Archive for the ‘Assembly Rooms’ Category

I’ve just been to Lyme Regis – the weather was wonderful last week – no stormy seas as in the picture shown. I love this print which shows the old assembly rooms at Lyme Regis. Sadly, they were knocked down some years ago to make way for a car park, but we do have a description of them that was written by Constance Hill in her book, Jane Austen, Her Homes and Her Friends.

Her writing inspired my own for a chapter in Searching for Captain Wentworth. My heroine Sophie has travelled back in time to be with her ancestors, the Elliot family who live next door to Jane Austen in Bath. Sophie and her family are in Bath when the unexpected arrival of Jane’s brother, Lieutenant Charles Austen, leaves Sophie feeling both excited and nervous. She knows she is falling in love with him and yet knows that it must be a hopeless case … 

I dressed with great care, choosing a fine, Indian muslin, embroidered with flowers and French knots along the hem and down the sleeves. A string of coral beads at my throat gleamed in the dying light and two bright spots on my cheeks gave the impression that I was permanently blushing, the work of the sun and sea breezes combined, which had turned my skin to a pale bronze. I felt nervous at the thought of seeing Charles again and for a moment wished I could stay at home and hide away. Seeing him in Lyme had been a shock, I’d felt a certain consciousness between us when we’d met or I’d wanted to believe that I had at the time.
Charles Austen

Now, I was not so sure and scolded myself for imagining that Charles had come to Lyme especially to see me. I needed to separate what I wanted to believe from the truth and the facts were that Charles had come to find suitable lodgings for his parents in the surrounding area. That was all, I was determined that I would suppress any other thoughts including those shadowy memories of some other matter that tried to find their way to the surface. He wasn’t going to stay in Lyme and even if he did stay for one night, he was soon to leave so that he could organize his family’s accommodation. They weren’t even going to be in the area, choosing to go to Dawlish instead. His interest in me stemmed from our friendship in Bath and I told myself not to think that there was anything else. If I was not careful, I could so easily betray my feelings, not only to those around me, but to Charles himself.

However much I longed to tell Charles about the place he was securing in my heart, I could not reveal my feelings. I knew that now. It wouldn’t be fair to him, I decided. He’d made it perfectly clear that he was not about to fall in love with anyone, nor did it fit in with his plans. His career and advancement in his chosen profession were paramount. Besides, a little voice somewhere in my head said it was never meant to be. I could not, and should not attempt to change fate.

The Assembly Rooms set on the edge of the sea gave the impression of being afloat, as if on a great galleon sailing out on the water, for nothing but sea and sky could be seen through the windows. The walls rippled with light and reflections in tones of lapis lazuli, which as the evening progressed bobbed and dipped like the ocean itself, bathing the interior with a rosy glow from the sun setting on the horizon and from the warmth of the candles glimmering in sconces and glass chandeliers alike. What could be more thrilling than dancing with the sea all around us?
The Rooms were very full and even though I searched the place looking for a glimpse of Lieutenant Austen, I knew he was not there yet. I seemed to possess a sixth sense when Charles was around; the air seemed to vibrate differently when he was in the room. I would have to be patient and pull myself together for fear of betraying my emotions to everyone. Conscious that word had got around about our arrival in Lyme, it was evident that our party was the object of much interest as knowing expressions and cognizant looks were exchanged amongst the local gentry and it wasn’t long before those acquainted with our host made their presence known. We were introduced to the Barnwells, the Crawfords and the Suttons, all deemed as families of quality by Mr Elliot and Mr Glanville. After their stiff formality, it was lovely to see Miss Rockingham appear with her bright smile and easy chatter. She was with her brother who was immediately introduced and proved to be as welcoming as his sister.
BBC Persuasion 1995
‘I believe we have a mutual acquaintance, Miss Elliot,’ Doctor Rockingham remarked. ‘It is such a pleasure to meet you at last and to know that our friend Miss Austen is well. We were hoping to see her this summer. Have you received any word that she is to come to Lyme again?’
‘Her brother is here, Doctor Rockingham, and is hoping to secure accommodation for his family in Dawlish, I understand. I know Jane is keen to come to Lyme once more; her memories of the place are all happy ones.’
‘My sister and I will be more than delighted to see her, Miss Elliot, but whether or not we shall have that pleasure, I hope you will honour us with a visit again soon.’
I assured them that I would. It was impossible not to warm to the doctor and his sister who were friendly and kind, quite unlike any of the other people I had met so far in Lyme. When Doctor Rockingham smiled, his eyes lit up his handsome face. If only he had someone to make him happy, I thought, he’d be a changed man.
Before we had been there a quarter of an hour, I had invitations to dance from two or three young men who were introduced. I was relieved that our host would be forced to open the ball with Emma as a consequence, but disappointed that Lieutenant Austen was not there to ask me to dance. Just as I was beginning to give up hope of him ever making an appearance and as the little orchestra were tuning up their violins, the door opened. Charles Austen entered the room, along with two other people who looked very familiar.
The Cobb at Lyme Regis
‘That’s the gentleman and lady we saw that time on the Cobb,’ exclaimed Marianne, as everyone stopped to stare at the people who had just walked in. ‘I can quite easily see why you were taken aback. There is such a similarity between them, that I confess, Sophia; I am not at all surprised you were in shock. He could be none other than Lieutenant Austen’s brother, do you see?’
I could see very easily. Different in looks and manner, yet, there was no doubt that they came from the same family. Both had the same wavy, chestnut hair that framed their handsome faces in dark curls and the same hazel eyes, though perhaps in Mr Austen’s brother they reminded me more of Jane in their clarity. There was a look about him that reminded me very much of his sister. He had the same sensitive appearance; the same intelligent look.

