Saturday 22 February 2014


Part of a painting in The Tudor House Museum in Bugle Street. It shows the Marquis of Landsdownes house next to Castle Square. The house Jane lived in is just before it.

We can refocus our view of Jane Austen's life and her novels  by seeing it through the prism of her stay in the maritime port of Southampton. It is so easy to ignore or pass by Jane's Southampton experiences but they were an integral part of her life.

In 1782, Jane, at the age of seven, was sent to Mrs Crawley’s school in Oxford, with her sister Cassandra and her cousin, Jane Cooper. However a measles epidemic occurred in Oxford in 1783. Mrs Crawley removed her school swiftly to Southampton. Measles could be a killer in the  18th and 19th centurys and removing her charges was the best thing Mrs Crawley could do. Jane was in Southampton only a short while before an infectious fever rampaged through Southampton, brought to the town by troops arriving from foreign fields. The three girls became very ill and although Mrs Crawley, for some reason,  did not want them to write to their parents, Jane Cooper, managed to get a message to her mother who was staying in Bath at the time along with Mrs Austen. The two mothers immediately traveled to Southampton and nursed their children to health before taking them back to Bath. Unfortunately Mrs Cooper caught the fever herself and died. So Jane’s first encounter with Southampton was not an auspicious one.

The medieval entrance into Southampton, The Bargate. The site of the Costa coffee shop is the site of All Saints Church where Jane attended services given by  Dr Mant.

Jane,visited Southampton again in 1793. She was nearly eighteen and arrived in Southampton to visit a cousin from her fathers side of the family from Tonbridge in Kent. Elizabeth Matilde Austen had married a Southampton gentleman with the surname Butler-Harris. He became the Sherriff of the town.They lived in the St Mary's district of Southampton, outside the ancient walls, on the site of the old Saxon town. Jane was asked to help her cousin because she was about to have a baby. While in Southampton Jane went to a ball at The Dolphin Hotel in the High Street to celebrate her 18th birthday.

Her third experience of Southampton followed her time in Bath. In 1801, to the consternation of Cassandra and Jane, their father, George Austen, retired, and left the parish of Steventon, along with the rectory, to his son, James and his wife Mary. Jane was twenty five years old and had imagined she would lead the rest of her life at Steventon. She had led a settled existence and had formed her writing habits  in those familiar rural surroundings. Suddenly all this was disrupted and she and Cassandra were removed to Bath for the next five years. George Austen died in 1805, the year of The Battle of Trafalgar, and the following year,Cassandra, Jane, Martha Lloyd, Jane's best friend, and their mother all moved to a house in Castle Square, Southampton.

In 1806 Jane’s brother, Francis, married Mary Gibson. He was a naval officer and so had to go away to sea. He wanted his mother and sisters to live with his new wife and keep her company. Portsmouth, where Francis would sail from, was a place for sailors, a rough and colourful place, rife with the dens of iniquity. Southampton, nineteen miles away at the head of Southampton Water, was far more genteel and had been a successful spa town attracting the aristocracy. Jane and her family immersed themselves in the life of Southampton for two years, shopping, attending balls, going to the theatre, attending church services, visiting new acquaintances and receiving and entertaining nephews, nieces, brothers, friends, neighbours and sisters’ in-law. Jane commented on many detailed aspects of her life in Southampton in her letters to Cassandra and also to other members of her family.

The Assembly Rooms near castle Square.

By the time Jane Austen and her family moved to Southampton in 1806 she had already written, Susan, an early version of Northanger Abbey, Elinor and Marianne, an early version of Sense and Sensibility and First Impressions a first version of Pride and Prejudice. Later, after leaving Southampton for Chawton, she was to edit these early versions before publishing them and also to write, Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion in their entirety. Southampton and her experiences there must have influenced her editing and her writing.  Jane Austen wrote about the world she knew and lived in. 

This year, 2014, is the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park. One of the strands in Mansfield Park, that Jane Austen explores, is the clergy. The clergy feature strongly in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility also and to a greater and lesser extent in all her novels. Her father was a clergyman, James her brother was a clergyman and her brother Henry eventually became one. In many of her letters she mentions the clergymen she knew and this is evident in her letters written from Southampton.

