with much astonishment:
Arthur was heavy in eye as well as figure but by no means indisposed to talk; and while the other four were chiefly engaged together, he evidently felt it no penance to have a fine young woman next to him, requiring in common politeness some attention; as his brother, who felt the decided want of some motive for action, some powerful object of animation for him, observed with considerable pleasure. Such was the influence of youth and bloom that he began even to make a sort of apology for having a fire. “We should not have had one at home,” said he, “but the sea air is always damp. I am not afraid of anything so much as damp.” “I am so fortunate,” said Charlotte, “as never to know whether the air is damp or dry. It has always some property that is wholesome and invigorating to me.” “I like the air too, as well as anybody can,” replied Arthur. “I am very fond of standing at an open window when there is no wind. But, unluckily, a damp air does not like me. It gives me the rheumatism. You are not rheumatic, I suppose?” “Not at all.” “That’s a great blessing. But perhaps you are nervous?” “No, I believe not. I have no idea that I am.’ “I am very nervous. To say the truth, nerves are the worst part of my complaints in my opinion. My sisters think me bilious, but I doubt it.” “You are quite in the right to doubt it as long as you possibly can, I am sure.” “If I were bilious,” he continued, “you know, wine would disagree with me, but it always does me good. The more wine I drink — in moderation — the better I am. I am always best of an evening. If you had seen me today before dinner, you would have thought me a very poor creature. Charlotte could believe it. She kept her countenance, however, and said, “As far as l can understand what nervous complaints are, I have a great idea of the efficacy of air and exercise for them — daily, regular exercise — and I should recommend rather more of it to you than I suspect you are in the habit of taking.” “Oh, I am very fond of exercise myself,” he replied, “and I mean to walk a great deal while I am here, if the weather is temperate. I shall be out every morning before breakfast and take several turns upon the Terrace, and you will often see me at Trafalgar House.” “But you do not call a walk to Trafalgar House much exercise?” Not as to mere distance, but the hill is so steep! Walking up that hill, in the middle of the day, would throw me into such a perspiration! You would see me all in a bath by the time I got there! l am very subject to perspiration, and there cannot be a surer sign of nervousness.” They were now advancing so deep in physics that Charlotte viewed the entrance of the servant with the tea things as a very fortunate interruption. It produced a great and immediate change. The young man’s attentions were instantly lost. He took his own cocoa from the tray, which seemed provided with almost as many teapots as there were persons in company — Miss Parker drinking one sort of herb tea and Miss Diana another — and turning completely to the fire, sat coddling and cooking it to his own satisfaction and toasting some slices of bread, brought up ready-prepared in the toast rack; and till it was all done, she heard nothing of his voice but the murmuring of a few broken sentences of self-approbation and success…
Referring back to Cowper’s tone in his poem, we can see that it also reflects something of Jane Austen’s ambivalent attitude to these places of “health” and fashion themselves. At the time she was writing Sanditon, she was in the midst of her own critical health problem, and only a few months from death. She had tried taking the waters at Cheltenham, sadly to no avail. In my view, her clear sighted view of quackery and the cures offered by resorts such as Sandition is obviously influenced by her own experience.
Though she found a certain amount of happiness at Lyme (despite realizing it was not one the first rate places and the people it attracted reflected this) and the small resorts of the West Country, she certainly seems to have violently disliked seaside places which were large and fashionable. She seems especially to have regarded the resorts that were associated with certain members of the Royal Family as places to be avoided at all costs for the moral good of her characters. Worthing, thought to be Jane Austen’s inspiration and model for Sanditon, was patronized by Princess Amelia , fifteenth child of George III and the Prince of Wales’s sister. Brighton-the then centre of the fashionable British world- she appears to have detested as much she did its royal patron, The Prince of Wales.
(The Prince of Wales’s Marine Pavilion from The Beauties of England and Wales; or, Delineations, Topographical, Historical and Descriptive of Each County Embellished With Engravings : Sussex (1813) by Edward Wedlake Brayley and John Britton.)
Brighton is, of course, the scene of Lydia Bennet’s downfall in Pride and Prejudice, and her Lady Lesley in Lesley Castle goes there specifically because it is one of her
favourite haunts of Dissipation
Weymouth too she disliked :
Weymouth is altogether a shocking place I perceive without recommendation of any kind and worthy only of being frequented by the inhabitants of Gloucester…
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 14th September 1804)
(Weymouth from The Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Feltham)
And of course it was at Weymouth that Jane Fairfax met Frank Churchill in Emma; while there, under its unsteadying influence no doubt, this moral, sensible and intelligent woman consented to a secret engagement that was very nearly her undoing.
Even small time and comparatively retired places like Ramsgate in Kent
(Ramsgate from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc (1816) by John Feltham)
could be deceptively dangerous places in Jane Austen’s world. For it was at Ramsgate that Wickham nearly succeeded in eloping with the young and trusting Georgiana Darcy.
I suspect that it was the character of the people that these places attracted that truly irked Jane Austen, rather than the places themselves. And that disdain was not only reserved for hypochondriacs and the scoundrels on the make, but was also felt by her for those would exploit The Company- ill or only perceived to be ill- for purely mercantile reasons. The development of these coastal towns was also seen by many entrepreneurs as a sound commercial opportunity not to be missed: a situation exploited by the keen eye of Jane Austen in Sanditon.
In Sandition Mr Parker knows that in addition to the usual amusements of sea-bathing, circulating libraries filled with tempting goods for rich patrons to buy etc., he has to attract rich patrons so that others will flock to his resort, drawn by the glamour of possibly being able to associate with such people. Lady Denham is also acutely aware that the success of their resort depends largely upon the quality of The Company there:
And if we could but get a young heiress to Sanditon! But heiresses are monstrous scarce! I do not think we have had an heiress here — or even so since Sanditon has been a public place. Families come after families but, as far as I can learn, it is not one in a hundred of them that have any real property, landed or funded. An income perhaps, but no property. Clergymen maybe, or lawyers from town, or half-pay officers, or widows with only a jointure. And what good can such people do anybody? Except just as they take our empty houses and, between ourselves, I think they are great fools for not staying at home. Now if we could get a young heiress to be sent here for her health — and if she was ordered to drink asses’ milk I could supply her — and, as soon as she got well, have her fall in love with Sir Edward!”
The people who patronized these seaside places were indeed, at first, from the very highest echelons of society, but as the 18th century wore on and the 19th century began, and as Lady Denham disappointedly noted, members of the middling sort- families of the professional and mercantile classes- were very much to the fore. (Note the working classes and the poor were not part of this scene until the growth of the railway system and the development in the provision of the concept of paid holidays for workers in the mid to late 19th century).
In Sandition we are given a glimpse of exactly the sort of Company a small and yet-to-become-fashionable resort attracted. How sad it is for us that illness prevented Jane Austen from continuing and completing this fascinating fragment: for it might have thrown even more light on her attitudes to seaside resorts and the people who inhabited them for health or other reasons. Like Charlotte Heywood’s thoughts on Sir Edward Denham
The future might explain him further.
Jane Austen’s sadly shortened future did not allow enough time for her to explain Sanditon fully to us.
I do hope this short introduction has given you a little of the background to the fragment which will enable you to continue to enjoy Laurel’s Group Read.
Next at AustenOnly, a post about Samphire, the now trendy plant that was lauded by Sir Edward Denham.