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©BathBoutiqueStays

©BathBoutiqueStays

As you are all aware, Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801-1806. Her first home in the city was one she shared with her parents, the Reverend and Mrs Austen and her sister, Cassandra.  It was a fine house, Number 4 Sydney Place, which was then on the outskirts of Bath.  You may recall that last year I wrote about an apartment in this house that had come onto the market.

©BathBoutiqueStays

©BathBoutiqueStays

The Austens favoured living here for the situation not only had the advantage of being near to the open countryside, so necessary to such a desperate walker as Jane Austen avowedly was, but the house also overlooked the Sydney Gardens, shown below in a view from the first floor apartment :

©BathBoutiqueStays

©BathBoutiqueStays

The Sydney Gardens were a Vauxhall or pleasure garden where Jane Austen thought

It would be very pleasant to be near Sidney Gardens-we might go into the Labrinth every day…

(See: Letter to Cassandra Austen,dated 21st January 1801)

and they are now a very pleasant open air space.  What was the Sydney Hotel is now the fabulous and vibrant Holburne Museum, which has recently re-opened after a marvellous programme of refurbishment and extension. The apartment on sale has now been purchased and has become available to all to rent as a holiday let from the holiday let company,Bath Boutique Stays.

©BathBoutiqueStays

©BathBoutiqueStays

It has been substantially modernised but the original feature have been kept. It sleeps four people , and has two bedrooms.

©BathBoutiqueStays

©BathBoutiqueStays

The owners have added some amusing “Austen” touches, as you can see  from the photographs they have provided for me:

©BathBoutiqueStays

©BathBoutiqueStays

As you may recall from her description in her book, Jane Austen, Her Homes and Her Friends (1923), Constance Hill liked the  first floor of the house very much. There was a beautiful drawing-room, which was sunny, airy and light:

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.

©BathBoutiqueStays

©BathBoutiqueStays

This is incorporated into the new apartment to let, and, as you can see from the photographs, it still enjoys that sunny aspect overlooking the gardens. I must admit, I’m considering re-jigging my travel plans for next year, as I would love the opportunity to actually stay, for however short a time, in a house where Jane Austen actually lived.

©BathBoutiqueStays

©BathBoutiqueStays

Racking my memory, it would appear to be an almost unique prospect…..Steventon Rectory is now demolished, Chawton Cottage is now a museum, her home in Southampton no longer exists; Stoneleigh Abbey is a now series of private homes and Godmersham is the home of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians College…I don’t think any of the places she stayed in London apart from Henry’ Austens home in Upper Berkeley Street (which is now an hotel) are available for use as lets. And as for Bath, well, you can stay in a holiday let in Trim Street, but we do not know exactly where in Trim Street Jane Austen actually lived. Her home in Gay Street is a private house, and her home in Green Park West -where her father died in January 1805- was destroyed during bombing in World War II, though it has been rebuilt. So, this really is a fabulous opportunity to live for a short while in a place where Jane Austen spent nearly four years of her life.

©BathBoutiqueStays

©BathBoutiqueStays

Jane Austen lived at Number 4 Sydney Place in Bath from the summer of 1801 until the summer of 1804, together with her parents, the Reverend George and Mrs. Austen, and Cassandra, her elder sister. I’ve written about it in the past and you can access those posts here and here.

It was then on the outskirts of Bath and was near to the Sydney Gardens where Jane enjoyed visiting the pleasure gardens, though she was not always too keen on the music performed there, as evidenced by this comment in her letter to Cassandra of the 2nd June 1799 ;)

There is to be a grand gala on Tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens-A concert with Illuminations and Fireworks; to the latter Elizabeth and I look forward with pleasure, and even the concert will have more than its usual charm with me, as the Gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.

The garden to a house a few doors down from Number 4 is open to the public to visit on Saturday 19th may and again on the 1st July. So if you can manage to go you will get an idea of the type of garden the Austens would have enjoyed while they lived at Number 4, and also get a view of the rear of number 4 in the bargain.

The garden is opened to benefit a local charity, The Dorothy House Hospice Care, and all the details of how to ge to the garden plus opening times and price of entry can be accessed here. I do wish I could attend!

This was of course the house to which Jane Austen and her parents first moved when they quitted the rectory at Steventon to move to Bath in 1801. The Austens rented the house  which was opposite the Sydney Gardens,then right at the very edge of the town.

A one bedroom  apartment in the building, on the second floor, has just come onto the rental market.

This is the view looking towards the Sydney gardens from the house. Go here to see all the details of the apartment.

I have to say that it is very tempting…and if the rental agreement found its way into my Christmas stocking..I’d be a very happy woman indeed!

To conclude the series of posts about the life of Jane Austen in Bath I thought I would lighten the mood by ending with  some details of the music, the type of fireworks and illuminations Jane Austen would have seen and heard at the galas she attended at the Sydney Gardens.

