Gentle readers, Tony Grant kindly rewrote an article that he had originally written for JASA (Jane Austen Society of Australia), adding more images and new information. Tony has also resurrected his blog, London Calling (thank you, Tony).
Jane Austen lived in Southampton between 1806 and 1809. She stayed in a rented house in Castle Square.
In 1806 Francis Austen married Mary Gibson. As he was to be away at sea a lot he made the suggestion that Mary and his mother, Jane, Cassandra and Martha Lloyd should share a house together. Southampton was a good choice because it was near to Portsmouth, where Frank was based and was a pleasant town set within medieval walls. It was also surrounded by picturesque countryside.
Jane had been to Southampton twice previously. First when she was eight years of age to attend Mrs Cawley’s school with Cassandra and her cousin Jane Cooper. This was a disaster. Mrs Austen , in her wisdom, had decided to send Cassandra away to school to attend Mrs Cawleys academy in Oxford in the Spring of 1783. Jane didn’t want to be left out. She wanted to be with her beloved sister and insisted on going. What the reasoning of Mrs Austen was in allowing a seven year old to be away from home for an extended period of time is anybody’s guess. Mrs Cawley removed her school to Southampton that same year.
Unfortunately, because Southampton was a port it was often one of the first places that diseases and infections from abroad would first take hold. Cassandra, Jane Cooper and Jane became gravely ill. It was not until Jane Cooper, writing to her mother in Bath, alerted Mrs Cooper and Mrs Austen to the problem. Both mothers removed their children promptly and nursed them back to health.
The second time Jane stayed in Southampton when was when she was eighteen. She stayed with her cousin Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Austen from Tonbridge had married money and moved to Southampton where her husband was…the Sherrif.” (from Claire Tomlin, Jane Austen A Life)
This branch of the Austen family lived in St Mary’s Street in the St Mary’s district of Southampton. While staying with their cousin, Jane and Cassandra attended a ball at the Dolphin Hotel.
Castle Square today consists of recently built housing, flats built in the 1960’s and some buildings built in the 1940’s and 1930’s. A pub, originally called The Juniper Berry later called The Bosun’s Locker and now renamed The Juniper Berry, is on the site of the house Jane lived in.
To Cassandra Austen who was staying at Godmersham to help with the forthcoming baby: Friday 20 – Sunday 22 February 1807
“ We hear that we are envied our House by many people, & that the Garden is the best in Town.”
Jane also enjoyed the fact that the house in Castle Square had a garden. Something she had not been able to enjoy when living in Bath. She wanted to improve what was already there and the family hired a gardener. She didn’t think much of the roses that already existed,
we mean to get a few of a better kind therefore & the latter of an indifferent sort,—we mean to get a few of a better kind therefore & at my own particular desire he procures us some syringas…”
Jane also mentions getting a laburnum and having currants, gooseberry bushes and raspberries planted.
Jane refers to, “The Beach,” in her letters from Castle Square to Cassandra. This was a stretch of land that bordered the Itchen River between the Town Quay and Cross House, which was a sort of Medieval shelter.
The shelter was built to shield passengers from inclement weather waiting to be rowed across the Itchen by ferrymen from The Itchen Ferry community situated on the Woolston side of the river. Jane probably sat here waiting for the ferrymen on the various trips she took on the river. (Click here to learn more about the fishermen and ferrymen at Itchen Ferry.)
“The Beach,” no longer exists. In the late Victorian period a large area of land was reclaimed stretching out into Southampton Water. Southampton Docks was built on this reclaimed land.
The gateway through Gods House Tower, a medieval section of Southampton’s town walls, would have been the entrance through which Jane and her family accessed The Beach.
On the 7th October 1808, Edward’s wife Elizabeth died soon after giving birth to her eleventh child. Ten days after this sad occurrence their two boys, Edward and George, travelled to Southampton to stay with their aunt Jane.
Jane did well in occupying their minds and played games with them and took them on excursions.
To Cassandra Austen at Godmersham: Wednesday 7 – Thursday 8 January 1807
We did not take our walk on Friday, it was too dirty, nor have we yet done it; we may perhaps do something like it today, as after seeing Frank skate, which he hopes to do in the meadows by the beach, we are to treat ourselves with a passage over the ferry.”
The Itchen has been industrialised now for a long time. The area was badly bombed during the war because there was a shipyard in that part of the river,called Thorneycrofts, which built minesweepers and destroyers. In Jane’s time Thorneycrofts were there but they built fishing boats and sailing boats, perhaps even the rowing boats Jane rowed in with her nephews.
On one occasion Jane took Edward and George on the Itchen up as far as Northam Bridge where they saw a battle ship being fitted out.
