Mr. Knightley

As I mentioned in my last post about Bath, I started off my Bath day… er that sounds weird… my day in Bath… with a Jane Austen walking tour of the city. Since I apparently knew nothing about Jane’s actual life, I didn’t know that Bath played a BIG role in it and was even where she went to get inspiration and do research for her first book (Northanger Abbey). When I thought about it, I realized that Bath is either mentioned or is the main setting in most of her books. It frequently comes up in the context of either going there on holiday or going to get treatment for some illness as it was a big resort town at that time and, get this… in BATH, the old Roman BATHS were thought to have special healing properties. Ah. It’s all starting to make sense, right?

If you hate Jane Austen, then you should probably just stop reading now because fair warning: the rest of this post is about her.

In case you don’t know who Jane Austen is, let me give you a little summary. She was an English novelist in the early 1800s who wrote 6 novels. Four of them were published during her lifetime (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma), and while they did actually reach a level of success during her lifetime, that’s nothing compared to their popularity since then. The other two (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) were published by her siblings after her early death at the age of 41.

Why did people stop wearing this kind of stuff?? Very unfortunate, in my opinion.

During her life, her books were published anonymously because it wasn’t proper for ladies to write as anything more than a hobby. They weren’t supposed to be seeking fame or fortune from their work, and writing as a full-time job wasn’t seen as a feminine pursuit. So, none of her books had her name attached until after her death. Originally, they were published as being written “By a Lady”.

One of the things that’s so interesting about her is the fact that very little is known about her actual life. She and her sister, Cassandra, were very close and wrote each other thousands of letters over the years, but Cassandra burned most of them after Jane died to prevent relatives and others from reading Jane’s “sometimes acid or forthright comments on neighbours or family members” (Cassandra’s words). Hahahahaha. If you read her books, I think you can tell that anyway. Her characters generally aren’t very shy about sharing their opinions of the people they encounter.

Beyond just details about her life, no one is even sure about what she looked like! The museum started out with like eight portraits of “maybe” Jane, and one of the girls working there explained the likelihood of each actually being a portrait of her. The conclusion was that only one of them is fairly certain because it was drawn by her sister Cassandra, but since it shows her from behind, that gives no helpful information about her face.

Me and Mr. Darcy, one of the main characters of Pride and Prejudice. On the inside, I’m even happier than I look in this picture. (Except the character was way more lifelike than I was comfortable with, to be honest. It was kind of creepy.)

Anyway, that’s enough background information. Let’s get back to it. The tour guide was hilarious and did a brilliant job. He was dressed in period clothing and introduced himself as Mr. Knightly, one of the characters in Emma. He explained that Jane’s experiences in Bath and her career as a writer were very intertwined. Her first visit to the city was on holiday for six weeks with her mother and sister, and a couple years later, she spent two months living with her brother who was being treated for gout (a type of arthritis) there. During that two-month period, she did research for Northanger Abbey, and that was her first completed novel.

A couple years later, when she was 25, her father retired, and she moved with her parents and sister Cassandra (they were both unmarried) to Bath. Their first couple of years there were nice, but after her father died unexpectedly, she, her mother, and her sister were left with nearly nothing since women couldn’t inherit. They ended up renting a place on one of the shadiest streets in town, Trim Street, primarily populated by prostitutes, beggars, pimps, and thieves. Our guide said that previously, Jane wrote in a letter that, “I will do all in my power to avoid Trim Street.” So, needless to say, those probably weren’t exactly the best of times. They finally moved away when Jane was 30 and one of her brothers was in a financial position to give them a house.

St. Swithin’s Church, where Jane’s parents were married and her father is buried.
Jane’s father’s grave. The plaque reads, “The Reverend George Austen (1731-1805), Rector of Steventon in Hampshire, married Cassandra Leigh (1739-1827) at the medieval church of St. Swithin’s Walcot, on 26 April 1764.
Their seventh child was the novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817), author of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.
With her parents and sister Cassandra, Jane Austen came to live in Bath in 1801, at 4 Sydney Place, until 1804, and then at 3 Green Park Buildings East, where George Austen died on 21 January 1805. He was buried in the crypt of the rebuilt church of St. Swithin’s.
His tombstone was removed to the present site in 1968…”

There were a few notable early fans of her work including Prince George IV, Prince Regent of Wales. He was known as a very extravagant man who apparently drank the equivalent of £2 million of wine each year. Seems to me that you would need to be drinking almost constantly… Anyway, as you might imagine from that statistic, he was very fat and did as much as he could to hide the full extent of his weight. Some of the things that came into men’s fashion at the time were literally only because they helped to make him look less overweight.

