It’s electrifying!

It’s electrifying!

Never mind the ‘Beast from the East’ we had our own ‘monster’ to help chill us in Bath earlier this week..

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An historic – if slightly chilling – event.

On the 200th anniversary of its publication, we had gathered in Abbey Church Yard to honour the woman who gave us the nightmare that is Frankenstein.

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Mary Shelley

Yes, Mary Shelley wrote the dark gothic novel while lodging in a guest house that stood alongside the Grand Pump Room.

It’s been replaced now by the Concert Hall that became the way into the Roman Baths. Mary stayed at this address after she arrived in the city in September 1816.

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My thanks to the Akeman Press Archive for this picture of the Abbey Church Yard. Mary stayed in the library building to the extreme right. This rank of buildings was demolished in the late 19th century following the discovery of the Roman Baths. Mary Shelley features in an Akeman Press publication called ‘Literary Walks in Bath: Eleven Excursions in the Company of Eminent Authors.”  written by Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliott.

While she was here she attended scientific lectures by a Dr Wilkinson in the nearby Kingston Lecture Room. He suggested that one day electricity – then in its infancy – might be used to bring inanimate matter to life.

This idea resonated with Mary who had made notes of the nightmares she had during a stormy night in Switzerland earlier that year when staying with the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Out of these experiences came the novel Frankenstein.

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The location of the – at this point in the proceedings – still curtained plaque. L to R Sir Christopher, the Chair of B&NES, Cllr Cherry Beath and the Head of Heritage Services, Stephen Bird.

Mary and Percy married in December 1816. By the time Mary left Bath in February 1817 much of the novel had been written. It was published anonymously in London in January 1818. Mary died in 1851 when 54 years old.

A plaque has been positioned above what would have been the cellar beneath her lodging house. Ironically, it now contains an electricity substation.

 

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Sir Christopher completes the unveiling with the help of the Chair of B&NES Cllr Cherry Beath.

Performing the official opening was Professor Sir Christopher Frayling – a recognised authority on Gothic fiction and film – who is also the author of ‘Frankenstein – the first two hundred years’ which is published by Reel Art Press.

The driving force behind this commemoration was Betty Suchar, Chair of the Management Committee of the Bath Royal Scientific and Literary Institute.

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The Mary Shelley plaque.

Sir Christopher, who is best known for his study of popular culture – went on to give a lecture on Mary Shelley at the BRSLI after the unveiling.

 

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Creative Producer Sheila Hannon – co-founder of the Bristol-based Show of Strength professional theatre company – which has a long history of producing new works in non-theatre spaces. She’s another keen supporter of Mary Shelley’s connections with Bath. Once again – this year – the company will be doing its ‘Walk Her (Mary Shelley’s) Footsteps’ tour of the city. That’s on various dates from March to October. Booking details via www.showofstrength.org.uk

Bath’s role in a monster novel.

Bath’s role in a monster novel.

Bath finally gets around to honouring the creator of the dark gothic novel Frankenstein next week with the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to its author  Mary Shelley.

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Mary Shelley

It’ll be attached to the outside wall of the building housing the main entrance to the Roman Baths. This former Concert Hall was built on the site of a lodging house – next to the Grand Pump Room – where Mary stayed after she arrived in the city in September 1816.

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The Abbey Church Yard 1889-90. Mary lodged in the premises to the right of The Civet Cat and to the left of the Grand Pump Room. © B&NES

While she was here she attended scientific lectures by a Dr Wilkinson in the nearby Kingston Lecture Room. He suggested that one day electricity – then in its infancy – might be used to bring inanimate matter to life.

This idea resonated with Mary who had made notes of the nightmares she had during a stormy night in Switzerland earlier that year when staying with the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Out of these experiences came the novel Frankenstein.

Mary and Percy married in December 1816. By the time Mary left Bath in February 1817 much of the novel had been written. It was published anonymously in London in January 1818. Mary died in 1851 when 54 years old.

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The former concert hall – turned Roman Baths entranceway​ now stands on the site of Mary’s lodgings. The Grand Pump Room is to the right. It’s my understanding the plaque will go on one side of the entrance way to the ticket office.

