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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

 

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

Jane Austen in Lyme Regis: Reliving Persuasion, Part 2

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ June 7, 2019

Because Lyme Regis was such a favorite seaside location for Jane Austen and because it offers such a pivotal location for her beloved novel Persuasion, our visit there extends over two blog posts. Last week’s part 1 covered: Lyme Regis as a model for Sanditon, my time in Pyne House where the Austens likely stayed and their move to less desirable lodgings, a visit to the Cobb, the filming of “Ammonite” about Mary Anning, and Jane dancing at the assembly.

cabanas in Lyme Regis

Today we pick up our tour on our way to the beach with Jane: Now the seafront around the curving beach between Lyme and the smaller Cobb Hamlet is a paved promenade called Marine Parade, much of it lined with colorful cabanas. In Jane’s day it was referred to simply as the Walk and amounted to little more than a footpath across the sand.

Jane would have taken the Walk on her way to bathe. Sea-bathing became something of a national passion when physicians decided that sea water was as healthful as spa bathing, and Lyme’s fortunes as a seaside resort burgeoned after the Royal Physician analysed Lyme’s seawater and declared it to contain “a greater number of saline particles in a given measure” than any other.

Lyme offered 4 bathing machines in Jane’s day, and she made good use of them. On Friday, 14 September, Jane reported, “The Bathing was so delightful this morning & Molly so pressing with me to enjoy myself that I believe I staid in rather too long, as since the middle of the day I have felt unreasonably tired. I shall be more careful another time & shall not bathe tomorrow, as I had before intended.”

nude bathing, Lyme Regis

The above is a detail from a Cruishank cartoon, but the female nudity was imaginary. Jane, as all proper Regency ladies, would have bathed in her shift. Men bathed “as nature intended.” A bell rang for men to leave the beach so women could bathe. In 1822 a regulation declared that men’s and women’s bathing machines must be at least 50 yards apart. Gentlemen were forbidden to row boats within 100 yards of ladies’ machines—as Cruishank’s distracted fisherman has clearly done.

Another site of interest to the Janeite visitor is the “small house, near the foot of an old pier of unknown date,” where the kindly Captain and Mrs. Harville lived. Using clues in the novel as to the location it almost certainly was not in Lyme itself, but in the small settlement at the foot of the Cobb known as Cobb Hamlet. Maggie Lane cautions that Jane Austen would have felt it an intrusion to use a private home in her novel, but tradition has assigned the role to Bay Cottage and Jane’s Takeaway, located in the building perpetuates the belief. The likely location seems indisputable, at least.

The tea and apple pastry I enjoyed there surely rivaled the "cordials [and] restoratives" supplied by Captain Harville while his wife attended to Louisa Musgrove.

tea with Captain Harville

In Regency times 2 library-bookshops offered a variety of reading materials to their patrons, both located conveniently near Pyne House. I was unable to discover whether or not today’s booklover’s Sanctuary is a direct descendent of Swan’s which was located near the Rooms--a bookstore Jane Austen likely would have visited. Maggie Lane tells us that today’s bookstore is on the site of the historic Three Cups Inn which was later relocated further up Broad Street.

The Sanctuary bookstore

inside booklovers' Sandtuary

I was able to buy 2 hard-to-obtain pamphlets: “Jane Austen in Lyme” by Henry Chessell, published for the 1975 bicentenary of Jane’s birth, and “Jane Austen and Lyme Regis” by Maggie Lane, published by the Jane Austen Society in 2003. Both booklets have been very helpful in writing this article alongside Deirdre Le Faye’s superbly annotated Jane Austen’s Letters.

royal Lion Hotel

The Lion Inn, later the Royal Lion, is confusingly now on the opposite side of Broad Street from where it was in Jane Austen’s day, but she certainly had Persuasion’s Uppercross party staying in one of the town’s two inns. The narrator reports them, “securing accommodations, and ordering a dinner at one of the inns,” before walking “directly down to the sea.”

Inns in Lyme Regis

Sadly, The Three Cups(on the right, above), much beloved by G.K. Chesterton, is now closed and boarded up, but my last night in Lyme Regis I had a delightful dinner at the Royal Lion. I had no difficulty imagining Captain Wentworth and the Musgroves settling in most comfortably to such elegant surroundings.

Although we have no record of it, the Austens certainly would have attended services at St. Michael’s parish church in near-by Church Street. The church is of Saxon origins and the present nave dates to 1506.

St. Michael's Church Lyme Regis

On my last day in Lyme Regis I have one more Austen adventure I hope to create. Jane once described herself in a letter to Cassandra as a “desperate” walker, and I am longing to retrace the walk she so much enjoyed following the cliffwalk to Charmouth. She must have done this several times because in the following April she writes that Henry, who was of the party at Lyme, “talks of the rambles we took together last summer with pleasing affection.” It is also generally accepted that the charming painting believed to be of Jane Austen from the back, apparently looking out to sea, was painted by Cassandra when the sisters paused to rest on a walk over the cliffs.

 Jane by Cassandra

I was longing to see Charmouth, which Jane described in Persuasion: “with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more, its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands, make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation;”

Charmouth from cliffs

Armed with a walking guide of Jane Austen’s England, I set out to follow her footsteps. The path was clearly marked Charmouth Coast Path and easy to follow.

Charmouth Coast Path

The scenery was delightful

Scenic walk to Charmouth

Until I came to an abrupt message.

Path closure sign

I knew the cliffs were fragile and landslips frequent. After all, that was what uncovered the ancient skeleton that Mary Anning found. But this board looked old. And my guide book was published only 2 years ago. I encountered a dog-walker coming toward me from the closed path. “Can we go on further?” I asked.

She assured me that it was all right to continue for a bit.

scenic path

And so I did. Until I lost the path amid the prickly shrubs. And found myself stuck deep in rain-soaked clay. In the strain to free myself I lost my footing and fell in the mud. After some time of struggling, telling myself to keep calm, and praying, I managed to extricate my mired foot. Minus my shoe. (Hence the shoe-shopping in Sidmouth.)

Now, quite lost, but keeping glimpses of the sea to my left, I blazed my way through banks of brambles, praying that the daylight would hold out long enough to get back to a solid path. Eventually I made it back to Pyne Place, blood from the bramble scratches on my hands and face, caked in mud to the knees with holes in my socks, but infinitely grateful to be there.

Grateful and chastened. I had had my Louisa Musgrove adventure with perhaps some of the same obstinacy and rashness that led to her downfall.

Next week our Jane Austen’s Seashore Tour will take us to the most iconic of all seaside resorts with Austen connections. We began with an overview, then visited Teignmouth, Dawlish, and Lyme Regis, part 1.  Please return each week as we continue our tour with: Southampton, Portsmouth, Bognor Regis, Worthing, Brighton, Ramsgate, and move inland to Chawton.

Jane Austen Tour map

These will provide background for my next Elizabeth and Richard literary suspense novel as another in the series that includes A Jane Austen Encounter, and A Most Singular Venture.

 

 

 

Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

Read More: Jane Austen Seashore Tour

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