We headed out of London Friday morning, and I honestly don’t know how Keith does it. The twists and turns and traffic getting out of the city made my head swim, and I doubt I could ever drive it! Glad to have a capable chauffeur at the wheel. It wasn’t too long before the countryside opened up and we were on our way through gently rolling hills. I enjoyed the scenery for a while but then got back to reading a book I’d picked up in York. That made the miles speed along even faster, and we were pulling into the beautiful, golden city of Bath before I knew it. As seems to be the case each year, there were four or five events scheduled for the same weekend, so there was a bit of traffic snarled up in the center, but Keith navigated through it and landed us at the Abbey Hotel, where we’ve stayed with our tour group several times over the years. After stowing my bags and hanging up my gowns, I stepped out for a few minutes to snap some pictures under a cloudy sky. The weather looked dreary, with threats of thunderstorms blowing in from Ireland. I sent up a silent prayer for sunshine on the morrow, as we have always been blessed with lovely weather each year and never been drenched yet on the Promenade!
After my quick circular walk, I came back through the Pump Room’s colonnade into the Abbey yard and snapped this shot of the Abbey and Pump Room together. The sun was trying to get through the layer of cloud, but it never really made it through on Friday.
I walked back up to my room and pulled out the rest of my sewing (still hadn’t finished my ballgown!) and called to ask housekeeping for an ironing board and iron. Unpacking my sewing kit, I pinned the inside lining of the silk petticoat for my ballgown, then heard a knock at my door. Suzi had come up to keep me company while I sewed and offered to hem the skirt of the ballgown for me, which was music to my ears! We spent a lovely couple of hours chatting, planning the 2016 tour, and stitching away. When the iron and ironing board finally came, I went into the bathroom to fill the iron’s reservoir from the tap, only to discover that my bathroom had flooded, apparently from a burst pipe in the room overhead. A call to the front desk swiftly brought a work crew around, along with the manager offering profuse apologies for the deluge! Turns out the room overhead was being renovated, and one of the pipes wasn’t properly sealed. Suzi and I sat bemused while a steady stream of workers set things to rights as we continued our own work.
At last it was time to put away the sewing for the day and get a bite to eat. Cathy Hay had arrived and joined us, and we sat in the hotel lounge for supper. Two more of Suzi’s friends arrived (an amazing couple who teach historical dance), plus a prior tour group alumna and her daughter. We had a lovely visit, then retired for the evening. Saturday would be a jam-packed day, and we needed our beauty sleep!
I got up early Saturday and began dressing for the Promenade, very glad that I’d chosen to make a gown that didn’t fasten up the back, since I had no one to help me! I managed to get ready except for my cap, bonnet, and gloves before going downstairs to eat breakfast. Suzi and Keith were already there, as were other familiar faces, all excited about the day ahead. I glanced out the windows, dismayed to see rain coming down after I’d woken to sunshine. But I hoped for the best and got into the rest of my outfit after the meal, then joined Cathy for the walk up to the Assembly Rooms. The morning downpour had left the sidewalks slick, and I immediately realized my authentic Regency boots were just a bit too authentic–no rubber soles to keep me from sliding! After two near disastrous slip-ups, I knew there was no way I’d make it through the morning without something to help my feet grip the slippery pavement. The first shoe shop on Milsom Street had nothing, so Cathy helped me gingerly make my way into Boots, where I found non-slip stick-ons meant to go inside the backs of shoes. Well, if I could get them to stick to the soles, I knew they’d help, so I bought them, and Cathy helped me wipe off the wet soles of the boots and attach the stick-ons. Success! No more slipping. We managed to get to the Assembly Rooms in plenty of time, and, since the rain had truly stopped, we joined the gathering throng of costumed participants, waiting for the start of the Promenade.
We had arrived so early that we had half an hour to kill, so we chatted with other members of our little group as they arrived and admired many of the costumes walking past. We were especially delighted and amazed at the large number of gents at this year’s Promenade–far more than we remembered seeing ever before. A week later, the Jane Austen Centre would remark on the goodly number of gentlemen as well. This is a trend we hope will continue, as it is great to see a better balance of men and women…especially when it means incredible tailoring and lots of handiwork to admire! While I was waiting, a gent walked up and asked if I was Jennie? I answered in the affirmative, and he motioned another lady forward before telling me that he had me to thank for getting him into historical costuming. He told me that he had bought one of my patterns several years before to make a gown for his sister (the lady accompanying him), and that had drawn him into sewing for himself as well. He now makes several outfits each year so that he and his sister can participate in events like the Jane Austen Festival. I was, of course, delighted! It is incredibly satisfying to hear from people who have been encouraged to sew by using my patterns; his comments quite made my day!
At last we were called to order by the leader of the Promenade and ushered out of doors to form a somewhat orderly line. And then we were off, downhill, uphill, and all around the streets of Bath!
After winding around and around, we finally reached the Parade Gardens below Bath Abbey. As you can see, we got the splendid weather we asked for!
After milling about, enjoying the weather and the gorgeous costumes, we walked together to Tilley’s, which is just down the alleyway from our hotel. We have made it a tradition to eat lunch there each year after the Promenade. (And a little word to the wise: While the much-hyped Sally Lunn’s next door is the oldest restaurant in Bath and jam-packed with history, you will always find a long queue there. I’m here to tell you that Tilley’s serves delicious food at a good price and rarely has a long wait. Well worth the visit!) Lunch stretched till 2:30 as we enjoyed the good food and wonderful company, and then those of us going to the ball that evening made a mad dash for the dance workshop back up at the Assembly Rooms! An hour of dancing reacquainted us with the steps, and then we hurried back to the hotel to sew like mad between 4:30 and 6:30 to get ready for the evening’s festivities.
My friend, Frances, who has been on several tours with us, always amazes me with what she brings to Bath. This time took the cake. She had brought all her Regency gowns and accessories and generously helped complete our outfits with ribbons, lace, and reticules! I had to be satisfied with an unfinished ballgown at the end; we just ran out of time and had to quickly make our way back up to the Assembly Rooms. So no photo of my gown this year. I will wait until it is finished and looking as fine as it should! I did, however, take lots of pictures at the ball and caught some of the dancing on video. Enjoy!
There were so many friends and gents that we never lacked for partners at this ball, and I actually had to beg to sit out a couple of times, as my feet were killing me. Yep, that hasty choice of too-small ballet flats did come back to haunt me–not to mention breaking one of my cardinal rules of travel, which is never to wear shoes you haven’t previously broken in! Ouch. Oh, well. We did all have a marvelous time, and I have to give a hearty round of applause to Chris Seals of Farthingale, who organizes the ball each year. It was even better this year than the one we attended in 2013, including the delicious food promptly served and the beautiful setting. Bravo!