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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 :

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©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.

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©BathBoutiqueStays

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

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©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.

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©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

We now know what early 19th century fireworks looked like…but what about the illuminations?

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.

(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 19th June, 1799)

Illuminations were often used in conjunction with fireworks, and were static structures lit by hundreds of small glass lamps fuelled with oil. The structures were often temporary things, but the illuminations (the small glass oil lamps) could also be affixed to “illuminate” more solid structures, as in this picture below by Rowlandson from Ackermann’s The Microcosm of London, showing the illuminated bandstand at Vauxhall Gardens( Do click on it to enlarge it to see the beautiful detail,and the effect of  the individual lamps)

The term could also refer to the strings of lamps illuminating the walks of the pleasure gardens as was the case at many of the gardens in England throughout the 18th century and  up to the middle of the 19th century.

At a time when  the brightness of electric light was unknown and  candles used en masse was terrifically and prohibitively expensive, the sight of coloured lights illuminating the gardens at night, among the trees,  must have been breath-taking.

An Irish gentlemen visiting Vauxhall Gardens in 1752, whose name is not recorded, wrote about  the  astonishing effect of the illuminations:

The garden strikes the eye prodigiously; it is set with many rows of tall trees, kept in excellent order, among which are placed an incredible number of globe lamps, by which it is illuminated, and when they are lighted the sound of the music ravishing the ear, added to the great resort of company so well dressed and walking about, would almost make one believe he was in the Elysian fields.

The method of lighting the lamps at Vauxhall was very dramatic. During supper a whistle was blown as a signal to a number of servants placed in strategic parts of the garden. Each servant touched a match to pre-installed fuses, and, instantaneously over a thousand oil lamps were illuminated, bathing the gardens in a warm light that would have been visible for miles around.

These illustration from the Duke of Richmond’s firework display also show  examples of illuminations:

Some illuminations were rather more elaborate than others.

This one designed by the architect, Robert Adam for King George III not only included 4,000 individual oil lamps but also two large transparencies pictures painted on gauze and lit from behind to produce a luminous effect:

This design is the more elaborate of the two proposals submitted by Adam for a temporary structure to be erected in the garden of Buckingham House in June 1763 at the time of the celebrations to mark the start of royal occupation of the house, purchased in the previous year. In the event Adam’s other design, for a much simpler structure, was used. A detailed description of the party, which took place at night and employed 4,000 lamps, is included in the Gentleman’s Magazine. It was arranged by Queen Charlotte as a surprise for the King, at the time of his twenty-fifth birthday. Adam also made perspective views of both versions of the screen,  which clarify the importance of the ‘transparencies’ (large back-lit pictures, within the main architectural features) in the design. The subject of the transparencies alluded to the King’s role as peace-maker – following the signing of the Treaty of Paris and the end of the Seven Years War in the same year. This style of decoration had been popular on the continent for many years: in France, Rome and also in Mecklenburg, where a small-scale ‘illumination’ had been staged to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of the future Queen Charlotte in 1761. It appears that some of the materials used in Adam’s 1763 screen were reused by Chambers in 1768, for the pavilion erected in Richmond at the time of the visit of the King’s brother-in-law, Christian VII of Denmark.

(see George III and Queen Charlotte: Patronage Collecting and Court Taste edited by Jane  Roberts).

Sadly we have no record of the type of illuminations which were in operation at the Sydney Gardens but we can be assured that because of their rarity and very special effect in a world where the light from a few wax candles was thought of as miraculous, Jane Austen was  quite right to be  impressed.

And that concludes this series of posts on Jane Austen in Bath.  I do hope you have enjoyed  our time travelling to this particular part of Jane Austen’s past.

So.. continuing from our last post on Music in the Sydney Garden wherein we discovered that Jane Austen did everything in her power to avoid listening to it…for whatever reason…(which she did not share with us )…we now turn to the fireworks…..which we know she did enjoy :

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.

(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 19th June, 1799)

The advertisement for the evening states that:

There will be a most

CAPTIAL DISPLAY OF FIREWORKS

By Signor INVETTO

Who will exert the utmost of his ingenious skill to produce new and astonishing effects;to enumerate the particulars would be too long for an advertisement

Signor Invetto was one of a few itinerant firework masters who traveled around England  creating firework displays at the pleasure gardens in different towns during the 18th and 19th centuries.

I thought you might be interested to see this advertismentle from the Norfolk Chronicle of 1782, which gives us a little more background to the firework master from Milan who seems to have made a good living in England by supplying fireworks to various pleasure gardens .

At BUNN’s Pantheon, On Tuesday, June 18, 1782, (being Guild-Day, will be performed a Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music.

First Violin, Mr Abraham STANNARD, jun.

The Vocal Part, by Mr LEVI, (After the Manner of Mr LEONI, of the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden.) Act.1. “Auld Robin Gray” Act 2. The Soldier’s Tir’d, etc ” The Evening to conclude with a Brilliant Display of Fire-Works, by Sig. Baptista PEDRALIO; Consisting of many new Designs, Emblematical and Picturesque, beautifully ornamented with all the various coloured Fires, representing Suns, Cascades, Rockets, illuminated Balloons, Horizontal, Vertical, Pigeon, and Balloon Wheels, etc etc.

