“ Address: 40 Gay Street / Queen Square / Bath / BA1 2NT / Tel: 44 (0) 1225 443000 „
One place I was keen to visit on my recent weekend to Bath was the Jane Austen Centre. Based on Gay Street in a Georgian townhouse, just a few doors down from one that Jane had stayed in, the Austen Centre is well sign-posted throughout the City Centre. Gay Street is just off of Queen Square, where Jane also stayed on one of her earlier visits. Upon arrival you go to the Gift Shop in the front of the house to buy your tickets. The cost is £6.95 for an adult (reduced prices available for children, students and seniors as well as a Family Ticket) but if you have a ticket from the Jane Austen Walking Tour then you get a 20% discount, which I had. Your experience starts with a short 15 minute talk which happens twice an hour - fifteen minutes past and fifteen minutes to. This is probably worth timing your visit for. If you are early, there is a pleasant waiting room upstairs with pictures and letters on the wall from various famous people in regard to the Centre. There is one from the actress Emma Thompson enclosing a copy of her Golden Globe acceptance speech for the screenplay of Sense and Sensibility, the speech was written as if by Jane Austen and is very well done and worth a read. There is also a short film being shown in another room. When you arrive you are given a leaflet with a little bit of information about the centre, as well as Jane's immediate family tree and a chronology. I found this very interesting to put into context which books she wrote when and which were published when (her name didn't appear in print until after she died - her books just said they were written by 'A Lady') and how this fitted around other events in her life. There were about 10-12 people for the talk, and the staff member who gave it spoke clearly and engagingly about Jane and her family, telling us what they did and mentioning the rumours of marriage proposals and broken hearts. She explained that it is believed Jane died of Addison's Disease (adrenal failure) at the age of 41. At the time the disease hadn't been 'discovered' so she was undiagnosed, so the diagnosis was done through the description of symptoms in family letters some time later. The speaker also discussed the interpretation of Jane's work and how it has been adapted for a modern environment in books such as Pride, Prejudice and Zombies and the many film adaptations that have taken stories from Jane's books in various forms. This wasn't done in a highbrow way and I found the whole talk very informative and enjoyable. After this you go back downstairs and walk through the exhibition, it is not a huge display - there are costumes, a tableaux featuring her brother Frank (an Admiral, who served under Nelson), and generic information of Bath society at that time. There is a short 15 minute film presented by the actress Amanda Root (who starred in the 1995 film version of Persuasion) about Jane Austen's Bath. There is information and a timeline on the properties she stayed at in the city. The emphasis is on Jane's time in Bath and less so on her prior and subsequent life, so it is by no means comprehensive. However I found it interesting enough, and I was in the exhibition a further 30 minutes or so (I didn't watch the film). Overall for your visit I would suggest allowing an hour. You exit the exhibition back into the gift shop where you can buy Austen's books (in a variety of price ranges - from budget to leather bound hardbacks), biographies and other books associated with Bath and the Regency and Georgian periods. There are other associated gifts also, and I found the staff really helpful in answering any questions I had. On the second floor is the Regency Tea Rooms. I didn't visit them but they appeared to be well thought of. Although the presentation was on the first floor, the exhibition is on the ground floor and should be suitable for wheelchairs even though it is quite narrow. I am sure staff members will be happy to oblige with the talk, if any visitors were unable to go upstairs. Overall I do recommend this a place to visit, especially if you are an Austen fan. I appreciate that her books may not appeal to everybody. As I mentioned above, I did a Jane Ausen Walk as well, which is organised by the centre. The walk is only on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday (except Christmas) at 11am and meets outside the KC Exchange Visitor Centre in the Abbey churchyard. The cost for adults is £6.00 and the walk lasted about two hours. There is an extra 4pm tour on Friday and Saturdays in July and August. Your admission ticket allows you 20% discount off of admission to the Jane Austen Centre (where the walk finishes) and 10% off at the Regency Tea Room above it. There were only six of us on our walk one windy March Sunday, and first of all our guide showed us the Pump Rooms across the Abbey courtyard. The tour was not just about Austen but our guide also told us about the history of the city, its origins (rumoured to have been 'discovered' by a Pig Farmer), architecture, key residents and anecdotes about how certain streets got their names. For