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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Following Jane’s Last Journey

In 1816, when Jane Austen was 41, her health was becoming weaker and friends noticed a change in her. She suffered from fever and weakness, and was becoming more serious. Although she was very courageous, she must have been aware of the gravity of her situation, as in March, she made her will.

Jane was being treated by the Alton Apothecary, William Curtis, who called in a surgeon from Winchester, Mr Gyles King Lyford. As Jane was improving under his care, it was decided that Jane would travel to Winchester to be under his treatment.

Winchester was a convenient spot for me to travel to Chawton, and before heading off to Chawton by bus, I spent some time exploring the place where Jane breathed her last.

Winchester is a compact town to walk around, and has retained plenty of its traditional architecture. Walking down the quieter streets of Winchester, one could equally well be in the 19th Century if it wasn’t for the cars. 

Most of the roads were narrow and winding, and the houses were a blend of the Georgian and the Victorian.


The house where Jane lived the last days of her life was in College Street, right behind the walls of Winchester Cathedral. It’s a quiet street, very much unchanged since the 19th Century.


The house in 8, College Street, remains on the facade as it was in Jane’s lifetime. She wrote, ‘Our lodgings are very comfortable. We have a neat little drawing room with a bow window overlooking Dr Gabell’s Garden.’


The view from Jane’s lodgings:

It was here that Jane lived, probably watching the cathedral that she admired very much. She would go out in a sedan chair, optimistic that she would be shifted to a wheelchair in the summer. However, as there was no knowledge of her disease at the time – now often referred to as Addison’s disease – there wasn’t much that Dr Lyford could have done.

On the morning of July 18th, 1817, Jane passed away in Cassandra’s arms. From the bow-shaped windows, Cassandra watched as her sister’s funeral hearse went past towards the Cathedral, where Jane was to be buried.


From College Street, I turned right to Kingsgate, which leads you to Winchester Cathedral.


In front of Winchester Cathedral.

Jane is buried in the north aisle of the church. The verses written on her grave, perhaps by her brother Henry, are beautiful, describing her as a person – however, there is no mention of her being an authoress.

It was comforting to know that Jane was buried in a place that she admired so very much. It did cross my mind, though, that perhaps she would have preferred to have been buried in Steventon – her birthplace, which she loved dearly.

At the time of my visit, there was an exhibition dedicated to Jane Austen’s life in the Cathedral. There was also a small set of Jane Austen memorabilia in the City Museum. Therefore I would say that Winchester was well worth a visit.


References: Edwards, A-M. (1991). In the Steps of Jane Austen – Walking Tours of Austen’s England. Wisconsin: Jones Books.

A Peek of the Abbey School

I recently made a short trip to Reading. Why? It’s not the most fascinating city as such – especially to someone as interested in history as I am – but it does have one attraction that was on my list: the Abbey Gateway where Jane Austen went to school.

I wanted to get a glimpse of the building where Jane lived at around the age of 10. This was the second time that Jane went to school, and it was to be her last – the education provided at home turned out to be more useful for Jane and her sister Cassandra than that provided at the Abbey School.

                                                                           Picture from

The school was kept by a Mrs Latournelle, who had a somewhat casual approach to education. Unlike the boys, who would spend hours cramming the classics, girls would study for an hour each morning and were free for the rest of the day. They were mainly taught accomplishments, such as dancing, drawing, French and needlework – subjects considered to be useful for girls who would never enter academics. Jane’s stint at the Abbey School ended at the age of 11, after just 18 months there, and she would never again receive formal education.

The Abbey School was situated in the Abbey Gateway, which was one of the many entrances to the medieval monastery. The monastery is now a ruin, but the Gateway has been heavily restored.

To reach the Gateway, I walked through the town centre to Forbury Gardens. The gardens are lovely and there is a small, quaint church, St James’s Church, on the other side. The gardens didn’t exist in Jane Austen’s days, when the area must have been covered by grassland and trees.


As I walked through the gardens, I could see the Abbey Gateway on the right hand side, right opposite the garden gates. It was in very good condition, yet it looked typically gothic, with the arched windows, towers and such. The abbey ruins themselves must have given Jane some inspiration for Northanger Abbey later in life!

As you can see, the surrounding buildings were a much more modern mixture of architecture.  You really have to use your imagination to picture the milieu as it was in the old painting with stone walls and trees.

The building looked quite small, and most of the lessons did take place in a building next to the Gateway. Unfortunately the Gateway is being restored and is currently not open to visitors, so there was no chance to see the interiors of the building. Perhaps next time?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Visiting Jane in Bath

On my second day in Bath, I continued my walking tour with my book.

I had the chance to see the Upper Rooms – Assembly Rooms – in Alfred Street where Jane Austen would dance and socialise in the fashionable style of the late 18th century.

The building now houses a small Fashion Museum, which is interesting to see, but visitors are also allowed to enter the ball rooms.

Here’s a view towards the hallway from the entrance:


I could only imagine the hustle and bustle of people leaving their carriages, walking in, removing their pelisses and changing their shoes, while greeting and being introduced to old and new friends.

Jane danced in the Great Ballroom (below). The room, designed by John Wood the younger,  is beautiful, with five huge sparkling crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.


Here, on a busy night, the only thing that Catherine Morland and Mrs Allen (Northanger Abbey) were able to see were the feathers of the ladies’ headdresses. It must have been hot, with fires on in the fancy fireplaces.


Music would be playing from the elegant curved balcony.


In the Octagon Room, gentlemen would play cards  and lose fortunes.


In between dances, people would retire to the Tea Room for some refreshments.



After seeing the Assembly Rooms, I headed towards Bath’s hottest property – Royal Crescent - a short walk away. This is where people would go for a stroll and socialise with fine society.


