I had wanted to have breakfast at the 18th century Hall and Woodhouse pub restaurant so I decided to try out the restaurant on the morning I visited the Jane Austen Centre, as it was nearby at Old King Street. The warm crumpets with a pot of hot tea was delicious.
I had a leisurely breakfast, enjoying my tea and the spacious restaurant, before walking over to the Jane Austen Centre.
After being given a souvenir guide book, I was directed to the waiting room at the centre. I browsed through the souvenir, which included 34 lesser known Jane Austen facts, as I waited for my guide. Soon enough, Serena, the guide for my tour turned up.
We walked into a room which had the Austen family portraits on its wall. Serena spoke about Jane Austen’s immediate family – her parents and her siblings. I learnt that Jane Austen’s parents were avid readers and encouraged their children to make use of their library at home. Cassandra Austen, Jane’s mother, had enjoyed writing poetry and there is one of her rhymes included in the exhibition room. The Austen siblings seem to have been close to each other and had interesting and diverse careers. I also learnt that one of Jane’s siblings, the one indicated by a question mark in the portraits on the wall, had been born with disabilities and had been raised separate from the family, together with an uncle. Serena also mentioned that all Austen siblings knew sign language and probably learnt it to communicate with the second brother, George. I wonder why sign language had not made it into Jane Austen’s writing, as many other facets of her life and people she knew did show up in her fictional characters.
After the overview of the Austen family, Serena led me to the exhibition room. The exhibition is quite a small one but it does have some interesting objects. It starts with a walk down a corridor lined with framed photographs. The first two are copies of Cassandra’s sketches of Jane Austen. Apparently, the Austen family had felt that the sketches were not reflective of Jane but since it is the only one in existence, it has become her official portrait.
Further down the corridor, there is a map of Bath with places where Jane Austen stayed during her time in Bath. The places reflected the family’s deteriorating financial circumstances. While the building of the Jane Austen Centre has nothing to do with Jane Austen, it is at least similar to the building at No 25 Gay Street further down the same road, where Jane, her sister and mother moved to after her father’s death.
There were some interesting framed snippets such as the Laws of Bath written by Richard Nash Esq, the Master of the Ceremonies of the Pump Room, in 1707. The quite humorous laws end with the line “whereas Politeness, Decency and Good Manners, three ancient Residents at Bath have, of late, left the Place, whoever shall restore them, shall be rewarded with Honour and Respect.”
On one section of the wall were three portraits indicating the men who had a brief romantic connection in Jane Austen’s life. The portrait in the middle is the younger brother of close friends of Jane, who proposed to her when he turned 21. Jane initially accepted his proposal of marriage but after considering it for 12 hours, turned it down the next day.
At the end of the tour, there was a little table with a plate of cookies that Serena invited me to try. They were called Charlotte Palmer’s Fine Little Cakes and are made fresh daily for the Jane Austen Centre from a period recipe in Laura Boyle’s Cooking with Jane Austen & Friends. The cookbook is available at the Jane Austen Centre gift shop.
On the adjacent table was a humorous recipe in rhyme, for a plum pudding, thought to have been written by Jane Austen’s mother and found in the recipe book of Martha Lloyd, a close friend of Jane.
Just before entering the gift shop, there is a little area with desks and writing materials, where I tried my hand at writing with a quill.
The Jane Austen Centre offers the visitor a lovely, little eclectic exhibition, the charm of which lies in the one hour guided tour, where the guide brings to life insights into Jane’s life. It is an interesting stop on your Jane Austen trail in Bath, before or after you have visited Jane Austen’s home in Chawton village in Hampshire.
The Centre also has a Regency Tea Room, where you could have ‘Tea with Mr. Darcy’ or ‘Lady Catherine’s Proper Cream Tea’ among other options. Of interest is also the Jane Austen festival held in Bath, organized by the Centre every September.
Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary pass to Bath and regional attractions, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to the Jane Austen Centre. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.
[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #13]