His lady smiled, as her eyes darted at anyone who glanced her way. She was an elfin beauty. Delicate, yet exotic in style, like a jewelled bird stolen from a foreign land, she was swathed in a silken gown that flattered her tiny figure complimenting her pale complexion. As I stared, quite entranced with the pleasure of looking at her, I knew I was being watched. I only had to move my head very slightly to see Charles and to be aware of his beautiful, dark eyes. He bowed, his expression giving away little emotion. I felt the intensity of his gaze. So much so, that the spell was broken only by my own reticence to return the expression that I knew I had not misread.

‘Who are those people? ’I heard Mr Sutton ask Mr Barnwell who were standing a little apart from us.
‘Irish, I daresay, by their manners, ’answered Mr Barnwell, ‘just fit to be quality in Lyme.’
Mr Glanville butted in. ‘On the contrary, they’re nobody worth knowing. I recognize the taller gentleman from Bath, but I believe he is a sailor, no one of any rank worth our consideration.’
‘But the other gentleman,’ added Mr Sutton, ‘and more particularly his lady have quite an air about them.’
‘Now, she is somebody worth our attention,’ declared Mr Crawford, turning at their words and joining in, ‘for not only is she very easy on the eye, gentlemen, but Mrs Crawford’s been telling me she is a French countess! Or, at least she was before her first husband had his head chopped off. Her new husband is a banker, I believe. They are passing through, staying at the Three Cups Inn, I understand, before heading back to their London home.’
Lyme Regis
I hated the way they talked about Charles, his brother and his wife. I wanted to tell them to stop being so rude. I would have liked to tell them everything about these truly worthy brothers who had not been handed money and riches on a plate, and of how they had more daring, wit, and intelligence than the lot of them put together, but, of course, I couldn’t. I wasn’t even sure if Charles and I would have a chance to speak on our own. I didn’t know anyone that would make it possible for us to meet and talk, let alone dance with one another. We would have to be introduced all over again and I couldn’t see any of the gentlemen in my party making that a possibility.

I hope you enjoyed the extract!


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Jane Austen’s House in Bath

I’m getting very excited because Searching for Captain Wentworth, my new book is going to be ready in time for September. The cover is almost finished, and I hope it will be up on Amazon soon. Persuasion is my favourite of Jane Austen’s novels for so many reasons – one of which being that you can visit the places where she set her fantastic book. Bath and Lyme are wonderful places to go, and you can still walk along streets that Jane mentioned like Bond Street, Milsom Street, Great Pulteney Street, Rivers Street, Gay Street and the Gravel Walk, or visit well-known landmarks such as the Assembly Rooms, and the Pump Rooms in Bath. In Lyme, you can still walk along the Cobb, though I wouldn’t recommend jumping down any steps – the set known as ‘Granny’s Teeth are particularly treacherous! Jane doesn’t name the ‘principal street almost hurrying into the water’, but you can still walk down Broad Street and visit all the lovely shops which take you down to the sea. Charmouth and Uplyme are also mentioned and not far from Lyme Regis itself, as is Pinny or Pinhay.

Sydney Gardens

I decided I wanted to write something a little different this time, and the idea of a time travel book really appealed. If you’ve ever been to Bath you’ll know what an atmospheric city it is, especially when it’s rainy and misty in winter or at night when the street lamps still give the impression of old gas lighting. I’ve had several inexplicable experiences in Bath, which some might say are the result of an overactive imagination and several haunting dreams which provided a lot of the inspiration for this book. Whether it has anything to do with the fact that I can see Jane Austen’s garden from my window, and catch a glimpse of Sydney Gardens and the Holburne Museum, I cannot say, but to me my dreams were so real that I felt I’d gone back in time.


Here’s a little blurb about the book.

