This is the fourth of my series of blogs, Five things you might not know about Jane Austen.
Amongst my collection of books (well other members of my family call it a library) I have a delightful old children’s book, Scenes in England for the Amusement and Instruction of little Tarry-At-Home Travellers, by the Rev Isaac Taylor a prolific children’s author of the period.
Published in 1822 it is just the sort of book that would have been found in the schoolroom at Pemberley and one can imagine Elizabeth reading it to her children and remembering her eventful trip to the north ten years previously. For the book is a description of a large number of places of interest throughout the country and through it we can follow Elizabeth Bennet as she took the tourist trail from Hertfordshire to Derbyshire.
The initial part of the journey took them through ‘Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick and Kenilworth’
Then on to Derbyshire to ‘Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, and the Peak’.
All of these places are still tourist attractions today, though there was one place mentioned that doesn’t seem to fit the idea of the Regency tourist destination – Birmingham. This is what the Rev Taylor has to say about it.
‘Oh, what place are we coming to now? it seems as if it were all on fire; what a cloud of smoke rises into the air !
Well it might seem so, for this place is Birmingham, where the furnaces, and the glass-houses, and the steam-engines, shoot up torrents of sulphurous smoke: where every workshop (and they are all workshops) has its several chimneys, puffing up smoke, smoke, smoke, into the loaded atmosphere. Not only do the coals consumed. darken thus the air, but gasses, and fumes from metals, and oils, and varnishes, and every sort of manufacture, help, not only to becloud, but almost to poison the atmosphere.’
So why would Elizabeth and her uncle and aunt want to visit this town, bedevilled by industrial pollution, again Taylor gives the answer.
‘And pray what do they make at Birmingham? Rather say, what do they not make? for they make almost everything: all sorts of hardware, especially knives and scissors, and all sorts of steel-ware, up to fire irons, and fenders, Candlesticks, and all sorts of brass utensils; tea kettles, and copper-ware.’
Factories were tourist attractions, they could be visited in the same way as many country houses. The potential visitor would apply, frequently by writing a note on the back of a visiting card, and then would be shown around. In the case of a house, by the housekeeper, in a factory by one of the foremen.
The Soho Manufactory
The main attraction in Birmingham was the great Soho Manufactory, founded by Mathew Boulton, he even arranged visitor tours. Parties were taken around to look at how the vast range of metal goods were made, and also see displays of the finished products.
So it is possible that Elizabeth had a new piece of jewellery, or a small piece of silver plate, in her luggage when her aunt persuaded her to make the memorable visit to Pemberley.