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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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