It is interesting to note that while living in Southampton, Jane and Martha Lloyd attended the services officiated by Dr Mant at All Saints Church in the High Street. There were other churches closer to Castle Square. St Michaels Church in St Michaels Square was a short distance from Castle Square and is the oldest church in Southampton, and also there was Holyrood Church, in the High Street. There is no mention of these churches in her letters. It seems that Jane Austen searched out Dr Mant and his sermons, to be challenged by his radical views.

The Greek columned building on the right is All Saints Church where Jane Austen attended services with Martha Lloyd.

Dr Mant was a leading biblical scholar. He was born in Havant in Hampshire in 1745 and died in 1817. He was a clergyman who wrote and delivered his own sermons, unlike Mary Crawford’s suggestion in Mansfield Park, that a sensible clergyman should rely on prepared sermons such as those of Blaire. Dr Mant wrote pamphlets and treatises and caused controversy and debate about,”Regeneration and Conversion.”

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Dr Richard Mant born 1745 died 1817,. Rector of All Saints, headmaster of King Edward VI Grammar School from 1770.

In 1770 he was the headmaster of King Edwards School, then situated in Bugle Street, Southampton. It appears that he was an ambitious clergyman who wanted to make a name for himself. He was interested in education and, from Jane's letters, we know he took a very personal interest in his congregation although it can be debated what sort of interest.

Wednesday 18th January 1809 (To Cassandra) Castle Square
 “Martha and Dr Mant are as bad as ever; he runs after her in the street to apologise for having spoken to a gentleman while she was near him the day before.-Poor Mrs Mant can stand it no longer; she is retired to one of her married Daughters.- “

Tuesday 24th January 1809 (Castle Square)
(referring to Martha’s ongoing relationship with Dr Mant)
“As Dr M is a clergyman their attachment however immoral it is, has a decorous air…!”

Mrs Mant was born Elizabeth Roe in Lambeth. Lambeth Palace was and is the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading Church of England cleric. We can conjecture she was the daughter of a high ranking cleric. Unfortunately It appears that her husband, Dr Mant, was a flirt and that Martha Lloyd was besotted with him.

Castle Square today showing the Bosuns Locker, the site of Jane's house.

Jane often takes us to the heart of the drama of being a clergyman, either real clergymen in her letters or fictitious ones in her novels. The clergymen in the novels always add an important element to the plot and the clergymen in real life add spice and intrigue to Jane’s everyday life.

Jane s letters from Castle Square also provide some detailed insights into what a ball was like and the politics and manoeuvrings that a ball entailed.

Friday 9th December 1808 Castle Square to Cassandra
“Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected, Martha liked it very much, and I did not gape till the last quarter of an hour.-It was past nine before we were sent for, and not twelve when we returned.-The room was tolerably full, and there were perhaps thirty couples of dancers;- the melancholy part was to see so many dozen young Women standing by without partners, and each of them with two ugly naked shoulders!-It was the same room we danced fifteen years ago!-I thought it all over-and in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with thankfulness, that I was quite as happy now as then.-We paid an additional shilling for our Tea, which we took as we chose in an adjoining room.- There were only four dances, and it went to my heart that the Miss Lances, (one of them too named Emma) should have partners only for two.-You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance- but I was- by the gentleman we met that Sunday with captain D’auvergene. We have always kept up a Bowing acquaintance since, and being pleased with his black eyes, I spoke to him at the ball, which brought me to this civility; but I do not know his name, and he seems so little at home with the English Language that I believe his black eyes may be the best of him. Captain D’auvergne has got a ship.”

Nelson's Flagship, The Victory at Portsmouth.

It appears that Jane was feeling her age at this ball. She is sanguine about the whole affair and obviously made the best of it. She even appears to have enjoyed herself. It, “was rather more amusing,” than she expected. “I did not gape,” presumably meaning that she did not yawn. The ball began at nine in the evening and went on past midnight. She was concerned for the women with no partners.  Women need partners, in more ways than one. It is interesting to find that young ladies in their quest to keep up with fashion will make some unsuitable dress decisions. Some fashions do not compliment all body shapes. “The two ugly shoulders,” reference points to a fashion issue. These women should not have revealed their shoulders. They appear to be keeping up with fashion no matter how painful the consequences.