At No 1. Royal Crescent, there is a very interesting Georgian house museum, where you can learn about the lifestyle in Jane’s times. The guides at the museum were very helpful and knowledgeable.

From here, I walked towards Pulteney Bridge. The old Bridge is large and sturdy and houses many shops.

I crossed the river and entered Pulteney Street. 


These classical terraces are where, in Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland and the Allens have lodgings.


At the end of the street, there is a museum, which was a hotel in Jane’s days. The museum is situated in Sydney Gardens, which used to be a popular place for amusements. Jane saw a maze here and attended public breakfasts, musical evenings and fireworks in the gardens.

I turned to Sydney Place, which was the first place where Jane lived when the Austen family moved to Bath. Number 4 is a simple terraced house, which used to have lovely views over the gardens.


Jane lived here for 4 years and during this time, she revised Susan (later Northanger Abbey). She also started a new novel called The Watsons, which she never finished, perhaps feeling uninspired, as she was unhappy in Bath.

The current residents seem to have a sense of humour, as they have installed a cardboard life-size figure of Jane Austen behind the window, waving at all the dozens of curious tourists (myself included) that come and see the house.

I left Sydney Place  and walked back to the city centre. I went to Gay Street (where I visited the Jane Austen Centre on the day before) to see Number 25. This is where Jane and her mother lived for a few months in 1805.

The family also resided in nearby Trim Street for some time.

As Jane’s father’s health deteriorated, the Austens moved to Charles Place, to be close to the Pump Rooms. It was in Bath that Mr Austen passed away.

To finish my walking tour of Bath, I walked uphill towards Belvedere. I walked down to Hedgemead Gardens, from where I had a beautiful view of Walcot Church, where Jane’s parents were married, and where her father is buried.


Although Jane grieved her father’s death, she must have been relieved to leave Bath, where she never felt at home. She was, after all, a country girl with a country girl’s values.


References: Edwards, A-M. (1991). In the Steps of Jane Austen – Walking Tours of Austen’s England. Wisconsin: Jones Books.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

“Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?”

Asks young Catherine Morland, when she first enters the city of pleasures, which Bath was in the late 18th Century. It’s the same question, which I asked myself when I left Bath. I spent the first day walking around Bath with my book, following Jane Austen’s footsteps to the places that she visited and lodged in. One day wasn’t enough, and I had to come back again the next day from my base in Oxford, to see the places where my favourite author had lived.

My first views of this beautiful heritage city were enough to get my heart racing. I love the unified architecture of this city, set in honey-coloured limestone, and the views over the seven hills that surround Bath. When Jane first visited Bath, she too must have enjoyed the fashionable balls, shops, concerts and gardens of this beautiful city. It was only later that she grew tired of Bath, having to make it her home instead of her beloved countryside…

To walk in Bath is to walk in Jane’s world. Bath has so completely retained the feel of the early 19th century that little imagination is needed to picture her daily life in this city.

Bath is home to many beautiful Georgian terraces, such as Paragon. This terrace features the typical characteristics of the architecture of the time – raised pavements and wrought iron railings.  I started my walk from No 1 Paragon (below). This was the building where Jane stayed during her early visits to Bath.

Jane visited her uncle Leigh Perrot and aunt here.  Mr Leigh Perrot had frequent attacks of gout and spent some time in Bath every year to take the healing waters. In 1799, the Leigh Perrots were engaged in a scandal. Mrs Leigh Perrot was arrested for stealing some lace - a crime perhaps set up for blackmail – and spent eight months in jail.

I next turned to George Street. This is where Northanger Abbey’s Thorpe family had their lodgings, in Edgar’s Buildings (below).


Edgar’s Buildings are conveniently situated across from the fashionable shopping street, Milsom Street (below), where Jane often went shopping. The street is still a vibrant shopping area. Here Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey visits the Tilneys who have lodgings here. Persuasion’s Anne Elliot meets Admiral Croft here and receives an umbrella from Captain Wentworth. You can see some glimpses of these scenes and read some more interesting thoughts on Milsom Street at Jane Austen Today.


At this point, I visited the Jane Austen Centre in Gay Street, which gave a wonderful view into Jane Austen’s world, with an interesting talk on Jane Austen’s life and some lovely displays of objects and clothes from her time.

My next destination was Queen’s Square, just around the corner. On the southern side of the square, at number 13, Jane spent a midsummer holiday in 1799 with her brother Edward’s family. She enjoyed her stay here and wrote that the view from the drawing room windows ‘is far more cheerful than Paragon’.


I next headed towards Bath Abbey. It was a Bath University graduation day, and the courtyard was bustling with students in their gowns with their families, as well as tourists, who always crowd this area.

Jane must have attended the services in the Abbey. She certainly visited the Pump Room (below) regularly to take the waters and to socialise.


The Pump Room is now the most popular tea room in Bath, famous for its cream tea. The queue was so long that unfortunately I had no time to try the tea!


Above you can see the alcove where an orchestra would play music while people were taking their sip of water from the fountain below.

Next, I started walking towards the Avon. The riverside walk was beautiful, with views over Pulteney Bridge and numerous riverboats sliding by.

I walked along the river, just as Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney do in Northanger Abbey, towards Lyncombe Hill on their way to Beechen Cliff. I followed the path as it led uphill, and climbed up what felt like 200 stairs.  The walk up the hill turned out to be quite strenuous, but good exercise!


In the end, the magnificent views over the city were totally worth the struggle!


In Northanger Abbey, Catherine feels that ‘when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape’. I couldn’t agree more.



References: Edwards, A-M. (1991). In the Steps of Jane Austen – Walking Tours of Austen’s England. Wisconsin: Jones Books.