Part of a painting in The Tudor House Museum in Bugle Street. It shows the Marquis of Landsdownes house next to Castle Square. The house Jane lived in is just before it.
We can refocus our view of Jane Austen's life and her novels by seeing it through the prism of her stay in the maritime port of Southampton. It is so easy to ignore or pass by Jane's Southampton experiences but they were an integral part of her life.
In 1782, Jane, at the age of seven, was sent to Mrs Crawley’s school in Oxford, with her sister Cassandra and her cousin, Jane Cooper. However a measles epidemic occurred in Oxford in 1783. Mrs Crawley removed her school swiftly to Southampton. Measles could be a killer in the 18th
centurys and removing her charges was the best thing Mrs Crawley could do. Jane was in Southampton only a short while before an infectious fever rampaged through Southampton, brought to the town by troops arriving from foreign fields. The three girls became very ill and although Mrs Crawley, for some reason, did not want to contact their parents and did not want them to write to their parents, Jane Cooper managed to get a message to her mother who was staying in Bath at the time along with Mrs Austen. The two mothers immediately travelled to Southampton and nursed their children to health before taking them back to Bath. Unfortunately Mrs Cooper caught the fever herself and died. So Jane’s first encounter with Southampton was not an auspicious one.
The medieval entrance into Southampton, The Bargate. The site of the Costa coffee shop is the site of All Saints Church where Jane attended services given by Dr Mant.
Jane,visited Southampton again in 1793. She was nearly eighteen and arrived in Southampton to visit a cousin from her fathers side of the family from Tonbridge in Kent. Elizabeth Matilde Austen had married a Southampton gentleman with the surname Butler-Harris. He became the Sherriff of the town.They lived in the St Mary's district of Southampton, outside the ancient walls, on the site of the old Saxon town. Jane was asked to help her cousin because she was about to have a baby. While in Southampton Jane went to a ball at The Dolphin Hotel in the High Street to celebrate her 18th
Her third experience of Southampton followed her time in Bath. In 1801, to the consternation of Cassandra and Jane, their father, George Austen, retired, and left the parish of Steventon, along with the rectory, to his son, James and his wife Mary. Jane was twenty five years old and had imagined she would lead the rest of her life at Steventon. She led a settled existence and had formed her writing habits in these familiar rural surroundings. Suddenly all this was disrupted and she and Cassandra were removed to Bath for the next five years. George Austen died in 1805, the year of The Battle of Trafalgar and the following year, 1806, Cassandra, Jane, Martha Lloyd and their mother all moved to a house in Castle Square, Southampton. In 1806 Jane’s brother, Francis, married Mary Gibson. He was a naval officer and so had to go away to sea. He wanted his mother and sisters to live with his new wife and keep her company. Portsmouth, where Francis would sail from, was a place for sailors, a rough and colourful place, rife with the dens of iniquity. Southampton, nineteen miles away at the head of Southampton Water, was far more genteel and had been a successful spa town attracting the aristocracy. Jane and her family immersed themselves in the life of Southampton for two years, shopping, attending balls, going to the theatre, attending church services, visiting new acquaintances and receiving and entertaining nephews, nieces, brothers, friends, neighbours and sisters’ in-law. Jane observed many detailed aspects of her life in Southampton in her letters to Cassandra and also to other members of her family.
The Assembly Rooms near castle Square.
Jane Austen and her family moved to Southampton in 1806 and by this date she had already written, Susan, an early version of Northanger Abbey, Elinor and Marianne, an early version of Sense and Sensibility and First Impressions a first version of Pride and Prejudice. Later, after leaving Southampton for Chawton, she was to edit these early versions before publishing them and also to write, Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion in their entirety. Southampton and her experiences there must have influenced her editing and her writing. Jane Austen wrote about the world she knew and lived in.
This year, 2014, is the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park. One of the strands in Mansfield Park, that Jane Austen explores, is the clergy. The clergy feature strongly in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park and to a greater and lesser extent in all her novels. Her father was a clergyman, James her brother was a clergyman and her brother Henry eventually became one. In many of her letters she mentions the clergymen she knew and this is evident in her letters written from Southampton.
It is interesting to note that while living in Southampton, Jane and Martha Lloyd attended the services officiated by Dr Mant at All Souls Church in the High Street. There were other churches closer to Castle Square. St Michaels Church in St Michaels Square was a short distance from Castle Square and is the oldest church in Southampton, and also there was Holyrood Church, in the High Street. There is no mention of these churches in her letters. It seems that Jane Austen searched out Dr Mant and his sermons, to be challenged by his radical views.