In her letter to Cassandra dated 19th June 1799 , written while Jane Austen was staying in Bath with her brother Edward and his family in Queen’s Square, she recorded her impressions of one such event:

Last night we were in Sidney Gardens(sic) again as there was a repetition of the Gala which went off so ill on the 4th–  We did not go till nine and then were in very good time for the Fire-Works which were  really beautiful and surpassing my expectations- the illuminations too were very pretty.

The Sydney Gardens usually held three Gala Evenings each season: one on the 4th June to celebrate King George III’s Birthday; one on the 12th August to celebrate the Prince of Wales birthday and another in July- a moveable feast – to coincide  with the Summer Horse Race Meeting at Bath.

The fireworks to celebrate the Kings Birthday on the  4th June-which went off so ill-were postponed due to bad weather.  They were rescheduled for the 18th June and that is the evening Jane Austen attended.

Here is an advertisement from the Bath Chronicle  giving details of the re- scheduled date:

( If you care to you can click on the illustration above to enlarge it, so that you can read the detail)

The gardens opened for the Gala at 5p.m. The food and drink available included :

cold ham, chicken, lamb, and tongue, wine, spirits, bottled porter, cider, perry all as reasonable as possible the prices of which will be affixed on the bills of fare and placed in every conspicuous part of the Garden.

The reason the prices were so conspicuously affixed throughout the gardens was  that this system  prevented the waiters overcharging, a problem that was prevalent in the London pleasure gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh.

You could eat in the Banqueting Room in the Sydney Gardens Tavern or in the canvas booths outside.

If you look carefully at the engraving above, (do enlarge it !) you can see people sitting in the booths to the right of the picture.  Those eating in the outdoor booths did have the option of staying in them the whole evening, and I would imagine on a chilly English summer’s evening this would have been a very tempting proposition!

The concert began at 7p.m. Note that Jane Austen managed to avoid it by arriving at 9p.m The galas generally went on till 10 p.m. which meant that  Jane Austen was only there for one hour, probably only to see the illuminations and the fireworks!

She appears to have disliked the music played there, for she made this caustic comment in her letter to Cassandra of the 2nd June 1799, when writing of the planned visit to the original gala:

There is to be a grand gala on Tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens-A concert with Illuminations and Fireworks; to the latter Elizabeth and I look forward with pleasure, and even the concert will have more than its usual charm with me, as the Gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.

I would have thought that Bath with its rich orchestral and musical tradition-The Linley family begin just one example of the musicians attracted to living and working in Bath- had fine music and orchestras.

One of the musicians mentioned in the advertisement was Alexander Herscel,the violoncello playing brother  of William Herscel composer and amateur astronomer, who was appointed court astronomer to George III  in 1782  a year after he had discovered the planet Uranus.

He was the first person to accurately and correctly describe the Milky Way and  found two new satellite of Saturn in 1789.  Caroline Herscel in her Memoirs described her brother’s  playing on the violoncello as “divine”… dare we suggest she may have been biased?

Another performer  at the gala was  a Miss Richardson, a singer: she had performed at Vauxhall Gardens in London but this diary entry by John Waldie of Edinburgh from 1805 seems to hint she may have been,well,… not the  best singer in the world:

While the Minstrels were playing their weary staccato harmony all on one key I addressed myself to Mr Elliot, the singer, and we soon entered into conversation, which was to me highly entertaining and useful…We also discussed the merits of all the singers and composers. He agreed with me I thinking Braham, Harrison, Bartleman, Viganoni Mrs Billington, Mara, Banti ,Mrs Mountain and Storace the phalanx of vocal talent in the country.

He also much admires Grassini and Mrs. Tennant who I have not heard. Miss Daniel Miss Parke and Mrs Ashe are only second rate, and also Miss Sharpe and Miss Richardson

(See: The Journal of John Waldie Theatre Commentaries, 1799-1830: no. 13 [Journal 10] May 14, 1804-March 12, 1805)

Poor Miss Richardson…. I’m quite fascinated by Jane Austen’s comment and deliberate avoidance of the concert. I wonder what it was about the music that so irritated her apart from the possibility of them not being the best rate performances ? Did she not like  professional singers ? She made a similar comment about a performance of Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes in her letter to Cassandra of 5th March 1814:

I daresay “Artaxerxes” will be very tiresome.

and later…after the performance

I was very tired of “Artaxerxes,” highly amused with the farce, and, in an inferior way, with the pantomime that followed. Mr. J. Plumptre joined in the latter part of the evening, walked home with us, ate some soup, and is very earnest for our going to Covent Garden again to-night to see Miss Stephens in the “Farmer’s Wife.” He is to try for a box. I do not particularly wish him to succeed. I have had enough for the present.

We shall in all probability never know what upset her so much…..?

Next post: Fireworks.

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:

(The Vestibule at 4 Sydney Place from Constance Hill’s book, Jane Austen, Her Homes and Her Friends (1923))

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.

(A Corner of the drawing room at 4 Sydney Place from Constance Hill’s book, Jane Austen, Her Homes and Her Friends (1923)

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.

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