Literary Lyme – from Jane Austen to Little Pig Robinson

I’ve visited Lyme Regis on at least one occasion every year since I first came down to Branscombe in 2007. On several of the previous visits I’ve gone fossiling. Needless to say the five-year olds on these tours found many fossils and I found never found any. Of course, they are a lot nearer to the ground. That’s my excuse, anyway.

This year on the recommendation of one my readers I’d booked to go on a Literary Lyme Walking Tour on the theme of Jane Austen in Lyme Regis.

I should mention here that the weather on this August Bank Holiday Monday was simply appalling – wind, rain and high seas. This was such a shame at the end of summer and of most people’s holidays.

The arrangement was to meet at the anchor in the middle of town where the main shopping street drops down to the sea wall.

On a previous visit to the Town Museum I had noticed that Beatrix Potter had written and illustrated one of her longer children’s books here : Little Pig Robinson. I asked Natalie if she could pick out any of the locations featured in this book. She did and I made a note of these for future reference.

I had thought that I could probably work out a Jane Austen walk for myself using Google and Caroline Sanderson’s book A Rambling Fancy: in the footsteps of Jane Austen which has a chapter on Jane in Lyme but to have my own private and knowledgeable guide proved well worthwhile.

Using copies of old prints of the town Natalie Manifold (who is Literary Lyme) began our JA tour explaining the origin and history of the famous Cobb. The dates connected with The Cobb will prove to be important when we eventually arrive there!

Photo taken on a previous visit when the weather was as it should be!

Our first stop was just a few paces away on Coombe Street where the old post office stood. It’s now Old Lyme Guest House but a plaque on the wall records the PO fact and the old letterbox is still in situ.

It’s said that at this very box Jane mailed her letters (single sheet and postage paid by the recipient) to her sister Cassandra after the latter had left Jane in Lyme in order to accompany other family members to Weymouth.

After a quick nod to Banksy (an origami crane with goldfish) we headed up Sherborne Lane. From there we arrived at Broad Street, Lyme’s main thoroughfare. Our next ‘Jane’ location was the now disused Three Cups Hotel which was Hiscott’s Boarding House in JA’s time and where she initially stayed on her visit to Lyme Regis. (Incidentally, it’s also the hotel where General Eisenhower stayed whist the D-Day Landings were being planned in 1945.) Jane also stayed a few doors down at Pyne House after several members of her family upped sticks and moved on to Weymouth.

A couple of steps from Pyne House Natalie showed me an old print of Lyme :

View from Pyne House (courtesy of Lyme Regis Museum)

The same view on Monday 27 August 2012

A walk along Marine Parade took us past a couple of blue-painted cottages named Harville and Benwick. Built after the publication of ‘Persuasion’ (the Austen novel in which Lyme features) they were named following Francis Palgrave‘s mistaken identification of these buildings as the homes of Captains Harville and Benwick. Natalie showed me the more likely candidates for these homes a little further along the Parade.

Harville and Benwick Cottages from The Jane Austen Garden

There’s a rather overgrown garden dedicated to Jane Austen but apparently all the references are wrong so it has been rather left to run to seed.

Finally, we walked along The Cobb. Not on the upper, exposed part but below at road level, and we studied the three sets of steps which have puzzled Jane Austen fans for some time. The set of “Gyn Steps” were not built until after Jane Austen’s time,

the second set called Granny’s Teeth were thought by many to have brought about Louisa’s fall

but Natalie maintains and insists (supported by a reading from the very passage in ‘Persuasion’) that these are the very steps from which Captain Wentworth failed to catch Louisa as jumped from the Cobb.

The walk ended here but we made our way back together to our starting point. A huge waved had blown right over the Cobb and soaked us both thoroughly and much as I would have liked to have investigated the Little Pig Robinson locations I decided that enough was enough and such pleasures must wait another day!

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10 comments on “Literary Lyme – from Jane Austen to Little Pig Robinson

  1. ms6282 says:

    I’m sorry you didn’t have your usual good weather when you visited Lyme, but you seem to have made the most of your visit despite the conditions. We were very lucky when we were on holiday there in early July given the miserable summer we’ve had. It was really good to see your photos to remind me of this really pleasant, historic little town.

    The literary tour sounded really interesting. I’m not a great fan of Jane Austen myself but I think I would have enjoyed hearing about the literary connections. I do like John Fowles’ work, though. Did the tour cover the French Lieutenant’s woman? By the sounds of it you could have re-enacted the scene with Meryl Streep at the end of the Cobb!

  2. dianabirchall says:

    Agree with Natalie. Have long thought that Granny’s Teeth are really too hard for anybody to climb in a long dress! Those steps are WIDE. I’m sorry I have a negative view of Lyme, directly traceable to a trip about 25 years ago when it wasn’t quite so discovered and Jane Marketish. We had The. Worst. Hotel. In. The. World. Hosts drunkenly fighting like pigs, and food that I would not put before swine. I never could get rid of the awful associations!

    • Yes, Diana, I remember this steps discussion in our online group a couple of years ago. Natalie said just the same as you about running up the steps. She also read the passage which indicated that at the time of writing, if I remember correctly, the steps were in the newest part of the seawall. I’m so sorry that you had a dreadful hotel experience at Lyme. If you would join me there one day I’m sure you would come away with a revised opinion ;-).

  3. Nilly says:

    What a lovely visit to Literary Lyme! I think I’d happily put up with the above mentioned hotel for a visit. (I miss it even though we were there a few weeks ago.)
    Thank you!

    • Lyme seems to have been very popular with my ‘readers’ this year! The weather was so bad and I got so wet that I couldn’t do all I hoped to do that day. Still, I will be back there next year.

  4. honoriaplum says:

    Persuasion is one of my favourite novels and I enjoyed the film adaptation starring Amanda Root, which featured the same very steps. I might even visit Lyme myself next year.

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