After Mr Austen’s death in Green Park Buildings in January 1805, Mrs Austen gave up the lease there sometime towards the end of March of that year, and moved with Cassandra And Jane to number 25 Gay Street, numbered 6 on the above plan which, along with all the other illustrations in this post can be enlarged by clicking on it
Gay Street was part of John Wood’s original plan for the development of a new upper town in Bath, which began with his construction of Queens Square, then led up the hill via Gay Street to the Circus, and along Brock Street to the Royal Crescent.
In his book, A Description of Bath,
John Wood the architect tell us of his plans to buy land in Bath from Mr Robert Gay, an eminent Surgeon of Bath and London in order to build this important connecting street:
After my return to London I imparted my first design to Mr Gay an eminent Surgeon in Hatton Gardens and Proprietor of the land; and our first Conference as upon the first day of December 1725….
Business calling me twice not the North of England in the summer of the Year 1726 my designs for Improving Bath lay under Consideration till the following Autumn; and Mr Gay’s Land appearing then the most eligible to begin buildings upon, I therefore on Wednesday the 18th of November 1726 fixed my Preliminary Articles with him; and the Saturday after he empowered me by his Letter of Attourney, to engage with anybody that I could bring into the scheme for Building a Street of one thousand and twenty five Feet in length from south to North by fifty Feet in Breadth from East to West for a way to the grand part of the design.
Here is a print of The Cirucs, which is situated at the top of Gay Street, as it appeared in 1773:
You can see that Gay Street steeply descends the hill towards Queen’s Square in the break in the circle of houses in the middle of the picture. You can also see Beechen Cliff looming above it in the distance:
You can also see many chairs. They were the most practicable manner of getting around some of the areas of Bath as they are very steep and, something I can confirm from personal experience of toiling up the hill that is Gay Street, when pregnant and also later with a pushchair containing my deceptively heavy son, it is not easy terrain. The alternative route ,via the Gravel Walk as used by Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion is much preferable, being of a gentler gradient.
The Austen ladies were of course at this time beginning to find that their financial position was not particularly secure. By his will Mr Austen left everything to Mrs Austen. But of course his main source of income was the money from his livings of Deane and Steventon and any entitlement to that money ceased at the moment of his death. Mrs Austen had a little independent income and Cassandra had the interest on the £1000 left to her by her late finance Tom Fowle, but Jane Austen had nothing whatsoever in the way of income.
The letters sent between the Austen brothers at this time indicate quite interesting attitudes to the economic and social fate of the Austen ladies. Frank -who is quite my favourite of the Austen brothers – had just been appointed to the 80-gun HMS Canopus. He generously offered £100 per annum towards the upkeep of Mrs Austen and his sisters, and did so in a letter to Henry Austen requesting that he keep this offer secret from the ladies.
Here is part of Henry’s illuminating reply to him:
It was so absolutely necessary that your noble offer towards my Mother should be made more public than you seem’d to desire, that I really cannot apologize for a partial breach of your request. With the proudest exultations of maternal tenderness the Excellent Parent has exclaimed that never were Children so good as hers. She feels the magnificence of your offer, and accepts of half. I shall therefore honor her demands for 50 pounds annually on your account. James had the day before yesterday communicated to me & Her his desire to be her Banker for the same annual assistance, & l as long as I am an Agent shall do as he does. – If Edward does the least he ought, he will certainly insist on her receiving a £100 from him. So you see My Dear E, that with her own assured property, & Cassandra’s, both producing about £250 per ann., She will be in the receipt of a clear £450 pounds per Ann. – She will be very comfortable, & as a smaller establishment will be as agreeable to them, as it cannot but be feasible, I really think that My Mother & Sisters will be to the full as rich as ever. They will not only suffer no personal deprivation, but will be able to pay occasional visits of health and pleasure to their friends..‘
I cant help but hear some resonances of John and Fanny Dashwood of Sense and sensibility in that extract.
James Austen also wrote to Frank about the financial situation:
Her (Mrs Austen-jfw) future plans are not quite settled, but I believe her summers will be spent in the country amongst her Relations & chiefly I trust among her children – the winters she will pass in comfortable lodgings in Bath. It is a just satisfaction to know that her Circumstances will be easy, & that she will enjoy all those comforts which declining years & precarious health call for. You will I am sure forgive Henry for not having entirely complied with your request for secrecy upon one very important subject in your letter … You would indeed have had a high gratification could you have witnessed the pleasure which our Dear Mother experienced when your intention was communicated to her.
So poor old Jane Austen was also now an object of charity .I’m sure this did not sit well with her. it’s one thing to be kept by ones parents, but ones married brothers?
