Jane Austen took up her quill pen and, in her novel Northanger Abbey, she described a cross-written letter which had been received. Such letters are now very rare, but one from our own collection is on display at this Museum.
It is almost impossible to read at first because the writer has written horizontally and vertically on the page (hence: cross written) in order to save money on postage costs, but a transcript is close by. Jane may then have written a letter, no doubt to her sister Cassandra, which would have been transported on the speedy cross-country postal service which had been hugely improved by Ralph Allen when he was Postmaster here in Bath, reforming the entire postal system (outside London) from his offices in the city.
Sarah Siddons, one of Britain’s most talented performers and the finest tragic actress of her era, was one of John Palmer’s group of players. The beautiful portrait of her by Thomas Gainsborough is known by many as one of his most famous works. After performing at Palmer’s Theatre Royal in Bath for a period, the players and theatrical props would be transported in fast coaches to his Theatre Royal in Bristol for a further run. Impressed by this rapid transport, Palmer devised from Bath the introduction of a hugely improved network of Royal Mail coaches in 1784 (the year before Gainsborough painted Sarah Siddons). These became the fastest and safest mode of travel until railways were widely built from the 1830s.
Charles Dickens wrote, also with a goose-quill pen, detailed descriptions of such mail coach journeys in Pickwick Papers and some of his other novels, illustrating his own familiarity with the Royal Mail coach, as our unique Royal Mail Coach display explains.
Jane Austen, Sarah Siddons and many other important visitors to Bath travelled in this prestigious way. A visit to this Museum will reveal how the slowness of life was excitingly transformed by Allen and Palmer’s organisational abilities.
27 Northgate Street, Bath, BA1 1AJ
Telephone: 01225 460333