By Maggi Andersen
Jane Austen set her novel Persuasion in Bath at a time when that city was the hub of society. It was the last novel she wrote, published six months after her death in 1817.
The golden age of Bath was the eighteenth century. It was then the most popular health and pleasure resort in England. It was transformed early in the century from a dull and dirty provincial town into a glittering social center by Richard Nash—Beau Nash as he came to be called. John Wood, the architect, and his son beautified the city with fine new streets—Royal Crescent, Queen Square, North and South Parade.
A daily routine of occupations and amusement was drawn up for visitors. Those wishing to bathe in the waters did so between 6 and 9 a.m. It was a social gathering, and ladies and gentlemen waded together clad in the fullest of bathing costumes, the ladies pushing before them little floating trays holding handkerchief, snuff-box, sweets, and nosegays of flowers. After this came the drinking of the waters in the Pump Room while musicians provided music. Then breakfast, on offer to the public in the Assembly Rooms, followed by a service in the Abbey church. Between that and dinner at 3.00 p.m., the time was spent shopping, driving about in a gig or chaise, and calling on acquaintances.
After dinner, the pump room was again filled with society, parading in their best clothes, before taking tea and spending the evening at the theater, ball, or gaming tables.
Life in Bath was governed by strict regulations for behavior and social etiquette set up by the acknowledged ‘King of Bath’, Beau Nash. His slightly humorous set of rules was pasted up in the Pump Room.
Here are two of them:
That the elder ladies and children be content with a second bench at the ball, as being past or not yet come to perfection.
That all whisperers of lies and scandals be taken for their authors.
Two of my novels have been set at least partially in Bath.