example, we learnt about the significance of the Pump Rooms during the Georgians period and the influential Richard 'Beau' Nash who dictated society rituals during this time which carried forth after his death. As the city is World Heritage City, much of it is as it was in Austen's day, thus houses she lived and stayed in are still standing and you can also see many places featured in her Bath centred novels - Northanger Abbey and Persuasion - such as the character's addresses and places she refers to. Amongst these our guide also told us about places Jane would have visited and shopped in her time here (she visited Bath twice in the late eighteenth century and lived there for about five years in the early nineteenth century), her thoughts and opinions garnered from her letters. Our guide also shared little anecdotes about Jane and her family, such as the scandal of her Aunt being (falsely) accused of shoplifting. Over our two hour tour we only covered a small area, as we stopped quite a bit, but it was enough for me to lose my bearings (mind you, that doesn't take much!). Our guide also managed to persuade the lady on the front desk to let us have a quick peak at the Assembly Rooms for free (where various society dances and gatherings took place in Regency Bath) and was no doubt visited by Jane and her family as well as her characters - it is visited and described by the character Anne Elliot in Persuasion. She was also able to fill us in on where some TV series and films were made, not just Austen's but other period films such as The Duchess and Vanity Fair. Although the walk happens rain or shine, I think the weather makes a difference to your enjoyment. It was fairly windy on the day we went and our guide was sensitive to this, ensuring that we stood out of the wind wherever possible. However, true fans maybe prepared to brave the elements.
If you happen to find yourself in Bath and are also a fan of the great English novelist Jane Austen why not take the opportunity to visit The Jane Austen Centre which was inspired by Jane Austen's residency in Bath from 1801 to 1806. At 40 Gay Street the centre is in a prime location at just a few doors down from one of Jane Austen's addresses in Bath, 25 Gay Street (now unfortunately a dentist surgery so unless you have the excuse of severe oral distress you probably won't be able to visit it). Jane and her family were forced to move here after her father's death led to a severe drop in their income - you may well notice the style of street certainly does not suggest prosperity. Getting there ======== To get to the centre you may find you have to walk a bit (and it is sadly uphill so will require a bit of effort) and it would be quite easy to miss the centre if it weren't for a life sized cardboard cut-out of a 19th Century girl pointing the way in. - If you come in by train it is probably a good 15-20 minute walk but it is well signposted. - By coach you will be dropped off in Queen Square which is only about 100 metres away. - If you come in by car there are quite a few places to park, but many of the car parks are short stay with a maximum of 4 hours so you may have to park leaving yourself a good 15 minute walk to get to the centre but again it is well signposted. Opening Times ========= The Centre is open all year round with the exception of the 24th - 26th December and 1st January. Summer ______ 14th March - 8th November: 9.45am - 5.30pm Late opening July - August: Thursday to Saturday 9.45am - 7.00pm Winter _____ 9th November - 13th March: Sunday to Friday - 11:00am-4:30pm (with the exception of the February school half term: 9.45am - 5:30pm) Saturday: 9.45am - 5:30pm Prices ==== Adult - £6.95 Senior / Students - £5.50 Child (5-15yrs) - £3.95 Family (2 adults, up to 4 children) - £18.00 The Jane Austen Centre =============== Despite the name, the Jane Austen Centre is mostly devoted to Jane Austen's time in Bath and not her whole life, so if you go in expecting a detailed history you may be a little disappointed. The Jane Austen Centre consists of a gift shop, a permanent exhibition and the award winning Regency Tea Rooms. ~~~~~~~~~~ The Exhibition ~~~~~~~~~~ Upon arrival into the quaint Georgian townhouse you enter the gift shop which is, unsurprisingly, almost entirely devoted to Jane Austen where you can purchase your entry ticket. The beginning of the exhibition starts with a brief talk (maybe 15-20 mins) from a guide - mine was clearly knowledgeable and passionate about Jane Austen so it was a very interesting talk, but as a result of this talk you will have to begin your journey through the exhibition at a specified time (every 30 mins). When the time comes for your talk to begin you have to go up to the first floor and into a waiting room. There is a little bit of information on the walls and an interesting cabinet filled with mysterious objects luring you over to guess what they are. When your talk is complete you will be led back downstairs to begin your tour of the exhibition. The only downside here is that the exhibition begins in a narrow corridor and so you are forced to walk through at the pace of the person in front of you until it