  When aspiring writer, Sophie Elliot, receives the keys to the family townhouse in Bath, it’s an invitation she can’t turn down, especially when she learns that she will be living next door to the house her favourite author, Jane Austen, lived in. But, the neglected house is harbouring more than the antiquated furniture and nesting mice, though initially Sophie tries to dismiss the haunting visions of a young girl. On discovering that an ancient glove belonging to her mysterious neighbour, Josh Strafford, will transport her back in time to Regency Bath, she questions her sanity, but Sophie is soon caught up in two dimensions, each reality as certain as the other. Torn between her life in the modern world, and that of her ancestor who befriends Jane Austen and her fascinating brother Charles, Sophie’s story travels two hundred years across time, and back again, to unite this modern heroine with her own Captain Wentworth. Blending fact and fiction together the tale of Jane Austen’s own quest for happiness weaves alongside, creating a believable world of new possibilities for the inspiration behind the beloved novel, Persuasion.

Granny’s Steps on the Cobb

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Here I am standing in front of the spot where the former Assembly Rooms at Lyme stood. Very sadly, they were demolished in 1927 to make way for the car park – a move I am not sure I shall ever forgive the council of the time for making. Fortunately, we have a lovely description left by the writer Constance Hill in her book, Jane Austen, Her Homes and her friends. This delightful book can be perused online and has wonderful illustrations by Constance’s sister Ellen.

Constance is writing about Lyme around 1900, the book was first published in 1901 after the sisters made a tour of all the places of interest connected with Jane Austen:

At the town end of this “Walk” some thatched cottages nestle under the sheltering hill, and just beyond them stand the Assembly Rooms perched upon the eastern promontory of the bay. The scene in its principal features is the same as in Miss Austen’s day; a sea wall being the only marked addition. A stretch of firm sands, lying between the points of the bay, forms a primitive highway for the heavily-laden waggons bearing freight from the harbour to the town. The sight of the horses up to their flanks in a flowing tide is what Miss Austen must often have looked upon.

The Assembly Rooms used formerly to be thrown open to company during the season twice a week, namely on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “The ball last night was pleasant,” Jane writes on September 14, “but not full for Thursday. My father stayed 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 the lanthorn may be a great convenience to him.”

In former times there were no lamps on the “Walk,” so that as Mr. Austen would have to traverse the whole length of it in returning home “a lanthorn or dark nights” would certainly “be a great convenience.”

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 illustrations show a painting of the Assembly Rooms which can be seen in the museum at Lyme and one of my own which I did for a map in Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen and Lyme Regis.

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I do love a chandelier, and in Bath they can be seen in all the places that Jane Austen wrote about. This first photo shows a chandelier from a small room off the main one in the Pump Rooms. The room looks down onto the Roman Baths below where it’s easy to imagine bathers through the centuries socialising in the warm waters. In Jane Austen’s day not everyone frequented the baths. Those who did were taken by sedan chair to the King’s, Queen’s or Cross Bath. The Queen’s bath was for ladies only and an attendant helped bathers into gowns specially for the purpose. They were guided into the waters and given ‘a little floating dish like a bason, into which the lady puts an handkerchief, a snuff box and a nosegay’ before being left to amuse themselves with the gossip of the day.

The next photo shows the splendid chandeliers in the tea room at the Assembly Rooms.
Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey visits the tea room with Mrs Allen, but this first visit is something of a disappointment.

Everybody was shortly in motion for tea, and they must squeeze out like the rest. Catherine began to feel something of disappointment — she was tired of being continually pressed against by people, the generality of whose faces possessed nothing to interest, and with all of whom she was so wholly unacquainted that she could not relieve the irksomeness of imprisonment by the exchange of a syllable with any of her fellow captives; and when at last arrived in the tea–room, she felt yet more the awkwardness of having no party to join, no acquaintance to claim, no gentleman to assist them. They saw nothing of Mr. Allen; and after looking about them in vain for a more eligible situation, were obliged to sit down at the end of a table, at which a large party were already placed, without having anything to do there, or anybody to speak to, except each other.

Mrs. Allen congratulated herself, as soon as they were seated, on having preserved her gown from injury. “It would have been very shocking to have it torn,” said she, “would not it? It is such a delicate muslin. For my part I have not seen anything I like so well in the whole room, I assure you.”

“How uncomfortable it is,” whispered Catherine, “not to have a single acquaintance here!”

“Yes, my dear,” replied Mrs. Allen, with perfect serenity, “it is very uncomfortable indeed.”

“What shall we do? The gentlemen and ladies at this table look as if they wondered why we came here — we seem forcing ourselves into their party.”

“Aye, so we do. That is very disagreeable. I wish we had a large acquaintance here.”

