Sunday, 25 May 2014

Bath: Part 3, Saturday - Royal Crescent and Jane Austen...

If you're finding these posts a bit longer than you like to read, apologies. There is so much that I've not included  in them, and pictures that I haven't used, but I do want any readers who can't get to Bath personally, to be able to glimpse some of the many delights there.

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After I left the Assembly Rooms, it was a brief walk from one side of The Circus to the other and I was at the corner of the Royal Crescent overlooking Victoria Park- full of people enjoying the sunshine and the green space...

No.1 Royal Crescent is in a corner position, so there's some spectacular views from the windows.
(This link contains some interesting information, including about the most recent work to reunite the service wing to the house after many years of separation. It is all owned and managed by the Bath Preservation Trust.)

The Royal Crescent was, and probably still is, a desirable address. No.1's first (known) resident in 1776, was Irish landowner Henry Sandford; and the lengthy restoration has taken it back to its 18th century décor that would have been familiar to Sandford and his guests.

Each room displayed appropriate furnishings and design for the time period, and there was a volunteer guide in each room to explain about it and answer questions. I'm sure horror writers would love the Cabinet of Curiosities, but I found it a bit unsettling...

The stairs were very comfortable to climb, as the depth of the riser was lower than stairs nowadays, and the handrail was a perfect height for me to lightly rest my hand as I sedately ascended to the next floor, so easy to imagine past ladies walking upstairs in their big dresses. :D

It was unfortunate that in the Gentleman's Bedroom, the Dressing Room was not used. Perhaps that will be done in the future...But I loved the wallpaper and carpet with their strong blues, and they wouldn't look out of place today.

I was running out of time so had a quick look at the exhibition gallery that was hosting the 'Portrait of a Lady? Ruin and Reputation in the Georgian Era'. On this link you can see a wall of portraits, they were a mixture of aristocratic and upper class women mixed with high class courtesans and actresses among the prints, with the question, which one is a lady?

Then I was off to my next stop...

Taking the Gravel Walk from the Crescent down toward Gay Street - was a long held wish- ever since it appeared in a scene in my first unfinished novel (due to needing to learn more). It is a lovely walk, away from the noise of the traffic, but there isn't much gravel left! (There is a level tarmac path down the middle.)

 The Jane Austin Centre at No.40 Gay Street is tiny in comparison to the Crescent, and even the hotel I stayed at in Henrietta Street (built in the late 1780's).

The Greeters...
There's a tearoom on the top floor, and the visit starts on the first floor. Each tour is about 20 minutes apart, and I was fortunate to arrive a few minutes before the next one. All the staff are dressed in costume, and the guide doing my tour was 'Georgiana Darcy'.

After an introduction about Jane and her time in Bath with her family, we went back downstairs into the exhibition area (this is where the garden once was, but was extended into during the 20th century).

It was busy on the afternoon I visited, so it was a bit more difficult to go slowly through the first part of the displays, but once you got into the more spacious section there was a lot more- as you'll see from my photos.

The Haberdashers

Taking Tea
You could even try on some costumes and there was a pre-set drawing room scene, and the staff would take your photo with your camera (yes, that woman in blue looking like a dubious chaperone is me)...

Who is that lady?

The final stage is more of a traditional display room, images and memorabilia from films and tv dramatisation of Jane Austin books.

Some visiting children seemed very taken by the writing desk and the ink and quills. So once they finished I sat down and picked up a fresh card from the rack, dipped the big quill in purple ink and began writing- had to do a lot of dipping... It was not easy, and it increased my admiration for Jane Austen- writing her novels by hand...

I popped into the shop and bought a mouse mat; but it's just too much fun to use for that purpose. If you saw the TV version of P&P with Colin Firth, then you'll understand... :D

Mr Darcy mouse mat from the Jane Austin Centre

Then it was off again to meet up with a fellow writer for a chat and dinner.

So many museums, not enough time. But I did get through the three places I wanted to see...

Friday, 23 May 2014

Bath: Part 2, Saturday - Going Georgian...