The Greek columned building on the right is All Saints Church where Jane Austen attended services with Martha Lloyd.
Dr Mant was a leading biblical scholar. He was born in Havant in Hampshire in 1745 and died in 1817. He was one clergyman who wrote and delivered his own sermons, unlike Mary Crawford’s suggestion in Mansfield Park, that a sensible clergyman should rely on prepared sermons such as those of Blaire. Dr Mant wrote pamphlets and treatises and caused controversy and debate about,”Regeneration and Conversion.”
In 1770 he had been the headmaster of King Edwards School, then situated in Bugle Street, Southampton. It appears that he was an ambitious clergyman who wanted to make a name for himself. We know he was interested in education and we know he took a very personal interest in his congregation although it can be debated what sort of interest.
January 1809 (To Cassandra) Castle Square
“Martha and 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.- “
January 1809 (Castle Square)
(referring to Martha’s ongoing relationship with Dr Mant)
“As Dr M is a clergyman their attachment however immoral it is, has a decorous air…!”
Mrs Mant was born Elizabeth Roe in Lambeth. Lambeth is the borough that Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading Church of England cleric, is situated. We can conjecture she was the daughter of a high ranking cleric herself. Unfortunately It appears that her husband, Dr Mant, was a flirt and that Martha Lloyd was besotted with him.
In Mansfield Park there is a detailed discussion about the clergy. Edmund Bertram, the second son of Sir Thomas Bertram, has two parishes lined up for him to provide his living, when the time is ready. On the visit to Mr Rushworths estate, Sotherton, while visiting the family chapel, Julia Bertram expresses the idea that Edmund could perform the marriage of Maria to Mr Rushworth then and there, if only he had already taken orders. Miss Crawford, who knew nothing of Edmunds future ordination, exclaims,
“Ordained!” said Miss Crawford; “what are you to be a clergy-man?”
“Yes, I shall take orders soon after my father’s return- probably at Christmas.”
Miss Crawford has to struggle to conceal her feelings, “rallying her spirits, and recovering her complexion.”Mary Crawford is obviously taken aback and we can sense her negative view of Edmund becoming a clergyman from her tone. Later she brings up the topic again. They are walking on the terrace and Miss Crawford finding the weather hot requests that they all go for a walk in the cool shade of the ,”wilderness.” Once in the wilderness Miss Crawford returns to the subject of ordination again.
“So you are to be a clergyman, Mr Bertram. This is rather a surprise to me.”
Castle Square today showing the Bosuns Locker, the site of Jane's house.
The idea that Edmund, who she had set out to capture as a husband, should be a clergyman had not occurred to her. A debate about the clergy continues between them. Mary Bertram argues that the youngest son in a family usually takes holy orders. The second son, in her understanding traditionally inherits from a wealthy grandfather. Edmund makes it clear that he has chosen this course. Maria Carwford finds this difficult to understand. She thinks it a rarity that anybody should choose to be a clergyman.
”For what is to be done in the church?”…….. “A clergyman is nothing.”
“”But I cannot call that situation nothing which has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind individually or collectively considered,”
“One does not see much of this influence and importance in society, and how can it be acquired where they are so seldom seen themselves? How can two sermons a week, even supposing them worth hearing, supposing the preacher to have the sense to prefer Blair’s to his own? Do all that you speak of? Govern the conduct and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit.”
Fanny, of course hearing this, admires Edmund all the more.
”There,” cried Miss Crawford, “you have quite convinced Miss Price already.”
“I wish I could convince Miss Crawford too.”
“I do not think you ever will,” said she with an arch smile.
There are two other clergymen in the novel. Mr Norris, who is only spoken of but never makes an appearance, is the husband of Mrs Norris the officious, self-centred sister of lady Bertram. He dies early in the novel. He had the holding of the parish of Mansfield from his friend Sir Thomas. His greatest achievement in the novel apparently being his death. Mrs Norris recovers remarkably quickly after his death and gets on with being a busy body. Then there is Dr Grant who takes over the parish after Mr Norris’s demise. He is the uncle to Mary and Henry Crawford. An amicable gentleman. Through the words of Mrs Norris we hear that the Grants buy expensive food and eat lavishly. These two clergymen sound like two ineffectual men who became clergyman to provide a living and no more. I am sure there were many of those sort in parishes in Hampshire. Jane must have known some.
Jane takes us to the heart of the drama of being a clergyman, either real clergymen in her letters or fictitious ones in her novels. The clergymen in the novels always add an important element to the plots and the clergymen in real life add spice and intrigue to Jane’s everyday life.