The unveiling will take place at 6pm on Tuesday, February 27th and everyone is welcome to attend.

 

 

How Frankenstein came to Bath

How Frankenstein came to Bath

One thing Bath isn’t short of – at this time of the year – and that’s groups of guided tours circulating around the busy streets of the city.

Whether it’s a Blue Badger – or a member of the Mayor’s Corps of Honorary Guides –  showing the way, there’s no shortage of places to admire and stories to recount about the personalities and characters who helped lay down local history.

On top of the conventional, there are other tours offering ghost walks, a comedy circuit of the city, a water colouring walk and even a photographic trail where you also get help on improving your camera technique.

I am a Mayor’s Honorary Guide myself – an organisation that has offered FREE tours of historical ‘hot-spots’ for over 80 years – and one of the things we point out are the bronze plaques marking houses where people of note may have lived or  at least visited.

However  – having joined a relatively new and very unusual guided tour this week – l have now been made aware of a location where a bronze plaque is sadly lacking.

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One that ought to be marking the time Mary Shelley – second wife of romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – and more importantly the author of Frankenstein – spent in Bath.

She completed her first draft  of her gothic horror story  – about a science student who brought to life a grotesque creature  he’ d built out of corpses – in 1816 and while in the city.

Now Show of Strength – a theatre company based in Bristol and who have been producing exciting new work since 1986 – have decided to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein’s birth with an ‘atmospheric, theatrical walking tour of Bath’ in which the city’s role in shaping Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece is revealed.

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The Frankenstein walk starts here at Rebecca’s Fountain by Bath Abbey

Show of Strength’s website – http://showofstrength.org.uk/productions/ – explains:

‘The summer of 1816 was extraordinary for many reasons, not least the sequence of events that unfolded while Mary Shelley completed her first draft of FRANKENSTEIN – in Bath. Revealing the dramas and scandals underlying the creation of the novel, the tour takes visitors on an adventure, retracing Mary Shelley’s footsteps and exploring the extraordinary and unmarked locations where she lived – and wrote her story.

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Actress Kristy Cox was our guide and narrator.

Revealing the dramas and scandals underlying the creation of the novel, the tour takes visitors on an adventure, retracing Mary Shelley’s footsteps and exploring the extraordinary and unmarked locations where she lived – and wrote her story.

Running nightly from the 16th June to the 30th September, brave explorers will delve into a series of real life disasters that unfolded during Mary’s time in the city. Discover the real reason Mary Shelley came to Bath, and the secrets she and her infamous companions were desperate to hide.’

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Another stopping point in Abbey Church Yard

The tour has been researched, written and produced by Sheila Hannon who takes it in turn to play the  costumed narrator role herself – along with Annette Chown – but guiding us around on my tour was actress Kirsty Cox.

Its a nice touch that her book of Mary Shelley ‘knowledge’ is covered in fake patches of hide – stitched together like the monster’s hideous assorted skins.

No holds are barred in exploring the seedy side of Regency society. There’s bigamy, illegitimate children and suicides galore in amongst all the characters surrounding this young woman of 18  about to achieve literary immortality in imagining a situation where the dead are used to bring a creature to life.

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There are frequent stops but most of the route is flat.

Tragedy and triumph, romance and despair are all woven into a street performance that was both informative and  – please forgive the pun –  even shocking in its revelations.

There’s even a bit of humour to lighten parts of this dark story in which you will discover why Mary came to Bath and why she stayed so long.

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Kirsty reading from a book of notes, facts, excerpts from letters – and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel – which is covered in a fake stitched patchwork of ‘human skin’ and the pages ‘bolted’ into place.

The whole experience lasted about an hour and a half and we walked about a mile – on the flat – with frequent pauses.

Show of Strength will no doubt move on to do other exciting productions elsewhere but l know the Company is really hoping someone will pick up on a campaign to get a plaque erected to honour the time Mary Shelley spent in the city writing a book that was to become a monster hit!

  • Tours nightly: 16th June – 30th September 7.30 pm
  • The Walk: Starts and Ends at Rebecca’s Fountain, Bath Abbey
  • Tickets: £8 cash only. No advance booking