‘The tiresome journey from London – it took almost two days by coach.’
Lowndes, William, 1982. They came to Bath. Bristol: Redcliffe Press.
This journey was taken by many a celebrity visiting Bath in the 17th and 18th century, some of whom stayed and grew to love the bustling, cosmopolitan spa city.
Bath then was a boom town, attracting merchants, nobility, artists, writers and politicians. They would drink the waters, gossip, socialise, shop and attend concerts and the theatre. Maybe not that much has changed.
Here are a few famous residents of yesteryear. You’ll find their plaques dotted around the city. Please share your feedback (or indeed any vintage gossip!) with us via Facebook or Twitter.
35, St. James’s Square
Here dwelt Charles Dickens 1840
One of the writers closest to the English heart is Charles Dickens – the most popular English novelist of the Victorian era. His characters live on – in films, on the page and in our minds. His books, amongst them Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Pickwick Papers and A Christmas Carol are as compelling now as they were then.
Dickens often visited his close friend Walter Savage Landor at his house at 35, St. James’s Square. According to some, the plaque is a red herring, because it is believed that Dickens didn’t even spend one night there and would return after dinner to the York House Hotel on George Street.
The city gave Dickens inspiration for at least one of his characters – it is said that Mr Pickwick was based on Moses Pickwick, landlord of the White Hart inn.
9 North Parade
Here dwelt William Wordsworth b. 1770 d. 1850
‘Rest and be thankful’ the poet William Wordsworth is famous for saying.
On the 29th April 1841, the Bath Chronicle announced that “The distinguished poet Wordsworth is at present residing in Bath, where we understand he will remain until the middle of June”.
Staying in the city to attend the wedding of his daughter Dora at St James’s Church, we like to think he rested and was thankful for some moments of solitude during his stay at number 9 North Parade.
Wordsworth had been in Somerset before, during the early days of his friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy lived near Coleridge’s home in Nether Stowey. Together, the two great poets helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature.
4, Sydney Place
Here lived Jane Austen 1801 – 1805
One of the most widely read and beloved English novelists of all time, Jane Austen is so closely associated with the city of Bath she even has a festival dedicated to her. Visit in September to find people in period costume strolling around the city.
Jane Austen grew up in Hampshire. It was here that the majority of her novels were written. When in 1800 her father Rev. Austen announced he was to retire from the ministry and move the family to Bath, Jane was reluctant; she was a country girl at heart. However, the city is the main setting for both her final novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.
The Austen family lived at 4, Sydney Place for three years, then moved to 27, Green Park Buildings, where Rev. Austen died in January 1805. Afterwards they lived at 25, Gay Street. The Jane Austen Centre on 40 Gay Street is set up as a replica of number 25.
17, The Circus
Here lived T. Gainsborough R.A. b 1727 d, 1788
British portrait and landscape painter, Thomas Gainsborough moved to Bath with his family in 1759. As an ambitious, entrepreneurial young artist, he had decided the city was exactly the sort of place in which to build his career. It wasn’t long till his talents were attracting the likes of Lord Chesterfield, Sheridan, Burke and Elizabeth Linley, all of whose portraits he painted.
He lived and worked in Bath for sixteen years, renting his house in the Circus from a Mr Penny, who he paid a quarterly rate of thirteen shillings and fourpence.* During this time he was to fulfill his ambitions of building his career and was invited to became a founder member of the Royal Academy of Arts.
One of Gainsborough’s most famous paintings, The Blue Boy, was painted during his years here. It is thought to portray Jonathan Buttall, the son of a local successful hardware merchant who was a close friend of the artist. When it was sold to the American railway pioneer, Henry Edwards Huntington in 1921 there was a public outcry. It remains to this day in the Huntington Library, California.
36 Great Pulteney Street
William Wilberforce b. 1759 d. 1833 stayed here 1802 and 1805
The British politician and philanthropist, William Wilberforce, headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807.
He stayed in Bath on a few occasions: firstly in the Royal Crescent where the parents of his new wife lived – he married in Walcot Church in 1797. Later, in 1802 and 1805, the couple chose to live at 36 Great Pulteney Street, where you’ll find the plaque. In 1831 they returned and stayed at no. 9 North Parade.
According to biographer Anne Stott, Wilberforce said in his diaries that Bath was one of the worst possible places for finding any leisure in the morning, because the door knocker was continuously going. He was something of a celebrity in the city.
With so many names of note recorded on the city’s plaques, it has been difficult choosing just five. Lives and stories line Bath’s Georgian walls, and future Reside5 blogs will certainly explore some of the lesser-known personalities.