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Posts Tagged ‘Assembly Rooms’

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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