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October 8, 2009

Friday Trip to Bath – Part II

102_1283thAfter our delightful tour of Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, we boarded our coach for the short drive to Winchester, where Jane is buried in the cathedral. The sky still looked fairly ominous, but no rain fell as we pulled into town. At left you see the imposing town hall with its central clock tower and Gothic architecture. The cathedral is directly behind this building, and just a short walk up the street, the bustling shops of Winchester await. Because we were already behind schedule, we asked everyone to grab a quick lunch at meet back at the cathedral by 2:30. It was really hard to just rush through the town center, though! Winchester is charming and really fun to browse. There are antiques shops, bookstores, cute boutiques, and all kinds of goodies. But we tried to hustle. My son and I grabbed a quick sandwich at a coffee shop and  began our walk toward the cathedral, meeting up with my husband and mother-in-law on the way. I couldn’t resist popping into one more shop before heading to the church, so they went on without me to wait for the rest of our group. We finally had everyone together around 2:40 and entered the cathedral.

Winchester Cathedral towers above us.

Winchester Cathedral towers above us.

Looking down the side of the cathedral toward the tower.

Looking down the side of the cathedral toward the tower.

A head-on view of the cathedral with its massive stained glass window.

A head-on view of the cathedral with its massive stained glass window.

The stained glass window seen from the inside.

The stained glass window seen from the inside.

From the nave, looking down toward the altar.

From the nave, looking down toward the altar.

Karen and Lily take a closer look into one of the side chambers.

Karen and Lily take a closer look into one of the side chambers.

Looking up at some very early frescoes adorning the ceiling of one of the side chambers.

Looking up at some very early frescoes adorning the ceiling of one of the side chambers.

And a close-up...

And a close-up...

And we find Jane's grave beneath her memorial window...

And we find Jane's grave beneath her memorial window...

Here’s the text of Jane’s Grave in case you can’t read the photo:

In memory of
JANE AUSTEN,
youngest daughter of the late
Revd. GEORGE AUSTEN,
formerly Rector of Steventon in this County.
She departed this Life on the 18th July 1817,
aged 41, after a long illness supported with
the patience and the hopes of a Christian.

The benevolence of her heart,
the sweetness of her temper, and
the extraordinary endowments of her mind
obtained the regard of all who knew her, and
the warmest love of her intimate connections.

Their grief is in proportion to their affection
they know their loss to be irreparable,
but in the deepest affliction they are consoled
by a firm though humble hope that her charity,
devotion, faith and purity have rendered
her soul acceptable in the sight of her
REDEEMER.

Plaque beneath the memorial window...

Plaque beneath the memorial window...

102_1281We spent quite a bit of time in the cathedral, as it has a lot to see. I only wished the choir had been singing during our time there so everyone could enjoy the amazing acoustics in this place. They are incredible. The cathedral is well worth seeing if you are a history buff. King Alfred the Great (he of the English Common Law) ordered the building of the original Winchester Cathedral (the foundations of which you can see right next to this cathedral). He is buried a short distance away in another spot. My son got the children’s map guide to do a scavenger hunt around the whole cathedral, finding out-of-the-way things you wouldn’t notice unless someone pointed them out. We finally tore ourselves away to re-board our coach and get underway for Bath. I snapped the pictures below of the Abbey Gardens, which are so lovely.

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Final view of the town hall...

Final view of the town hall...

We drove off toward Somerset, passing Stonehenge on the way. Unfortunately, they now charge you ten pounds just to stop and park, so we didn’t stop. Everyone with cameras pulled them out and took flying snaps as we passed by!

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My husband tests our group with Jane Austen film trivia questions as we make our way to Bath. It was a close contest!

My husband tests our group with Jane Austen trivia questions as we make our way to Bath. It was a close contest!

img_2154At last we pulled into Bath, two hours behind schedule but glad to have made it. We were already late for our supper reservations, so we just dumped our bags at our beautiful B&B before jumping into taxis to head for Tilley’s Bistro and Sally Lunn’s. The proprietors at Tilley’s were kind enough to give us our special “early dinner” rate, even though we were five minutes past the cut-off time. At left you see half our group “below stairs” at Tilley’s. One of our group decided to go to the pre-festival gathering at the Jane Austen Centre, while the rest opted to eat at the wonderful Sally Lunn’s next door to Tilley’s:

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We all enjoyed a leisurely (and delicious) dinner before heading back to Brooks Guest House for the night. We had much to anticipate, as the Grand Costumed Promenade would kick off the Jane Austen Festival on the morrow! Next time I’ll share photos from our Saturday in Bath!