Saturday's 'Georgian' visits are going to be split up into two blog posts, as the Fashion Museum deserves a post by itself; and as No.1 Royal Crescent doesn't allow photography, I don't have any of my own images to show you, just links where you can see more. So No.1 will share a post with the Jane Austen Centre...

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Assembly Rooms with the
Fashion Museum

The Fashion Museum is downstairs in the Bath Assembly Rooms.
It is just around the corner from The Circus, and just beyond that is the Royal Crescent.

As I was at the Pultney Bridge end of the city I had to walk uphill for quite some distance, but at least going back it was all downhill.

2014 is 300 years since the ascension of George 1 to the English throne, there have been a number of exhibitions, and television/radio programmes, taking place about the Georgians. 

Bath has such strong associations with Georgian Society, so where else would you expect to see the wonderful clothes worn between 1714 and 1830...

For anyone unfamiliar with original historic costume, displays such as this have rules. No flash photography- bright light or even natural light (sunshine through the window) would damage and fade the material, so you'll see from my photos that the lighting is low. Likewise the environment around the clothes is strictly controlled. At the end of the year, the clothes on display will go back into storage to rest... 

Woman's Closed Robe 1730's and Man's Light Pink
 and Green Woven Silk Coat 1750's
I'm only going to pick out a few of the images I took. But it will give you an idea of the range displayed. If you can get to the exhibition you won't be disappointed.

The Georgians were not scared of colour, and even the men wore pink- sort of!

I'd seen one of the Mantua Court Dresses before- many years ago- but there were three on display, and my photo does not do them justice- they are wide!

My favourite has to be the Red Woven Silk Damask dress from about 1750, I could see my Dorset novel heroine wearing this...
The Red Dress

You have an audio guide that you take with you, and whenever you see the guide symbol with a number beside it, you press the buttons and press play, to hear details and relevant information.

Now to the gentlemen,  though they featured more noticeably in the storage area of the exhibition that goes from 1800 to the early 20th century.

Here are two men's coats from the late 1700's- 1780/90 approx

The image of the men's coats has been digitally lightened so you can see the decoration against the dark fabric, which isn't as clear in the original light level.

(You can see the audio symbol with 77 beside the bases for the men's coats...)

The exhibition moved onto a small display of designer outfits inspired by Georgian fashion- including a Vivien Westwood dress- long, pink and purple with a big bow...

If you think the Georgians used a lot of embroidery then you have seen nothing until you reach the 17th century gloves on display. They are currently on loan to the museum from The Glove Collection Trust, but were items where photography was not allowed at all. Their original owners were definitely peacocks where fashion was concerned...

There was then a section of the modern- an ongoing exhibition- with fashion designer David Sassoon's donated archive of fashion drawings, charting the history of the firm Bellville Sassoon Lorcan Mullany.
This part of the display included three outfits designed for Diana, Princess of Wales, and immediately recognisable- she was a Spencer before marriage, and was related to Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, a well known Georgian.

Moving on it's the Georgians in the 19th century and a peek into a part of the storage area. This was much darker, so again no photos.

Fortunately there was seating available as some of the audio commentary was longer than earlier pieces.

Each display featured a specific time period set among stacks of labelled identical storage boxes. The first featured simple white muslin gowns from 1800, and there was a coat worn by Lord Byron's bride- her going away outfit...

As you moved round the room you could see how fashions changed as you progressed from the Georgian into the Victorian.

Each display highlighted certain aspects of the changing designs; and in one case to one side there were rails of neatly hung but covered waistcoats- I would have liked to have seen all of them...

My tour was over and I climbed the stairs back to the present day. I couldn't leave without popping into the ballroom first, and peeping in to the Octagon, set out with chairs and display equipment for some event.

I wandered into the Tea Room and on into the Card Room that is now set up with a bar and a café.

As I sat there fortifying myself with drinking chocolate and a scone ( plus jam and cream of course) before I made my way to The Royal Crescent, I couldn't help but imagine those men and women who had passed through the rooms in their finery, each with their own dreams and fears...

