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Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Tour of Southampton with "Happy Feelings of Escape"

My blog seems to be turning into a travel blog of sorts, as somehow these days I tend to get inspired by my travels across Jane Austen country now that I live surrounded by it. I continue to be fascinated by the life of this strong female figure that lived 200 years before my time and faced very different kinds of challenges throughout her life, but who, despite all odds, managed to produce literary works that have inspired and impacted on so many people after her time.

Besides the exciting events at the Jane Austen Festival last month, my most recent exploration was a spontaneous day trip to Southampton, where Jane Austen lived for a couple of years. Jane liked Southampton, which was a lively town, but as a country girl, she never considered it her home, although she did prefer it to Bath, having "happy feelings of escape" as they left Bath for Southampton. 

The Southampton of today is a mismatch of the old and new, considering that most of the old architecture was sadly destroyed in World War II. Sadly, very few buildings exist from Jane Austen's days, and the Old Town is very quickly gone through. However, with a good guide or walking tour in hand, it was very interesting to explore the streets of the Old Town and the places where Jane Austen might have visited during her time there.

I used Jane Austen's Hampshire (by Terry Townsend) and In the Steps of Jane Austen (By Anne-Marie Edwards) as my guide, and I would also recommend you read the detailed blog post by Tony Grant who has described the area with the insight of a local.

Jane Austen first stayed in Southampton in 1783 at the age of 7-8 when she went to boarding school there, run by Mrs Ann Cawley, with her sister Cassandra and their cousin, Jane Cooper. I wrote about the Abbey School in Reading here and here where Jane attended before she was moved to Southampton. Southampton being a port and a place likely to harbour infectious diseases, Jane very nearly died as a result of a typhus outbreak and was forced to return home. Jane, Cassandra and Jane Cooper survived the fever, but her aunt caught the fever and sadly died a few days later. 

I started my tour from Bargate (above) in the High Street, which served as a gateway to medieval Southampton. Bargate was built by the Normans, dating back to the 12th Century, and is a structure quite unchanged throughout the times. The gateway, the ramparts and the city wall would have been very familiar to Jane Austen. 

City Wall with Arundel Tower on the left.

Jane Austen returned to the city at the age of 18 for a happier visit, staying with her cousin, Elizabeth, whose father was a sheriff in the city. 

High Street as it is now 

A picture of the High Street in the 19th Century (from the Tudor House Museum).

Jane attended a ball at the Dolphin Hotel in the High Street, which still functions as a hotel. The Dolphin has been the head inn of Southampton for centuries, first mentioned as an inn in 1506, although the present building dates back to the mid-1700's; the bow windows to the street are said to be the largest of their kind. 

You can visit the ballroom, which now functions as a meeting room and has been renamed "Jane Austen Suite". 

Jane wrote, "Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected...The room was tolerably full, and there were, perhaps, thirty couple of dancers....It was the same room in which we danced fifteen years ago. I thought it all over, and in spite of the same 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 and very comfortable room...You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance, but I was."

Jane next stayed in Southampton after the death of her father in 1805, for two and a half years from 1806 to 1809. For Jane Austen, it was a relief to leave Bath and a comfort to find a home with her brother, Frank, and his wife, Mary Gibson, who was expecting their first baby. The ladies were accompanied by their friend, Martha Lloyd. 

The house would have been behind the wall, somewhere close to where the mock Tudor building now stands. This part of the wall used to house a vault in the medieval times. 

Walking the wall, looking out from Juniper Berry. 

The first rented lodgings were too costly and they soon moved to a house at 3 Castle Square, close to the ruins of a medieval castle and surrounded by the city walls. 

The house was located somewhere behind the city wall, at what is now known as Upper Bugle Street, close to the Juniper Berry pub. The architecture at the square is very modern. 

Two years before the Austens moved in, their landlord, The Marquis of Lansdown, built a Gothic fantasy castle somewhere close to the unsightly high-rise in the video; the castle was soon pulled down. Jane Austen describes the castle as a "fantastic edifice" and watched the Marchioness drive out in "a light phaeton drawn by six or eight ponies in graduated shades of brown". 

The gothic fantasy castle built by the Marquis of Lansdowne. 

This was a pleasant situation for the Austen ladies, as the country ladies at heart would have their own large garden which must have provided some solace from city fumes. Jane Austen planted flowers, fruit trees and currant and gooseberry bushes, and wrote "We hear that we are envied our house by many people and that the garden is the best in town". She also planted a syringa, as described in a poem by her favourite poet, Cowper - something that Jane and I have in common as I absolutely love a fragrant syringa. 

