Tag Archives: Historical Research

Things to do in 18th century Bath

It amazes me that sometimes, in my internet wanderings, when I am trying to find little nuggets of fact amidst the fog of the past that might embroider my novels with authentic detail, Google presents me with nothing exact. I mean, it’s rather obvious that Google and Wikipedia and all other random, non-authoratitive sources, might present one with unexpected ‘facts’. Sometimes they present one with outright lies, and this is often the cause of amusement.

Only today I was amazed to see someone on the internet declaring their casting off of pleasure driven pursuits such as drinking and eating bad food as they had decided to, ‘pursue a more hedonistic lifestyle’…I mean, there really is no answer for that except a pained inward groan. Then one allows oneself a little titter of amusement…until one makes a similar blunder and realises we all make mistakes and one ought to get down off one’s proverbial high horse.

Anyway, I am becoming distracted. What I am meaning to talk about is Bath. You see, I am in the throes of writing another book, which I have been enjoying immensely, and after taking a breaking because of, well, life, I have come back to it. I was getting frustrated because I had forgotten what I had already written, and felt as though I had lost the firm grasp on my characters I had. So I spent this morning re-reading what I had already written, remembering who I had created and where they dwelt, and thinking onwards onto what I wish to write next, and I was considering what activities my character might take up. They’re staying in Bath, you see, the first time one of my books has taken place in this beautiful watering hole of the 18th century, and so I did what any modern-day historical romance writer might do (but not admit to of course), I went to Le Google. I typed in the most pragmatic of phrases, ‘Things to do in 18th Century Bath’ and was greeted with, well, not much – nothing exact, you see.

You’ll be happy to know, those of you considering planning little trips away in 2017 already, that there are a plethora of guides on what to do in modern day Bath. But, believe it or not, in the onslaught of online information, no article matched my expectations. So I’ve written one. I do that with books too, if I can’t find what I want to read in a bookshop, I’ll go home and attempt to write what I am desiring instead. Sometimes it even works.

I did the same with my Things to do in 18th Century London post. I wanted to find activities that took place during the daytime that a man and woman might both attend. After all, despite what many historical romances might teach you (and I love them all), it wasn’t just about balls and gaming hells in London. And neither was Bath confined to taking the waters and the Assembly Rooms. 

It took me some time to piece together things from online articles sourced at reputable sites. You see, I don’t have easy access to my books and must sacrifice my intellectual self on the pire of the collective online brain. So, here is a wee list of things one might do in Bath to entertain oneself in the 18th Century:

1. Afternoon Tea in the Bath Assembly Rooms

That’s right, it wasn’t all about the nighttime Assembly’s in Bath with the dancing and light suppers presided over by Beau Nash, master of ceremonies. Oh, no, during the day one could enjoy an afternoon tea in respectable surroundings with relatives, friends or even potential lovers. Visit Bath is keen to establish that Jane Austen herself enjoyed afternoon tea at the Assembly Room’s, so there really is no arguing with that, is there? And for those hailing from countries where afternoon tea isn’t tradition, it usually consisted of tea, the drink, and light refreshments of both the savoury and sweet kinds.

The Assembly Rooms, Bath - National Trust

The Assembly Rooms, Bath – National Trust

2. Lover’s Lane in Bath

It wasn’t just Vauxhall and Ranelegh in London that could provide lovers with a useful tryst spot, Bath had a few spots of its own. Lover’s Lane, common parlance for the Gravel Walk (some of you might remember from the touching final get-together in Persuasion’s film adaptation), was a handy walk often used by those under cupid’s sway. And of course, Bath wasn’t short of gardens in which two young people, or older for that matter, might become lost. Sydney Gardens, situated behind Jane Austen’s Bath abode (though it must be stated she wasn’t fond of the city unlike myself), was a case in point.

Sydney Gardens, Bath

Sydney Gardens, Bath

Lots of these gardens not only had lovely little winding walks, but also bowling greens and lots of little things they could o.

