Development of spa towns

Holidaying at home

Roman baths in Bath, photo by Diliff, available through Creative CommonsSpa towns have existed in Britain at least since Roman times, when it was discovered that mineral waters from natural springs could be beneficial to the health. As travel abroad was curtailed due to the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, there was a renewed interest among the wealthy for vacationing in English spa towns. Improvements had been made in transport and roads, which made travel around the country easier and more appealing. Aside from the attraction of the curative mineral waters, spa towns became fashionable places where:

  • The upper classes could see and be seen, creating new and solidifying old connections with one another
  • Marriageable young people were introduced to society, and matches were made
  • Shopping, dancing and gambling were popular activities.

In both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey Jane Austen sets significant parts of the story in the premier spa town of Bath. She had visited Bath herself several times as well as living there from 1801-1806. Her familiarity with Bath is demonstrated through her descriptions and incorporation of actual buildings and streets.

The seaside

By the early 1800s, interest in vacationing in spa towns was declining. Although they did not have the elegance of the spa towns, seaside resort towns were becoming the new vacation destination. Jane Austen's novels reflect that transition:

  • In Persuasion, Anne's introduction to the Harvilles and the pivotal scene of Louisa's fall is set in Lyme Regis
  • In Emma, Isabella and John Knightly spend some time in Southend with their children, whilst Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill first meet in Weymouth
  • In Mansfield Park, Tom Bertram's friends, the Sneyds, stay in Ramsgate
  • In Pride and Prejudice, Wickham seduces Lydia Bennett in Brighton
  • In Sense and Sensibility, Lucy Steele and Robert Ferrars honeymoon in Dawlish.
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