In her letter, Jane is reporting to Cassandra, in quite some detail, the goings on at the Dolphin ball. Who was there, who was not; how people interacted and her sensations and feelings about the ball. We have the preparation for the ball, the ball itself and the post ball analysis. The ball at Netherton in Pride and Prejudice and also the ball at Highbury, in Emma, come to mind. In fact the ball at Highbury is held in an inn just as the Dolphin ball is. We can see some similarities and connections between the two locations. There is a fireplace at the end of the ballroom in the Dolphin as there is a fireplace in the ballroom in Highbury. Similar themes and actions occur in the fictitious balls and the real ball;expectations, anticipation of happiness, disappointments, unexpected occurrences, absences and surprise attendances, character analysis, detailed observations,  facial expressions, the tone of voices and eavesdropping on conversations and all the rules and formalities of a ball

The Dolphin Hotel, Southampton.

For Elizabeth, the Netherton Ball, certainly was not the smooth, elegant, enjoyable occasion she had probably hoped for. Perhaps the displaying of “two ugly shoulders,” in Jane's letter from Southampton, is not on a par with what Elizabeth suffered but the element of suffering and embarrassment is there.

At the Highbury Ball in Emma, Miss Bates,  one of the most irritating of characters, continually talks,  describing the details of the ball.  Jane Austen, in her letters to Cassandra about the Dolphin Balls is playing, in a more subdued way, the part of Miss Bates. Jane and Miss Bates tell us the details, things we would never find out otherwise. 

While in Southampton, the Austens got to know a family called the Lances. Jane attended balls with Mrs Lance and her daughters and visited Mrs Lance at her grand house overlooking the valley in which the Portsmouth Road wends its way from Southampton  and across Northam Bridge. All the social niceties, manners and rules of politeness are  in  evidence in Jane’s letters. Her visits to Mrs Lance could almost be scenes from her novels.

The Lances House at Bitterne.

Thursday 8th January 1807 to Cassandra.

”to the Berties are to be added the Lances, with whose cards we have been endowed, and whose visit Frank and I returned yesterday. They live about a mile and three quarters from S. to the right of the new road to  Portsmouth, and I believe their house is one of those which are to be seen almost anywhere among the woods on the other side of the Itchen. It is a handsome building, stands high, and in a very beautiful situation. We found only Mrs Lance at home, and whether she boasts any offspring besides a grand pianoforte did not appear. She was civil and chatty enough, and offered to introduce us to some acquaintance in Southampton.”

 At a later date Jane visited the Lances with Martha Lloyd.

Friday 9th December 1808 to Cassandra.

“Martha and I made use of the very favourable state of yesterday for walking to Chiswell- we found Mrs Lance at home and alone, and sat out three other ladies who soon came in.- We went by the ferry and returned by the bridge, and were scarcely at all fatigued.”

The same rules of etiquette apply whether Mr Knightley is visiting Emma and Mr Woodhouse in Highbury or Darcy is visiting the Bennetts or the Bertrams are visiting Mr and Mrs Grant in Mansfield Park. The same tensions, politeness’s and finally the analysis and reaction and thoughts about the people visited.

Northam Bridge taking the Portsmouth Road over the River Itchen.

Any group wanting to visit the England of Jane Austen would do very well if they based themselves in Southampton. The Dolphin Hotel, where those balls were attended, is a Georgian building and a four star hotel.
From The Dolphin Hotel a walk around Southampton might include, Castle Square and a pub lunch in The Juniper Berry (Bosuns Locker), on the site of Jane's Southampton home.

" We hear that we are envied our House by many people and that the garden is the best in town."(22nd February 1807).

Another site mentioned in her letters is the theatre,

"Martha aught to see the inside of the Theatre once while she lives in Southampton..." (9th December 1808),

Other sites include the location of the beach where the Austens ice skated in the winter.The site and line of the beach is a curious bending  path that bisects Green Park, opposite one of the docks in Southampton. The irregular course of the path is understood when you discover that it follows the shoreline that existed before the Southampton Docks were built on reclaimed land. The first docks opening in 1843. The expansion of the docks continued after that.

 A  short drive takes you to the site of the Lances estate at “Chiswell,” now known as Chessel, which is part of Bitterne, a suburb of Southampton. The gate house and the two pillars marking the entrance to the Lance estate are still remaining. Two roads are named after the Lances, Lances Hill and Little Lances Hill.