3. Promenading along the Royal Crescent, Bath

The Hyde Park of Bath, this place was ideal for showing off one’s gladrags, perhaps obtained from Milsom Street, the popular shopping street in Bath, and overlooking the beautiful grey/yellow bath-stone city. For those unfamiliar with Bath, the Royal Crescent is a stunning panoramic crescent of matching Bath stone terraced houses in a palladian style overlooking the city. It’s aesthetics are beautiful for their uniformity, classical lines, and prominent position. 

Royal Crescent, Bath

Royal Crescent, Bath

My favourite part of these buildings is the modern-day birds-eye view which shows the higgeldy-piggeldy backs of these houses where successive owners have made their own changes and extensions to the properties without harming the matching fronts.

4. Bathing in Bath

It wasn’t just the Romans who chose to bathe in the warm waters springing from the Somerset earth. Bathing in Bath was considered beneficial for health complaints including rheumatism and gout. It was something generally, though not exclusively, taken advantage of by the elderly in Bath, and took place in any of these three baths on offer: the Cross bath, the Hot bath and the Minerva baths. In fact, if you are a modern day visitor, you can always visit these at the Thermae Bath Spa who describe the city thus,

‘Bath and its waters have a long association with well-being and the word SPA is related to the Latin phrase ‘Salus Per Aquam’ or ‘health through water’.’

Thermae Bath Spa

Thermae Bath Spa give the best history of bathing and the medicinal qualities of the waters at Bath that I could find online on this page of their website. The key piece I found the most helpful/interesting I have quoted below:

‘Princess/Queen Anne visited Bath regularly to take the waters seeking a cure for her gout and dropsy, which prompted the renaming of the New Bath to the Queen’s Bath. These visits and aristocratic patronage set in motion a period of development in which Bath became ‘the premier resort of frivolity and fashion’ and led to the great rebuilding of the city to produce the 18th century layout and architecture of today’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.’

5. Taking those Bath waters like a pro

Funnily enough, 18th century people weren’t all that foolish as we might like to think in our modern state. They really were onto something with the water – containing 43 minerals, it certainly has a tangy taste (I’ve tried it) and some health benefits too. 

Taking the Waters in Bath

Taking the Waters in Bath

The Thermae Bath Spa list the highest proportions of what the water contains below:

Mineral Expressed as Concentration (Hetling Spring):

Sulphate mg/l 1015 

Calcium mg/l 358 

Chloride mg/l 340 

Sodium mg/l 195 

Bicarbonate mg/l 193 

Magnesium mg/l 57 

Silica mg/l 21 

Iron mg/l 0.5

Taken from the Thermae Bath Spa’s website.

6. Sham Castle – the Folly at Bedhampton

For those who have been to Bath, you might have remembered looking up above the city and seeing a medieval castle, a shell of bygone days, looking down on the predominantly Georgian city. Perhaps you even thought, ‘Oh, jolly good, I’ll get my medieval rocks of while I’m here and pop up to those ruins.’ Well, you’d be out of luck. The castle is a sham. Sham by name, sham by nature, this folly was constructed on local gentleman Ralph Allen’s estate to add some glam to the place, in fact, it was pretty common practice in the later eighteenth century to ornament your gardens with extra, more ‘picturesque’ bits and pieces like follys and rotundas (the latter sees a good example at Petworth House in Sussex). Some even went as far as getting in a hermit to live in their grounds and drag them in for a hot meal when conversation at dinner was a little slow…I kid you not.

Sham Castle, Bath

Sham Castle, Bath

So that’s a small list of what genteel people might do to pass the time while staying in Bath. I’m going to keep reading around the subject and I’m sure it’ll be easier to find out more when my books are to hand, in the mean time, my characters will make do with some of these activities. And of course a few of them will be riding out into the Somerset countryside too (I can never resist a good horse ride), in fact, it’s quite amazing just how dramatic and delightful a ride out can be with the right people…

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Re-Enacting as a research method for historical fiction authors

I have been trawling through old photos today to have a looksee at some of those gems which I took thinking, ‘I’ll write a blog post on this when I get home’ and never did, and I have found SO MANY.

Sharpe's Rifles | Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

My favourite moment – meeting the men who played alongside Sean Bean as Sharpe’s 95th Rifles!