The Concert to begin at Eight o’Clock.

Admittance One Shilling; Sixpence to be returned in Liquor, etc QUANTRELL’s Gardens Will be illuminated on Tuesday, June 18, (being Guild-Day) when there will be a Concert of Martial Music; the Evening to conclude with a capital Display of Fire Works, by Sig. Antonio INVETTO, from Milan, who has had the Honour of exhibiting in the Presence of the principal Part of the Nobility and Gentry in these Kingdoms, and likewise at QUANTRELL’s Gardens on the 4th Instant, and gave more Satisfaction than any Person that has exhibited there for nine Years past. In the Course of the Fire-works will be exhibited the Battle and Capture of Count DE GRASSE by the gallant Admiral RODNEY, executed in a Stile (sic) far superior to any thing ever seen in this City.

Admittance at the Gate One Shilling; Sixpence to be returned in Liquor, etc.

Note. The Artist makes and sells all Sorts of Fire-works for Rooms, Wholesale and Retale (sic), in a neater and genteeler Manner than any Person in this City, and on the most reasonable Terms.– Enquire at the Gardens.

Certainly from 1780 at the pleasure gardens in England the firework displays were a prominent feature. For most of these the “ingenious Signor Invetto, the celebrated Italian Artist from Milan,” was responsible, and invariably each successive exhibition was ” the most superb display ever exhibited in this City.”

The advertisment for the postponed gala sadly does not give details of the fireworks Signor Invetto produced. However this advert, again from the Bath Chronicle of 1799, for another Sydney Gardens gala ( this time to be held to coincide the Bath Races on July 16th ) gives details of the type of fireworks which Signor Invetto, the Italian who supplied fireworks to the Sydney Gardens might have used when Jane Austen was there:

(Please do enlarge it by clicking on it in order to see the detail)

And if we cross reference these with both 18th century illustrations and descriptions in a contemporary book on fireworks  – Artificial Fireworks Improved to the Modern Practice from the Minutest to the Highest Branches (1776) by Captain Jones -we should be able to get a fairy good idea of the type of fireworks Jane Austen would have seen at the Sydney Gardens that evening.

The picture above is of  the firework display held by the Duke of Richmond at Richmond House near the Thames in Whitehall, London and shows both the whole effect of all the fireworks and also, very interestingly, gives individual details of the individual fireworks which made up the whole display.

The “frame” of the picture shows details of the  individual fireworks.

The ones that  tally with Signor Invetto’s display at the Sydney gardens are as follows:

1. Marrons and Battery of Marrons


These were named from the French word for chestnuts, because of their size and shape before they burst open. They burst into fire with a loud report. The firework was a small box of flash powder covered with a base of flame powder. As a result they flared brilliantly before they burst and exploded.

The illustration above shows a battery( i.e. more than one) of Marrons.

Captain Jones advises these are useful in musical displays:

If well managed will keep time to a march or a slow piece of music. Marron batteries are made of several strands with a number of cross rails for the marrons, which are regulated by leaders, by cutting them of different lengths and nailing them tight or loose according to the time of the music. In marron batteries you must use the large and small marrons and the nails of the pipes must have flat heads.

3. Fixed Sun (a brilliant sun fix’d)


This was a circular firework, which was fix’d to a pole and blaz’d like the sun.

This was spectacular but very dangerous: Captain Jones warns:

To make a sun of the best sort  there should be  2 rows of cases which will shew a double glory and make th rays strong and full The frame must be very strong…In the centre of the block of the sun drive a spindle on which put a small hexagonal wheel whose cases must be  filled with the same charge as the cases of the sun…a sun thus made is called a Brilliant Sun because the wood work is intierly covered with fire from the wheel to the middle so there appears nothing but sparks of a brilliant fire…

3. Pots de Bruin


These were rolls of paste board filled with basic gunpowder which shot vertically into the air many showers of stars, snakes, rains and crackers.

Captain Jones advises:

A number of these are placed on a plank thus: having fixed on a plank 2 rows o wooden pegs in the bottom of the plank cut  a groove the whole length under each row of pegs;  though the centre of each peg, bore a hole down to the grove and on every peg fix and glue a pot whose mouth must sit tight on the  peg…

2 or 300 of these pots fired together make a very pretty show by affording a great variety of fires…

4. Sky Rockets


Self explanatory!



but the illustration above also shows Water rockets: which look terribly difficult to manage…

5. Pigeon

These were small rockets propelled along an horizontal rope, and sometimes they were used to ignite other parts of the display.

6. Chinese Fire

This was gunpowder which was mixed with fine cast-iron filings .The effect produced was a very brilliant and intense flame.

The recipe is as follows( but please do not try this at home…)

Saltpetre 12 oz, meal powder 2 lb, brimstone 1 lb 2 oz and beat iron( cast iron fillings-jfw) 12 oz

7. Serpents

These were small rockets without rods, so that they rose obliquely and descended in a zig-zag manner. They could also be added to the charge inside a large rocket, so that they would explode at the summit of the rocket’s climb, thus heightening the effect.

So there you are, and I hope this has enabled you to enjoy as Jane Austen did some extraordinary early 19th century fireworks.

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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