Bath Abbey, its splendor gloriously lit up at night.

Bath Abbey, its splendor gloriously lit up at night.

October 2, 2009

Friday Trip to Bath – Part I

Getting settled in our coach...

Getting settled in our coach...

Friday morning we all gathered bright and early in the hotel lobby with our luggage in tow, ready to board our private coach. Unfortunately, our driver got hung up in West London traffic and didn’t make it to the hotel until nearly an hour later, so, after loading all the bags and settling in, we were already an hour and a half behind schedule. I called Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton as we drove away to let them know we’d be running late, and we bade a fond farewell to South Kensington and London. It had been a marvelous week, and we all looked forward to the delights of the English Countryside, traveling through beautiful Surrey, Hampshire, and Wiltshire on our way to Bath in Somerset.

The day was overcast and rather gloomy looking, and when we pulled into Chawton, the temperature was decidedly chilly. Most everyone pulled on sweaters and jackets, and I hoped this wasn’t a prediction of the weather for our weekend in Bath! But the grey skies couldn’t dampen our spirits, and we eagerly made our way to the lovely little cottage Jane Austen called home for eight years.

We're here! Calling on Miss Austen...

We're here! Calling on Miss Austen...

My sweet mother-in-law, overseas for the first time, is thrilled to visit Jane Austen's house!

My sweet mother-in-law, overseas for the first time, is thrilled to visit Jane Austen's house!

A glimpse of the garden behind the house with its ivy-covered wall...

A glimpse of the garden behind the house with its ivy-covered wall...

Miss Molly stands in the gateway of the garden wall...

Miss Molly stands in the gateway of the garden wall...

img_2002Since the last time my husband and I visited Chawton in 2007, some amazing improvements have been made. The museum foundation has built a beautiful new visitor’s center in the back garden, using period architecture to make it blend in to the whole. The stables have been remodeled to house the new and vastly improved gift shop, which overflows with all things Austen. And the house itself has undergone some very tasteful renovations, using period wallpapers and paint colors to brighten the rooms and make them more like they would have looked in Jane’s day. The only unfortunate “update” is the addition of several inauthentic costumes sprinkled throughout the house. Our dear Suzi walked through the house grimacing and pointing out errors — such as the Tudor lace over modern chiffon on the “1820s” ballgown reproduction you see at right. Another mannequin boasted an empire-waist “work dress” with a modern kitchen apron tied around its natural waistline, a full foot below the waist of the gown itself! Much muttering and shaking of heads…. Happily, there were several authentic pieces on display as well, plus a couple of movie costumes, which I’ll share below.

The kitchen, which is at the back of the house.

The kitchen, which is at the back of the house.

The reception room, which includes a secretary filled with books from Rev. Austen's library and many first-edition volumes of Jane's.

The reception room, which includes a secretary filled with books from Rev. Austen's library and many first-edition volumes of Jane's.

The dining room/front room, which has the china set used by the Austen family. Jane's writing desk is tiny and tucked over in the corner next to the window, where she could observe village life.

The dining room/front room, which has the china set used by the Austen family. Jane's writing desk is tiny and tucked over in the corner next to the window, where she could observe village life.

One of the upstairs bedrooms with a costume from "Becoming Jane" (a film I do NOT recommend, by the way!)

One of the upstairs bedrooms with a costume from "Becoming Jane" (a film I do NOT recommend, by the way!)

Detail of Tom LeFroy's costume from "Becoming Jane"

Detail of Tom LeFroy's costume from "Becoming Jane"

The quilt hand-stitched by Jane, her sister Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen.

The quilt hand-stitched by Jane, her sister Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen.

A very pretty dotted Swiss bib-front gown in the back hallway upstairs.

A very pretty dotted Swiss bib-front gown in the back hallway upstairs.

Okay, and now for some garden shots for all of you who love English gardens as much as I do!

Okay, and now for some garden shots for all of you who love English gardens as much as I do!

Beautiful blooms even in September!

Beautiful blooms, even in September!

Still more blooms...

Still more blooms...

