We Did It. Jane Austen Guinness World Record regained
The Jane Austen Festival in Bath, which began this weekend, has reclaimed the title of 'Largest Gathering of People Dressed in Regency Costumes'. The Guinness World Record was originally set in 2009 by the festival itself, which is held each September and recognised as the biggest of its kind in the world, when 409 people gathered in the famous Assembly Rooms in the city. This July, however, that number was surpassed by 491 American Austen festival-goers in Greater Louisville, as part of an event organised by the Jane Austen Society of North America. Although this figure had yet to be officially recognised by Guinness, it was the one the UK Jane Austen Festival had set itself to beat. On Saturday (13 Sept), with 550 men, women and children, all suitably attired in Regency costumes, they did so. Adrian Lukis, who played George Wickham in the BBC's celebrated 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, opened proceedings. Adrian was guest of honour, having become the festival’s patron earlier in the year. The announcement of the new record was made by MC John White. The record attempt, which took place once again in the famous Assembly Rooms, is just one of the highlights of what organisers are calling the biggest festival yet in the event’s fourteen year history. After leaving the Assembly Rooms, participants then took part in the Grand Regency Promenade – a spectacular costumed perambulation through the streets of Bath that traditionally marks the opening of the festival – making their way past many of the world heritage site’s most iconic landmarks, such as the Royal Crescent and the Circus.
The rest of the festival programme, which runs between 12th – 21st September, includes more than eighty events, starting with Jo Baker – acclaimed author of Longbourn, soon to be made into a film – and ending ten days later with a performance by the hugely popular and widely acclaimed Austentatious. In between these two events, there are walks, talks, performances and readings, along with many more events celebrating and reflecting both the famous writer herself - who stayed in the city between 1801 and 1806 - and the period in which she lived. Other highlights are a series of performances at the Mission Theatre, Corn Street. These include: ‘Austen – a musical’; Pride & Promiscuity!’ performed by New Zealander Penny Ashton as part of a world tour; and a unique version of ‘Northanger Abbey’ by the Box Tale Soup Theatre Company.
This year also marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen’s most contentious book - Mansfield Park – and this is celebrated by the reading of the entire text over the course of eight days at Bath Central library, a talk and discussion by Professor John Mullan and a rare outing for ‘Lover’s Vows’, the controversial play that appears within the book. The final weekend of the festival will include a Regency Costumed Masked Ball (Sept 19) which will be held in another iconic Bath building, the Pump Rooms. Jackie Herring, director of the Jane Austen Festival said: “It is absolutely marvelous we have reclaimed the record with 550 people and such a wonderful round figure, as well. It was touch and go for a while but then we had a rush at the end. It a fantastic way to start the festival and bring the record back to the city Jane Austen called home for several years of her life."