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The Journal of Eveline Helm, Part Four – To the Regency Ball…

Dear Reader, 

I hope that this journal of my time in Bath should prove to be helpful to you. In reading it may you be spared the numerous faux pas and embarrassments that I was not. I truly feel that if this work should prevent even one other young lady from public ridicule in the Assembly Rooms of Bath then it will have been wholly worthwhile. 

Humbly yours, 

Eveline Helm.

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June 1797

The time is nearly upon us when my Aunt, my Uncle and myself will be making our first appearance at a ball at the Upper Rooms! I am at present experiencing such a mixture of emotions at this thought. Part of me is wild excitement at the prospect of at last being able to attend the grand frivolities I have so long dreamt of, ever since Miss Lucy Stevens mentioned them so many years ago when she had just lately returned from her first visit to the city. Another part of me is intense nerves – what if I should embarrass myself, as I did so thoroughly at the Pump Rooms this morning? What if everyone sees the new velvet ribbons which I have spent all afternoon sewing onto my best gown and, rather than focusing on what a fine rich emerald colour they are, look beyond them and instantly recognize that my best white muslin dress is not of this season? That it is in fact of the beginning of last season; with it’s more modest bust line and it’s lack of fullness at the sleeve shoulder! Who would ask a girl to dance who is so utterly behind the times in such a fashion conscious city?

My Aunt and I did visit the haberdashers this morning following our visit to the Pump Rooms, and we did order new dresses, but sadly, even with a premium paid so that they may be completed as a rush job, they would not be ready for two more days (an extravagance which I begged my Aunt not to undertake on my behalf, but she would not hear of my saying that she need not go to such an expense on my account).

“There is no need to worry my dear,” my Aunt said to me once this news was given us. “We can adapt what you have with new ribbons, and we may purchase some new gloves. Yes, I really am sure that we can make everything look most satisfactory! After all, tonight is only the dress ball and there shall be no one there in anything so very fine. That will be saved for the fancy ball on Thursday.”

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Bath, I have learnt, has rather more balls than in the country – as is only to be expected. At home we have a public ball at the local assembly rooms every Tuesday evening. In Bath however there is a dress ball every Monday night and a fancy ball every Thursday, for which everyone reserves their best gowns and most complex hair stylings, and for which I am hoping that we shall this week have our new gowns ready. Normally it would cost five shillings to go to a ball, but happily our subscription to them, which was purchased earlier at the Pump Rooms, allows us to attend for free. Although having said that, the subscription to each did cost fourteen shillings, which if you were not going to be staying in Bath for very long wouldn’t be worthwhile purchasing, but as it is we are planning to stay for a few weeks so as long as we go to every ball on offer we shall make our subscribing well worthwhile. This should not be a problem as my Aunt is just as keen to go to each and every ball there is as I myself am. Though I am relieved that we shall be starting with a dress ball as it is rather less stately affair than the fancy ball.

At the dress ball there are only country dances, and the complex cotillions are reserved for the fancy ball. I do hope when the time comes that my dance skills do not let me down and I am starting to regret not practicing more as my dancing master urged me to do. How was I to know then that I would be so tested! Though there is of course no guarantee that I shall be asked to dance a cotillion on Thursday if I do decide I am ready – I know no one in Bath besides my Aunt and Uncle, and who would chance making a fool of themselves by asking an unknown partner who may not know the steps to dance. I might well keep my bright white gloves in my reticule as a sign that I am not prepared to dance the cotillion this week; Aunt Charlotte has told me that that is the unspoken code in Bath – ladies who wish to dance a cotillion take the whitest of white gloves to wear to show that they are available, and then change them to a cream or ivory afterwards as not every lady feels comfortable dancing such a complex dance. My Uncle only increased my doubts about these dances earlier as we were making our way back from Milsom Street having made our purchases.

“I do remember there was an occasion last year when your Aunt and I were in town, and she had persuaded me to attend a ball.”