Jane had a very low opinion of the Prince Regent. He, on the contrary, had specially bound copies of her books in all of his houses. Regardless of her personal feelings towards him, it was very useful to have rich patrons, not to mention royal ones. When he invited her to visit his home, she didn’t have much choice but to accept. He didn’t meet her in person, but his assistant asked her if she would dedicate her next book to him.

Of course, she didn’t want to, but how do you say no to a prince? Her next book was Emma, and the dedication she wrote was so sarcastic that they had to revise it multiple times to make it acceptable. Even so, you can still absolutely feel the sarcasm when you read it. It says:

TO
HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE PRINCE REGENT,
THIS WORK IS,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S PERMISSION,
MOST RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S
DUTIFUL
AND OBEDIENT
HUMBLE SERVANT,
THE AUTHOR

That, to me, screams, “I didn’t want to do this, but I did because he told me to and he’s important so here we are.”

Creepy house stalker picture taken from across the street. Their house was the one with the white door.

I may not have known much about Jane Austen at the beginning of the day, but by the end, I was even more impressed and obsessed with her. She’s so funny! And it seems like she was so confident and bold in a time when that wasn’t “acceptable” female behavior. Also, one of the reasons that her books weren’t terribly popular at the time was because they weren’t as dry as the other books that were in style. So basically she had a sense of humor and personality that were ahead of her time.

She died early, at age 41, and the cause is unknown.

After I left the museum, I wandered around town and added a few Jane Austen pilgrimage sites to my list. I did a walk-by of the church where Jane Austen’s parents got married and where her father is buried, and I went to see the house where she lived when her family first moved to Bath following her father’s retirement. I felt a bit creepy because it’s on a normal street and seems like a regular house, though I found out later that it’s a themed B&B. Someone’s bike was parked out front, and that made me wonder (pretending that it WAS just a normal house) if the house would be considered more or less valuable because of its history… maybe more because a famous person lived there, but maybe less because that leads to random people coming to gawk outside.

Sydney Place, the street where the Austens first lived in Bath.
See the plaque to the left of the door?

The house and nearby park were my last two stops of the day, so after I was finished with those, I zombie-walked my way to the train station to head back to Bristol. Another long day, but the random people who told me to visit Bath were right; I did love it there. They have a Jane Austen festival every year where everyone goes to Bath and dresses up in period clothing… I don’t know, I might have to add that to my bucket list…

I walked across this bridge, Pulteney Bridge, on my way across the Avon River to see Jane’s house. This bridge is known for the fact that it has stores lining both sides of the street that runs across it.
Walking across the bridge.
Bath, the city of very unique buildings…
Former location of “the Labyrinth”, a hedge maze in the park across from the Sydney Place house. Jane enjoyed walking in the park and exploring the maze and even mentions it in some of her books.
Railway tracks running next to the park
City views
On the way to the train station

My adventures of blindly following the advice of strangers continued the next day in Bath. Why Bath? I didn’t know. What’s there? I also didn’t know that. My entire knowledge base going in was that people think it’s beautiful there, and it’s like stepping back in time. That all sounded good to me, so off to Bath I went!

I asked at the hostel about the cheapest way to Bath (because “cheapest” is the key here, not “most efficient” or “easiest”), and I was surprised when the girl told me I should take the train. It was only 8 pounds round trip which was LESS than taking a bus (when does that ever happen??), and it took 10 minutes instead of close to an hour. Woo! Off to a good start.

Bath streets

My first move when I made it to the city was to make a beeline for the visitors’ center because I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing there. That ended up being my best decision of the day because after I grabbed a map of the city and walked outside, I saw a man holding a “Free Jane Austen Walking Tour” sign. You may not know this about me, but I am a MASSIVE Jane Austen fan. Like huge. I think she’s brilliant and funny and knows how to write a darn good story.

Okay, maybe it’s not right to describe myself as a massive fan of HER because I basically knew nothing about her actual life. I’m just a huge fan of her work. I’ve read all of her books, some of them multiple times, and each time I think they get better (probably because each time I understand them a bit better… between the British English and the fact that they were written in a different time period, it can be a challenge to catch all of the humor).