As you walk down Upper Bugle Street, you come across a small square with a lovely church and a famous building called Tudor House. Tudor House is now an interesting museum, which tells the story of the inhabitants of this area across the centuries, also describing life in Jane Austen's days. 

Wealthy artist, George Rogers, used to live in this part of the house in Jane Austen's times. 

The above photo shows the Georgian section of the house, painted in yellow, with the typical Georgian sash windows. Interestingly, behind Tudor House, you can see King John's Palace - the ruins of a fine stone house dating back to the Norman times (1300's), picture below. 

Such a fascinating museum with so many layers of history in one building!

Continuing down Bugle Street, there are a number of interesting period houses from different eras that Jane would have been familiar with. 

Making a small detour left  onto French Street, there is a medieval merchant's house (below).

Turning right to Westgate Street, you can see Westgate and the Tudor Merchant's Hall. Westgate led to the quay where the Pilgrim Fathers had started their journey in the Mayflower in 1620.

At the end of the street, you will see Wool House (now a pub), which interestingly served as a prison for French prisoners of war. 

Jane would probably have heard French spoken close to where she lived, and it is fascinating how close in proximity she was to the realities of war and the French Revolution. Despite having an in-depth understanding and knowledge of naval life, she has often been criticised for not touching politics or current issues in her fiction - however, it is quite understandable why she preferred letting "other pens dwell on grief and misery" and focus on what might be considered escapism. "I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can", she wrote - perhaps the realities of war and suffering were too close for comfort. 


Edwards, A-M. (1991). In the Steps of Jane Austen – Walking Tours of Austen’s England. Wisconsin: Jones Books.
Townsend, T. (2014) Jane Austen's Hampshire. Halsgrove.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Review of Sanditon Episode 1

I've just finished watching the first episode of the 8-part series, Sanditon, on ITV this week, based on Jane Austen's unfinished novel. I was very much looking forward to seeing the series and afraid of being disappointed. Screenwriter, Andrew Davies, is, after all, the brains behind my favourite Jane Austen adaptation of all time - Pride and Prejudice (1995). Surely he would be the best person to adapt the never-before-serialised Sanditon?

Excited to view the setting of Sanditon on screen, I enjoyed the beautiful seascape of Sanditon with its high, green cliffs and the digital remake of the sleepy-village-turned-seaside hub. The subtle changes in society where a landowner-turned-businessman, Tom Parker, leaves sleepy village life and attempts to turn a village into a vibrant, popular seaside resort, making money from entrepreneurship rather than ancestral land, is well captured. The ball episode has people dancing to waltz, which was an entirely new form of dance, involving much closer physical contact between partners - the choice of dance perhaps reflects Tom Parker's vision of making Sanditon a modern, popular bathing place, even more so than Brighton or Eastbourne.

Andrew Davies' style has changed a lot over the years, and his take on period dramas is far more catered to modern sensibilities these days. The adaptation is popularised (perhaps by what Davies thought was popular demand after the Mr Darcy "wet shirt" episode) by adding nudity in places, (which I felt was not necessary to the story) and the use of more modern, popular soundtracks.

I particularly enjoyed the small details based on Jane Austen's fragment, such as the fascination for blue shoes ("Waterloo blue" shoes were in vogue following the victory at Waterloo - I would have loved to have seen more references to the historical events). I also enjoyed the scene where Arthur Parker toasts bread for Charlotte Heywood, as this was discussed in detail by Jane Austen.

The acting, in general, is excellent, and the portrayal of Lady Denham (Anne Reid) is particularly accurate as an "abrupt", "free-spoken", "mean", "self-important" character who only cares about money. Sanditon being a coming-of-age story of sorts, Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) is convincing as the spirited, smart heroine who is on a learning curve, observing the kinds of vices and manipulations that would take place in a Regency seaside resort. However, I would have loved to have seen more of the obsessive personality of Tom Parker (Kris Marshall) whom Jane Austen describes as a "zealot" who "could talk about it (Sanditon) forever". 

Also, in the fragment, Sir Edward Denham (Jack Fox) comes across far more ludicrous, bordering on Mr Collins, with his numerous rote-learned quotes and his never-ending wrong usage of complex vocabulary, which Charlotte finds silly. In Jane Austen's Sanditon, Clara Brereton sees through Sir Edward and only feels disdain towards him, while the adaptation portrays Sir Edward ( simply as a vicious, seductive character who manipulates others (similar to Mr Wickham, for example). 

