Famed for its natural hot springs, the city of Bath boasts an incredible legacy of Roman, Norman and Georgian architecture. Bath's most famous resident, Jane Austen, lived here from 1801 to 1806. At the time, Bath was the most fashionable resort in Britain, attracting crowds of wealthy tourists, who came to 'take the waters' and enjoy the society. Bath provided the main setting for two of Austen's novels: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Charles Dickens, who was a frequent visitor, also set a large part of The Pickwick Papers in the city.
Today, Bath is a world-class tourist destination, known for its fine hotels and restaurants. Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to attractions, from the Roman Baths to modern, luxury spas. Although Austen only lived here for five years, the residents of Bath remain loyal to her memory with the annual Jane Austen Festival.
The Jane Austen Centre
One of Bath's most popular attractions, The Jane Austen Centre celebrates the life of the city's favourite author. The collection includes period clothing and objects, as well as costumed guides. A permanent exhibition showcases the impact that Bath life had on Austen as a person and a writer. Don't miss the centre's delightful Regency themed tearoom and well-appointed gift shop.
The Assembly Rooms
Completed in 1771, the Assembly Rooms were at the centre of Georgian society in Bath. Here, the local gentry gathered for balls, public functions and card games. This opulent location featured in Austen's Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, as well as Dicken's The Pickwick Papers. Be sure to visit the Fashion Museum on the ground floor to see what the Assembly Room's well-heeled guests would have worn.
The Roman Baths and Pump Room
This is Britain’s only natural hot spring and living piece of Roman history. You can still sample the waters at the adjacent 18th Century Pump Room, now a restaurant open for lunch and afternoon tea. During Austen's time, the Pump Room was the place to be seen, as referenced in Northanger Abbey when the ladies "walked together, noticing every new face and almost every new bonnet in the room".
Although not open to the public, 4 Sydney Place is definitely worth a look from the outside. Austen's family rented this townhouse for three years and it is considered to have been Austen's favourite home in Bath. A country girl at heart, Austen would have loved the house's open aspects and proximity to Sydney Gardens. This is private residence, so please contact the local tourist board with any questions.
The novel opens at Longbourn, the Bennet family's home in Hertfordshire. Most of the story takes place at fictional locations in Hertfordshire (Longbourn, Meryton, Netherfield Park and Lucas Lodge). Austen doesn't give many clues about the actual location of these places, except for their distance from Gracechurch Street in London, where the Gardiners live. There's a great article on Jansa.org, which makes a strong case for Harpenden, Redbourne and Kimpton being the real locations.
We can pinpoint some real places that Austen used towards the end of the novel, when Elizabeth travels to the Derbyshire Peak District with her aunt and uncle, Mr and Mrs Gardiner. They visit Lambton, a fictionalised version of Bakewell, and stay at the inn, which is though to be based on The Rutland Arms.
With news of ITV's plans to make a new adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, many Austen fans are already speculating on who will be cast in the leading roles. Personally, I don't believe anyone could ever top the BBC's 1995 version or Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and Darcy, but I can't say I won't watch the new version. As always the case with a period drama, I'll be as interested in the producer's choice of filming locations as much as the actors, particularly when it comes to Mr Darcy's Pemberley.
While the 1995 version featured Lyme Park in Cheshire, the 2005 film version was filmed at Chatsworth House, the Peak District home of the Duke of Devonshire. This was a natural choice for the film's producers as it's thought that Jane Austen actually modelled Darcy's estate on Chatsworth. Austen visited Chatsworth in 1811, while staying in nearby Bakewell. At the time of her visit, Austen was finishing work on Pride and Prejudice and drew inspiration from her travels around the Peak District. It's clear from her descriptions of Pemberley in the novel that her visit to Chatsworth left quite an impression.
In Chapter 43 of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet visits Pemberley while touring the Peak District with her aunt and uncle and is instantly taken with the house and its surroundings:
"Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!"
After visiting Mr Darcy's estate, Elizabeth really starts to appreciate the man, lamenting that she might have been mistress of all this. A closer reading tells us that she's not just in love with his property, but the way that his house complements nature and vice versa. Basically, Mr Darcy is not just a man of wealth, but one of substance. But looking at Pemberley (Chatsworth), who could blame her for swooning over his house!
In the story, Elizabeth is eager to leave Pemberley after an awkward encounter with Mr Darcy. Luckily, visitors to Chatsworth today needn't rush off after touring the property. In fact, they're quite welcome to make themselves at home at one of the estate's many holiday properties. Although you can't actually stay in Chatworth House itself, there are several options scattered across this sprawling estate. Visitors can choose from converted barns, renovated farm houses, charming cottages or even a 16th Century hunting tower, offering splendid views of the grounds.