Bath – Shorthand For Georgian Style
To say that he was the father of democracy might be over-cooking the goose a little, however, Sir Isaac Pitman – along with his system of shorthand - played more than a tiny part in shaping the future of British politics.
So, when you have spent months of your teenage life as a trainee journalist learning Pitman’s ‘New Era’, something akin to hero worship unwittingly lies dormant in your soul until it unexpectedly rises to the surface in that most unlikely of places: Jane Austen’s Bath!
Not the ‘and don’t forget to wash behind your ears’ variety, but that glorious Regency city a couple of hundred miles south of the M62 in lazy Somerset……another amazing ‘staycation’ to add to your bucket list.
There, on the Royal Crescent
….a plaque unassumingly announces that Sir Isaac, a healthy 84 when he departed this world in 1897, was once a resident of what is now one of the finest addresses in the world: a pad there will set you back upwards of £1m.
For the uninitiated Pitman’s shorthand is an abbreviated writing method designed to record the spoken word at far greater speed than you might using longhand.
Which is why it was adopted by Hansard, the organisation charged with producing daily verbatim reports of Parliament, in the early 1900’s.
Things may have moved on a little since then – new technology most probably plays a far bigger part these days – but that takes nothing away from the great man whose final resting place is in Bath Abbey
....in recognition, no doubt, of his outstanding contribution to both commerce and politics.
Bath is a fascinating place that should be visited time and again, for it holds a myriad of secrets and is the UK’s only UNESCO World Heritage city. Even Hollywood A-lister, Nicolas Cage, fell in love with the city and, over the years, has owned several properties there.
So, it was the treat of all treats when I was invited to partake in a ‘double stay’: one night in the Z Hotel at 7 Saw Close and a further two nights at the magnificent MGallery’s Francis Hotel in Queen Square.
Arriving on the Friday night, we were able to find space in the Charlotte Street car park, a short stroll from our first hotel
Urban chic at Bath's Z Hotel
....for just £1.50 providing you time your arrival for about 6pm. Ideally, don’t forget to download the parking app recommended on the pay and display machine. It will enable you to automatically start your parking at 8am the following morning when charges kick back in.
“We’re not serving breakfast at the moment,” the Z Hotel’s receptionist informed us but, with Covid mania still in the air, it was hardly surprising and no reason to give anyone a hard time: there are numerous early morning eateries and bars within yards of the lobby.
Z Hotels pride themselves on being at the heart of cities with ‘Urbanite Stays’ featuring ‘out-of-town prices’. Bath is no exception. Located just across from the Theatre Royal, its rooms are small...
.....neat and ‘electronic’: blinds, lights, air con, everything is available at the push of a button with the most beautifully designed compact rooms.
At just 5mx5m, give or take a few centimetres, they include everything you need…..except brekkie right now! A relaxing, quiet stay in a beautifully appointed lower cost hotel with everything just a hop and a jump from your front door.
In total contrast our next two nights were in the luxurious surrounds of The Francis Hotel on Queen Square, which we were not destined to fully appreciate until we had taken in at least some of what Bath had to offer.
It is little wonder that this architecturally stunning city became the setting for two of Jane Austen’s novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, although the story goes that Miss Austen became a little disillusioned with Bath. Nevertheless, it remained at the centre of 18th century gentrified life outside London and, for that reason, developed rapidly, attracting the great, the good and the wealthy! The only thing I was missing was a powdered wig and a frock coat!
John Wood the elder and his son – yes, you’ve guessed it – John Wood the younger, are the two architectural geniuses who mapped the look for much of the city including Queen Square, which I would soon have the privilege of waking up to two mornings in a row.
“Mushy peas sir?”
A brave question for a Southerner to ask someone from the North, however, at the ‘Beautifully British’ Scallop Shell on Monmouth Place, the staff had little to worry about...
...because this restaurant clearly dishes up some of the finest fish fare in Bath and has nailed the delicate art of making mushy peas!
It was Friday night and after a 230-mile drive south we needed some Northern comfort. What better than a place geared up to a mushy pea fiesta?However, the offering is somewhat broader than haddock and chips! Whether it is sardines, mussels, oysters, scallops, or a raft of other fishy delicacies...