“I wish we had any — it would be somebody to go to.”

“Very true, my dear; and if we knew anybody we would join them directly. The Skinners were here last year — I wish they were here now.”

“Had not we better go away as it is? Here are no tea–things for us, you see.”

“No more there are, indeed. How very provoking! But I think we had better sit still, for one gets so tumbled in such a crowd! How is my head, my dear? Somebody gave me a push that has hurt it, I am afraid.”

“No, indeed, it looks very nice. But, dear Mrs. Allen, are you sure there is nobody you know in all this multitude of people? I think you must know somebody.”

“I don’t, upon my word — I wish I did. I wish I had a large acquaintance here with all my heart, and then I should get you a partner. I should be so glad to have you dance. There goes a strange–looking woman! What an odd gown she has got on! How old–fashioned it is! Look at the back.”

After some time they received an offer of tea from one of their neighbours; it was thankfully accepted, and this introduced a light conversation with the gentleman who offered it, which was the only time that anybody spoke to them during the evening, till they were discovered and joined by Mr. Allen when the dance was over.
The last photo shows the reflection of a chandelier through one of the beautiful mirrors in the octagon room, which was a space generally used for card playing. One of the times that I visited the Assembly Rooms I got into conversation with one of the attendants who look after the chandeliers. He very kindly showed me the ball room as it would have looked on ball nights. With the flick of an electric switch the shutters came down and the chandeliers glowed on a candlelight setting. It was pure magic and I shall never forget it!

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I love any excuse for a research trip and a chance to escape a frantic and busy life, so when my husband suggested a trip to Bath at the weekend I was very excited. I thought I’d share some of the photos I took of the Assembly Rooms in Bennett Street, which are stunningly beautiful. It is so easy to imagine social gatherings taking place here in Jane Austen’s time; you can hear the chatter and rustle of silk gowns just by looking into one of the rooms. The top photo shows the entrance, which some of you may recognise from the television adaptations of Persuasion.
The second shows one of the fireplaces in the Octagon room which is where card tables might be set up for those not interested in dancing and wishing to try their luck with a little gambling.
Lastly, is the Tea Room which was used primarily for refreshments and concerts. Meals were served throughout the day from public breakfasts to supper during dress balls. Food was laid out on side-tables and included such delights as sweetmeats, jellies, wine, biscuits, cold ham and turkey. Tea was the favourite drink, generally without milk, but occasionally with lemon or arrack (fermented cocoa).

In this extract from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Anne Elliot has met up with her old love, Captain Wentworth, at the Assembly Rooms. She has recently discovered that he is not in love with Louisa Musgrove and from the very recent conversation with him dares to hope that he may still have some feelings for Anne.

As she ceased, the entrance door opened again, and the very party appeared for whom they were waiting. “Lady Dalrymple, Lady Dalrymple!” was the rejoicing sound; and with all the eagerness compatible with anxious elegance, Sir Walter and his two ladies stepped forward to meet her. Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret, escorted by Mr. Elliot and Colonel Wallis, who had happened to arrive nearly at the same instant, advanced into the room. The others joined them, and it was a group in which Anne found herself also necessarily included. She was divided from Captain Wentworth. Their interesting, almost too interesting conversation, must be broken up for a time, but slight was the penance compared with the happiness which brought it on! She had learnt, in the last ten minutes, more of his feelings towards Louisa, more of all his feelings, than she dared to think of; and she gave herself up to the demands of the party, to the needful civilities of the moment, with exquisite, though agitated sensations. She was in good humour with all. She had received ideas which disposed her to be courteous and kind to all, and to pity every one, as being less happy than herself.

The delightful emotions were a little subdued, when on stepping back from the group, to be joined again by Captain Wentworth, she saw that he was gone. She was just in time to see him turn into the Concert Room. He was gone — he had disappeared, she felt a moment’s regret. But “they should meet again. He would look for her, he would find her out long before the evening were over, and at present, perhaps, it was as well to be asunder. She was in need of a little interval for recollection.”

Upon Lady Russell’s appearance soon afterwards, the whole party was collected, and all that remained was to marshal themselves, and proceed into the Concert Room; and be of all the consequence in their power, draw as many eyes, excite as many whispers, and disturb as many people as they could.

Very, very happy were both Elizabeth and Anne Elliot as they walked in. Elizabeth, arm-in-arm with Miss Carteret, and looking on the broad back of the Dowager-Viscountess Dalrymple before her, had nothing to wish for which did not seem within her reach; and Anne – but it would be an insult to the nature of Anne’s felicity to draw any comparison between it and her sister’s: the origin of one all selfish vanity, of the other all generous attachment.

Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room. Her happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed; but she knew nothing about it. She was thinking only of the last half-hour…

Jane Odiwe

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