“No that he needed much persuading despite what he may say,” Aunt Charlotte interjected. My Uncle carried on:

“When a gentleman turned the wrong way in his set and stepped so hard on his partner’s foot that she was unable to continue the dance and a sedan chair had to be engaged to take her home early. The gentleman was unable to show his face in the Assembly Rooms for almost two weeks and felt obliged to call on her on a regular basis to enquire after her health. Thanks to this he very nearly found himself obligated to propose to her. Beware Eveline,” he had said stopping so that my Aunt and I who were one on each of his arms also had to stop. “If you dance a cotillion who knows what might befall you! You might muddle our footwork, trip, stumble into the arms of a gentleman as you fall and find you have to marry him for the sake of decency! You have been warned!”

“Well really, Mr Denison,” my Aunt admonished. “Don’t be so ridiculous.” I felt relieved that my Aunt thought that this was too extreme an outcome of a dancing mistake, until she continued: “As if Eveline would muddle her footwork!” My Uncle laughed lightheartedly.

“Of course! My mistake. You are right, my dear. Our Eveline is safe.”

I am certain that they were largely only teasing me, but nevertheless it hasn’t helped to settle my nerves for tonight.

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I have just checked the clock on the fireplace mantle. It is half past seven o’clock and as the balls start as soon after seven o’clock as is possible I believe we shall be leaving soon to arrive at a fashionable hour, and as such I ought to cease writing my journal and make my way downstairs. Especially as I do not know how long I can successfully avoid covering my fingers in ink while writing, since my current quill is not the newest or most clean writing implement.

However, I am unsure if James has managed to secure sedan chairs for us yet, but if he has not I am positive that he will be back shortly with some, as despite the fact that being situated so pleasantly as we are on The Paragon, barely five minutes’ walk from the Upper Rooms, it is nevertheless for the sake of appearances that we are to arrive in sedan chairs as most people who can afford to do so choose to. Riding in a sedan chair, by the by, is another thing which I have never done before, so this evening continues my day that is very much full with first experiences; which does rather explain why I am so nervous, and I feel a little more justified in being so given this fact. Nevertheless, I shall take my courage in both gloved hands, focus on my rising excitement, put my fears to the back of my mind, and make my way downstairs at this moment. (One final thought however; I do hope that the carriers of the chair don’t slip and drop me as I fear they might…)

webJenni Waugh HeadshotThe journal of Eveline Helm’s time in Bath has made its way online thanks to Jenni Waugh, one of our tour guides at the Jane Austen Centre.

She writes: “I couldn’t resist sharing Eveline’s exploits. I hope everyone else finds them as interesting and entertaining as I did!”

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The Journal of Eveline Helm, Part Three – Beau Nash

Beau Nash

Dear Reader,

I hope that this journal of my time in Bath should prove to be helpful to you. In reading it may you be spared the numerous faux pas and embarrassments that I was not. I truly feel that if this work should prevent even one other young lady from public ridicule in the Assembly Rooms of Bath then it will have been wholly worthwhile.

Humbly yours, 

Eveline Helm.

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June, 1797 

 It was not particularly late when I turned for bed last night following the surprisingly delicious dinner that Mrs Drewit found for us, that of steak and kidney pie, which she purchased from one of the more salubrious inns within the town. To be perfectly frank I had been grateful that Mrs Drewit had found us anything at all, and I had by no means been expecting to enjoy whatever it turned out to be. I would have felt lucky to have been served with umble pie, my hopes were so low in relation to the odds of her success. I therefore made sure to thank Mrs Drewit heartily for her efforts and for providing such an excellent meal, but it was not long, barely a half hour later when we were gathered around the fire in the withdrawing room, before I felt my eyelids begin to droop. The travelling had taken its toll and I felt I really must bid my Aunt and Uncle goodnight, even though it was only a half past nine in the evening (and usually that would be far far too early, my Aunt informed me, to retire to bed when in town). When in town, certainly in London, it is not uncommon to still be up in the hours after midnight. Even in a city that is so dedicated to health and wellbeing, as Bath most certainly is, to be asleep before a half eleven is unusual. In those with less of an eye to rest and relaxation, people may well be awake for far longer. For example, I have heard that in London the balls at Almacks may run late into the night, whereas in Bath it is absolutely forbidden for them to continue beyond the hour of eleven. However given that we had had such a long journey that day my Aunt agreed that perhaps we should take the opportunity to have an early night; before all the real excitement began the next day.