...you can be assured of a wonderfully buzzy atmosphere, some great nosh, prompt service and the absence of any pressure to move on rapidly. Smashing!
The following morning we were up and away from the Z Hotel by 11am knowing that we’d be way too early for a Francis Hotel check in. However, the Francis kindly let us leave our vehicle in the hotel car park, giving us the best part of the day to explore Bath before checking in nearer 5pm.
And, even though we had hop on hop off bus tickets for two full days, we decided to ‘walk’ the city and its tight perimeter.
And that is the beauty of Bath, it is both compact and architecturally stunning with every corner you turn: Queen Square, across to Gay Street, up to The Circus and a then a short walk to the Royal Crescent, Marlborough Lane and the Botanical Gardens. All doable on foot, all breath-taking backdrops.
A little nearer the centre you will find the oldest dwelling in the city, now Sally Lunn’s eating house on North Parade Passage…...the indoor Guildhall Market….
…where you can learn the true meaning of ‘to pay on the nail’ and, of course, the 8th century Abbey which sits adjacent to both the Pump Rooms – now a very push eatery run by the council -– along with the Roman Baths, probably the finest of their type in the country.
The Abbey is deserving of your time – and photos – and the Baths are an absolute one off that shouldn’t be missed.
There’s a Roman saying that goes something like: “Baths, wine and sex ruin our bodies. But what makes life worth living except baths, wine and sex?” The Pump Rooms probably have vino, you can get a soak at your hotel and the sex……well, discretion is the better part of valour. ‘nuff said!
It was time to check in; we were foot weary and the pangs of hunger were setting in.
The Francis Hotel probably has one of the finest locations in Bath, tarnished only slightly at the moment by external ‘social distancing’ bollards. However, the property itself is beautiful, welcoming and totally geared up to the ‘new normal’ and all things Covid!
But masks and hand sanitiser to one side
...you can be assured of a magnificent four-poster bed, optional room service, or breakfast / evening meals in the Brasserie Blanc where meals are now brought directly to your table in the name of hygiene and personal safety.
Masks abounded but there were still lots of smiling eyes among the army of waiters who were in competition to bring us extra this, that and the other: they couldn’t have been more helpful.
The following morning it was our first and last opportunity to take advantage of the hop on hop off bus service so we opted for the Yellow Line Skyline Tour, which takes in the outskirts of the city – including the National Trust’s Prior Park along with other must sees like The Holburne Museum and the amazing Pulteney Bridge
...a mini take on Venice’s Rialto Bridge with shops overlooking the impressive weir and sluice below!
However, Prior Park and its Palladian Bridge
..with graffiti dating back hundreds of years is fantastic, even if it does take a reasonably challenging walk to reach it.
Established by local businessman and stone quarry entrepreneur Ralph Allen in the 1700’s, with the assistance of Capability Brown and his friend Alexander Pope, Allen established the landscape gardens and its mansion, now a private school, as a statement of both wealth and his social standing.
However, the compelling graffiti – I found one going back to 1833 – was not compelling enough to keep me away from the Francis Hotel’s ‘Emily’s Tea Room’ where an afternoon interspersed with sandwiches, cakes and scones, awaited.
The splendid spread filled a gap splendidly, leaving us ‘full up’ or, as my history teacher used to say, ‘Mr Hopkins satiated is a bar better word,’. We were soon ready to retire into our Egyptian cotton sheets so that we could muster up the energy for the 230 mile drive North the following morning.
The Francis Hotel is a treat, so is the city in which it is located.
I have also learned two key lessons from my brief trip to Somerset: that a bAth is a device in which you wash your nether regions (Northern pronunciation!)……but BAHth (Southern pronunciation!) is a splendid city to the south of the M62 which will never require either Flash or Domestos to remove the tide mark!
Go before you die. A fantastic staycation!
Z Hotel: www.thezhotels.com
Francis Hotel: www.francishotel.com
Scallop Shell: www.thescallopshell.co.uk
Roman Baths: www.romanbaths.co.uk
Hop On, Hop Off Bus Service:www.city-sightseeing.com
Prior Park: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/prior-park-landscape-garden
Guildhall Indoor Market: www.bathguildhallmarket.co.uk
Visit Bath: www.visitbath.co.uk