Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Lyme Regis as Jane Austen saw it
The Cobb would have been a centre of activity in Jane Austen's time, when Lyme was a flourishing port as well as a leisure resort. It was the latter role that brought the Austen family to Lyme, of course, since holidays by the seaside were the fashionable thing at the time -- boosted by one Dr Russell who had claimed, in the mid-eighteenth century, that sea bathing was the healthiest pursuit imaginable. Nevertheless, Jane was interested in the maritime side of things as well, and may even have been a closet "ship-spotter"... apparently she rebuked an acquaintance for not knowing the difference between a sloop and a frigate!
From the Cobb, the tour proceeded along Marine Parade (known as "The Walk" in Jane Austen's day) to the main part of town, with Fred pointing out the relatively small number of features which still remain from the early nineteenth century. The beach was there in those days, of course, but instead of lying on it wearing sun block and very little else, female visitors would have been completely hidden from view within contraptions known as "bathing machines"!
At the end of Marine Parade, where it intersects with Broad Street and Bridge Street, is the site of the most imposing building of Jane Austen's Lyme -- the Assembly Rooms. Sadly, the building was demolished in 1924, and the site is now a small car park. However, Fred assured us that in its time it would have rivalled the Assembly Rooms in Bath (presumably in terms of grandeur rather than size, since there's only a limited amount of space!).
It's well-recorded that Jane Austen visited the Assembly Rooms on several occasions while she was in Lyme. What is less well recorded is exactly where she stayed in the town -- probably in several different lodging houses. A short way up Broad Street there is a rather seedy looking building bearing a blue plaque (pictured below) with the inscription "Pyne House: This is the most likely lodging of Jane Austen, whose visits to Lyme in 1803 and 1804 gave birth to her novel 'Persuasion'."
Jane Austen page of the main Museum website. If you're interested in going on one of the many excellent guided walks organized by the Museum, visit the Events page... or keep an eye on this blog!