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Our Guide to the Bath Literary Festival
The Jane Austen festival in Bath, an event that typically takes place over the course of ten days in early September, has become one of the main opportunities for fans of one of Britain’s (and arguably the world’s) greatest writers to gather and celebrate her work. For announcements of this festival be sure to check out the Jane Austen Centre site festival page for updated information.
Bath, unsurprisingly, is indelibly connected with Jane Austen. She resided here for five years (1801-1806) and it was this town and its people that provided the inspiration for her first novel, Northanger Abbey - though it wasn’t published until after her death. Furthermore, Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage city on account of its stunning Georgian architecture, is contemporaneous with the period in which Austen wrote; it provides the ideal backdrop for Austen aficionados wanting to immerse themselves in the world that Jane Austen lived in and reflected back through her literary creations. It is not for nothing that the recent TV phenomenon, Brigerton, itself reverentially inspired by Austen’s writings, was filmed predominantly in the city.
Bath and the surrounding region are therefore replete with sites of interest that are either directly referenced in Austen’s novels or have been used as filming locations in the many TV and big-screen adaptations of her work.
Here are a few of the main locations in and beyond Bath connected to Austen, and how they fit with the great writer and her work…
Bath, needless to say, is brimming with Jane Austen's connections. And, of course, there is even more to see during the Jane Austen Festival, when attractions, stores and venues alike offer events and experiences that further celebrate her life, work and the society in which she lived.
The Jane Austen Centre
This small museum shares the story of Austen’s life and works. It is renowned for its live-actor characters who greet guests and take them around the museum whilst bedecked in Georgian garb and conversing lyrically, as one may expect of a lady or gentleman of the time. Situated on Gay Street, just a short distance from a home in which Jane Austen dwelt, the Centre is a must for all Jane Austen aficionados.
The Upper Assembly Rooms
The focal point of Bathonian (and therefore English) high society from the late 1700s through to Jane’s time in Bath, this building was the place anyone who was anyone came to connect, catch up and engage in conversation and business. The Austens came to Bath to find suitors for their unmarried daughters, and Jane, not the most desirable catch due to her advanced age (she was 26!), her lack of fortune and middling looks, had to often endure the humiliation of being expected to win the favour of some bachelor or another. The Assembly Rooms were designed to encourage mingling, hushed conversations and merriment. They featured an impressive ballroom, a tea room, a card room (for gambling) and several areas that allowed guests to loiter and gossip in small groups. Well-to-do patrons would arrive at the columned frontage in sedan chairs carried aloft by two men, before alighting to make their entrance and navigating their way down the main collonade, courtesying and bowing to the gathered greats of society as they went.
Almost totally destroyed by bombing in World War 2, the Assembly Rooms have been completely restored to how they appeared at the time of Jane Austen. Sadly, the building recently closed whilst the National Trust completes an ambitious project to transform it into a world-class attraction that will celebrate Bath in Austen’s time and recall the building’s life when it was at the very centre of high society.
The Pump Rooms
The Pump Rooms were another location that played a prominent role in the upper echelons of society in Austen’s time. Adjacent to the historic King’s Bath (part of the Roman Bath complex but dating from a later period), the Pump Rooms were so named because water from the hot springs below was pumped up to be enjoyed by the establishment’s wealthy patrons. The water, whilst considered curative, wasn’t (and isn’t) the tastiest refreshment, so many high-brow Georgians came instead for afternoon tea, or perhaps a meal, accompanied by the sounds of an orchestra as they dined and conversed.
Today, little has changed, and the Pump Rooms is one of Bath’s premier choices for afternoon tea, with the surroundings still very much displaying the opulent Georgian elegance that Jane would have recognised. Although nowadays, patrons are typically regaled by a talented pianist rather than a full orchestra.
Great Pulteney Street
This broad Georgian street is arguably one of the most iconic locations in Bath. Whilst most of Georgian Bath is situated on the north side of the River Avon, this street was commissioned by Sir William Pulteney, who owned the farmland south of the burgeoning, fashionable centre that was Bath in the 1700s. Determined to get in on the action, he commissioned the Pulteney Bridge, basing its design on the celebrated Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence. He then built Great Pulteney Street - a wide, tree-lined avenue to attract some of the city’s wealthy inhabitants south of the river, with his own home, now the Holbourne Museum, given pride of place at its end.
Being one of the most impressive and best-preserved Georgian Streets in the UK has inevitably meant that Great Pulteney Street has featured regularly in period dramas and historic adaptations. Jane Austen fans can often be seen wandering down Great Pulteney Street and Laura Place, the small square at its northern end, where Lady Dalrymple stayed in Austen’s novel, Persuasion. The street appears in numerous TV and film productions including Vanity Fair, The Duchess and Bridgerton as well as the adaptation of Persuasion itself.
