Tuesday, 21 September 2010

I go in search of Jane Austen's Lyme Regis

A long post for which I apologise!

The museum at Lyme, and a distant view from the beach near the museum to the Cobb.

You've probably realized that I'm a bit of a Jane Austen fan.  I also like Lyme Regis, so combine the two and I have a heavenly day out.

I decided to walk around the town and see if there was anything remaining in the way of buildings or information, that would help me see Lyme as Jane had when she visited in 1803 and 1804.  Apparently, she was very fond of the town; she talked about walking, bathing, dancing and people watching in a letter of the time. Her warm descriptions of the place also surface in her novel, Persuasion.

Above is the bottom of the main street through the town, leading down to the sea. To the right of the building on it's own in the middle, is Pyne house where she initially stayed with her family. She later moved to cheaper accommodation further up the street when some of the family moved on. In a letter dated 14th September 1804, she talks about Lyme to her sister Cassandra, and says

"we are quite settled in our Lodgings by this time, as you may suppose, and everything goes on in the usual order. The servants behave very well and make no difficulties, tho' nothing certainly can exceed the inconvenience of the Offices, except the general Dirtiness of the House and furniture, and all it's Inhabitants"

A small pamphlet  of which there is an extract below, also mentions that the town has:

"The excellence of Provisions in this part of England is not exceeded, and at more moderate prices than elsewhere. - Fish is abundant, and the supply regular; especially Turbot, Brill, Soles, etc. The Prawns here are remarkably fine; Lobsters are abundant. The Town is likewise well supplied with Poultry, Butter, Eggs, etc. The Lodging Houses are let very reasonably".

Cheap lodging were essential as Jane was unmarried and reliant on others for financial support.

To the right is a map of Lyme showing the main points of interest, and those places mentioned in Persuasion, and below is an extract from a pamphlet published in 1817 describing some of the places to see in Lyme. She died in 1817.

She mentions in her letters to her sister Cassandra, the joys of the Assemblies, and dancing etc.

In search of the place where Louisa Musgrove bumps her brain and forces our hero to notice how useful his heroine is.

Persuasion was Jane Austen's  last novel, published in 1817, 2 years after her death from (suspected) Addisons disease (inactive adrenal glands, sometimes caused by tuberculosis. Symptoms include weakness, loss of energy, low blood pressure and dark pigmentations of the skin. Fatal in Jane Austen’s time, but is now controlled by hormone replacement therapy)
In Persuasion there is a denouement at the point that Lousia Musgrove falls and cracks her head on the Cobb…….

“There was too much wind to make the high part of the new Cobb pleasant for the ladies, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower, and all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa; she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth. In all their walks, he had had to jump her from the stiles; the sensation was delightful to her. The hardness of the pavement for her feet, made him less willing upon the present occasion; he did it however; she was safely down, and instantly, to shew her enjoyment, ran up the steps to be jumped down again. He advised her against it, thought the jar too great; but no, he reasoned and talked in vain; she smiled and said, “I am determined I will”: he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless!” 

Here’s the higher part of the Cobb for you, showing the upper and lower levels.

You can see there are no hand rails and the top has quite a camber. I was a bit unhappy to be walking along it on a sunny, calm day, and can appreciate that it would be dangerous in a flappy long dress and flimsy shoes, in strong winds, and especially if the sea was crashing against the side of the wall.

I could find 2 sets of steps that may be contenders for those in the book. Since Jane visited in 1803 there have been alterations to the Cobb and the steps may have been different; I could find no records in the museum. I’d like to think that one of these sets of steps were the very ones she was talking about; they certainly look old enough. DH is kindly demonstrating the ease of ascent!

The second set of steps look easier to manage if you were in a long dress. The first lot also known as Grannies Teeth, look a bit precarious and I didn't even try them in my trainers.

Before I leave here are a couple of photos of Harville Cottage and Benwick Cottage. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest these are the two houses mentioned in Persuasion, but they are in the right place, and look old enough.  Because of the angle I took the photos at, they don't show that both cottages are thatched.

 A watercolour done of Jane by her sister Cassandra whilst at Lyme. Note the undone bonnet ribbons. I'm also puzzled slightly by her position. Are both knees drawn up, and rather inelegantly parted? Is one leg flat on the ground?  Or perhaps Cassandra hasn't quite got her posititon right. I wonder what she's thinking of gazing out from her vantage point.

and, finally, a photo of the harbour. I believe The French Lieutenant's Woman was also shot here.


  1. Thanks for this post from another confirmed jane-ite. And yes The French Lieutenants Woman was shot here - the original novel was set here too. Also a recent book by Tracey Chevalier, based on the story of Mary Anning

  2. Hi Annabel, what an interesting post! Lovely photos! I am a big Jane Austen fan so really enjoyed this! Thanks! Leanne xx