These ones I didn’t really take just for a blog post, it was for myself to remember it all, but I thought as I looked back through them, ‘Why not post these?!’ They were taken at a re-enactment day which included re-enactors from the Norman period right up until the Vietnam War but the ones I’m showing you are mostly from the periods I’m interested in i.e. 18th and early 19th century!

Is Re-Enacting a useful research tool?

Purple Carrots! | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

Purple carrots! Re-Enactors are very careful to be as authentic as possible, often researching primary sources themselves

Now, there is an academic debate on whether re-enacting enables or hinders the production of academic research – I settle on the side that it enables. I really do think that if you try to do something the way they did it in the past it can inform your understanding of the past providing you with real insight. In fact, a good friend of mine, M.M. Bennetts, advocated practical research for historical fiction authors. How else was one to know how it felt to be laced into a corset? Or to tie a cravat? To fence? Or to shoot a musket? All things, I hasten to add, which M.M. did.

So, I ended up popping along to this event with her and her lovely daughters quite some years ago now, and you may even see me trying to hold a musket straight (they are bally heavy I tell you!)…

In the first photo I was just double checking which end was the pointy one…the musket was definitely an interesting one. It was as big as me! I’m not that tall, but still, it was honestly almost my height and it weighed a ton – just think of young lads enlisting having to load and hold one of those up to face the French. (You can tell these photos are REALLY OLD because I have reddish hair which was years ago – it’s all blond these days).

Napoleonic Wars | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

The chap who showed me the sword looked very spiffy I had to take a photo – he was in fact in charge of this particular regiment and a true gent

Making camp – they had a camp set up in which they were sleeping for the weekend-long event and it was from here that the troops set out for the battle re-enactments:

Napoleonic Wars | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

They were very well drilled and their uniforms spotless

Regency | Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

The officers’ wives in stark contrast to the rest of the women of the camp

Then came the fighting – a real sight let me tell you – and this was one of those great learning moments. I had learnt a little of the slowness of loading a musket from watching the Sharpe TV series, however, it wasn’t just the muskets which were slow. The whole pace of battle was totally different to what I thought. It isn’t like movies where everything is going off at once, but neither is it lethargic, it’s just different and I’m thankful I went to this event to find out. If you’re interested you should go to one too and support these great guys who do it all for fun!

 

Why Re-Enactors are great people

All the re-enactors I met were SO FRIENDLY and willing to SHARE their knowledge which is just wonderful as an author. There’s nothing more pleasing and exciting then having someone explains historical things to you with an avidness that matches your own!

The battles were great – firing muskets and canon and manoeuvring. All fab.

Ready. Aim. Fire

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Napoleonic Wars | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

The French won the particular altercation I was watching – it was rather disheartening – however, I was assured that the British would be winning later in the day!

This was a really useful day for me as an author – not to mention so much fun – I highly recommend this as a way to research your books if you’re an author or historical fiction lover!

 

 

 

A hard road… Prue Batten guest posts

The wonderful Prue Batten has agreed to guest on my blog. Here she talks about researching the 12th century (a period I am not familiar with…haha), and the beauty of online research resources! Enjoy:

The twelfth century

One of the best but potentially the most frustrating things about writing historical fiction is research. In my case, within the twelfth century, I am continually learning but I also have to make extensive executive decisions along the way. Academics disagree – it’s the fundamental core of academia, I suppose, that no academic will spontaneously support another’s view on a historical fact.

Medieval bathing

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

Medieval bathing

Take for example bathing in the Middle Ages. On the one hand, no – they were dirty folk with no plumbing, and filth was endemic. But then on the perverse other hand, yes – they did bathe. Often. It may perhaps have been in the river, lakes or in the sea (unless they lived in the few castles or priories that had an early form of plumbing), but they did wash and valued cleanliness because of the disease rife in the times. I like that particular view and so follow that line.

Medieval velvet?

Or perhaps take velvet. Sharon Penman was forced to apologise for using velvet in one of her books. She says,

In Here Be Dragons, I draped Joanna and other female characters in rich velvet gowns. I later found out that velvet was not known in the 12th century.’

