It was touch and go for a while and a bit of a long wait – wearing hot costumes and in a cramped and crowded Concert Room – but Bath’s annual Jane Austen Festival – which begins this weekend – has reclaimed its own world record for ‘The Largest Gathering of People Dressed in Regency Costumes’.
The Guinness World Record was originally set in 2009 by the Festival – held each September in Bath – when 409 people gathered in the Assembly Rooms – making it the biggest event of its kind in the world.
This July, however, that number was surpassed by 491 American Austen festival-goers in Greater Louisville, as part of an event organised by the Jane Austen Society of North America.
Although this figure has yet to be officially recognised by Guinness, the UK Jane Austen Festival aimed to beat the number achieved by their American counterpart.
And this was the build up today – September 13th – to finding out if they had done it.
People had to register their number and then spend five minutes together in the Concert Room.
Here’s when the count down to the end began.
The record attempt, and the Victory Grand Regency Promenade through Bath to the Parade Gardens was just one of the highlights of what organisers are calling the biggest festival yet in the event’s fourteen year history.
The rest of the festival programme, which runs between 12th – 21st September, includes more than eighty events, starting with Jo Baker – acclaimed author of Longbourn, soon to be made into a film – and ending ten days later with a performance by the hugely popular and widely acclaimed Austentatious.
In between these two events, there are walks, talks, performances and readings, along with many more events celebrating and reflecting both the famous writer herself – who stayed in the city between 1801 and 1806 – and the period in which she lived.
One of the musical highlights is a concert in Bath Abbey, also on the first Saturday. ‘Exsultate Jubilate – An evening with Rauzzini’, is a rare opportunity not only to experience a performance straight out of the early 1800s, but also to hear a male soprano, the internationally renowned Robert Crowe, performing the works of Mozart, Haydn and Handel.
The event in this iconic building reflects the repertoire that the great ‘superstar’ castrato Venanzio Rauzzini presented in Bath during the time Jane Austen was there.
Other highlights are a series of performances at the Mission Theatre, Corn Street. These include: ‘Austen – a musical’; Pride & Promiscuity!’ performed by New Zealander Penny Ashton as part of a world tour; and a unique version of ‘Northanger Abbey’ by the Box Tale Soup Theatre Company.
This year also marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen’s most contentious book – Mansfield Park – and this is celebrated by the reading of the entire text over the course of eight days at Bath Central library, a talk and discussion by Professor John Mullan and a rare outing for ‘Lover’s Vows’, the controversial play that appears within the book.
Another character from Mansfield Park, the busybody widow Mrs Norris, also makes an appearance in ‘Austen’s Women’, as one of thirteen female characters brought to life by Rebecca Vaughan during a performance at the Holbourne Museum.
The final weekend of the festival will include a Regency Costumed Masked Ball (Sept 19) which will be held in another iconic Bath building, the Pump Rooms.
Jackie Herring, director of the Jane Austen Festival said: “It is absolutely marvelous we have reclaimed the record with 550 people and such a wonderful round figure, as well. It was touch and go for a while but then we had a rush at the end. It a fantastic way to start the festival and bring the record back to the city Jane Austen called home for several years of her life.”
Find out more on the Festival website: http://www.janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk/festival-programme/