Jane Austen’s Lyme Regis

I haven’t seen the new movie version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (and the depiction of Anne Elliot in the trailer didn’t inspire confidence), but one thing I have to say about all the movies is that they take us to two amazing locations in England: Bath and Lyme Regis. Of the two, Lyme Regis was Jane Austen’s favorite, and I did a research visit there last year, so I thought I’d share some of the highlights.

Lyme Regis is a pretty, little harbor town on the coast of Dorset facing the English Channel. It’s named for the River Lim. The countryside is very hilly (so much so that the train doesn’t come to the town, but stops at inland Axminster instead) and the town is part of the “Jurassic Coast,” so-called because of the many fossils found there. In fact, J.R.R. Tolkien spent many boyhood visits in Lyme, and it’s said that the region inspired some of the settings for Middle Earth and a fossil he found there gave him the idea for the dragon Smaug.

A spiral shell fossil or imprint in a large black stone.
Fossils are everywhere along the beach. Some are protected natural resources like this one, but in some areas, you’re free to go rockhounding. The 19th-century paleontologist Mary Anning was from Lyme Regis and began her study of fossils with those she found along the cliffs and beaches.
A small white house with a blue painted door.
This is the house on Lyme’s high street where it’s believed that Jane Austen stayed with her family when she visited in 1803 and 1804. You can’t tell from the picture, but it’s actually very close to the beach.
A town street looking out on the sea with two buildings notable for their bow windows projecting out over the sidewalk.
A view of Lyme’s high street showing its two old inns, the two buildings across from each other with the bow windows. The Three Cups is on the right. This is where Tolkien stayed when visited (he sketched images of the harbor from its windows) and is also considered to be the inn mentioned in Persuasion. Jane’s house in Lyme is just beyond it. Across from the Three Cups is the Royal Lion.
A curving stone wall and walkway protecting a harbor.
This is the Cobb–the curving sea wall that protects Lyme Harbor. You can walk on top of it (dangerous in stormy weather when the wind makes it treacherous and the waves can wash up that high) or on the lower portion shown here. This is where Louisa Musgrove’s accident takes place in Persuasion.
A set of uneven stone steps set in a stone wall.
Tennyson supposedly asked to see the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell when he visited the Cobb at Lyme. We don’t know for certain which stairs Jane Austen intended, but many people believe it was this treacherous-looking set, called the grandmother’s teeth (I tend to think they would have gone down the tamer-looking ones closer to the beginning of the walk, but these are some pretty interesting old steps–I did not try climbing them!).
A view of a curving harbor.
This view shows Lyme Harbor and the Cobb in the distance from the museum located where Mary Anning’s house once stood. The area where the cars are parked once housed an assembly hall where Jane Austen probably went dancing when she visited Lyme.
A gray building overlooking the sea, with large waves crashing against the stones beneath it.
An old painting in the museum shows what the Lyme assembly hall looked like, located right above the beach. I think it would have been a wonderful place to go dancing.
The cover of the book An Elusive Dragon showing a brown-skinned woman in a Regency-era dress holding a small, purple dragon on her lap.
My gaslamp fantasy, An Elusive Dragon, is set in Dorset and Lyme Regis, and I let my characters go dancing at the assembly hall, dine at the Royal Lion, and meet an alternate version of young Mary Anning. I hope Tolkien would have approved of my addition of living dragons, though they’re not as ferocious as Smaug.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s