I consider the fact that she felt obliged to apologise unfair, because she is one of our most learned fiction writers.

Non-‘academic’ research shows that velvet did indeed exist ‘…as early as 2000 BC in Egypt, where samples of exquisitely fine linen and silk fabrics have been unearthed. An inventory list from 809 AD, of treasures belonging to Caliph Haroun al-Rashid, includes five hundred bolts of velvet…Velvet production became firmly established as an industry in the Middle East and eastern Europe by about the tenth century…Moorish Spain was a second major centre of velvet production; it had been manufactured there since 948, and various velvet-weavers’ guilds and organisations served to ensure the industry’s prosperity…’ (http://artisanssquare.com – The History of Velvet.)

In my historical fiction books, my twelfth century trading house is based in Venice and its sources of cloth are along the Mediterranean (the Middle Sea) shores and further into Constantinople. Given that trade was not only alive but expanding rapidly, it is surely not a big step to assume that velvet was traded by Moors throughout the Middle Sea, perhaps from Al-Andalus. Basic common sense would indicate that it was entirely possible and indeed probable.

Tobias & The Triptych Chronicle

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Tobias | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

‘An atmospheric journey through the seedy underbelly of medieval Europe.’ SJA Turney, author of the bestselling Marius’s Mules

When I began writing Tobias, the first book in The Triptych Chronicle, I had planned for him to travel to Byzantium, to the great city of Constantinople. However there were enormous issues in establishing a setting with complete veracity. For one thing, much of the architecture of the twelfth century and earlier was destroyed in the Fourth Crusade and the later Ottoman Invasion.

So what to do?

I spoke with a friend who by chance had discovered a stellar online resource. The link became my lifeline, the images something akin to a favoured GPS. That link was www.byzantium1200.com.

Walking around Byzantium

In an instant, I was transported. The 3-D modelling is exceptional, and daily I would wander with Tobias, arm in arm, as we discovered scenes for the drama that would eventually unfold. It wasn’t hard then, to overlay my own sensory perception of crowded streets, cobbles, of watery smells and stone waterfronts slippery with seaweed upon the images I was seeing. Slowly, Constantinople in 1194 AD came alive.

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

Hagia Sophia

In one part of the novel, Tobias must climb the Valens Aqueduct and run along the top of it, at night and in the rain. This was something I hadn’t foreseen in the novel. It was one of those lightning moments when the story rushes along without you. I wondered what the top of that aqueduct was like and being in the far-flung southern hemisphere, couldn’t immediately hop on a plane to visit. But I had images of various aqueducts, along with an image of the extant aqueduct and I was able to put them all together and create what it may have been like in the twelfth century.

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

The Aqueduct of Valens

In addition, I have a very good friend who lives in Istanbul and armed with a list of various sites of twelfth century Constantinople, she would find the unfindable and in so doing, sent me videos and sensory comment, so that I could be as truthful to the geography as possible.

Most of it was indeed unfindable – one location being the Patriarch’s Palace, which was described as being loosely ‘south west of the Augusteon’. This was one of those moments when a writer of historical fiction has to take a leap of faith and draw a conclusion that may at some point in the future, be shot down by a dissenting academic.

But the point is, to date it has worked for any reader reading Tobias, and it definitely worked for me at the time (and probably for Tobias too).

I can only say how grateful I am to those at www.byzantium1200.com for the licence they have given me to imagine. And I hope by the existence of the wonderful images, they are allowing readers to imagine as well.

By Prue Batten

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

Prue Batten, author of historical fiction including Tobias of The Triptych Chronicles, The Gisborne Saga & the fantasy series The Chronicles of Eirie

A former journalist from Australia who graduated with majors in history and politics, Prue is now an award-winning cross genre writer who enjoys creating fiction from history and fantasy.

Her eighth novel, Tobias, has been short-listed as a semi-finalist in the 2016 M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction.

She is also a farmer, dog owner, gardener, embroiderer, swimmer and kayaker.

Direct links to purchase Prue’s books are on her website. See below:

http://www.pruebatten.com

http://www.facebook.com/prue.batten.writer

http://www.pinterest.com/pruebatten