After months of house hunting –searching for and dismissing houses that might have damp and other problems….
Our views on G. P. Buildings seem all at an end; the observation of the damps still remaining in the offices of an house which has been only vacated a week, with reports of discontented families and putrid fevers, has given the coup de grace. We have now nothing in view. When you arrive, we will at least have the pleasure of examining some of these putrefying houses again; they are so very desirable in size and situation, that there is some satisfaction in spending ten minutes within them.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 21st May 1801)
…the Austens took the lease of number 4 Sydney Place. This was, as you will recall, one of the places Jane Austen favoured when they were house hunting, in her letter of January 1801.
Why? It was on the outskirts of Bath, looking out onto the open countryside as you can see from the view of the surrounding hills in this acquatint of the Sydney Gardens.
This was, I feel vitally important to Jane Austen, used as she was to the gently rolling countryside of Hampshire. As I’ve noted in my post about the Paragon, we sometimes forget when we see pictures of the large airy squares and graceful crescents in Bath how some of the buildings in the steeply terraced areas of Bath could convey a sense of oppression and constriction. I feel sure this lack of an open aspect is one reason why Jane Austen disliked certain parts of Bath- notably The Paragon and Axford Buildings.
As you can see from the plan of Bath of 1803, this part of Bath was developed on the far side of the Avon River.Do note you can enlarge all the illustrations in this post by clicking on them .
It was called Bathwick-after the original settlement there- and until the buildings of the Pulteney Bridge it was only accessible by ferry. Here is a detail of a map of Bath dating from the 1750s which shows, quite charmingly, the ferry from the developed part of Bath to the Spring Gardens, which with the city prison, market gardens and watermill, together with the undeveloped hamlet of Bathwick, was the only developed part of the city on that side of the river until the 1770s.
The Bathwick area was developed by its owner, William Johnstone Pultney-after whom Robert Adam’s magnificent bridge-which contained shops in imitation of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence or the Rialto in Venice-was named.
Thomas Baldwin was the main architect/ planner of this area. The master plan was to build an entire neo classical suburb on this side of the river, complete with wide gracious streets of houses of neo-classically inspired design and with a new pleasure garden- the Sydney Gardens- for the residents to enjoy.
By the 1790s the wide main thoroughfare of this side of the river- Pulteney Street and Laura place- were under construction. The Sydney Gardens and the Sydney Tavern, which terminated the view along Great Pulteney Street from the Putney Bridge
as seen here in a still from 2004 the film production of Vanity Fair, were opened in 1795.
The gardens were, as you can see, hexagonal in shape and it was intended to build a series of terraces surrounding the gardens. Of the planned terraces only two were actually built, and were completed in 1794.
The Austens were keen on this area. An important point to consider was that it was on level ground, unlike the majority of the new buildings in the Upper Town in Bath, on the other side of the river, which were built on very steep slopes. This may have played a part in their decision to live there, with the centre of town an easy level walk along the wonderfully wide Pulteney Street and over the Pulteney Bridge
It was also near to the Sydney Gardens and its Labyrinth, which so attracted Jane Austen:
It would be very pleasant to be near Sidney Gardens-we might go into the Labrinth every day…
(Letter to Cassandra Austen,dated 21st January 1801)
The advertisement in the Bath chronicle dated 28th May 1801, for the lease of number 4 Sydney Place obviously caught their eye:
TO BE DISPOSED OF, THE LEASE OF No 4 SYDNEY PLACE three years and a quarter of which are unexpired at Midsummer.
The situation is desirable, the rent very low and the landlord is bound by covenant to paint the two first floors this summer-a premium will therefore be expected.
For Particulars apply to Messrs. Watts and Forth in Cornwall-Buildings, Bath.
The Reverend Austen’s income at this time was £600 per annum. According to an article written by the present owners of 4 Sydney Place( see JAS Report 1997, page 96) the rent for Number 4 was £150 per year, a very sizeable amount of his income.. The article also gives this description of number 4’s interior:
4 Sydney Place has four stories plus a basement The ground floor has an entrance hall and two rooms: the front room would have been the parlour and dining room used for everyday entertainment and the rear room would most likely have been Mr Austen’s study. On the first floor there is a magnificent drawing room covering the full area of the house which looks south over Sydney Gardens; the windows are large and it is a very sunny room.
On the second floor there are three bedrooms; the parents would have slept in one and another would have been occupied by the two sisters- they shared a bedroom all their lives. The top floor has another three bedrooms, where the servants would have slept. The kitchen in the basement is reached by stairs from the ground floor. There is a small walled garden in which there would have been an earth closet..there was piped water to the house.
Prior to moving into Sydney Place the Austen holidayed in Sidmouth in Devon. Eliza de Feuillide, Jane’s cousin wrote to Phylly Walter, another cousin, on the 29th October 1801:
I conclude that you know of our Uncle & Aunt Austen and their daughters having spent the summer in Devonshire-They are now returned to Bath where they are superintending the fitting up of their new house
The Austens remained at number 4 for three years.The lease was due to expire in September 1804: a renewal of it, albeit on a longer term, would have no doubt necessitated a rise in the rent for the property. Obviously this could not be countenanced on their limited income: and so they left their new found and pleasant but temporary home in 1804 to live in Green Park Buildings…the first of three such removals while they remained in Bath, and the subject of our next post.