Entertainment | The Victoria Art Gallery


Bath Entertainment

When Jane Austen lived in Bath, the city was second only to London for culture.  The best actors and musicians of the day performed here, using this as a proving ground to hone their skills before moving on to the capital.

The Austen family loved performing in their own amateur dramatic productions and were enthusiastic theatre-goers.  Jane must have been excited at the prospect of seeing famous actors perform at Bath’s Orchard Street Theatre.

Bath had many other entertainments on offer – puppet shows, concerts, firework displays in Sydney Gardens and, of course, balls at the Assembly Rooms.

Listening to clergymen preach at the Abbey and in the chapels was a social occasion as much as a duty.  Any vicar visiting Bath including George Austen, Jane’s father, was invited to preach in the Abbey.

Walking was one of Jane Austen’s favourite activities.  She walked for miles around Bath.  Her letters report walks to many destinations including Charlecombe, Weston, Twerton and along the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Image: Ball at the Upper Assembly, By Thomas Rowlandson, around 1798

Ball at the Upper Assembly

By Thomas Rowlandson, around 1798

‘I dressed myself as well as I could, and had all my finery much admired at home. By nine o’clock my Uncle, Aunt and I entered the rooms...Before tea, it was rather a dull affair; but then the before tea did not last long, for there was only one dance, danced by four couple. Think of four couple, surrounded by about a hundred people, dancing in the upper rooms at Bath!’  Jane Austen’s Letters, May 1801

Image: Bath Theatre in Orchard Street, By T Woodfall, 1804

Bath Theatre in Orchard Street

By T Woodfall, 1804

‘Well mother I have done something for you that you will like.  I have been to the theatre and secured a box for tomorrow night… I know you love a play and there is room for us all.  It holds nine. I have engaged Captain Wentworth.  Anne will not be sorry to join us’  Persuasion

Georgian Bath had one of the best theatres in the country. Many talented and famous actors appeared there.

Image: Sydney Gardens, By John Claude Nattes, 1805

Sydney Gardens 

By John Claude Nattes, 1805

‘Last night we were in Sydney Gardens again… we were in very good time for the Fire-works, which were really beautiful & surpassing my expectations – the illuminations too were very pretty’  Jane Austen’s Letters, 19 June 1799

Sydney Gardens was not a public park, but a privately-run pleasure garden. There were concerts, fireworks and other entertainments, and grottoes and a labyrinth to explore.

Image: In the Concert Room, By Thomas Rowlandson, 1798

In the Concert Room

By Thomas Rowlandson, 1798

‘Upon Lady Russell’s appearance soon afterwards, the whole party was collected, and all that remained was to marshall themselves, and proceed into the Concert Room; and be of all the consequence in their power, draw as many eyes, excite as many whispers and disturb as many people as they could’  Persuasion

Image: Robert William Elliston, By Robert Cooper, 1828

Robert William Elliston

By Robert Cooper, 1828

Mr Elliston was Jane Austen’s favourite actor. He was a talented and charismatic man. Aged 17, he had run away from his home in London to become an actor in Bath. Bath’s Orchard Street Theatre was his professional base for several years, but he also performed in London.

Mr Elliston was a well-known and much-admired actor. Many Bath visitors, including the Austens, would have been excited at the prospect of seeing him perform here.

Image: At Sewards, By John Nixon, around 1800

At Sewards

By John Nixon, around 1800

Sewards was a Bath puppet theatre. We do not know whether Jane Austen went to any performances there. However, as she was a devoted and indulgent aunt to her many nieces and nephews, it is quite likely that she went to Sewards.