Lacock & Lacock Abbey
This stunning small, beautifully preserved medieval village and grand house just 10 miles or so east of Bath has become, like Bath, a popular filming location for period dramas and films. Both the house and adjacent village were handed to the National Trust by the last owner of the estate, Matilda Talbot, in the 1950s on her death.
The village was first established in the 1200s when a nunnery was founded along the banks of the River Avon. Following Henry VIII’s Reformation of the Church in the 1500s, the abbey and village were sold into private ownership, with both remaining in the hands of one family until Matilda’s death. The village is in many ways a time capsule, with almost all the houses dating from the 1500s to the early 1800s and preserved using traditional methods and materials.
Furthermore, the village is completely free of traffic signs, electric lines and television aerials making it an ideal location for period tv and film productions. When the BBC produced their groundbreaking adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 1995, Lacock became Meryton. Every time the Bennets went into town - into Lacock they went! The village’s Red Lion Pub, which featured prominently in the series, was even given an era-appropriate sign for filming - which it still displays today.
Aside from the village itself, Lacock Abbey next door is also of interest to Austen fans. Managed by the National Trust, it appeared in Pride and Prejudice as well, doubling up as Darcy’s Oxford University halls, and featured in Lydia and Mr Wickham’s elopement, in the scene where Elizabeth and Jane arrived to congratulate the couple once their marriage had taken place.
Lacock and Lacock Abbey have become associated with another celebrated female writer - JK Rowling. The village and the Abbey were used in multiple Harry Potter films meaning literature and film fans can be seen sporting bonnets and empire lines, and pointy hats and wands, enthusiastically retracing the steps of their screen icons.
Sticking with the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice, Longbourne, the home of the Bennets, can be found just a short drive away from Bath. The village of Luckington, located around 30 minutes northeast of Bath, in the southern Cotswolds, is a small but stunning, historic settlement. It is the home of Luckington Court, which played the part of Longbourne, as well as the Church of St Mary with St Ethelbert.
This evocative place of worship was the scene of the celebrated double-wedding finalé that provided Austen’s romantic tale with its happy ending. Whilst the house is in private hands (and was purportedly almost bought by Harry and Megan in the early years of their relationship), the church is open to the public and is worth a stop. Not only does it appear exactly as it did in the show, but it’s also an atmospheric, historic church in its own right and taking a snap at the spot where Mr Darcy, Mr Bingley, Jane and Lizzy also stood squeezed together for their nuptials is a must!
The Stourhead Estate
Aside from probably being home to the most impressive, publicly accessible, landscape garden in the world, the Stourhead estate also featured prominently in that other, much-loved version of Pride and Prejudice, the 2005 Kiera Knightly film.
Today, both the house and grounds are owned and managed by the National Trust, but they were the creations of the Hoare family. The Hoares founded one of the earliest merchant banks in England and used their extensive wealth to buy the Stourhead Estate and build a new Palladian country house in the early 1700s, with the incredible landscape gardens added a few decades later.
The gardens are sublime. Arranged around an artificial, shallow lake set in a gentle valley, the gardens are filled with incredible tree and plant species from around the world. As was common at the time, the owner, Henry Hoare II, was fascinated both by botany and Classic mythology. The gardens were designed to mirror the elements of the landscape paintings that were popular at the time, with focal points and features of interest intended to draw the eye, yet appear naturalistic, if a little divinely ascribed. Thus Hoare arranged for the features of the gardens to be set in such a way that visitors would bumble across breath-taking vistas where it seemed as if they were gazing at a painting come to life. Alongside the carefully planned landscape features and flora he installed on the grounds, Henry Hoare II also had a series of grottoes, temples and follies built around the garden to capture the imagination and encourage conversation.
Unsurprisingly, when the 2005 film’s producers were looking for somewhere for Darcy to ask for Elizabeth’s hand in the iconic rain scene, Stourhead was a natural choice. Located around 45 minutes south of Bath, Stourhead is a worthwhile day trip from the city, and if you really want to get into character, make sure your dress includes a parasol and/or tails, so you can saunter along the paths that hug the edge of the tranquil water whilst acquainting your partner with tidings of your family’s good health!
With Bath and the Cotswolds being the region in which Jane set several of her books, there are numerous other places of interest, both within the city and nearby, that will attract fans of Austen’s work.
Since this area retains its historical charm, it's no surprise that Austen enthusiasts find Bath and its surroundings essential for connecting with the England that inspired Jane Austen's beloved novels, vividly depicted in her writing.
Ready to immerse yourself in Austen's England? Our tours go beyond Bath, taking you to the heart of the scenic countryside she held dear. Learn more about the experiences we offer here.
Written by Jules Mittra