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The following morning we rose later than we had planned, and after a breakfast composed of sweet meats and of Sally Lunn buns (which Mrs Drewit had been especially to fetch earlier that morning) we stepped out into the sunlit streets to make our way to the Pump Rooms.

“The very first thing you must do when you are in town,” said my Uncle as we began our leisurely stroll down the gently sloping hill of Milsom Street, “is to announce that you are here.” (I did already know the purpose of our outing, so I do wonder if he was not saying this in part to remind my Aunt of our present quest, as her eyes were being drawn to both the left and right of us by the inviting haberdashery shops we were passing.)

“Yes, Uncle,” I said in such a way as to invite him to continue his explanation – he had not elaborated over breakfast how the Pump Rooms might be involved in this task. He smiled as my Aunt tore her eyes away from the sign of “Fotheringale’s” and settled back onto him.

“Yes, Eveline. Now my dear, do you recall that I mentioned a gentleman called Beau Nash to you over dinner last night?”

“Yes, Uncle.”

I remembered well.  Before I had been overcome with fatigue my Aunt and Uncle had gone into great detail in regards to Beau Nash.

“Everything in Bath is as it is, at least in part, due to Mr Nash’s directions,” explained my Uncle. “It is he who established many of the walks in Bath which you can take for exercise, he who established the code of conduct here, and he who oversaw the building of the newest assembly rooms. He has to be the greatest Master of Ceremonies Bath has ever seen.”

“Indeed,” my Aunt had said. “So much so that the title of uncrowned ‘King of Bath’ is his.”

“That is certainly a great honour,” I had assented.

“He’s most well loved in Bath. Although he can be rather strict; for it is he who is responsible for all of the social laws relating to conduct within Bath. It is he who berated the Duchess of Queensberry for wearing an apron to the assembly, and it was he who declared that all of the balls must finish promptly by eleven o’clock.’

“Yes,” added my Aunt. “He even refused to break this rule when once Princess Amelia asked for the dancing to go on longer.”

“That is a brave man to be sure,” I said.

“And tell me,” my Uncle had said, smiling in the gently amused manner that he has. “How do you imagine such a pillar of Bath to look?”

“Well,” I hesitated. “Very well turned out. Tall perhaps, with strong features, and an air of aristocracy?”

My Aunt smiled.

“That is one of the curious things about Mr Nash,” said she. “He is none of those things. Certainly not an aristocrat – he left Oxford and never completed his studies elsewhere, and his father was a glassmaker from Swansea. He is by all accounts a self-made man.” My Uncle nodded in agreement.

“Although also a keen gambler. However this does mean that gambling in Bath is regulated and kept fair and proper with few gamesters in the mix. But as to his appearance, he is outwardly a most average man; average height, average build, dark completion and his face has, as Mr Goldsmith put it, peculiarly irregular features. His main distinguishing feature to those who do not already know him is only really the white hat that he often wears. It commands a good deal of respect.”

“Shall we meet him soon?” I had asked, keen to see him in person. My Aunt looked ready to reply but my Uncle spoke too quickly for her.

“In his early days in Bath he would have come to call on us here and officially welcome us to the city – as he does with all prominent visitors to Bath. Now however he is…unable to do so. We must go to the Pump Rooms to be known.”

I looked to my Aunt to see if she would continue with what she had been going to say but she did not. I had gone to bed in much anticipation of seeing him the next day.

after William Hoare, oil on canvas, (circa 1761)
after William Hoare, oil on canvas, (circa 1761)

As we continued the rest of the short walk to the Pump Rooms I was still very much excited to see the great man who would be announcing our presence in Bath, both by his acknowledgement and through the newspapers. We entered the Pump Rooms, which consisted of a double-height, long, grand gallery. At intervals on each side of the room were a good many full-length windows letting in the mid-morning sunlight. The rooms were filled primarily with ladies and gentleman walking arm in arm, promenading and talking and observing the other people there, who were doing likewise. It was very grand and I was beside myself with eagerness to join them. I quickly cast my gaze among the crowds looking for a plain looking gentleman in a white hat and fine clothes who might be Beau Nash, but not one white hat did I see. Nor did I see any gentleman whom all that were gathered were treating with a sense of reverie, as might be expected to surround Mr Nash, with or without his white hat.

