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We know that Trim Street in Bath was the last place the Austen ladies- Jane,Cassandra and Mrs Austen- lived while they were in Bath because of the evidence from a letter sent by Mrs Austen to Mary  her daughter- in -law. Here is a link to a post that I wrote about it last year.

Their Trim Street home was supposed to be very temporary accommodation in which to stay while they were  looking at other properties in which to settle on a more permanent basis. They arrived there in January 1806 but were still there in April, and most probably stayed there till they finally left Bath for Clifton and on to Gloucestershire,Warwickshire and Staffordshire in the summer of 1806.

Mrs Austen’s exasperation with her situation and inability to find more suitable lodging was expressed not only in the tone of her letter but in the way she wrote her address

Trim Street Still

The letter, part of which is quoted in Deirdre Le Faye’s book, Jane Austen: A Family Record, gives some hints of the trials of searching for lodgings which suited both their social aspirations and their much reduced pockets, for at this time Mr Austen had been dead for over a year, and they were very dependant upon the charity of the Austen sons. And remember when the family were first searching for lodgings in Bath in 1801 Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra that

In the meantime she (Mrs Austen- Jfw) 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, 3rd January 1801)

So…why was Trim Street so exasperating? Well, last summer I had the very enjoyable but slightly odd experience of staying in Trim Street, in a Georgian house rented out as holiday let by a nearby hotel, and may have found some of the reasons which explain Mrs Austen’s desperation to move away.

This view of trim street shows the house where we stayed- on the bottom left by the parked car .It is a typical small, slightly narrow, single fronted  Bath town house, and it was rather plainly built with no internal architectural features of note.

But it had been altered into a wonderful suite of holiday accommodation on four floors,with a sleek modern kitchen, roof terrace, shown above, four bedrooms, excellent bathrooms and sitting room.

Above is the entrance hall…

The stairs…

One of the bedrooms….

And the sitting room on the first floor

This is the view from the sitting room looking out onto the most architecturally distinguished part of Trim Street, General Wolfe’s House.He was staying in Bath  at this house when Pitt the elder commanded him to lead his famous expedition to Quebec.

The street that runs parallel to Trim Street contains the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, which is now the National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases. It was founded in 1738 and was known as The Mineral Water Hospital.  It provided care for the many poor people who flocked to Bath  desperate for a cure for their illnesses from either bathing in or drinking the famed mineral waters.This was the other side of the coin  to fashionable Bath, the one that Mrs Smith in Persuasion was hovering above in genteel poverty in nearby Westgate Buildings.

As you can see from the map above, Trim Street is surrounded by other streets. When Baht is busy, this is a very busy street with many pedestrians cutting though on their way to the attractions of the main shopping area (then as now) -Bond Street

haunt of Sir Walter Elliot

and, of course…

Milsom Street, home to the status obsessed General Tilney…

are seconds away as are  the Pump Room

and the Bath complex and the Abbey.

Perfect for a holiday break today in a rather funkily decorated,  restored period house with all modern conveniences… except for some problems that would have been universal then as now.Do allow me to explain….

Trim Street is narrow and has rather tall buildings. As a result the rooms are sunny for a small period of time: once the sun moved over the rooms were not particularly light. Nor are there any views to be had save for other buildings. No trees, no greenery….and for someone like Jane Austen who seemed to crave the countryside, that would have been hard to endure.

And then there was the noise. The result of the tall buildings in a narrow street is that any noise is amplified and even one person walking along it echos intrusively  into the house. So…if lots of people are waking around,that equates to a lot of noise. Women walking on metal patterns on the cobbled street would be heard all over the house.

We also found the modern phenomena of Hen Partys and etc meant that we heard revellers into the very early ( or late!) hours of the morning, and most nights we didn’t have any peace until at least 3 a.m. Im sure drunken revellers are not just a 21st century phenomena.

And I could imagine that in the not particularly sanitary early 19th century, the air would not be particularly good in such a confined street……Pongs would hang about.

So,while we relished the thought that we were staying On The Street Where She Lived, and indeed it may even have been in that particular house(!) what we didn’t relish were the sort of inconveniences that I am sure would have been experienced by the Austens. No wonder after four months of living there Mrs Austen was quite desperate to get away…..

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…

Page 316

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:

1 Charlecombe

2 Lansdown

3 Twerton

4 Widcombe

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)

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