In researching what Regency folk did on their trips to vacation towns, I was surprised how well I could relate to what they did. Some of it reminded me of trips to places like Minocqua, Wisconsin.
Because when you’re there, staying in a rustic cabin or resort on a nearby lake, you do a lot of the same things that Regency vacationers did. Bored, or having a cloudy day, we go into town and visit: the library, the coffee shop, perhaps a theater’s open somewhere. One might buy clothes (t-shirts nowadays), or hats (caps, visors), or a newspaper.
Active people took walks, made rendezvous, picnics, tours, visited waterfalls, paid to enter local attractions, went to dances and concerts, and out to breakfast. I’ve done all those activities on vacation.
It would seem our vacations aren’t as completely different as we may have thought.
What’s your favorite vacation activity? Do you go to resort/vacation communities?
In the last few decades of the 18th century, roads improved greatly. Turnpikes were created and the increased speed of the mail coaches gave rise to a new industry: tourism.
As evidenced in multiple Austen novels, people in the Regency era were as enthralled with the grand houses and estates as we are today. The biggest difference is that then the homes were still occupied, with the majority of rooms still being used by the family.
One must wonder who first had the courage to knock on the door and pay a housekeeper to take them on a tour of someone else’s house. There is little doubt that payment of some form was involved. Servants were used to garnering tips from invited house guests. How much more would they expect from an uninvited stranger?
Journals and letters from the time period do bring into question how often people were actually admitted into various houses, but the practice of requesting a tour is brought up enough to assume there was a certain level of success. Some houses were visited so frequently that they actually designated certain days for public tours.
Some of these houses are still open to the public today. Many have maintained their styling and furniture from the 19th century, giving you a fair idea of what they would have looked like during the Regency period.
Once such house is Chatsworth. Immensely popular as a tourist attraction during the Regency, the house is maintained for visitors today. Many think Jane Austen’s Pemberly was modeled after Chatsworth. Indeed it was even used for filming the Pemberly scenes in the 2005 film.
Other popular homes that are still open for visits today include Blenheim Palace, Cliveden (which you can actually spend the night at for a hefty sum), Stowe, and Wilton House. For some houses, guidebooks were printed – often by the owner themselves. These books could be purchases in the village and brought along with you when you toured the house.
Have you toured any of the grand Regency estates in England? Which was your favorite?
Kristi here. Great Britain, in case you’ve never noticed, is an island. This water-locked state meant that travel beyond the borders was expensive, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous. While some still traveled, choosing to spend months if not years abroad in Europe, the state of the things with Napoleon at the beginning of the Regency era had many taking holiday trips a little closer to home.
Sea-bathing was an extremely popular pursuit, giving rise to many seaside resort towns that rose and fell in the elite’s fickle popularity. The idea was that the mineral-rich waters would heal many of a body’s ailments. More than likely it was the removal from the smog-encrusted air of London and the bit of exercise that proved beneficial.
The process of seabathing was a bit cumbersome. Because of the need for modesty, women and men did not enter the waters together. Large changing houses would be wheeled to the water’s edge. Women would change into their very cumbersome swimming costumes and then exit the back door of the changing house and enter the water.
Many small towns on along England’s southern coast tried to lure the rich to visit. They started large seaside building projects including piers, guest houses, and shops. Where sleepy fishing villages had once lived, tourist draws now reigned. Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon, was about one such town. It depicted the exaggerations and tales that those craving progress were prone to tell to lure the elite while those who were more practical and liked their town the way it was bristled at the massive changes. Sadly, we have no idea how Austen would have ended her novel. Would Sanditon have become a successful town? Or would it be stuck with progressive buildings and a disgruntled populace?
Some of those real seaside villages were successful. Towns such as Eastbourne, Blackpool, and Ramsgate achieved a certain level of popularity, but no town could compete with Brighton during the Regency thanks to the Prince Regent’s frequent visits there.
Brighton Pavilion, the royal residence in the area, underwent significant renovations under the Prince Regent. It was turned into a showplace with spires and turrets galore. Nothing was overlooked in creating the splendor of Brighton Pavilion. Even the stables were a work of architectural art.
Because of the Prince’s preference, Brighton won the seaside battle in the early 19th century. It was rivaled only by Bath, which while not actually located on the coast, had the benefit of an abundant natural spring of hot, mineral rich water. Many sickly people moved permanently to Bath.
Are you a beach-goer? What is your favorite seaside town to visit?