I wrote a separate post about the intimate details I learned about Jane’s life, but the tour was cool because the guide (dressed as Mr. Knightley from Emma) didn’t only explain places that directly related to that; he also talked about major sights in town.

First, let me give you a little background on the city of Bath. Bath is located at the site of the only natural hot springs in the UK. It was originally settled by Celtic tribes who thought that the springs were a gift from the gods, specifically their goddess Sulis. When the area was conquered by the Romans in the first century AD, the city and the baths were Romanized. I’ll talk more about the baths later, but for now just appreciate the incredibly creative naming of the city… It all makes sense now, eh?

Back to the tour. We walked past the Bath Abbey (the main cathedral), and Mr. Knightley explained that none of the aristocratic class used to go there because it was considered smelly and touristy and at least the latter is still true today. Apparently, they used to put the corpses of the rich in the crypt underneath the church instead of properly burying them, so it literally smelled like rotting bodies. EW. Due to this, the shops that were directly against the walls of the church didn’t have to pay taxes. CAN YOU IMAGINE?? That’s disgusting. At some point after that, they decided that maybe it was kind of gross to leave bodies out to smell up the place, and they were buried.

Front of the Abbey

There has been a church on the site of the current abbey since the 700s AD, but this building has been there since about the 1500s with major restorations done in the late 1800s. It’s built in the Gothic style, and one of the major features is these angels climbing up “ladders to heaven” on the front façade. Mr. Knightly told us that there’s a story that the Puritans shot off their heads and wings because they were anti-ornamentation, and who knows what’s true except for the fact that some of them are definitely missing heads and wings…

Bath Abbey

The Roman Baths are right near the abbey, and next to those, there’s the Pump House which was a fashionable place for people to hang out in Jane’s day. You could drink water from the spring which supposedly has healing properties, and I learned later in the day that this water was piped up directly from the bath pools… which means people were basically drinking dirty bathwater.

Next to the Pump House is the King’s and Queen’s Baths which was one of the most popular places to “take the waters”. It also contained a book where, during Jane’s time (the early 1800s), you would write when you arrived in town so that everyone would know you were there. It was a time of people knowing everyone else’s business, including how much everyone was worth.

The Pump House

Architecturally, the city is primarily built in the Georgian style. In 1814, the entire city was rebuilt with one main architect, John Wood the Elder. Important buildings were reconstructed in this style, and less important/older ones were simply refaced with a proper façade.

Townhouses called “the circus”. They form a circle with three gaps for roads.
The middle of the circus

One of the interesting features in town is called the Royal Crescent. This was built by John Wood the Younger, and actually, he only designed the curving façade. People purchased a certain length of the façade and then could build whatever they wanted behind it! So, something may look like two houses from the front but actually be only one. Mr. Knightley said that this was the typical Bath way… it was all about having the appearance of high society. The actual substance was less important.

The Royal Crescent
The backs of some of the Royal Crescent houses. See how icky the back looks compared to the uniformity of the front?

In the center of the city, the three primary streets are Quiet Street, John Street, and Wood Street. He told a story about the meeting to name the streets of the new city of Bath. The architect, John Wood, wouldn’t shut up, so the guy in charge of the meeting yelled, “QUIET, John Wood!” and so, they had their first three street names.

Another random street in town… As you can see, they all look kind of similar,
This was the door handle on one of the churches… I thought it was funny

After the tour, I walked to the Botanical Gardens. It was the PERFECT time of year to go because the flowers were blooming, and things were actually green!

Enjoy these pretty spring pictures!

I continued roaming before finally making my way to the baths. Admission was a bit expensive, but it was totally worth it! There’s a museum portion and then the actual baths. For the museum, there was a free audio guide, and when I got to the bath part, I was just in time for the last guided tour of the day which ended up being fantastic!

The temple in the center was dedicated to Sulis (the Celtic goddess) and the Roman goddess Minerva who they considered the same goddess by a different name. These baths are particularly interesting because of the style mixing between the Roman and local tribal cultures. Archaeologists guess that the Romans probably saw parallels between some of the gods that the locals worshipped and their gods, so they didn’t want to run the risk of offending one of them, hence the mixed styles.

