We do not know exactly when the Austen ladies quitted their rented accommodation in Gay Street but it must have been sometime at the end of 1805.
We do know that Mrs Austen, Cassandra, Jane and, by this time, their friend and sister of James’s wife, Martha Lloyd took a trip to Steventon Rectory in January 1806,and it is possible that they quitted number 25 at that time.
They visited their old home in order to visit James and Mary and their family in January 1806. Martha became part of their household on the death of her mother Mrs Lloyd in April 1805 They returned to Bath at the end of January.
When they arrived back in Bath from Steventon the Austen sisters did have some welcome news. An old friend of the Leigh Perrots , Mrs Lillingston, had left them a legacy of £50 each, which funded Jane Austen’s whole expenditure for a year. Mrs Lillington indeed, may have inspired part of the character of Lady Russell in Persuasion.
The Austen ladies then took what they hoped would be temporary lodgings right in the very heart and bustle of Bath in Trim Street.( Number 7 on the annotated map, above) A place Cassandra Austen had once hoped they might never inhabit….
In the meantime she assures you that she will do everything in her power to avoid Trim Street although you have not expressed the fearful presentiment of it which was rather expected.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 3rd January 1801)
This position was rather confined-right in the heart of the town- and had no prospects of views to the surrounding countryside. It was also old, noisy and as the street was narrow possibly dark and consequently, not a little smelly….
The street was named after George Trim, a wealthy clothier of Bath, whose mother is reputed to have been related to the architect Inigo Jones. Writing about the design of the original Guildhall in Bath (which was replaced by the present Guildhall designed by Thomas Badlwin in 1776), reputedly by Inigo Jones, John Wood in his book, A Description of Bath noted :
For if my information be true, Mr Jones not only thought it a Duty incumbent on him as Kings Architect to examine what had not many years before been repaired by the Board of Works, to see if anything remained to be done from that Office; but was led by a natural inclination to render the City all the service in his Power; he having been a near relation to Mrs Trim the Mother of Mr George Trim the founder of Trim Street…
Mr Trim was a member of the Bath Corporation (the ruling council in Bath) and he was one of the first to support the plans for the city’s expansion against much opposition as detailed by John Wood, again in his book, A Description of Bath:
But notwithstanding this Mr. George Trim a worthy Member of the Corporation thought it expedient to augment the Building of the New City and in the year 1707 that Gentleman began a new street at the North West Corner of it; His Example stirred up another Citizen to purchase a Lease of some Land at the South East Corner of the Town and to promote building there; So that as the City now began to shew graceful suburbs the Inhabitants were desirous of Promoting a trade for the better support of it; and with this view, they not only proposed to make the River navigable to Bristol but the later end of the Year 1710, they applied to Parliament for a Power to carry their design into Execution and obtained an Act accordingly…
As above, page 226
It has often been remarked that this time spent in Bath was Jane Austen’s “barren” period- years in which she did not write or achieve much by way of composition. I’m not sure. I think she used her mind like some form of word processor and “worked” on her texts, revising and composing continually , not necessarily committing it to paper before she was on to almost the final draft.
But, to my mind Jane Austen needed peace and quiet and a settled routine to be truly effective in her composition and writing : I think her life in Bath, when she was at the beck and call of the Leigh Perrots, her mother , visiting cousins etc and making a delicate balance between those with whom they could afford to keep company and those who had a far wealthier lifestyle and accordingly the Austen ladies couldn’t afford to allow “in”, was a constant vexation and distraction. I also think she found the constantly changing population of Bath- many people only stayed a matter of weeks to take the waters-totally exhausting. Just look at this telling extract from her letter to Cassandra Austen of 8th April 1805:
They want us to drink tea with them tonight, but I do not know whether my Mother will have nerves for it. We are engaged tomorrow Evening. What request we are in! Mrs Chamberlayne expressed to her niece her wish of being intimate enough with us to ask us to drink tea with her in a quiet way. We have therefore offered ourselves & our quietness thro’ the same medium. Our Tea & sugar will last a great while. I think we are just the kind of people & party to be treated about among our relations; we cannot be supposed to be very rich.
Her walks were probably the only peace and quiet she could command, and I think they were consequently rather important to her. They are certainly mentioned a lot in her letters. If you look at this section from John Cary’s map of the Environs of Bath from Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc. (1812)
you can see some of the places she waked to during her stay in Bath. Do click on the maps(as you can all the images here) in order to enlarge them:
….notably Lyncombe and Widcombe: mostly uphill out ward journeys as Bath is situated in a sort of pudding basin terrain
Some of the places she visited on foot are marked on the annotated map as follows:
To return to Trim Street. By April Mrs Austen if we can judge from the address written on her letter to her daughter in law Mary, wife of James, was feeling exasperated at still living there:
Trim Street Still.
I had a letter the other day from Edwd. Cooper, he wrote to congratulate us on Frank’s Victory and to invite us to Hamstall in the ensuing Summer., which invitation we seem disposed to accept…we are disappointed of the lodgings in St James’s Square, a person is in treaty for the whole House, so of course he will be prefer’d to us who want only a part- We have look’d at some others since but don’t quite like the situation-hope a few days hence we shall have more choice as it is supposed many will go from Bath when this gay week is over…
The St James Square house did not materialize:
which was a pity as it was a far more congenial area of Bath- on rising ground in the Upper town on the outskirts, overlooking open countryside. But obviously far more expensive accommodation than they could afford: the reality of their financial situation I think was now beginning to set in.
And though the Austen ladies did eventually make the trip to visit their cousins, the Coopers, at Hamstall Ridware in Stafffordshire , they decided it was time to leave Bath and give up the hunt for elusive good accommodation for ever…..because Jane‘s brother, Frank, fortuitously suggested they set up home with his new bride, Mary Gibson in Southampton.
And thus ended Jane Austen’s time in Bath: we shall never know if it was a wholly happy time. I tend to think it was not: a mixture of a busy period, a period of sorrow, frustration and perhaps, some pleasure for her…but Im sure she used her time there to her eventual advantage,watching and learning a lot about human behaviour in all its manifestations while she lived in that busy place.
She certainly used her knowledge of the topography of Bath to great effect in Persuasion, and also knew how to portray the lives of the seemingly rich (the Elliots in Camden Place )and those clinging onto gentility by a very slender thread (Mrs Smith in Westgate Buildings).
But I think, on the whole she was glad not to be there any more for, as she wrote to Cassandra Austen in 1808
It will be two years to-morrow since we left Bath for Clifton, with what happy feelings of escape!
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 30th June 1808)