Jane s letters from Castle Square also provide some detailed insights into what a ball was like and the politics and manoeuvrings that a ball entailed
December 1808 Castle Square to Cassandra
“Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected, Martha liked it very much, and I did not gape till the last quarter of an hour.-It was past nine before we were sent for, and not twelve when we returned.-The room was tolerably full, and there were perhaps thirty couples of dancers;- the melancholy part was to see so many dozen young Women standing by without partners, and each of them with two ugly naked shoulders!-It was the same room we danced fifteen years ago!-I thought it all over-and in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with thankfulness, that I was quite as happy now as then.-We paid an additional shilling for our Tea, which we took as we chose in an adjoining room.- There were only four dances, and it went to my heart that the Miss Lances, (one of them too named Emma) should have partners only for two.-You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance- but I was- by the gentleman we met that Sunday with captain D’auvergene. We have always kept up a Bowing acquaintance since, and being pleased with his black eyes, I spoke to him at the ball, which brought me to this civility; but I do not know his name, and he seems so little at home with the English Language that I believe his black eyes may be the best of him. Captain D’auvergne has got a ship.”
Nelson's Flagship, The Victory at Portsmouth.
It appears that Jane was feeling her age at this ball. She is sanguine about the whole affair and obviously made the best of it. She even appears to have enjoyed herself. It, “was rather more amusing,”
than she expected. “I did not gape,”
presumably meaning that she did not yawn. The ball began at nine in the evening and went on past midnight. She was concerned for the women with no partners. Women need partners, in more ways than one. It is interesting to find that young ladies in their quest to keep up with fashion will make some unsuitable dress decisions. Some fashions do not compliment all body shapes.“The two ugly shoulders,”
reference points to a fashion issue. These women should not have showen off their shoulders. They appear to be keeping up with fashion no matter how painful the consequences.
In her letter, Jane is reporting to Cassandra, in quite some detail, the goings on at the Dolphin ball. Who was there, who was not; how people interacted and her sensations and feelings about the ball. We have the preparation for the ball, the ball itself and the post ball analysis.
All these elements too are in Jane’s description of the ball at Netherton in Pride and Prejudice and also the ball at Highbury, in Emma. In fact the ball at Highbury is held in an inn just as the Dolphin ball is. We can see some similarities and connections between the two locations. There is even a fireplace at the end of the ballroom in the Dolphin as there is a fireplace in the ballroom in Highbury. Similar themes and actions occur;expectations, anticipation of happiness, disappointments, unexpected occurrences, absences and surprise attendances, character analysis, detailed observations, facial expressions, the tone of voices and eavesdropping on conversations and all the rules and formalities of a ball. Jane’s letter from Southampton and the two fictitious balls are closely connected in many ways.
The Dolphin Hotel, Southampton.
For Elizabeth, the Netherton Ball, certainly was not the smooth, elegant, enjoyable occasion she had probably hoped for.
“Elizabeth blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation.”
Hearing her sister Mary sing and then sing again, her mother talking in an audible whisper about the expectations she had for her daughters, Jane with Mr Bingley and Elizabeth with Mr Collins. All the while Elizabeth was acutely aware that Darcy was overhearing her mothers speach. This caused Elizabeth agonies of embarrassment. Perhaps the displaying of “two ugly shoulders,” is not on a par with what Elizabeth suffered but the element of suffering and embarrassment is there.
At the Highbury Ball in Emma, Miss Bates, who continually talks, keeping up what might seem a stream of ineffectual banter, is one of the most irritating of characters. She is comical in some ways as well as irritating but she has a very important role to play for the reader if not the characters in the story. Jane Austen, in her letters to Cassandra about the Dolphin Balls is playing, in a much more subdued way, the part of Miss Bates. Jane and Miss Bates tell us the details, things we would never find out otherwise. Miss Bates enters the ball and,
“every body’s words, were soon lost under the incessant flow of Miss Bates, who came in talking….”
She constantly verbalises her feelings, her thoughts and what she sees about her. It is a fractured, flitting sort of speech. In one way she is a clown, a comic character but she has her serious side. We learn a lot of the finer details about the event. Miss Bates is anxious to recall the food that is set out so she can report back to her mother, soup , asparagus, baked apples and biscuits and a delicate fricassee of sweetbread. We know Mrs Elton wore lace and the room was filled with candles and she virtually lists the names of everybody there in one virtuoso piece of constant talking.
