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Friday, September 1, 2017

Georgian Bath

by guest blogger Clare Alexander

Ah, Bath! The lovely city in Somerset on the banks of the Avon is the only city in England to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city holds everything from pagan foundations, through Roman baths, medieval churches, graceful Georgian buildings, Victorian monuments, to modern shops, hotels, restaurants, and pubs.

A popular spa during the Georgian era and through the Regency, Bath is the location of more historical romances than would fit into many assemblies: Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Northanger Abbey take place in Bath. Georgette Heyer, Mary Balogh, Lisa Kleypas, and many other authors chose Bath as a setting for their tales.

Visitors came to Bath to take the waters while resting from the whirl of London and found happily ever afters there. My own visit included explorations across centuries and through many neighborhoods. Today, I’ll present a bit of Georgian Bath, a section of the city that preserves townhouses and thoroughfares from one of England’s most elegant architectural eras.

In particular, I introduce Bathwick, the newly completed (in 1774) town reached by crossing the Pulteney Bridge.

The Pulteney Bridge was designed by Robert Adam in the neoclassical Palladian style that remained the heart of Regency building. One of the few bridges to have shops built into it on both sides, the plan came from a design Adams created for the Rialto Bridge in Venice but never used.

Pulteney is the family name of the Georgian Earls of Bath. (The title was created three times.) The bridge was named specifically for a first cousin of the 1st Earl, Frances Pulteney Johnstone, who became fabulously wealthy after inheriting the Earl’s fortune on his death and the death of his heir. She and her husband changed their name to Pulteney and became patrons of the city.

Stroll across the bridge, using your imagination to replace buses and cars with delivery carts and elegant curricles. Once across the Avon, you enter an area of elegant homes built of warmly colored Bath stone. This neighborhood, which includes such well-known addresses as Laura Place, was known to Jane Austen during her time here. 

Continue your stroll down Great Pulteney Street, admiring the grace of the buildings on either side. At the end, you find the Holburne Museum of Art, which in Austen’s time was the Sydney Hotel.

The hotel served the Sydney Pleasure Gardens, one of Jane Austen’s favored walks when she lived on Sydney Place nearby. Today, they are the only remaining Georgian pleasure gardens in England. Strolling here, you can imagine catching sight of a Regency lady, a dashing naval officer, or perhaps Jane herself plotting her next novel.

These sections of Bath will be familiar from film and television adaptations of Austen’s works and other period pieces precisely because the architecture, both buildings and details, has been so well preserved. Walking here, it becomes easy to imagine what it might have been like. 

Clare Alexander published her first Regency, sadly not set in Bath, this February. Her website can be found at

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