“This way,” my Uncle said, taking my Aunt on his left arm and myself on his right. He led us to where a gentleman in a rich velvet coat was stood overseeing the room.

“Good morning, Sir. Madam, madam,” ventured the gentleman, bowing slightly to my Aunt and myself. I looked at him and quickly saw that he was very tall and far too young to be Mr Nash. I was confused.

“Good morning,” returned my Uncle. “I should like to sign the subscription book if I may.”

“Of course, Sir,” said the gentleman. He bowed once more to us and proceeded to lead my Uncle away.

“I don’t understand,” I had said turning to my Aunt. “Where is Mr Nash? Are we not to meet Mr Nash?” Two gentleman who were passing us at the time that I spoke this laughed, but seeing me start at their sudden noise the closest one to myself inclined his head in a form of apology, despite having not been introduced to me. The one further away went only so far as to stop openly laughing and downgrade his merriment to a large grin.

“Oh Eveline,” my Aunt sighed, smiling herself. “I thought Mr Denison would have enlightened you as to his little joke before we set out this morning. I shall have to berate him for not doing so. Mr Nash, although still the keystone of Bath in spirit, died almost thirty years ago.”

“I thought we were here to announce our coming to Bath?”

“We are my dear; through the subscription book. Mr Denison has gone to pay and sign it for us now. By doing so we’ll be entitled to visit the coffee houses, read the newspapers, be given tickets to attend the balls and concerts, and our presence will be announced in the newspapers themselves. Oh my dear, I am sorry that you did not know. I did not mean for Mr Denison’s little joke to go on for so long.”

I was, of course, crimson by this point – thoroughly embarrassed that anyone should have observed my ignorance of such a long-established and well-known fact. I just pray that I never bump into those gentleman who overheard my foolishness at any of the balls we are now at last entitled to attend…

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webJenni Waugh HeadshotThe journal of Eveline Helm’s time in Bath has made its way online thanks to Jenni Waugh, one of our tour guides at the Jane Austen Centre.

She writes: “I couldn’t resist sharing Eveline’s exploits. I hope everyone else finds them as interesting and entertaining as I did!”

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The Journal of Eveline Helm, Part Two

Dear Reader, 

I hope that this journal of my time in Bath should prove to be helpful to you. In reading it may you be spared the numerous faux pas and embarrassments that I was not. I truly feel that if this work should prevent even one other young lady from public ridicule in the Assembly Rooms of Bath then it will have been wholly worthwhile. 

Humbly yours, 

Eveline Helm.

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June, 1797

Although I am, as I have said before, most impatient to see the city of Bath itself, I am as yet unable to. This is because the journey in my Uncle’s chaise took a little more than eight hours, which was as expected. As we left not too long after a relatively late ten o’clock breakfast, we arrived in Bath at a quarter past seven, which is, of course, just in time for dinner; a meal which we were all more than ready for. Unfortunately there was no dinner waiting for us, as we had not sent the few servants whom my Uncle had brought with us on ahead in order to make the necessary arrangements. On our arrival therefore, whilst James, my Uncle’s valet, and Mr Johnson, his butler, were taking our bags inside and depositing their contents into their appropriate places, our cook, Mrs Drewit, made the bold move of going out into town in the now empty chaise to try and procure us some sustenance. My Uncle, meanwhile, was busy making further arrangements that I know not the details of; possibly something more to do with the house, or possibly to do with the business for which he has come to town. As all of this was going on around us, my Aunt and I seized the opportunity for some distraction from our empty stomachs and set off to explore the house.

Number three, the Paragon, is built, at least from the outside, in a style identical to the two houses adjoining it on either side. The façades, like those of the other buildings in Bath, are constructed entirely from the pale oolite limestone that the city is famous for, and that has made Ralph Allen, the Mayor of Bath and the owner of the stone mines, exceedingly rich. Each house is a tall, slim building consisting of a basement, which is hidden below street level but visible through the grates which are set in the pavement to allow daylight down into these rooms; a ground floor; a first floor with three identical sash windows, the central one of these having a carved triangular pediment above it; a second floor; and then the attic rooms whose three windows protrude outwards from the slate covered mansard roofs, into which are also set large stone chimneys.