Where are all the hypochondriacs? As Jane Austen was writing from her deathbed, she coined several characters complaining about all sorts of illnesses, aches and pains, and despite her own condition, she despised and mocked those who complained about their health. The story focuses on health and illness, the seaside resort being created as a health hub of sorts, and is full of people with complaints of various kinds. The story begins with Tom Parker falling off his carriage and having a painful sprain on his foot - an episode, which is only mentioned in passing here. In the fragment, Arthur Parker (and his sisters) is a sickly, self-pitying hypochondriac, who never ceases to complain about his health - in the adaptation, he runs into the sea naked and forgets all about his (imagined) ailments!

Sidney Parker (Theo James), as Charlotte's love interest, is handsome and cold in true Darcy-style. He does come across "fashionable" and "clever", as described in his introduction towards the end of the fragment. However, there is something about his personality that irritates the viewer, and the twist at the end of the episode (which I shall not reveal at this point) turns things between the two main characters over, and I feel that this may have happened too early in the story to be true to the style of Jane Austen. In Emma, for instance, a very similar episode happens towards the very end of the story.

In short, Andrew Davies' Sanditon makes for entertaining period drama; pure Jane Austen it is not (disappointingly). Much of the humour and original dialogue is lost in the adaptation. The first episode has followed Jane Austen's plot quite carefully but I was disappointed about how quickly and superficially the original story written by Jane Austen was covered in the episode. Judging by the twists in the story towards the end of the episode, the story may well go in a more extreme direction - I'm not sure if I wish to watch the rest of the series and spoil my enjoyment of Jane Austen's Sanditon. I do hope that Andrew Davies stays true to the story and does not turn Sanditon into a soap opera, as it might appear.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"Of this place...I might have been mistress!"

The last place that I visited on my trip around Steventon was Wootton St Lawrence, which has some fascinating connections to Jane Austen and her love life in particular.  

Wootton is where the estate of Manydown was located, just 2,5 miles west of Basingstoke. Manydown was the home of Jane Austen's great friends, Alethea and Catherine Bigg, and their brother, Harris Bigg-Wither. Jane often visited them, staying overnight after a ball in Basingstoke. 

Harris Bigg-Wither. Image from Wikipedia.

In 1802, Harris proposed to Jane and was accepted, but she changed her mind overnight - a decision, which she may or may not have regretted in the years to come, but one that certainly had an effect on her. I discussed the situation in an earlier post, Jane Austen's Love Mystery

Unfortunately, Manydown Park no longer exists, as the building was pulled down in the 1960s; however, there are references to Manydown all over the village.

Wootton St Lawrence church is a great place to visit, as it is a church that Jane Austen visited with her friends and where she would have worshipped, had she gone ahead with the engagement. This is also a place where Harris Bigg-Wither is remembered.

I was not able to find Harris' grave, as the names on the tombstones were covered in moss. However, there is a well-preserved memorial plaque to Harris Bigg-Wither inside the church as well as to his family members.

Harris Bigg-Wither's son, Lovelace's memorial plaque. 

Harris Bigg Wither's memorial stone

The memorial reads as follows:

"To the memory of Harris Bigg Wither Esq
Of Manydown 
A Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Southampton 
Who died at Tangier about midnight March 23rd 1833 
In the 52nd year of his age.

A man 
Whose heart was full of heart and tender feeling,
Whose words were few and faithful 
And who, with the most sparing display of profession 
Endeavoured by God's grace 
To prove his faith sincerely and unostentatiously 
by his works.
Visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction 
And keeping himself unspotted from the world. 

It pleased God to remove him from his family 
By a sudden call 
As they humbly hope to that eternal life 
Which is the gift of god through Jesus Christ. 

In testimony of their love, and their sorrow, "not without hope"
His widow and their ten children 
Lovelace, Harris, Margaret, William, Walter, 
Jane, Anne, Elizabeth, Marianne and Charles 
Unite in placing this stone 
Near the mortal remains of 
A most affectionately indulgent husband and father. 

Be ye also ready:
Anne Howe, his widow died Nov 13th, 1866 aged 83. 
"Her children arise up, and call her blessed". 

Based on this recount, put in more modern words, Harris sounds like a very quiet, painfully shy but kind man who was an honest, modest and caring family man. 

Interestingly, one of his children was called Jane!

There is also an engraving of Manydown Park on one of the church windows, barely visible in this photo.

As I drove through the leafy country roads on the Manydown estate, I imagined Jane thinking (like Elizabeth in P & P ch. 43), "Of this place... I might have been mistress!"