The River Itchen, creating a natural border to the east of Southampton, is the river Jane and her nephews Edward and George rowed from the Itchen Ferry up river  to Northam Bridge, " where we landed, looked into the 74,and walked home." ( a "74," referring to a battleship of 74 guns.)

A  trip, a few miles east, outside of Southampton to the beautiful setting of the  ancient ruins of Netley Abbey would be an ideal spot for a picnic. Jane and her family had picnics at Netley.

"I shall think of you tonight as at Netley and tomorrow too..." ( 22nd June 1808)

Netley Abbey influenced the Gothic movement instigated by Horace Walpole. Jane's earlier stays in Southampton may have been times when she was introduced to Netley Abbey. Could Netley have been an influence on her writing of Northanger Abbey?

 Near The Dolphin is Southampton pier where the ferry goes to the Isle of Wight. The Austens often took boat trips to the Island. The first mention is a letter dated 21st November 1800,

"Charles leaves us on Saturday, unless Henry should take us in his way to the Island, of which we have some hopes.."

Southampton is within short drives of Winchester, Chawton, Steventon and Portsmouth with its Historic dockyard which features Nelsons flag ship, The Victory. Bath and Lyme are each a day trip away. London can be reached within an hour on the main line train from Southampton Central Station.

Jane's grave in Winchester Cathedral.

Netley Abbey, south transept.

The Tudor House Museum, Southampton.


  1. Lots of interest here, Tony. Thanks.

    Chris H.

    1. Chris, good to hear from you. I wrote this article because very few, if anybody, uses Southampton to explore Jane Austen. I am trying to change their viewpoint.All the best, Tony

  2. Tony, I had not thought to visit Southampton in search of Jane, but now see how important it is. I enjoyed learning more about Jane's view of the clergy. Tell me, what did she think of her father and brothers as clergymen? Were they genuine or simply in it for the living?

  3. Jean, good question.
    George Austen, Jane's father, looked after two parishes, Steventon, and the parish of Deane, about a mile and half north of Steventon.The parishes were situated west of Basingstoke, in Hampshire. At their parsonage in Steventon, the Austens provided accommodation for young gentlemen from aristocratic families. The Rev George Austen tutored them in Latin and Greek. He himself had been an Oxford Scholar. Jane's brother James took over the parishes after his father George retired. Henry Austen, after his banking exploits failed and he became bankrupt, also took up the cloth.He was a curate at Chawton and also rector of Steventon at different times.Apprently he wrote very good sermons. All the evidence points to the three of them being conscientious clergymen. They did their jobs well and took their rolls seriously. How holy,pious and spiritual they were, is open to conjecture. Tony

  4. Hi Tony!
    Long time since I've commented here.
    How interesting to have a virtual tour of Jane Austen's Southampton. I think that most visitors like myself don't place as much importance on this place, as we are pressed with time and have to include Bath, Winchester and Chawton in our schedules... but surely, having seen the other places, Southampton is next on my list of places to visit :) What a pity that most of the buildings haven't survived... would be lovely to stay at the Dolphin and imagine Jane coming to that place for a ball.

    As for the piousness of the Austen family, they were no evangelicals and would surely not be the kind to preach religion, it was a more silent, personal kind of worship and I think that for the men of the family, the clergy was a job like any other. They must have been deeply religious, though. Perhaps George and James Austen were more pious than Henry, for whom clergy was the last career option anyway (as was the case with Wickham).


  5. Hi Anna. Good to hear from you. I hope you, your husband and your,"toddler," are well?
    As you probably can tell I have a strong interest in Jane,
    'S connection with Southampton. Southampton is my home town.

    1. Yes we are all well, got two toddlers now so you can imagine I'm quite busy!!

      I remember you posting about Southampton before, but keep these coming - it's interesting to see another point of view!

    2. Just going back looking at references to Martha Lloyd, since I was recently given Martha Lloyd's Household Book by a cousin. I chose as my first recipe to make from the book 'Bolton Bunns' (Martha's spelling) and am intrigued by the fact that there is NO mention of such a thing anywhere. I'm thinking that Martha, at some point in her life, visited someone up north in Bolton, had some buns there, and henceforth called her usual buns that she put currants in Bolton Bunns.