After quitting the lease of 4 Sydney Place, the Austen family had to find new premises in which to live. They found Green Park Buildings, and they lived at Number 3 Green Park Buildings East from 1804-5.
This was however a place Jane Austen had originally dismissed while on her search for accommodation in 1801:
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 situation was pleasant as the buildings didn’t look out onto the city to the north but out over a small park towards the river and across to the leafy heights of Beechen Cliff- so admired by Catherine Morland in Northnger Abbey(even if she did think it looked like France..where she had never been save in her imagination…)
They determined on walking round Beechen Cliff, that noble hill whose beautiful verdure and hanging coppice render it so striking an object from almost every opening in Bath.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14
This part of the city- the Kingsmead area, was developed in the 1790s again to accommodate the expanding population of the spa town
One of the principal features of the layout (of the extension to Bath-jfw)was the formation of Green Park, a wedge-shaped open space lying between two great houses converging on Seymour Street designed as a wide continuation of the existing Charles Street
(See Walter Ison,The Georgian Buildings of Bath ,page 174)
This is a tiny engraving-its true size is 3 cms by 1 cm- from my copy of The Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing places etc (1816) by John Fletham, and it shows the view from Beechen Cliff looking towards Bath. You can just make out the disitincitve wedge-shaped buildings that were Green Park Buildings, just in front of the fashionable couple looking across at Bath from the vantage point of the cliff : do enlarge it to get the full effect ( by clicking on it and remember, you can enlarge all the illustrations in this post by doing this).
This is the setting from a section of the Environs of Bath map drawn by John Cary and taken from my copy of his book, Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc. (1812):
This section shows the position of Bath among the surrounding hills and downs, rather like a pudding basin:
And though it is not marked on the map, I have annotated the same section to show where Beechen Cliff is situated:
This house was the scene of a sad and almost calamitous event for Jane Austen: the death of her father George Austen in January 1805, coming hard on the news of the death of her great friend, Mrs Lefroy on 16th December 1804, Jane’s 29th birthday . The two letters she had to write to Frank Austen , her brother, at this time,still exist. They make for painful reading: she being so correct but also so anxious for Frank reciving the news of the death of his excellent father by letter. Here is the text of the first dated Monday 21 January 1805:
My dearest Frank
I have melancholy news to relate, and sincerely feel for your feelings under the shock of it. I wish I could better prepare You for it.But having said so much, Your mind will already forestall the sort of Event which I have to communicate. Our dear Father has closed his virtuous and happy life, in a death almost as free from suffering as his Children could have wished. He was taken ill on Saturday morning, exactly in the same way as heretofore, an oppression in the head with fever, violent tremulousness, and the greatest degree of Feebleness. The same remedy of Cupping, which had before been so successful, was immediately applied to but without such happy effects. The attack was more violent, and at first he seemed scarcely at all relieved by the Operation. Towards the Evening however he got better, had a tolerable night, and yesterday morning was so greatly amended as to get up and join us at breakfast as usual, walk about with only the help of a stick, and every symptom was then so favourable that when Bowen (the Austen’s apothecary-jfw)saw him at one, he felt sure of his doing perfectly well. But as the day advanced, all these comfortable appearances gradually changed; the fever grew stronger than ever, and when Bowen saw him at ten at night, he pronounc’d his situation to be most alarming. At nine this morning he came again and by his desire a Physician was called–Dr Gibbs–But it was then absolutely a lost case. Dr Gibbs said that nothing but a Miracle could save him, and about twenty minutes after Ten he drew his last gasp. Heavy as is the blow, we can already feel that a thousand comforts remain to us to soften it. Next to that of the consciousness of his worth and constant preparation for another World, is the remembrance of his having suffered, comparatively speaking, nothing. Being quite insensible of his own state, he was spared all the pain of separation, & he went off almost in his Sleep. My Mother bears the Shock as well as possible; she was quite prepared for it, and feels all the blessing of his being spared a long Illness. My Uncle and Aunt have been with us, and shew us every imaginable kindness. And tomorrow we shall I dare say have the comfort of James’s presence, as an Express has been sent to him.-We write also of course to Godmersham and Brompton. Adeiu my dearest Frank. The loss of such a Parent must be felt, or we should be Brutes-. I wish I could have given you better preparation but it has been impossible. -Yours Ever affectionately
Capt. Austen HMS Leopard Dungeness New Romney
Sadly for Jane Austen she had to write another letter to Frank, virtually identical to the first, because Frank was not in Dungeness in Kent but at Portsmouth in Hampshire:
January 22nd 1805
My dearest Frank
I wrote to you yesterday; but your letter to Cassandra this morning, by which we learn the probability of your being by this time at Portsmouth, obliges me to write to you again, having unfortunately a communication as necessary as painful to make to you.Your affectionate heart will be greatly wounded, and I wish the shock could have been lessen’d by a better preparation;but the Event has been sudden, and so must be the information of it. We have lost an Excellent Father.An Illness of only eight and forty hours carried him off yesterday morning between ten and eleven. He was seized on Saturday with a return of the feverish complaint, which he had been subject to for the three last years; evidently a more violent attack from the first, as the applications which had before produced almost immediate relief, seemed for some time to afford him scarcely any.On Sunday however he was much better, so much so as to make Bowen quite easy, and give us every hope of his being well again in a few days.-ut these hopes gradually gave way as the day advanced, and when Bowen saw him at ten that night he was greatly alarmed.A Physician was called in yesterday morning, but he was at that time past all possibility of cure–& Dr Gibbs & Mr Bowen had scarcely left his room before he sunk into a Sleep from which he never woke. Everything I trust and believe was done for him that was possible! It has been very sudden! within twenty four hours of his death he was walking with only the help of a stick, was even reading! We had however some hours of preparation, and when we understood his recovery to be hopeless, most fervently did we pray for the speedy release which ensued. To have seen himlanguishing long, struggling for Hours, would have been dreadful!-& thank God! we were all spared from it. Except the restlessness and confusion of high Fever, he did not suffer- and he was mercifully spared from knowing that he was about to quit the Objects so beloved, so fondly cherished as his wife & Children ever were.His tenderness as a Father, who can do justice to? My Mother is tolerably well; she bears up with great fortitude, but I fear her health must suffer under such a shock. An express was sent for James, and he arrived here this morning before eight o’clock.-The Funeral is to be on Saturday, at Walcot Church.
The Serenity of the Corpse is most delightful! It preserves the sweet, benevolent smile which always distinguished him. They kindly press my Mother to remove to Steventon as soon as it is all over, but I do not believe she will leave Bath at present. We must have this house for three months longer, and here we shall probably stay till the end of that time.We all unite in Love, and I am affec:’y Yours
Capt. Austen HMS Leopard Portsmouth
Poor Jane Austen- to have to written two, let alone one such letter.
Mr Austen was buried in Walcot Church…and so began a period of wandering for the Austen ladies. Their income immediately being reduced- the income from Mr Austen’s living ceased on his death: James Austen was the new incumbent of the Steventon living-they had a period of uncertainty before them.
We shall look at this in more detail on our next post on their home in Gay Street.
A final note about the Austen’s home in Green Park Buildings: Green Park East was bombed and destroyed during an air raid in the Second World War: it was rebuilt but in a different style to the original houses, so while it still exists, the Number 3 Green Park Buildings we can see now is not the house in which Jane Austen lived and her father died.