To Cassandra Austen at Godmersham: Monday 24 – Tuesday 25th October 1808
“We had a little water party yesterday: I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I had intended to take them to Netley today; the tide is just right for our going immediately after noon shine but I am afraid there will be rain; if we cannot get so far, however, we may go round from the ferry to the quay. I had not proposed doing more than cross the Itchen yesterday, but it proved so pleasant, and so much to the satisfaction of al, that when we reached the middle of the stream we agreed to be rowed up the river; both the boys rowed a great part of the way, and their questions and remarks, as well as their enjoyment, were very amusing; George’s enquiries were endless, and his eagerness in everything reminds me often of his uncle Henry.”
Netley Abbey appears to have been a popular place for the Austens to visit. This is a quote from Claire Tomlin’s “Jane Austen A Life.” Tomlin also quotes Fanny, who shows a great enthusiasm for Netley Abbey.
Claire Tomlin writes, “ There was a boat trip to Hythe and another to see the picturesque ruins of Netley Abbey; (Fanny is quoted as writing)
we were struck dumb with admiration, and I wish I could write anything that would come near to the sublimity of it.”
During their time in Southampton they made new friends. Some did not make a good impression on Jane at first. A Mrs Lance, who lived at Chessel House on the other side of the Itchen, was not approved of. The Austens received cards from the Lances and presumed that they were acting on orders from Mr Lance of Netherton. Frank and Jane went to call on Mrs Lance. They would have got a ferry across the Itchen to the Itchen Ferry Village side and then would walked over Peartree Green, past the chapel on Peartree Green and along Sea Road to get to the Lance’s Chessel Estate at what is now Bitterne.
The gate posts to the drive, which Frank and Jane would have walked through and the gatehouse to the estate which they would have walked past, are still there.
The gate posts have been moved further apart to allow a modern road to pass through. Two of the local roads, Lances Hill and Little Lances Hill remind us of the Lance family.
To Cassandra Austen at Godmersham: Wednesday 7th – Thursady 8th January 1807:
“We found only Mrs Lance at home, and whether she boasts any offspring beside a grand pianoforte did not appear. She was civil and chatty enough, and offered to introduce us to acquaintance in Southampton, which we gratefully declined…………………They will not come often, I dare say. They live in a handsome style and are rich, and she seemed to like to be rich, and we gave her to understand we were far from being so; she will soon feel therefore that we are not worth her acquaintance.”
This does not turn out quite as Jane predicted. They did meet again. Mrs Lance visited Castle Square and the Lance daughters were part of their social circle at the Dolphin Balls. The importance of the pianoforte to Mrs Lance has echoes in Jane’s novel, Emma.
One, maybe slightly salacious story, emerges while Jane, Martha and her mother are in Southampton. Jane, perhaps a little teasingly, relates a relationship between Dr Mant, the rector of All Souls Church in the High Street and Martha Lloyd.
Dr Mant was well known in Southampton. He had been the headmaster of King Edward VII’s Grammar School in the town . King Edwards Grammar School is now situated in the north part of the city. It has beautiful, extensive playing fields and an iconic, elegant, brick 1930’s style main building. It provides a very high standard of education and all pupils expect to go to university, many go on to Oxford and Cambridge and the other top universities in the country. In Jane’s day the grammar school was in French Street, very close to Castle Square, in a small medieval building. The ruins of it still exist. Dr Mant had also been a professor of Divinity at Oxford and written religious discussion pamphlets. He was a super star in the firmament of vicars. He was a very charismatic preacher too. Dr Mant had his following of inspired young ladies. Martha was apparently a besotted member of this clan.
Tuesday 17th January 1809 from castle Square to Cassandra.
“Martha & Dr Mant are as bad as ever; he runs after her in the street to apologise for having spoken to a Gentleman while she was near him the day before. – Poor Mrs Mant can stand it no longer; she is retired to one of her married Daughters.”
The Dolphin Hotel, which still stands today, was the venue for Balls in Jane’s time. The Dolphin is within easy walking distance of Castle Square and it would have taken no more that six or seven minutes to walk there.
To Cassandra Austen at Godmersham: Friday 9th December 1808:
“ The room was tolerably full & there were perhaps thirty couples of dancers; The melancholy part was to see so many dozen young Women standing by without partners & each of them with two ugly naked shoulders! It was the same room we danced in fifteen years ago! – I thought it all over – & in spite of the shame of being so much older felt with thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then.”
Also within easy walking distance of Castle Square was Southampton’s theatre. Jane is a little dismissive of the Theatre when she writes:
To Cassandra Austen at Godmersham: Sunday 20th November 1808:
Martha ought to see the inside of the Theatre once while she lives in Southampton & I hardly think she will wish to take a second view.”
Southampton was a place Jane preferred to Bath. She appears to have had some enjoyable experiences there. It was obviously not a place she felt settled enough to write. Although, I am sure she used her experiences there in her novels.
Tony’s article in the JASA Chroniclem December, 2007.