I know…I reneged on my promise about Sense and Sensibility posts last week.So here is another to placate you.
About this time, the two Miss Steeles, lately arrived at their cousin’s house in Bartlett’s Buildings, Holborn, presented themselves again before their more grand relations in Conduit and Berkley Street; and were welcomed by them all with great cordiality.
Let’s examine the place where the ambitious Lucy Steele usually stayed when she was in London, Bartlett’s Buildings.
This is a print by Thomas Shepherd circa 1838 but it in effect shows Bartlett’s Buildings as they were when Lucy was staying there.
Here is a map of the area where Bartlett’s Buildings were situated, in the commercial district of London,the City: this is a section taken from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809)
Here is the same section, annotated with the position of Bartlett’s Buildings:
This is a close up of the section showing Bartlett’s Buildings, just off Fetter Lane:
This is an appropriate location for the Steeles, bearing in mind that Mrs Jenning’s husband’s wealth had been made in the city though she lived in splendour in Berkley Street in the elegant west of London:
Though Mrs. Jennings was in the habit of spending a large portion of the year at the houses of her children and friends, she was not without a settled habitation of her own. Since the death of her husband, who had traded with success in a less elegant part of town, she had resided every winter in a house in one of the streets near Portman Square.Chapter 25
And Mrs Jennings, being Mrs Jennings, still kept up with her friends in the City despite the disapproval of her daughter, the foul Lady Middleton. This map of London from my copy of The Picture of London (1803) by John Feltham shows the relative positions of Berkley Street (1),Mrs Jennings home, just off Portman Square and (2) Bartlett’s Buildings, just off Holborn.
Miles and social eons apart. This is a description of Bartlett’s Buildings by Constance Hill from her book, Jane Austen : Her Homes and Her Friends:
Near at hand is Conduit Street, where the Middletons lodged, and, at no very great distance is Berkeley Street, leading out of Portman Square, where Mrs. Jennings’ house stood in which Elinor and Marianne visited her. The Miss Steeles, we remember, stayed in a less elegant part of the town – namely in Bartlett’s Buildings, Holborn. These Buildings are still to be seen, forming a quaint alley of dark brick houses with pedimented doorways and white window-frames. We have looked up at the windows and wondered behind which of them Edward Ferrars had his momentous interview with the avaricious Lucy, while her sister Nancy made “no bones” of listening at the keyhole to their conversation.
She visited Bartlett’s Buildings and recorded her impressions at the end of the 19th century. This illustration also from Contance Hill’s book and shows the old fashioned detailing around one of the entrance to the houses, recognisable from the Thomas Shepherd illustration above:
Bartlett’s Buildings in the early 19th century was known as a place where solicitors and attorneys had their offices,and lived, together with some silver and gold merchants. It was not far from the Inns of Court, and indeed a medieval inn of court, Thavies Inn, had once stood near to Bartlett’s Buildings.
It was very commercial, and not at all like the elegant, well-planned and prosperous streets surrounding Portman Square. Boyle’s Court Guide for April 1811,the year Sense and Sensibility was published,
lists,out of the 11 people living in Bartlett’s Buildings, five attorneys. Attorneys were the less fashionable section of the law,certainly not as smart socially as barristers, note. Remmber Miss Bingley’s sneering comments to Darcy in Pride and Prejudice about Elizabeth’s uncle , the attorney Mr Philips and this reflected the differing social scale within the legal profession at the time.
The same publication lists the residents of Berkley Street as being two earls( of Dunmore and Carysfort),the dowager Countess of Mansfield and and one baron,Lord Saye and Sele , all living in Berkley Street amongst non titled residents .Very different I’m sure you will agree. This is an engraving of Mrs Mongaue’s house (she was of course,the famous founder of the intellectual circle of women known as th Blue Stockings ) from the 1803 edition of A Picture of London.
It contrasts greatly with the rather crowded and old fashioned surroundings of Bartlett’s Buildings, and perhaps explains part of Lucy’s determination to escape to the richer and more elegant surroundings of the west. In whatever way she could;-) It is a tiny engraving and not in very good condition,but it shows the elegant houses and peaceful , leafy surroundings. Note the children running and the elegant people walking around. Jane Austen knew this area well; her brother, Henry lived at Number 24 Upper Berkley Street from 1801-1804.
You cannot visit Bartlett’s Buildings as Lucy Steele knew them, sadly.
They were bombed and totally destroyed in an air raid in 1941 during World War II. If you go here you can view three photographs of the bomb damage as well as some watercolours of the jumble of buildings that made up the rear view of Bartlett’s Buildings.
So there you are, an illustration of the origins of Mrs Jennings wealth and the great gulf that separates Lucy from her goal. Mrs Jennings’ attachment to her friends in the city speaks volumes about her character as does Lucy determination to live up West. Yet again Jane Austen placed her characters with utmost precision and careful thought, reflecting their social conditions in their surroundings. Brilliant woman.