The side of the temple with what they guess is a gorgon head, but it’s unlike anything anywhere else, so no one actually has a clue where the design came from

The baths are fed by 10,000-year-old rainwater that goes 3km underground and comes up at 37 degrees C. The local tribes, and later the Romans, thought it had healing properties, so the bathhouse was one of the first things to be built by the Roman conquerors. The land around the springs was dried, and the temple was built.

In classic Roman form, the design pushed the engineering boundaries of the time. The main bath pool originally had a 20m high roof. The first iteration was made of wood, but that rotted quickly because of the heat and moisture. It was replaced with a roof made of hollow bricks.

Curse tablets

One of my favorite things were curse tablets. If someone was wronged, for example if something was stolen from them, they would buy these little lead tablets and write what was stolen, who took it (or a list of suspects if they didn’t know for sure), and a request for Minerva to curse them in whatever way they saw fit. They would roll these up and then throw them into the main spring pool. If the tablet floated, it was said that the curse would come back on the curser, so people were sure to make them heavy and fold them up really well.

More curse tablets. They had some of the texts written out, and I thought they were hilarious. Here are a couple examples:
“May the person who has stolen Vilbia (possibly a slave) from me become as liquid as water… who has stolen it: [list of names of people the author suspects]”
“I curse him who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether man or woman, whether slave or free, that the goddess Sulis inflict death upon… and not allow him to sleep or have children now or in the future.”
That second one seems like a bit of an extreme curse for stealing a cloak, but hey, what do I know?
We walked through the different rooms of the baths, and the guide explained what each was used for. First was the changing room where people would prepare for the bath process. The baths were affordable, so people of all social classes used them. The rich came more often and had servants to help them and to guard their belongings. The poorer people undressed themselves and didn’t have anyone to watch over their stuff which often led to thefts (and people asking Minerva for curses).

The changing room. They had these funny projections to help you visualize the happenings in each room.

After undressing, bathers moved into the tepidarium, the warm heat room, for cleaning and hair removal. People removed all of their body hair from the neck down. If you were rich, you could afford a blade to shave it. Otherwise, you were stuck with plucking… EEK! When your hair was all removed, you were massaged with oil (to clean you, obviously) and then sent to the next room, the caldarium.

Inside the tepidarium. You can see the simulation people getting massages.

This was the hot room and was like a sauna. It had a raised floor that contained an underfloor heating system. In this room, people sweated, and the oil was scraped off. What was done with this sweaty oil? Glad you asked. If it was used by someone important, sometimes it was sold by enterprising Romans as a face cream so that you could absorb some of the essence of the person who used it. Otherwise, it was probably sent back to the tepidarium and reused. Hygienic, huh?

Caldarium. The stacks of bricks are called the hypocaust. Those are what held up the raised floor.
Lead pipes for carrying water

After being “cleaned”, people moved to the main pool which was a big social hub. You could buy wine, and to sweeten it, they would often add lead powder. The main pool was also lined with lead sheets for waterproofing purposes. Lead pipes carry water throughout the compound… so it’s probably safe to say that literally everyone had lead poisoning.

Main bathing pool
Standing on ancient ground

The waters in Bath were believed to have healing properties, so this bath has a special immersion pool for healing. Rather than being healed, people probably just ended up passing on their skin conditions to other people in the baths.

The “healing” immersion pool

In the early 5th century, the Roman Empire started struggling, and skilled workers were recalled to Rome. No one who was left knew how to maintain the facilities, so the roof started to collapse. By the 12th century, all evidence of the Roman Empire in Bath was gone. The floor level of the baths is six meters below the modern-day street level!

The sacred spring where the curse tablets and other sacrifices were thrown
A recovered sacrifice. I love how delicate it is!

In the late 1800s, people’s basements started filling up with water which led to an investigation to understand why. In this process, they discovered the hot springs and started buying up people’s properties to investigate. This process was delayed by 10 years because one person kept holding out and refusing to sell, so they had to wait for him to die (who wants a basement filled with water??). Since then, the Roman Baths have become one of the major tourist attractions in town… and rightfully so because they’re awesome.

The mineral water that you’re allowed to drink. Ew.

I absolutely loved my time at the baths. I thought it was so freaking cool. At the end, you can drink some of the (cleaned) water. It’s disgusting. There are so many minerals and stuff in it that it tastes repulsive. The guide said that they would bottle and sell it, but legally, you need to have the bottling plant at the site of the spring, and they don’t have the space for that. My question is, would people seriously buy it despite the taste just because it’s supposedly good for you? Not me!