Stopping to smell the roses climbing next to the back door...

Stopping to smell the roses climbing next to the back door...

And, finally, Lindsay had to capture a shot of Cassandra across the street at the tea room named after Jane’s sister. It’s an absolutely wonderful place to eat, but they don’t do large groups (sigh), so we had to push on to Winchester…

She's right at home!

She's right at home!

Next time: Winchester Cathedral and Bath!

September 18, 2009

What the well-dressed matron will be wearing in Bath tomorrow…

We had a lovely journey from London to Bath, although our coach driver encountered more than the usual traffic, putting us here about two hours late. That’s okay — we’re in one piece, and we’ve all been fed and are checked into our darling guest house! I promise to post pictures of the rest of our time in London soon. Unfortunately, I seem to have left my jump drive back in our London hotel, so Lindsay is having to put everything onto another drive for me! :-P

To tide you over, here are photos of my completed costume for Bath (minus hat):

Blue and white check "silk" drawstring gown -- full front view.

Blue and white check "silk" drawstring gown -- full front view.

Bodice front close-up

Bodice front close-up

Full back view...

Full back view...

Back close-up, showing the self-fabric ties.

Back close-up, showing the self-fabric ties.

Chocolate brown velvet Spencer jacket

Chocolate brown velvet Spencer jacket

And the back view...

And the back view...

Tomorrow is the Grand Costumed Promenade to kick off the Jane Austen Festival. We are praying for the rain to hold off, as it was overcast all day today. I’ll be sitting in my booth in Queen’s Square while everyone else does the mile-long parade. ;) On tap for the rest of the day is the Fashion Museum of Bath (which is housed in the Assembly Rooms). Our ladies also have vouchers for “Tea with Mr. Darcy” at the Jane Austen Centre and a tour of the Centre’s museum. Lots of fun!!!

July 23, 2009

Counting down to the big fall tour!

england-trip-day-1-london-109I can’t believe we are just seven weeks out from the big historical costuming tour! My husband and I will be leading a group of 23 ladies through a one-week tour of London’s best spots for studying the fashions of history — including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London, Kensington Palace, the Greenwich Fan Museum, and Shakespeare’s Globe. We’ve also left time in the schedule for visiting the National Portrait Gallery and other wonderful spots all around London Town. It’s going to be fantastic!

I’ll be “live blogging” during our tour, September 10-17, and then again during our weekend extension to Bath for the opening of the Jane Austen Festival. Stay tuned for lots of wonderful photos by our group photographer, Lindsay Keen of Deep South Images.

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March 9, 2009

Day Two: Bath!

Saturday started out overcast and gloomy — rather foreboding for a trip out west to Bath, which is typically colder than London this time of year. Bria, Benjamin, and I hopped the train from West Dulwich to Victoria and from there to Bath by way of Salisbury. We quickly found out we were in the wrong train car, as only the last three would be going all the way to Bath Spa Station! You really have to stay on your toes to successfully navigate the English transportation system. You can be on the right train in the wrong car and end up (for example) in Weymouth far to the South if you don’t watch out. With buses, you can be on the right number but on the wrong side of the road, going in the wrong direction. It’s dizzying at times to keep up. We moved back to car #7 with all the other folks en route to Bath. In the picture you see Bria showing Benjamin the view out the train window. As you can see, the sun did come out! The clouds burned off outside of London, so I had high hopes it would be more pleasant in Bath than in London. The ride from London to Salisbury isn’t exactly beautiful (you see a lot of building backs and grafitti), but the ride from Salisbury to Bath is really lovely. We were, unfortunately, too far away to see Salisbury Cathedral, but we could glimpse the steeple from our seats.

The beautiful hills and fields near Salisbury.

With all the stops, the journey out took 2.5 hours, but it seemed to go by very quickly. We arrived in Bath at 11:45, and I hailed a taxi to drive us up to the Jane Austen Centre for lunch in the tea room there. The sun was still out, but the wind had picked up, and it was very chilly. I didn’t want to attempt an uphill walk to Gay Street in the wind with the stroller, and taxis are much less expensive in Bath than in London, thankfully. We arrived at the Centre just before noon and went straight up to the charming tea room on the third floor. Bria ordered a Bath Special (including a sweet Sally Lunn bun), and I ordered the Lady’s Afternoon Tea, which featured cucumber and cheese sandwiches, a scone with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, and a pot of Darjeeling tea. It was all absolutely delicious, and the service was friendly. Below is a picture of our table with all the treats!