However, whilst outwardly the buildings of the Paragon look the same, on the inside it is a different matter. Each house was built according to the specific wishes of its first occupant. As such, some parlours may be bigger than others, some houses may have more bedrooms within them only all of a smaller size, some houses may have even have a gentleman’s retreat, and so on and so forth. As my Aunt had not been able to view the house before she and my Uncle had taken out their lease on it, but rather chosen their address in town based on recommendations given to them by one of my Uncle’s business acquaintances, she was almost as keen to explore the rooms as I was.

On the ground floor we went through the first door that was on the left as you entered the high-ceilinged hallway. Within was a room that was richly decorated in the contemporary style, with deep mauve wallpaper hung on the walls and a patterned Wilton carpet on the floor. Heavy red velvet drapes hung at the windows and in the centre of the room was a large oval wooden table, surrounded by twelve padded chairs.

“A nicely sized dining room,” surmised my Aunt. “Most agreeable and just the right size for a pleasant dinner party.”

“Do we know enough people in Bath to hold a dinner party?” I asked.

“We are bound to. It is the season after all. Though we shall know more tomorrow I daresay. Besides,” she added, “if it were to turn out that the city was entirely devoid of our friends, which is most unlikely, this being Bath, we would surely be in possession of a plethora of amiable new acquaintances in only a day or two.”

“We should?”

“Oh, yes. You will see what I mean soon enough.”

The existence of a dining room confirmed, we continued exploring and went on to establish that also on the ground floor was a parlour (with bookcases, a writing desk and enough space for a fold-out breakfast table), and that this was one of the houses with a gentleman’s retreat, which my Uncle would be using as his study. Carrying on to the next floor as we made our way up the grand staircase I felt so elegant that I could be the Duchess of Devonshire herself, and the polished bannister rail slid like glass beneath my fingertips and sent a shiver up my spine.

On the first floor we inspected the entertaining rooms. These were the withdrawing room and the main bedroom of the house that would be my Aunt’s. The withdrawing room I did not like quite as much as the bedroom. I admired the piano forte and the floral design on the pale gold wallpaper, and it was of course far more luxurious than the rooms below as this was designed to be the main room for receiving within the house, and so had soft furnishings (and the most beautiful tea chest I have ever seen). However, I still preferred the white and pale blue décor in my Aunt’s bedroom, and was pleased to recall that morning visitors at least might be shown into this room along with myself. I hope we might have a good deal of morning visitors.

Next we continued up to the second floor. There was my Uncle’s bedroom on the left hand side of the stairs – a rather less grand affair than my Aunt’s, but still very nice, and complete with a shaving stand, large four-post bed, and good wardrobe. Off to the right of the landing was another bedroom, and this would, my Aunt told me, be my bedroom for the duration of our stay; what did I think of it? The answer to that is that I like it very much. It has blue green wallpaper on the upper half of the walls but is painted white below the border rail. I have a most striking fireplace with a detailed plaster surround, a dressing table, a chest of drawers, a mirror, a padded hard-back chair and a very comfortable double bed, again with drapes and four posts, entirely for my own use! That would be more than enough to delight me on its own, but from my windows I find also have the great pleasure of being able to see the comings and goings on the busy street below. I would probably be able to see even further, perhaps even up and over the roof of the house opposite, from the next floor, but my Aunt said that this second floor was as high as we would go.

“The attic rooms,” she explained, “are the domain of James, Mr Johnson and MrsDrewit. As such I think we should leave the perusal of those to them.”

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Our tour of the second floor being done, my Aunt also concluded that we should leave the basement rooms of the kitchen, the scullery and the servants’ hall (the only rooms of the house aside from those in the attic which I have not recorded here) to Mrs Drewit’s thorough inspection. “I must confess,” she said, “that I would scarcely know better what constitutes a well stocked kitchen than that which passes for a functional gun cupboard. It is better that Mrs Drewit takes stock of the servants quarters and informs us of anything further that she requires.”

I am not quite so ignorant in the domestic department as my Aunt. She was brought up as the only child of rich parents who, she says, doted on her. Her days were entirely filled with the gaining of accomplishments. I on the other hand, as one of six, have found opportunities to sneak off into the kitchens to beg treats from our own cook, Mrs Grey, who was kind enough to let me help her from time to time with her famous apple pies, by making the pastry lids, and with the kneading of bread dough and other such tasks. I rather enjoyed it, though I know I possibly shouldn’t have, and should have preferred to be engaged with my needle or with my painting.