opens up. It is quite a small exhibition but there is plenty crammed in of interest with some attractive displays of period costumes which I believe was from ITV's production of Persuasion, as well as the opportunity to try some of them on yourself, plenty of information dotted about the walls about Jane Austen's time in Bath including excerpts from letters and her novels as well as information about the turn-of-the century Bath in general. There is also a 10 minute film narrated by actress Amanda Root (Anne Elliot in the 1995 version of Persuasion) talking a bit about Jane Austen's time in Bath which is well worth a watch but it is quite an old film and is beginning to feel that way too. Particular time is spent on the two novels Northanger Abbey, written before Jane Austen's residency in Bath which portrays Bath with much excitement and Persuasion set after Jane's residency in Bath which shows Bath in a much more depressing light. Certainly an excellent insight into the changes in Jane Austen's state of mind before and after her stay! One thing I particularly like is a modern portrait of Jane Austen which is an updated version of the only every recorded picture of Jane Austen drawn by her sister Cassandra which was always hated by the family. This was drawn by Melissa Dring and was based upon descriptions of Jane from when she was alive and definitely portrays her in a much more flattering light! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Regency Tea Rooms ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Once you have completed your tour you can visit the award winning Regency Tea Rooms on the second floor if you feel in need of refreshment. Entry is free so you could even come to the centre purely to visit these Tea Rooms without even visiting the exhibition. With a quaintly decorated tea room, waitresses dressed in period costumes and a captivating picture of Colin Firth as Mr Darcy overlooking the whole proceedings you immediately feel yourself drawn back into the 19th Century. The menu stays in character with such items as 'Tea with Mr Darcy' or 'Lady Catherine's Proper Cream Tea' which offer such snacks as cucumber sandwiches, teacakes and scones alongside more conventional snacks such as soup, sandwiches and salads. The full menu can be found at http://www.janeausten.co.uk/tearooms/menu.ihtml. On offer is also an impressive array of 15 different loose leaf teas which get served up with a teapot and strainer as of old which is adds an extra Regency feel to the whole thing. Just in case you weren't aware (and I wasn't) the Regency period refers to the period from 1811-1820 during George III's periods of insanity where the Prince of Wales had to take over the reign. ~~~~~~~~~~ The Gift Shop ~~~~~~~~~~ It is also worth stopping in the gift shop for Jane Austen related items. There are books and DVDs galore, fun mugs as well as many unusual items such as posters displaying the correct use of fans, as well as a lucky dip whereby you can buy a wrapped item for just £2.50. I elected to do this and ended up with a book about Bath and sadly not Jane Austen related at all which unfortunately held little interest to me. It was worth £9 though so I did get it cheaply and who knows - if you try it you may get more luck than me - I guess that's why it's called a lucky dip! Other related sites in Bath ================= If you have some more time you can visit some more nearby points of interest about Jane Austen and her experiences in Bath starting with the Assembly Rooms (which are literally just some fairly largish rooms and to be honest will only take a couple of minutes to visit but are free) which also include a Fashion Exhibition which you do have to pay for and is only worth doing if you are interested in fashion. The Assembly Rooms did appear in both her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey so will help you retrace her footsteps and imagine what it was like back in her time. You can also walk around The Circus which is an interesting design for houses literally laid out in a circle which lead on to the Royal Crescent with a layout as you'd expect as a semi-circle which may hold some interest from an architectural point of view and were also mentioned in her novels. There is also an annual event (and 2010 marks the 10th anniversary) which is the Jane Austen Festival which starts at the Jane Austen Centre and takes place during the last week of September. This gives people a chance to kit themselves out in 18th Century gear and promenade along the streets of Bath lead by a Town Crier along with soldiers and sailors. This festival also includes walks, theatre, concerts, talks, food and dancing. So in conclusion, if you are a fan of Jane Austen then you will definitely enjoy The Jane Austen Centre, as long as you are aware it mostly focuses on her experiences in Bath. The Regency Tea Rooms are an extra treat and a pleasant way to get refreshments. If you wanted to learn more extensively about her whole life then I would recommend visiting Chawton Cottage in Hampshire which contains the "Jane Austen's House Museum" and was where she spent the last 8 years of her life.