After this luncheon break, Bria and I browsed the Centre’s gift shop, which is (of course!) crammed to the ceiling with all things Jane Austen. We oohed and ahhhed and made some purchases for friends back home. The Centre actually carries my Regency patterns in its online store, so I introduced myself and told them I looked forward to being a part of the costumed promenade in the fall.

After putting Benjamin back into the stroller, we walked down the hill, around Queen Square, and up Crescent Gardens, which contains practically a whole row of B&Bs in Bath. I’d already made an appointment to meet with one of the staff at Brooks Guest House, which is where my group will be staying during the Bath Extension in September. The B&B easily deserves its four-star rating, having been recently refurbished from top to bottom. The rooms retain their traditional charm but include very modern amenities. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour I was given by Michael from reception, who was obviously a bit “house proud” about the place!

We headed back around the corner to Queen’s Square toward the city center. By now, the sun had disappeared behind the clouds, and the wind had picked up a bit, so it was chilly. Oh, well…. I had to stop to photograph this beautiful blue door. Those who know me know my passion for the blue front doors of England. And, yes, I know they have greens and reds and golds, too, but I just really am keen on the blue ones! By the time we got down to the Pump Room, there was a huge crowd there. Lots of market stalls were crammed into the walking areas, and street performers called out to people to stop and watch their antics. Right through the collonade into the Abbey yard stood a bronze statue of an elderly man in a trench coat. As Bria and I watched, he turned and reached out to someone passing by. A living statue! This was so much fun that I stopped and shot a video. If I ever figure out how to post it, I will, because he was so incredibly good at what he did. He stood stock still until someone dropped coins in his bucket, and then he’d beckon to the person, shake his hand, and slowly go back to his original position. Our host family later told me these actors cover themselves in a very thick latex kind of paint that becomes basically a full-body mask. They can’t wear it for long, as it blocks up the pores. Sounds like something very unpleasant to get out of, but it was so much fun to watch! The most fun, though, came when a teenaged girl walked up who didn’t know this was a man rather than a real statue. She walked right up to him, presumably looking for an identifying plaque or card, and he reached out to pull her hair. She shrieked and jumped a foot! Bria and I got a good laugh out of that, and I only wish I’d caught it on film!


We decided to tour the Abbey first, as I’d not been in last time I was in Bath. It was so cold outside that we were more than ready to get into the warmth, so we headed into the breathtaking cathedral. There must be more stained glass in Bath Abbey than I’ve seen in one place before. It is positively everywhere and amazing to look at — just the sheer scale of work is enormous.

Looking down from the back of the cathedral.

The enormous Abbey pipe organ.

The elaborate baptismal font.

Bria and I spent a lot of time looking in nooks and crannies, and I was very surprised to find a memorial marker for a Cromwellian soldier and his wife (in an Anglican church, of all places!) This gentleman commissioned the memorial for his beloved wife and had himself carved into it so that he is looking into her eyes, and she is gazing up into his. The detailing of the clothing is amazing (true of a lot of effigies). Check out the detailing of his armor below.

These two infants are on either side of the adult effigies, but the plaque doesn’t name them, so I’m not sure if they are meant to represent the couple’s children or are just decorative.After browsing through the Abbey shop, we crossed the churchyard to look into the National Trust store and pick up a few more gifts. Then we crossed over again to the Pump Room and Roman Baths for a tour. Very few people were there, so we had an easy time getting in. Turns out we hit the ticket line just right, as we saw the entire room jammed with tourists as we were leaving! The Roman Baths are interesting, though I confess it’s hard to get worked up about a pagan temple where people used to go throw curses into the water or leave gifts for the goddess in the hopes of receiving favors in return. ;-) The smell of sulfur is pretty strong, and the water is a very unpalatable brackish green. Bria bent down to test the temperature, surprised at how warm it really was.

Looking down into the main bath from above.

Actresses portraying Roman ladies visiting the baths.

