Bath

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Shelley Sites/Sights

Bath

Bath can be a frustrating place for Shelley seekers: there seemed to be a surprising unwillingness to acknowledge the Shelleys' presence. We were looking for two sites: 5 Abbey Churchyard, where Mary and Percy had stayed in 1816, and 12 New Bond Street, where Claire Clairmont, pregnant with Byron’s daughter Allegra, had lived.
Our first stop was the local tourist board. We were referred to an imposing woman who stated flatly that the Shelleys had never even visited the city—and certainly never lived there. When we showed her the Holmes reference, she was unmoved, and assured us that he was obviously mistaken. Nor was she familiar with the 5 Abbey Churchyard address—she asked us suspiciously why we wanted it, perhaps fearing we were planning some sort of non-specific heist.

The next stop was the Bath public library, where we were once again assured that neither Shelley nor Mary had ever set foot in the town. We did discover that Abbey Churchyard was, despite the assurances of the tourist board that no such street existed, easily visible from their front door. Yet there was no record of a number 5. We were about to leave to ask at the police department, when a library patron who had overheard my inquiries timidly approached us and explained that she had recently read something about the Bath/Shelley connection. It seems that the novelist Peter Lovesey had recently completed The Vault (London: Little, Brown, 1999), a murder mystery set in Bath, whose plot relied heavily upon the Shelley residence (it’s a pretty good mystery novel, by the way).

We raced to the nearest bookstore, bought a copy, and sure enough, there were references to the Shelley party and to pictures of the Abbey Churchyard residence. Armed with this new evidence—which proved to be a good deal more compelling than my worn copy of Holmes, at least as far as the librarians were concerned—we returned to the library and were able to track down contemporary lithographs of the site. The three-story building, once attached to the pump room and across from the Abbey itself, had been demolished in the nineteenth century to make room for an extension of the pump room. I have combined a lithograph and a modern shot to provide some sense of what the place might have looked like.

12 New Bond Street, on the other hand, still exists and was easily found—a four story building, now an empty storefront. Some lovely nineteenth-century mosaic tiling still remains. What was remarkable about the site was its immediate proximity to the Abbey Churchyard residence—only two short blocks away. One could easily determine Shelley’s route as he traveled back and forth from place to place in a frantic attempt to keep both women happy.

Published @ RC

January 2006

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