While in Southampton, the Austens got to know a family called the Lances. Jane attended balls with Mrs Lance and her daughters and visited Mrs Lance at her grand house overlooking the valley in which the Portsmouth Road wends its way from Southampton across Northam Bridge. All the social niceties, manners and rules of politeness are as much in evidence in Jane’s letters as they are in her novels. Her visits to Mrs Lance could almost be scenes from her novels.
The Lances House at Bitterne.
January 1807 to Cassandra.
”to the Berties are to be added the Lances, with whose cards we have been endowed, and whose visit Frank and I returned yesterday. They live about a mile and three quarters from S. to the right of the new road to Portsmouth, and I believe their house is one of those which are to be seen almost anywhere among the woods on the other side of the Itchen. It is a handsome building, stands high, and in a very beautiful situation. We found only Mrs Lance at home, and whether she boasts any offspring besides a grand pianoforte did not appear. She was civil and chatty enough, and offered to introduce us to some acquaintance in Southampton.”
At a later date Jane visited the Lances with Martha Lloyd.
December 1808 to Cassandra.
“Martha and I made use of the very favourable state of yesterday for walking to Chiswell- we found Mrs Lance at home and alone, and sat out three other ladies who soon came in.- We went by the ferry and returned by the bridge, and were scarcely at all fatigued.”
The same rules of etiquette apply whether Mr Knightley is visiting Emma and Mr Woodhouse in Highbury or Darcy is visiting the Bennetts or the Bertrams are visiting Mr and Mrs Grant in Mansfield Park. The same tensions, politeness’s and finally the analysis and reaction and thoughts about the people visited.
Northam Bridge taking the Portsmouth Road over the River Itchen.
Any group wanting to visit the England of Jane Austen would do very well if they based themselves in Southampton. The Dolphin Hotel, where those balls were attended, is a Georgian building and a four star hotel.
From The Dolphin Hotel a walk around Southampton might include, Castle Square and a pub lunch in The Juniper Berry (Bosuns Locker), on the site of Jane's Southampton home. Other sites mentioned in her letters are the theatre, the site of All Saints Church in the High Street and the location of the beach where the Austens ice skated in the winter. A short drive takes you to the site of the Lances estate at “Chiswell,” now known as Chessel, which is part of Bitterne, a suburb of Southampton. The gate house and the two pillars marking the entrance to the Lance estate are still remaining. Two roads are named after the Lances, Lances Hill and Little Lances Hill. A short trip outside of Southampton to the beautiful setting of the ancient ruins of Netley Abbey would be an ideal spot for a picnic. Jane and her family had picnics at Netley. Near The Dolphin is Southampton pier where the ferry goes to the Isle of Wight. The Austens often took boat trips to the Island. You can visit Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s Summer residence near Cowes on the island.
Southampton is within short drives of Winchester, Chawton, Steventon and Porstmouth with its Historic dockyard which features Nelsons flag ship, The Victory. Bath and Lyme are each a day trip away. London can be reached within an hour on the main line train from Southampton Central Station.
Jane's grave in Winchester Cathedral.
Southampton has many other attractions. There are numerous Titanic memorials and buildings connected with the White Star Line and places people, who journeyed on the Titanic, visited. An elegant Victorian pub called The Bunch of Grapes near the docks is where many of the boiler men drank before boarding the Titanic. South Western House was the grand railway hotel many of the wealthy, including the aristocracy, stayed the night before going on board the Titanic. You can stand outside the building in Canute Road that was formerly the White Star offices. It was here that crowds gathered to receive news of their family members.
Netley Abbey, south transept.
Southampton itself is an ancient city going back to Roman times. It has impressive medieval walls and a medieval gateway called, The Bargate, leading into the High Street. There is also a memorial to The Mayflower. Some Southampton people went on-board the Mayflower to America and were amongst the founding fathers. In Shakespeare’s Henry V, before Henry’s army departs for France, two traitors are tried and hung in Southampton. This was a real historical event. The court room still exists where they were tried. It is a lovely timber frame pub called The Red Lion. It is within thirty or fourty metres of The Dolphin Hotel.
The city has close relations with America. It was the main port for the trans-Atlantic liners, The Queen Mary and The Queen Elizabeth and it still hosts the largest cruise ships in the world. More than two million American troops passed through Southampton and the docks on their way to help liberate Europe after D Day.
Southampton has some wonderful museums including The Maritime Museum, Tudor House Museum, which relates the history of Southampton, Southampton Art Gallery and Gods House Tower, situated in one of the ancient gateways into Southampton.It is an archaeological museum with artefacts going back to neolithic times. It has an extensive collection of Roman artefacts.
The Tudor House Museum, Southampton.