I was surprised at just how exensive the baths were. There are over a dozen sub-rooms, making up a rather amazing complex of steam rooms with heated floors, dressing rooms, storage rooms, and more. There are several smaller pools, including a “cold plunge” pool. Much of the original temple to Minerva has been excavated, including floor mosaics and parts of the pediment from the front of the temple (with a gorgon’s head in the center). Many of the curses that people wrote on pewter and tossed into the water have been recovered and are on display. Some are fairly funny — like (roughly) “To the man who stole my second-best robe, may his hand wither and fall off.”

We worked our way through the displays and back up to the main entrance, where we retrieved the stroller. We walked through the beautiful Pump Room so Bria could see it. We paused by the fountain where tourists can “taste the waters,” but, after seeing where the water came from, Bria was not at all tempted to partake. ;-) I’d already had my taste in 2006, so I passed it by without a regret, either! Out in the hallway, we found some beautiful sculptures that I’d never noticed before. They were made of Carrera marble and depicted mothers with their children. I especially loved the one below of a mother praying with her child.

The amazing dome inside the entrance to the Roman Baths.

After leaving the Pump Room, I was determined to locate Bath Old Books. My husband remembered it being behind and to the left of the Abbey, but I remembered it being up near the Royal Crescent. So I compromised by starting out to the left of the cathedral and working my way up a side street full of shops. I popped into a charming children’s shop to pick up a few more gifts, then asked the proprietor if she knew where the old book store was. She told me it was further up and toward the Crescent. Ah ha! So we continued up the street until I saw a store with gorgeous scarves in the window and remembered my promise to pick up a scarf in Bath for my wonderful cover artist, Anna Lankford. After having my purchase wrapped, we kept going upward and onward through crushing crowds of shoppers. We ended up at the Circus, and continued toward the Royal Crescent. As we passed a side street, I spotted a familiar yellow storefront and surprised Bria by calling out, “That’s IT!” I knew the book store would be up at the end of the street on the corner if it was still in existence. Sure enough, we’d found it, about two blocks away from the Royal Crescent.

Peering through the shop window.

I let Bria take a look first, and then I followed. I had a delightful chat with the shop owner (the wife of a husband-wife team who says the shop is just what overflowed from their home, which is every bit as crammed with books as the shop!). I found two treasures to take home and asked the owner if she had heard about the new regulations in America that could outlaw used children’s books. She was appalled and said, “Do they think children eat books? Surely they have parents to prevent them doing that anyway!” I heartily agreed, and we talked about what a terrible loss it would be to ban children from reading antique books.

I finally tore myself away from the shop, and, since we were so close to the Royal Crescent, I encouraged Bria to take just a few more uphill steps so we could stop in at Number One Royal Crescent (the most famous house and the most prestigious in Bath). It was open to vis
itors, so we stepped in and gave ourselves a tour. The rooms are sumptuously decorated (particularly the drawing room). The ladies’ bedroom was fascinating with all its accessories, including a long head scratcher, as ladies often left their towering Georgian updos in place for a month at a time with no washing (ugh!).

By the time we left the house, it was getting darker and was even colder, so we headed back downhill toward the train station, which was about a mile and a quarter away. I’d thought we might grab another taxi, but I never saw one, so we just kept trudging, thankful it was all downhill.

It was a long, cold walk to the station, but we did make it and managed to be there with ten minutes to spare. We boarded our train and got back to Dulwich in time for a late supper. We then collapsed into bed, anticipating a wonderful day of rest on Sunday. Next time I’ll blog about our delightful Sabbath with our host family!

June 26, 2007

Which Austen heroine are you?

A friend told me I needed to update my blog, but since this one revolves around England and my travel there last year, it’s one that sometimes has to languish for lack of good things to post! But I have a fun one today. I get the Jane Austen Centre e-newsletter, and today they had a link to a little “test” to determine which Austen heroine you most resemble. Here’s my result:

I am Elizabeth Bennet!

Take the Quiz here!

Hooray! I have to admit I was rather happy not to turn out to be Mary Bennet or even Emma Woodhouse. LOL! I’ve always related to Lizzie because of her tendency to prejudge people and then smart for it later. Reminds me of my teenage self to a “T.” My parents had long years of hard work to help me learn to take every report with a grain of salt and not believe the worst. But that often led to my swinging to the opposite end of the pendulum and believing the best about people who later turned out to be undeserving (like Mr. Wickham). Learning to assess people maturely and take a long view is, I believe, a lifelong skill to learn. Like Lizzie, I am still at it! ;-)

Cheerio,
Jennie

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