Until this point I have managed to distract myself from my rumbling stomach with recording the layout of the house. However, now I have allowed my mind to wander onto such happy memories of baking I am reminded of its barren state once more. Hopefully soon Mrs Drewit will be back and my raging appetite will be appeased. Then once we have eaten, Uncle said, we will go into town and see about making our presence known. I am yet to ascertain exactly what he means by this, because when I asked him to explain he simply winked at me. I am half barely contained excitement, half nerves. I own I really am so desperately keen to make a good impression…

Jenni Waugh HeadshotThe journal of Eveline Helm’s time in Bath has made its way online thanks to Jenni Waugh, one of our tour guides at the Jane Austen Centre.

She writes: “I couldn’t resist sharing Eveline’s exploits. I hope everyone else finds them as interesting and entertaining as I did!”

Posted on

The Journal of Eveline Helm, Part One

Dear Reader, 

I hope that this journal of my time in Bath should prove to be helpful to you. In reading it, may you be spared the numerous faux pas and embarrassments that I was not. I truly feel that if this work should prevent even one other young lady from public ridicule in the Assembly Rooms of Bath then it will have been wholly worthwhile.

Humbly yours, 

Eveline Helm.

post-chaise001

June, 1797

You might find this hard to believe, but I have never been to Bath for the season before. Miss Lucy Stevens of Lyme Park goes every year, and even the three Miss Hilliers, who have been living on reduced means ever since the death of their father two years previous, managed to get to Bath for a time last April. The reports they gave of the city on their return were so shining that I’ve had a deep longing to see the city myself ever since. Unfortunately Mother has no inclination to go and nor does Father, so I had resigned myself to the fact that it was unlikely that I would be able to visit there myself. As luck would have it, however, my Uncle Arthur has been called to Bath for business, and my Aunt Charlotte decided that she would accompany him, but knowing that he would be busy for the vast majority of the time thought that she would invite me to also take part in the trip as her companion. I am exceedingly glad that when she had this idea she happened to be staying with us, for otherwise I imagine that another niece; whichever was nearest at hand, might have found herself going in my stead; but perhaps I am being unjust in my estimation. Either way it is thus that I have found myself ensconced in a beautiful townhouse on The Paragon.

That is one of the first things you should know about Bath, I have discovered. Before you even arrive in the city you must prepare, lest you find yourself situated in quite the wrong part of town and quite unable to make any good acquaintances. A person staying on St. James Parade, even if they are an Earl, may be thoroughly snubbed by a lowly Baronet if their rooms are within the Royal Crescent; which is surely the finest work of architecture by the younger of the two John Woods who, my Aunt tells me, were the architects responsible for many of the newest developments in Bath. It must have been quite a sight to behold when the final stone was put in place to complete that grand curved façade those three and twenty years ago. I am yet to see the sweeping curvature of the Crescent however, as well as the interior of the famous Assembly Rooms and the Theatre Royal. There are, I own, a great many sights in Bath that I am impatient to see. I am getting ahead of myself however. Our initial entrance into the city needs to be laid out, for there are details in the journey that I should have found it helpful to be aware of in advance, and which as such must be made note of.

We arrived in Bath along the London Road. We came by my Uncle’s private chaise, which was a great relief to me, as although the postillion coaches are a great deal swifter than they used to be, thanks to the frequent changing of horses at the many coaching inns along the way, I have been warned by Miss Marie Hillier that you are by no means guaranteed an enjoyable journey. It is true that the majority of persons travelling by stagecoach may be perfectly amiable, and that those who are not are most likely to be situated outside on the jumpseats at the back or on the slower mail coach, as these options command a lower fare, but it is also the case that the popularity of the route coupled with the postillion’s advantage of speed can result in a very full inner carriage. That and it is not the smoothest of rides as it is, despite the many turnpikes along the way, each of which demands a toll for the upkeep of the road. As such I was most grateful to be safely seated upon newly upholstered seats of velvet, rather than on the post’s well-worn seats, that must surely be so smooth thanks to their constant use that sliding off them must be a constant danger. Still I do wish that I had had the forethought to wear a thicker cloak so that I may have benefited from my sitting on it. I have not experienced it myself but if you are travelling by a public coach I imagine you would need at least three petticoats and your thickest cloak beneath you to make the journey without pain.

