Jane Austen

Remembering Bath

Since we’ve just started our Venetia read this week I wanted to tell you a bit more about my aunts Phyl and Nell who introduced me to Heyer.

They were both born about a century ago in London, with my father (now 99!) as the baby of the family. Their parents were of Irish descent, their mother (my g-grandmother) was in service according to the 1901 census and their father a maker of brass musical instruments. Neither of my aunts married. They shared houses and when I was a child we visited them in their wonderful house in Bath, on Lansdown Place West. This may be their house, I can’t read the house number.

Lansdown Place West is the continuation of Lansdown Crescent, one of the most beautiful pieces of Georgian architecture in the city, constructed between 1789 and 1793 and designed by architect John Palmer. It’s higher than the more famous Royal Crescent, with an amazing view of the city.

In front of Lansdown Crescent is a field still used for grazing, one of the original design features of the Royal Crescent (and possibly other places too)–the idea being that you’d have the pleasures of the town with the healthful idyll of country life.

The only (so far as I know) famous, or infamous, occupant of Lansdown Crescent was William Beckford who lived at number 19 and 20 (the ones with the imposing frontage). The houses have four floors, servants’ quarters in the basement, and mews behind the Crescent.

My aunts showed me the city of Bath. They took me to tea at the Pump Room and Sally Lunn’s, boat rides on the river, tours of the Roman Baths, and walks around the city. There was a shop, now moved to a different location in the Guildhall, Gillards of Bath, which was very little changed from Victorian times. Loose tea, stored in massive metal containers, was measured on scales, tipped onto a sheet of brown paper, and folded into a miraculous neat cube, tied with string.

My aunts loved Heyer, Austen and Georgian/Regency architecture, fashions, and furniture long before they became popular, and picked up antiques for a song at jumble sales. They taught me it’s possible to fall in love with a place and I certainly fell in love with Bath, thanks to them. They even suggested I write, although at the time I thought it was a weird idea.

Their house on Lansdown Place West became too much for them–all those stairs and continual maintenance, so they moved to an early eighteenth-century house in Batheaston (lots of stairs and continual maintenance) a few miles east of the city. Again, this may or may not be their house but it’s very close!

I’m so grateful for what they gave me.

Who were your mentors for writing or any other passion?

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Jane Austen
12 years ago

My aunt Marcie fostered my love of reading. I am her goddaughter and she always bought me a book for Christmas and my birthday, which fall only two weeks apart. I always looked forward to the books that she would give me and felt special since I was the only one of the four children to get a birthday gift from Aunt Marcie. Now that I’m older and I have a kindle Marcie no longer buys me books, but book related items. Recently she bought me the most beautiful Alice in Wonderland charm bracelet. I also have a JA charm bracelet. Marcie and I are still very close and meet as often as we can for lunch. She also loves Austen and it is quite fun to share this with her although we argue about what the best film adaptations are. We never agree. But it’s always fun to hear each other’s opinions.

Jane George
12 years ago

Yeah for the aunts!
What lovely photos, and what rich memories!!!

12 years ago

What remarkable aunts blessed your life!

I had to look up Mentor, first. I’ve been blessed with some wonderful friends that have encouraged me through the years.

12 years ago

Eep! I forgot to mention that Diane has been generous in helping me with my writing, but then, I consider her a friend. 🙂

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

You bet I’m a friend, Judy! I consider myself so.

Janet, what lovely memories and what lovely aunts! I can just imagine them smiling down on you at this very minute, clucking about how they knew best that you would write the sort of books they would love.

My mother, a very quiet, unassuming woman, loved to read historical romance. I well remember when she told me she skipped over “those” parts. (Yeah, Mom, sure you did). She died before it ever occurred to me to write, but I’m sure she would be proud of me.

Miranda Neville
12 years ago

I grew up about 30 miles from Bath and for some reason it was the place my sister went for her orthodontist. When she had an appointment, my mother would take us out of school and we’d go shopping and have tea on Milsom Street. It was a great treat.
Alas, my sister’s teeth were straightened and the dentist said mine weren’t crooked enough to be worth the work. (Bloody English dentists. In the US I’d have had braces, for sure). So we stopped going to Bath.
Just outside the city is a lovely place called the American Museum, an English country house full of beautiful American furniture and quilts. Did you ever go there, Janet? I believe it was founded by a gay American couple who settled in Bath. It was a place of legend in my family because I threw up in the kitchen.

Janet Mullany
12 years ago

Miranda, the American Museum is wonderful and I want to hear more of the kitchen vomiting episode.

In the 1986 Mansfield Park John Tilney’s ride with Catherine went past my aunts’ house and along Lansdown Crescent. I think Lansdown was almost certainly chosen because of the grazing land and its relative obscurity.

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