The Journal of Eveline Helm, Part Two
Dear Reader, I hope that this journal of my time in Bath should prove to be helpful to you. In reading it may you be spared the numerous faux pas and embarrassments that I was not. I truly feel that if this work should prevent even one other young lady from public ridicule in the Assembly Rooms of Bath then it will have been wholly worthwhile. Humbly yours, Eveline Helm.
June, 1797Although I am, as I have said before, most impatient to see the city of Bath itself, I am as yet unable to. This is because the journey in my Uncle’s chaise took a little more than eight hours, which was as expected. As we left not too long after a relatively late ten o’clock breakfast, we arrived in Bath at a quarter past seven, which is, of course, just in time for dinner; a meal which we were all more than ready for. Unfortunately there was no dinner waiting for us, as we had not sent the few servants whom my Uncle had brought with us on ahead in order to make the necessary arrangements. On our arrival therefore, whilst James, my Uncle’s valet, and Mr Johnson, his butler, were taking our bags inside and depositing their contents into their appropriate places, our cook, Mrs Drewit, made the bold move of going out into town in the now empty chaise to try and procure us some sustenance. My Uncle, meanwhile, was busy making further arrangements that I know not the details of; possibly something more to do with the house, or possibly to do with the business for which he has come to town. As all of this was going on around us, my Aunt and I seized the opportunity for some distraction from our empty stomachs and set off to explore the house. Number three, the Paragon, is built, at least from the outside, in a style identical to the two houses adjoining it on either side. The façades, like those of the other buildings in Bath, are constructed entirely from the pale oolite limestone that the city is famous for, and that has made Ralph Allen, the Mayor of Bath and the owner of the stone mines, exceedingly rich. Each house is a tall, slim building consisting of a basement, which is hidden below street level but visible through the grates which are set in the pavement to allow daylight down into these rooms; a ground floor; a first floor with three identical sash windows, the central one of these having a carved triangular pediment above it; a second floor; and then the attic rooms whose three windows protrude outwards from the slate covered mansard roofs, into which are also set large stone chimneys. However, whilst outwardly the buildings of the Paragon look the same, on the inside it is a different matter. Each house was built according to the specific wishes of its first occupant. As such, some parlours may be bigger than others, some houses may have more bedrooms within them only all of a smaller size, some houses may have even have a gentleman’s retreat, and so on and so forth. As my Aunt had not been able to view the house before she and my Uncle had taken out their lease on it, but rather chosen their address in town based on recommendations given to them by one of my Uncle’s business acquaintances, she was almost as keen to explore the rooms as I was. On the ground floor we went through the first door that was on the left as you entered the high-ceilinged hallway. Within was a room that was richly decorated in the contemporary style, with deep mauve wallpaper hung on the walls and a patterned Wilton carpet on the floor. Heavy red velvet drapes hung at the windows and in the centre of the room was a large oval wooden table, surrounded by twelve padded chairs. “A nicely sized dining room,” surmised my Aunt. “Most agreeable and just the right size for a pleasant dinner party.” “Do we know enough people in Bath to hold a dinner party?” I asked. “We are bound to. It is the season after all. Though we shall know more tomorrow I daresay. Besides,” she added, “if it were to turn out that the city was entirely devoid of our friends, which is most unlikely, this being Bath, we would surely be in possession of a plethora of amiable new acquaintances in only a day or two.” “We should?” “Oh, yes. You will see what I mean soon enough.” The existence of a dining room confirmed, we continued exploring and went on to establish that also on the ground floor was a parlour (with bookcases, a writing desk and enough space for a fold-out breakfast table), and that this was one of the houses with a gentleman’s retreat, which my Uncle would be using as his study. Carrying on to the next floor as we made our way up the grand staircase I felt so elegant that I could be the Duchess of Devonshire herself, and the polished bannister rail slid like glass beneath my fingertips and sent a shiver up my spine. On the first floor we inspected the entertaining rooms. These were the withdrawing room and the main bedroom of the house that would be my Aunt’s. The withdrawing room I did not like quite as much as the bedroom. I admired the piano forte and the floral design on the pale gold wallpaper, and it was of course far more luxurious than the rooms below as this was designed to be the main room for receiving within the house, and so had soft furnishings (and the most beautiful tea chest I have ever seen). However, I still preferred the white and pale blue décor in my Aunt’s bedroom, and was pleased to recall that morning visitors at least might be shown into this room along with myself. I hope we might have a good deal of morning visitors. Next we continued up to the second floor. There was my Uncle’s bedroom on the left hand side of the stairs – a rather less grand affair than my Aunt’s, but still very nice, and complete with a shaving stand, large four-post bed, and good wardrobe. Off to the right of the landing was another bedroom, and this would, my Aunt told me, be my bedroom for the duration of our stay; what did I think of it? The answer to that is that I like it very much. It has blue green wallpaper on the upper half of the walls but is painted white below the border rail. I have a most striking fireplace with a detailed plaster surround, a dressing table, a chest of drawers, a mirror, a padded hard-back chair and a very comfortable double bed, again with drapes and four posts, entirely for my own use! That would be more than enough to delight me on its own, but from my windows I find also have the great pleasure of being able to see the comings and goings on the busy street below. I would probably be able to see even further, perhaps even up and over the roof of the house opposite, from the next floor, but my Aunt said that this second floor was as high as we would go. “The attic rooms,” she explained, “are the domain of James, Mr Johnson and MrsDrewit. As such I think we should leave the perusal of those to them.” Our tour of the second floor being done, my Aunt also concluded that we should leave the basement rooms of the kitchen, the scullery and the servants’ hall (the only rooms of the house aside from those in the attic which I have not recorded here) to Mrs Drewit’s thorough inspection. “I must confess," she said, "that I would scarcely know better what constitutes a well stocked kitchen than that which passes for a functional gun cupboard. It is better that Mrs Drewit takes stock of the servants quarters and informs us of anything further that she requires.” I am not quite so ignorant in the domestic department as my Aunt. She was brought up as the only child of rich parents who, she says, doted on her. Her days were entirely filled with the gaining of accomplishments. I on the other hand, as one of six, have found opportunities to sneak off into the kitchens to beg treats from our own cook, Mrs Grey, who was kind enough to let me help her from time to time with her famous apple pies, by making the pastry lids, and with the kneading of bread dough and other such tasks. I rather enjoyed it, though I know I possibly shouldn’t have, and should have preferred to be engaged with my needle or with my painting. Until this point I have managed to distract myself from my rumbling stomach with recording the layout of the house. However, now I have allowed my mind to wander onto such happy memories of baking I am reminded of its barren state once more. Hopefully soon Mrs Drewit will be back and my raging appetite will be appeased. Then once we have eaten, Uncle said, we will go into town and see about making our presence known. I am yet to ascertain exactly what he means by this, because when I asked him to explain he simply winked at me. I am half barely contained excitement, half nerves. I own I really am so desperately keen to make a good impression...
The journal of Eveline Helm's time in Bath has made its way online thanks to Jenni Waugh, one of our tour guides at the Jane Austen Centre. She writes: "I couldn't resist sharing Eveline's exploits. I hope everyone else finds them as interesting and entertaining as I did!"