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Posts Tagged ‘Lyme Regis’

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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More photos of gorgeous Lyme!






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I thought you’d like to see these treasures – a collection of lace, bonnet, gloves, glasses and ivory counters that belonged to Jane and the Austen family. They are on display in the museum at Lyme – donated by Mrs Diana Shervington. I was lucky enough to hear this fascinating lady speak at a conference in Lyme a few years ago. She brought along some other pieces from her collection – I particularly remember a strikingly beautiful red feather cockade that Jane wore in her bonnet and thinking that this was no accessory for a shy, retiring country spinster. Mrs Shervington was most generous with her time and gave a really entertaining talk on her illustrious ancestor – she is descended from the Knight family. Full of humour and with so many stories to tell I couldn’t help thinking that I had come face to face with Jane herself. She will be giving a talk at the museum in Lyme at 11 am on 30th June 2009 – for a full list of events in Lyme please click here
The glasses apparently belonged to Jane’s mother. The lace and gloves are exquisite and so very tiny – the Austen women must have had very delicate hands. The counters are the type used in card games as mentioned in Pride and Prejudice – ‘Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had lost and the fish she had won’. The small sticks of ivory and bone are used in a game called spillikins where each player has to remove them one at a time by using a hook without disturbing the rest of the pile.

The alphabet letters reminded me of this passage from Emma by Jane Austen.

“Miss Woodhouse,” said Frank Churchill, after examining a table behind him, which he could reach as he sat, “have your nephews taken away their alphabets – their box of letters? It used to stand here. Where is it? This is a sort of dull-looking evening, that ought to be treated rather as winter than summer. We had great amusement with those letters one morning. I want to puzzle you again.”

Emma was pleased with the thought; and producing the box, the table was quickly scattered over with alphabets, which no one seemed so much disposed to employ as their two selves. They were rapidly forming words for each other, or for any body else who would be puzzled. The quietness of the game made it particularly eligible for Mr. Woodhouse, who had often been distressed by the more animated sort, which Mr. Weston had occasionally introduced, and who now sat happily occupied in lamenting, with tender melancholy, over the departure of the “poor little boys,” or in fondly pointing out, as he took up any stray letter near him, how beautifully Emma had written it.

Frank Churchill placed a word before Miss Fairfax. She gave a slight glance round the table, and applied herself to it. Frank was next to Emma, Jane opposite to them – and Mr. Knightley so placed as to see them all; and it was his object to see as much as he could, with as little apparent observation. The word was discovered, and with a faint smile pushed away. If meant to be immediately mixed with the others, and buried from sight, she should have looked on the table instead of looking just across, for it was not mixed; and Harriet, eager after every fresh word, and finding out none, directly took it up, and fell to work. She was sitting by Mr. Knightley, and turned to him for help. The word was blunder; and as Harriet exultingly proclaimed it, there was a blush on Jane’s cheek which gave it a meaning not otherwise ostensible. Mr. Knightley connected it with the dream; but how it could all be, was beyond his comprehension. How the delicacy, the discretion of his favourite could have been so lain asleep! He feared there must be some decided involvement. Disingenuousness and double-dealing seemed to meet him at every turn. These letters were but the vehicle for gallantry and trick. It was a child’s play, chosen to conceal a deeper game on Frank Churchill’s part.

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Here are some pictures of me standing outside one of the houses that Jane Austen is believed to have stayed in at Lyme. Pyne House is on the main High Street of the town not far from the beach. As I was standing waiting to have my photo taken someone actually came out of the front door – needless to say I was a bit embarrassed! Here are some extracts from Jane’s letter written from Lyme to her sister Cassandra.

Lyme, Friday, September 14th 1804.

My dear Cassandra, – I take the first sheet of fine striped paper to thank you for your letter from Weymouth, and express my hopes of your being at Ibthorp before this time. I expect to hear that you reached it yesterday evening, being able to get as far as Blandford on Wednesday. Your account of Weymouth contains nothing which strikes me so forcibly as there being no ice in the town. For every other vexation I was in some measure prepared, and particularly for your disappointment in not seeing the Royal Family go on board on Tuesday, having already heard from Mr. Crawford that he had seen you in the very act of being too late. But for there being no ice, what could prepare me?

You found my letter at Andover, I hope, yesterday, and have now for many hours been satisfied that your kind anxiety on my behalf was as much thrown away as kind anxiety usually is. I continue quite well; in proof of which I have bathed again this morning. It was absolutely necessary that I should have the little fever and indisposition which I had: it has been all the fashion this week in Lyme.

We are quite settled in our lodgings by this time, as you may suppose, and everything goes on in the usual order. The servants behave very well, and make no difficulties, though nothing certainly can exceed the inconvenience of the offices, except the general dirtiness of the house and furniture, and all its inhabitants. I endeavour, as far as I can, to supply your place, and be useful, and keep things in order. I detect dirt in the water decanter as fast as I can, and give the cook physic which she throws off her stomach. I forget whether she used to do this under your administration. 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. I called yesterday morning (ought it not in strict propriety to be termed yester-morning?) on Miss A. and was introduced to her father and mother. Like other young ladies she is considerably genteeler than her parents. Mrs. A. sat darning a pair of stockings the whole of my visit. But do not mention this at home, lest a warning should act as an example. We afterwards walked together for an hour on the Cobb; she is very conversable in a common way; I do not perceive wit or genius, but she has sense and some degree of taste, and her manners are very engaging. She seems to like people rather too easily.

