They say third time lucky, so after two aborted attempts to visit Bath for some Georgian book research - one in January when I discovered one of the museums I wanted to see closed for the whole month, and one in February when I fell and damaged my head and leg - I finally made it. Since BB is not into museums I met up with my friend Sarah and we had three nights at the impeccable Francis Hotel, in Queens Square. The Francis is one establishment which has taken up the whole of the Georgian terrace on the square's south side. I got a good deal (3 nights for the price of two) and it was worth every penny. Lovely room on the ground floor with an accessible bathroom, great service, elegant surroundings - and it was only a few yards away from the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus which stopped at all the museums we wanted to see. I would be very happy to stay there again.
We arrived Monday, had two full days doing the main attractions and then departed Thursday afternoon. The tourist bus is expensive but a ticket lasts for a whole 24 hours, which basically means that you get the day you bought it, and also the following day up to 5.00 p.m. Essentially two full days of museum-trotting if you start early. Since Sarah uses a rollator, we took full advantage of the bus's access and disabled space and also discovered that in all the museums we visited, the disabled person pays, but the 'carer' (me) goes free, which saved us a decent amount since the museums are not cheap.
On Monday afternoon we walked up to the Jane Austen Museum
on Gay Street, but as it was already late we didn't do the museum itself. Instead we had a cream tea in the Georgian-style cafe which served gluten free scones for Sarah. On Monday night we met up with carl_allery
plus mevennen's partner and mum. The Brasserie Blanc at the hotel served up lovely food. I can recommend the Beef Stroganoff. On Tuesday we did the Fashion Museum
(which used to be the Museum of Costume) and since that shared a venue with the Assembly Rooms
also managed a quick peek (though one room was closed off as they were preparing for a concert that night) and a trip to the cafe for a late elevenses. Next stop on our bus route - via the very elegant Circus
- was 1 Royal Crescent
, a restored Georgian house on (yes, you've guessed it) Bath's famous Royal Crescent. Then we still had a few hours so we caught the tour bus to the centre of town because Sarah had heard there was a knitting shop behind Marks and Spencers. Since we were by that time in need of refreshment we stopped off at Sally Lunn's
Restaurant - one of the oldest houses in Bath where I had smoked salmon pate on a sally lunn bun. We found the wool shop. I managed to avoid buying more yarn because I didn't want to have to carry it home, but Sarah succumbed. On Wednesday we did the Roman Baths
and the Pump Room
(another cream tea) plus some shopping. Aaargh... I shopped. I dropped. A miniature kite for my grandson, a model wolf for me (because it was just like Corwen in my Rowankind books), one coat (rather unusual in style) and two tops later we staggered back to the bus. Sarah also bought a coat, a top and two gilets - OK, one was for a friend (she says!). Sarah's rolator was loaded up with so many carrier bags that we looked like a tag-team of bag-ladies.
Then on Thursday morning we checked out of the hotel, left our luggage for safekeeping (yes I did get all my new purchases in my suitcase) and walked up to the Jane Austen Museum
before having tea in the hotel and getting a taxi back to the station.The Museums:The Fashion Museum
had a lovely array of Georgian and Regency clothing, but sadly most of it was for women. Next time (and there will be a next time) I need to book a study room and ask to see some of the garments for men. They had nothing on display between 1780 and 1820 and the period my books are set in is firmly between those dates (1800-1801). I had also hoped to get a better idea of how a bib-front 'Empire' line dress was constructed and worn, but everything was behind glass. Yes, I've seen the diagrams, but there's nothing better than seeing the real thing. I'd have settled for an accurate copy. Accessibility was good for Sarah, with a lift to the exhibition area (downstairs) and very helpful staff.1 Royal Crescent
was everything I'd hoped it would be. Not too grand, but well appointed with some nice touches such as a gentleman's banyan laid out on the bed. Sadly not all the rooms are on display, so bedrooms, but no dressing rooms, and you couldn't go and look in the attics where the servants would have slept, though the kitchens and the housekeeper's parlour were on display. Staff were friendly and knowledgeable. Accessibility here was more limited but the lift gave Sarah access to the basement, ground and first floors but not the two upper floors.Roman Baths.
Strictly speaking I didn't need to see these, but with my Georgian head on it was fascinating to see what the baths might have been like in the Georgian era since the Pump Room
which is part of the complex, is altogether in the period I'm researching and a lot of the above ground part of the baths was constructed in the seventeenth century. The sacred spring, where hot water bubbles up out of the ground, was not used for bathing in Roman times, but in Georgian times it was flooded to a much higher level and used for immersion therapy.
On my first trip to the Roman Baths, many years ago, the sacred s
pring was still flooded, but now it's been drained to its Roman level and much more of the stonework has been revealed. (The brown stain is the previous water level.) Not all Roman, of course, since much of what you can see is sixteenth century I believe, but there are still a couple of Roman archways. Access was excellent with lifts to all levels. The floor around the baths themselves, however, is original Roman paving, part cobbles, part uneven slabs, so though we could get to that level Sarah couldn't easily get into all the areas. She was, however, happy to sit and take in the atmosphere where she had a good view of the main bath while I poked into odd corners. T
he first time I went to the Roman Baths was before it was 'museumised' so you could literally go and poke about - even jump down into the hypercaust if you wanted a closer look. In those days they even opened up the baths for swimming (at a price). However there was a Legionnaire's Disease scare some years ago, the baths were closed, excavated and reopened as a museum. I visited in the 1990s and found it over-museumised. This visit was a pleasant surprise. yes it's still museumised, but I think it's more sympathetic, now.
The Pump Room remains unchanged, a lovely Georgian room with a trio (piano, violin, 'cello) playing classical music. The fountain where you can take the waters is still functional (and filtered after the Legionnaire's thing) but you can no longer just go up and help yourself. The waitress, however, was happy to bring us a couple of glasses of 'the waters'. I recall it tasting like bad eggs on my first visit. Now it's much less metallic tasing and pretty much like drinking water from your own hot tap, i.e. not terribly pleasant, but no longer objectionable.The Jane Austen Museum
was slightly disappointing from my point of view because I'd mainly gone to see the clothes on the understanding that you could try them on. I'd hoped for genuine Regency construction (reproduction would have been fine) but they were designed to look OK for photographs but had elastic waists and tie backs. The house itself is interesting, however, as it's a narrow Georgian town house, much less fine than 1 Royal Crescent. The exhibition is in a large, recently constructed, extension downstairs. Access throughout the whole building is not good. Sarah had to leave the rollator on the ground floor and manage a flight of stairs for the introductory talk, and then there was another half flight of stairs down from the ground floor to the exhibition itself. On exiting the exhibition there was a slope up to the ground floor and if the staff had bothered to mention it, going in by the exit would have saved Sarah having to use the stairs. Surely they could have thought of that.#
So, all in all, a great time was had by all. The train journey (Wakefield, via Bristol Temple Meads to Bath Spa) was pretty easy with enough changeover time in Bristol for an easy connection, and plenty of journey time to catch up with a good novel on my kindle. Thank you, Bath, I will be back.