1772_Perspective_view_of_the_city_of_Bath_in_Somersetshire

After many hours our journey was drawing to an end and as we entered the outskirts of Bath I was treated to my first glimpses of its pale limestone façades, even more beautiful than I had imagined as they were bathed in a faint pink hue as a result of the setting sun. I was interrupted from my musings, however, as I heard the soft but unmistakable ring of bells tolling in the distance. I turned to enquire of my Uncle if he had read in the papers that a wedding would be taking place at the Abbey today, as it was late-afternoon that we were arriving and there was therefore no other practical reason that I knew of for the bells to be ringing. He did not look as pleased to hear them as I was.

“I am not aware of one,” he said with a woeful glance out of the window.

“I believe the answer my dear, is that the bells of the Abbey are often rung to welcome the arrival of a prominent personage to the city, and that this is the cause in this instance.”

“But Uncle, that’s a charming custom.” I could not understand his melancholy at the sound. “Do not you think it?”

“He does Eveline, I know he does,” my Aunt replied for him. “Mr Denison is simply fearful for his purse.”

“Indeed,” he affirmed. “And before we have even stepped foot outside of the carriage and you two ladies begun to explore the haberdashers. I am beginning to wonder if perhaps it was a mistake to bring you both with me. Perhaps I would have been better to sneak into Bath under the cover of darkness, fail to mention my presence in town, and then creep away unnoticed when my business was complete.” His words I am pleased to say were meant in jest, as while he was speaking them he was also smiling broadly.

“Ignore him. For he loves Bath and it’s peculiarities just as much as I,” my Aunt said.

“I am glad to hear it,” I said. “But I still don’t understand why the ringing of bells should make my Uncle worry. They are one of life’s freely enjoyed delights, are they not? Something for everyone that requires no fee.”

“Oh my uninitiated niece!” my Uncle said, shaking his head in mock sorrow. “In a more provincial town than Bath perhaps, but you will soon learn; everything in Bath has a price. The men who run Bath are most shrewd in that way. The bells ring out,” he explained, “to announce the imminent arrival of an important figure, but it is not an honour without cost. More often than not a servant will have been sent ahead to alert the bellringers in advance and to pay them their fee. Occasionally however, a keen eyed person may see an approaching carriage and, seeing that it is a fine one, may order the bells to be rung, and then the fee may be asked for after the event has taken place. I fear that may be the case here. Honestly, Mrs Denison,” he said turning to my Aunt. “I knew we should have bought a less ostentatious chaise.”

“Nonsense. You are enjoying this just as much as I am. Besides, you know that if we had come to Bath in your old coach we would have been laughed out of town. Anyhow, it may be that the bells are for someone else. In fact I am sure they must be!”

“I may rejoice in the safety of my coins for a few more hours then, it seems.”

“Until Eveline and I go shopping tomorrow for our wardrobes of course.”

“I do not think I can afford to do too much shopping,” I admitted, feeling my cheeks begin to blush.

“That need be of no consequence,” my Uncle declared. “Of course your Aunt and myself would not dream of sending you out into society without our buying at least two new dresses for you; lest you be laughed out of the Assembly Rooms for failing to display the newest of fashions which those hallowed halls require.”

“Of course we would not,” said my Aunt, smiling warmly.

At this declaration I was, I must admit, both aghast at their vast generosity, amazed that my latest sprigged muslin would not do, and also terribly excited at the prospect of a new gown.

To conclude; my first observation for any young lady coming to Bath therefore is this: on no account leave home without your coin purse. You will most certainly require it, and far sooner than you think…

 

Jenni Waugh HeadshotThe journal of Eveline Helm’s time in Bath has made its way online thanks to Jenni Waugh; one of our tour guides at the Jane Austen Centre.

She writes: “I couldn’t resist sharing Eveline’s exploits. I hope everyone else finds them as interesting and entertaining as I did!”