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Here I am standing at the top of some steps leading up from the beach – perhaps these are the very steps where Anne encounters Mr Elliot. Notice the lovely Regency cottages behind me which are called amongst other names Captain Harville and Captain Benwick’s cottages.

When they came to the steps leading upwards from the beach, a gentleman, at the same moment preparing to come down, politely drew back, and stopped to give them way. They ascended and passed him; and as they passed, Anne’s face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration which she could not be insensible of. She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animations of eye which it had also produced. It was evident that the gentleman (completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, “That man is struck with you, and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.”

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This photo shows the likely location of Captain Harville’s cottage. I have it on good authority – some years ago I did a little map for Maggie Lane’s fascinating book – Jane Austen in Lyme. The year it came out my husband and I went on a Jane Austen Society conference to Lyme – I remember meeting quite a few people who’d come along from JASNA. I’m sure you’d agree we had a lovely time! I took the book with me on my travels this time – it was invaluable for finding my way around, and is full of the interesting history of Lyme along with Jane’s connections to the place. You can order it from the Jane Austen Society here in the UK.

The building looks modernised and is now a cafe but I’ve included a photo below which shows the buildings next to it which look far more in keeping with the sort of architecture that Jane might have seen. The Royal Standard Inn is several hundred years old – on the first blustery day I sampled their fish soup which was delicious. At the front they have a garden overlooking the sea where I enjoyed a crab sandwich the next day watching the world go by in the sunshine.

Last, but by no means least is the passage from Persuasion to go with the pictures.
The party from Uppercross passing down by the now deserted and melancholy-looking rooms, and still descending, soon found themselves on the seashore; and lingering only, as all must linger and gaze on a first return to the sea, who ever deserve to look on it at all, proceeded towards the Cobb, equally their object in itself and on Captain Wentworth’s account: for in a small house, near the foot of an old pier of unknown date, were the Harvilles settled. Captain Wentworth turned in to call on his friend; the others walked on, and he was to join them on the Cobb.

Here’s a further passage giving a description:

On quitting the Cobb, they all went indoors with their new friends, and found rooms so small as none but those who invite from the heart could think capable of accommodating so many. Anne had a moment’s astonishment on the subject herself; but it was soon lost in the pleasanter feelings which sprang from the sight of all the ingenious contrivances and nice arrangements of Captain Harville, to turn the actual space to the best possible account, to supply the deficiencies of lodging-house furniture, and defend the windows and doors against the winter storms to be expected. The varieties in the fitting-up of the rooms, where the common necessaries provided by the owner, in the common indifferent plight, were contrasted with some few articles of a rare species of wood, excellently worked up, and with something curious and valuable from all the distant countries Captain Harville had visited, were more than amusing to Anne: connected as it all was with his profession, the fruit of its labours, the effect of its influence on his habits, the picture of repose and domestic happiness it presented, made it to her a something more, or less, than gratification.

Captain Harville was no reader; but he had contrived excellent accommodations, and fashioned very pretty shelves, for a tolerable collection of well-bound volumes, the property of Captain Benwick. His lameness prevented him from taking much exercise; but a mind of usefulness and ingenuity seemed to furnish him with constant employment within. He drew, he varnished, he carpentered, he glued; he made toys for the children, he fashioned new netting-needles and pins with improvements; and if every thing else was done, sat down to his large fishing-net at one corner of the room.

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I’m off on my travels today for the purposes of recreation, research and inspiration! If I don’t get blown off the Cobb in the wild weather, I’ll bring back some photos for your delight! If you haven’t guessed where I’m going, here’s a further hint.

The conclusion of her visit, however, was diversified in a way which she had not at all imagined. Captain Wentworth, after being unseen and unheard of at Uppercross for two whole days, appeared again among them to justify himself by a relation of what had kept him away.

A letter from his friend, Captain Harville, having found him out at last, had brought intelligence of Captain Harville’s being settled with his family at Lyme for the winter; of their being, therefore, quite unknowingly, within twenty miles of each other. Captain Harville had never been in good health since a severe wound which he received two years before, and Captain Wentworth’s anxiety to see him had determined him to go immediately to Lyme. He had been there for four-and-twenty hours. His acquittal was complete, his friendship warmly honoured, a lively interest excited for his friend, and his description of the fine country about Lyme so feelingly attended to by the party, that an earnest desire to see Lyme themselves, and a project for going thither was the consequence.

The young people were all wild to see Lyme. Captain Wentworth talked of going there again himself; it was only seventeen miles from Uppercross; though November, the weather was by no means bad; and, in short, Louisa, who was the most eager of the eager, having formed the resolution to go, and besides the pleasure of doing as she liked, being now armed with the idea of merit in maintaining her own way, bore down all the wishes of her father and mother for putting it off till summer; and to Lyme they were to go – Charles, Mary, Anne, Henrietta, Louisa, and Captain Wentworth.

The first heedless scheme had been to go in the morning and return at night, but to this Mr. Musgrove, for the sake of his horses, would not consent; and when it came to be rationally considered, a day in the middle of November would not leave much time for seeing a new place, after deducting seven hours, as the nature of the country required, for going and returning. They were, consequently, to stay the night there, and not to be expected back till the next day’s dinner. This was felt to be a considerable amendment; and though they all met at the Great House at rather an early breakfast hour, and set off very punctually, it was so much past noon before the two carriages — Mr. Musgrove’s coach containing the four ladies, and Charles’s curricle, in which he drove Captain Wentworth — were descending the long hill into Lyme, and entering upon the still steeper street of the town itself, that it was very evident they would not have more than time for looking about them, before the light and warmth of the day were gone.

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