There are some hints in the two letters written at this time by Jane Austen that still exist, that life in Gay Street without the kindly and benign influence of Mr Austen might have been rather trying: Mrs Austen was most definitely in charge:
The Mr Duncans called yesterday with their Sisters, but were not admitted, which rather hurt me.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 8th April 1805)
Jane Austen found few congenial souls to bond with in the transient society of Bath: to have some friends turned away by your mother when you were actually “at home” and ready to engage must have been hurtful indeed.
We know very little about the house as it was at the time when Jane Austen lived in it. Gay Street was a very busy street, full of chairs carrying people from the Upper to the Lower town, and would have been noisy. It was firmly set into the centre of town with very little chance of good views of the surrounding countryside. But Jane Austen obviously absorbed all the details and was perhaps fond of it for Gay Street is the setting for a very important meeting between Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot in the Cancelled Chapters of Persuasion, at the home of the Crofts in Bath..in Gay Street.
I’ve tried to decipher these cancelled chapters on many an occasion when I’ve seen them on show in the British Museum, the British Library and at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton but with not much success: I’ve scanned these in for you form a recent “translation” : here is part of the meeting between Anne and Frederick in Gay Street:
It was altogether a confusion of Images & Doubts–a perplexity, an agitation which she could not see the end of–and she was in Gay St & still so much engrossed, that she started on being addressed by AdmL Croft, as if he were a person unlikely to be met there. It was within a few steps of his own door.–“You are going to call upon my wife, said he, she will be very glad to see you.”–Anne denied it “No–she really had not time, she was in her way home”–but while she spoke, the AdmL had stepped back & knocked at the door, calling out, “Yes, yes do go in; she is all alone. go in & rest yourself.”–Anne felt so little disposed at this time to be in company of any sort, that it vexed her to be thus constrained–but she was obliged to stop. “Since you are so very kind, said she, I will just ask Mrs Croft how she does, but I really cannot stay 5 minutes.–You are sure she is quite alone.”–The possibility of Capt. W. had occurred–and most fearfully anxious was she to be assured–either that he was within or that he was not; which, might have been a question.–“Oh! yes, quite alone–Nobody but her Mantuamaker with her, & they have been shut up together this half hour, so it must be over soon.”–“Her Mantua maker!–then I am sure my calling now, wd be most inconvenient.–Indeed you must allow me to leave my Card & be so good as to explain it afterwards to Mrs C.” “No, no, not at all, not at all. She will be very happy to see you. Mind–I will not swear that she has not something particular to say to you–but that will all come out in the right place. I give no hints.–Why, Miss Elliot, we begin to hear strange things of you–(smiling in her face)–But you have not much the Look of it–as Grave as a little Judge.” –Anne blushed.–“Aye, aye, that will do. Now, it is right. I thought we were not mistaken.” She was left to guess at the direction of his Suspicions; –the first wild idea had been of some disclosure from his Br in law–but she was ashamed the next moment–& felt how far more probable that he should be meaning Mr E.–The door was opened–& the Man evidently beginning to deny his Mistress, when the sight of his Master stopped him. The Adml enjoyed the joke exceedingly. Anne thought his triumph over Stephen rather too long. At last however, he was able to invite her upstairs, & stepping before her said–“I will just go up with you myself & shew you in–. I cannot stay, because I must go to the P. Office, but if you will only sit down for 5 minutes I am sure Sophy will come–and you will find nobody to disturb you–there is nobody but Frederick here–” opening the door as he spoke.–Such a person to be passed over as a Nobody to her!–After being allowed to feel quite secure–indifferent–at her ease, to have it burst on her that she was to be the next moment in the same room with him!–No time for recollection!–for planning behaviour, or regulating manners!–There was time only to turn pale, before she had passed through the door, & met the astonished eyes of Capt. W—. who was sitting by the fire pretending to read & prepared for no greater surprise than the Admiral’s hasty return…..
There was time for all this to pass–with such Interruptions only as enhanced the charm of the communication–and Bath cd scarcely contain any other two Beings at once so rationally & so rapturously happy as during that eveng occupied the Sopha of Mrs Croft’s Drawing room in Gay St.
Jane Austen was famously unsatisfied with this scene and reworked it, making the scene of the presentation of The Letter and the reconciliation of Anne and Frederick take place in the Musgrove’s rooms at the White Hart Inn and let it continue on through the walk through Bath up to the heights of Camden Place, through the Gravel Walk, a gentler incline than Gay Street as I’ve noted and also …the longer way around….perfect for reconciling lovers who have been apart for far too long;-)