How to Dance

You can find out more about the Fashion Museum at:


Twitter: @Fashion_Museum

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Part 1- Friday in Bath...

After a slight delay on my train from Cheltenham Spa to Bath, I arrived mid-afternoon, but was at my hotel in Henrietta Street a little over 5 minutes later by taxi.

Bedtime Reading Available
I immediately recognised street names from Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen's books; Laura Place and Great Pultney Street...Tall many storied houses lined each side of the road in uniform precision, but gently curving into the distance.

Fountain in the Middle of the Road at Laura Place...
My visit coincided with the UK-wide Museums at Night festival, so I had plenty of options for entertainment that evening.

I chose the talk by writer Lindsey Davis  in The Pump Room (her books have been about a Roman Detective- Falco. The first book, 'The Silver Pigs' has been on BBC radio many times).

The audience, of about 40, learnt about Lindsey's early career in the civil service, her first novel attempt- a civil war romance-that didn't win the Georgette Heyer historical novel competition, but did get sold to Woman's Realm (a magazine no longer in existence).

We were read an extract from her new Albia book, and heard about her stand-alone on the Emperor Domitian, that was written between the Falco and Albia series.

At the Q&A,  I asked Lindsey if she plotted or wrote as she went along? (She'd already said she kept firm control of her characters.) Her reply surprised me a little- "If I plotted I would never get a book written."

The entry charge to the talk also allowed me to go around the Roman Baths museum afterwards- they were staying open later than usual.

The King's Bath viewed from The Pump Room
I knew I wasn't going to have time to do a proper tour, so I wandered through the first part of the exhibition fairly quickly, having been told the museum was shutting at 9; but as it was so busy it remained open for longer. There was a large party of Brownies attending...

There was music everywhere, inside the museum a man playing a lyre type instrument- a mini harp almost, and a little further on from him, a group with a device that had a simple keyboard, small hand pumped bellows, creating notes by metal tubes in water...I can't play a note but got a reasonable sound out of it!

The rooms off the main pool showed the structure and design of the steam room, warm room and so on; and there were projected images on the wall of semi-naked men in the cold water pool area.

Looking down from the walkway
Outside, around the big pool - that you see in photos- there was a small bar, and a trio (singer, double bass and guitar) providing entertainment- they were very good; while people sat on benches in alcoves, or at the edge of the pool, enjoying the warm evening air, and the torches burned brighter as the evening sky dimmed.

Usually visitors only get to experience the pool in the evening in June and July, so it was a fantastic bonus.
It really wasn't difficult to imagine the Romans of the past lounging around the pool...
As night draws in

My next posts: 3 Museums on Saturday...

Monday, 19 May 2014

I'm Back from Bath...

I had a great weekend, and did a lot of walking- lots of it uphill and down again.

Now I have to get back to reality; unpack, sort out my various purchases- postcards and books. Then download and label my photos- I'll have to get my little pocket map out for that.

My hotel was a Georgian house, so every time I went out, or returned back in the evening, I had the delight of walking past a parade of houses that have been there for hundreds of years...

I've probably got enough for a few blog posts plus the photos. :)

My arrival on the Friday afternoon coincided with the Evening at the Museums event, so I managed to fit in a couple of extra events beyond my original plans- Friday evening had a literary event; history and writing together...

And I will have to take a picture of my new mouse mat, from The Jane Austin Centre, as it's not shown in their shop- you'll like it. :D

More to come soon...

Thursday, 15 May 2014

I'm Off to the City of Bath...

I just have to pack my clothes and my medication for my travels.

My camera battery is charged, ready to take some interesting images- I hope! The weather is meant to be good so I'm dragging out some summer clothes...

I've been making a list with opening times and entry costs, and compared to some places they are not that expensive- especially when they offer saver tickets to get into a combination of museums.

If you want to read about some of the places I'll be visiting- while the rest of the family are left at home- you can find out more here at the Visit Bath website.

There are lots of pictures and videos, just look at the individual website links for each museum/place.

Once I'm back it will be a couple of days before I've got everything sorted, so I may not blog again until mid-week.

Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are...

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Learning From Travel Writing...

It's taken me a few days to decide what I was going to mention about last Wednesday's talk at Nottingham Writers' Club.

The May speaker, Gail Simmons was a very interesting, and insightful person. I recommend you visit her Travelscribe website- you will not be disappointed with any of it. If you are interested in travel writing then you will find plenty to feed your interest, and some great photos.

Gail Simmons with Nottinghamshire's
D.H. Lawrence in the background
Gail's talk was about creating a sense of place, and that is something all writers need to do, whether you're writing a poem, a short story or a travel piece.

We started by closing our eyes and listening to a recording of a poem. The aim was to recognise how the senses were used to evoke not only the place but the time it was set too.

I think we forget little details sometimes, those memories of our childhood conjured up by sweets in big jars for example; the sweet sharp tang that pervaded the air around the counter as the shopkeeper weighed out four ounces of sugar coated pineapple cubes... That memory transports me back to the little sweet shop that stood beside the lane that was a short-cut to school...

One of the books mentioned was Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. We heard the author reading an extract describing his arrival at Slad. His description of his surroundings were used to reinforce his state of mind, but when you think about it more you can understand that these are the memories of the grown up looking back, rather than the three year old child that was.

I read Cider with Rosie in secondary school. In fact one of my class mates wrote to the author because she'd liked the book so much. He wrote back and she excitedly shared his reply.

Famous places have been written about before, lots of times in the case of some, so we were reminded that it was too easy to use clichés about such places- it was suggested we Google any phrase we considered using, and if it came up more than once in the search results, don't use it.

Clichés and purple prose it seems "haunt travel writing."

As Gail lives in Oxford she gave the example of Oxford's 'dreaming spires'- we've all heard it used to refer to the view of the city from Boar's Hill. And anyone who has read 'Jude the Obscure' by Thomas Hardy, will have read about that same view.

Using the senses to emphasise the sense of place, emotion and setting, certainly got me thinking how much more I could do with my own writing.

It was a very useful evening, and when I go to Bath next week, I'll certainly be thinking about how I can describe things without resorting to clichés...

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A Quick Post...

I've been aiming to post regularly on Sunday and Wednesday, but today's post won't happen until sometime tomorrow, as tonight (Wednesday) I'll be at the writers' club hearing about travel writing.

So hopefully I'll have some tips I can pass on.

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Changes for the Romance Market?

The purchase of Harlequin (from Torstar Corporation) by News Corp slipped by without too much notice in the UK yesterday (Friday). Admittedly it still has to pass through regulatory processes before it is an irrevocable deal, but that's just a matter of time.

There were a couple of items on the Bookseller website, this one and then this item. And the BBC web pages announced the news by branding Harlequin as the 'bodice ripper' publisher...

Harlequin will then operate as a division of HarperCollins.

In the UK, there are 4 imprints, Mills and Boon, Mira, Mira Ink and the the digital Carina. They are a small unit among the 1,000 Harlequin staff worldwide.

Romance is still a strong area of publishing- especially in digital- so I don't think there's any worry that Mills and Boon or Harlequin will suddenly disappear.

Though I do wonder if all the category romances managed in Toronto and New York will survive when the new managers start looking at the ongoing costs...

In the UK when any business is taken over there's usually staff loses and reorganisation; but perhaps the size and reach of the existing UK operation will protect it to some degree...

For one, across the ocean, view you might find this item on interesting.

I can certainly see the advantage for Harper Collins, as it must be tough competing against the diversity that the Penguin Random House merger brought.

But I do think that this will start the countdown to the other major publishers doing mergers.

First there was 6, then long before it's 4?

Writers and readers are understandably going to be concerned, because until someone tells them what is going to happen, they can only speculate, and that's not good for anyone.

Also the larger the publisher gets, the harder it seems to be for writers to get their attention.

I'm becoming more convinced that the smaller publishers are where new writers should be looking, or go the self-publish route.

The next two years certainly will be interesting...

Do you have any thoughts on this merger?