Still, I somehow feel that she would have been happier with her six children, as she called her great novels, rather than as a mother of 10 children and as a wife of a shy, reticent clergyman, with no literary achievement to call her own. 


Townsend, T. (2014) Jane Austen's Hampshire. Halsgrove.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Adventures Around Jane Austen's Neighbourhood

After my visit to Steventon, I decided to explore some of the neighbouring villages in connection with Jane Austen and her family. I used Terry Townsend's fascinating picture book, "Jane Austen's Hampshire", as a guide to the area - I really recommend his book if you ever wish to learn more about the area around Steventon.

This map produced by Hidden Britain Tours shows you the areas around Steventon that I explored on my day trip. I have previously visited the villages of Deane and Ashe, as I wrote in my blog from a few years ago, as well as The Vyne (Sherborne St John). This time, I decided to explore somewhere new.

As I left Steventon, I enjoyed the beautiful leafy ride back to the main road (north from Steventon) where I noticed this pub at the crossroads, Deane Gate Inn.

Deane Gate Inn is a seventeenth-century inn, which used to function as a coaching inn at the time of Jane Austen. I'm not sure if the pub is still in business, as the building looked rather dilapidated to be quite honest. The road opposite the inn takes you to Deane, whose parish George Austen was also in charge of and where Jane visited friends on foot.

Stagecoaches to London would use the road through Deane twice a day, and Jane's family members would often walk here to catch a stagecoach to Basingstoke. It is known that Jane's brother, Charles, would sometimes find the coach full and had to walk back home disappointed. Jane would not have travelled in a stagecoach alone, as it was not considered appropriate transport for ladies travelling alone. "I want to go in a stagecoach, but Frank will not let me", wrote Jane.

I then stopped at Overton, a small, lively town closer to Andover.

Overton is a town where Jane sometimes went shopping and, according to Townsend, in 1798 there were five grocers, a fishmonger, butcher, and a mercer selling textiles, a glazier and a clockmaker in the town.

Jane wrote to Cassandra on 25 November 1798, "The Overton Scotchman has been kind enough to rid me of some of my money, in exchange for six shifts and four pair of stockings." The Overton Scotchman she referred to was was John Irving, a mercer with whom the Austens probably had an account. The shop was unfortunately pulled down some years ago and now houses a Domino's pizza takeaway :)

Overton also had two principal coaching inns, one of which still exists, the White Hart (above). Jane must have been very familiar with this inn. The building is charming, with old beams still visible inside the building, as well as the stables, which has been converted into some guest accommodation. I had a lovely leisurely drink at the pub before setting off on my next adventure.

I then went to visit St Mary's Church (above), where Jane's oldest brother, James, took up his first job as curate in 1790. James lived in the Old Rectory (below) until his marriage to Anne Mathew two years later. Anne's brother was vicar at Overton.

The couple then moved to the elegant Court Farm House across the road (below), which was a much more spacious home. Quite an inviting prospect, isn't it?

The couple then had a baby, but unfortunately James very soon became a widow. He later married Mary Lloyd, and they moved to Deane and eventually Steventon where he became vicar following the retirement of George Austen.

On the way back, I visited Oakley, a charming little village closer to Basingstoke. The village is is picturesque, with several thatched cottages and a pond.

Jane came here to shop at a haberdasher's. She often gave gifts as a form of charity and, on the 25th October, 1800, she wrote, "At Oakley, we bought ten pair of worsted stockings and a shift; the shift is for Betty Dawkins, as we find she wants it more than a rug; she is one of the most grateful of all whom Edward's charity has reached".

I also stopped at Oakley Hall on the way, which was a place very familiar to Jane Austen. Now a luxury hotel, the manor house was built in 1795 and home to the Branston family who Jane Austen socialised with and whose home she mentions in her letters. Jane wrote to Cassandra (in the same letter), "On Thursday we walked to Deane, yesterday to Oakley Hall and Oakley, and to-day to Deane again. At Oakley we did a great deal - ate some sandwiches all over mustard, admired Mr Bramston's porter, and Mr Bramston's transparencies...".

Jane was a great walker, as walking was one of the only forms of exercise accessible to ladies.

The road leading up to Oakley Hall was very scenic.

The building itself has changed somewhat since Jane visited there. A second storey and the carriage porch, as seen in the picture, were added in the 1860s.

Some believe that Jane was inspired to create the character of Lady Bertram  (Mansfield Park) based on Mrs Bramston. Mrs Bramston read Mansfield Park and thought Lady Bertram like herself. She "preferred it to either of the others - but imagined THAT might be her want of Taste, as she does not understand Wit." Augusta Bramston, on the other hand, did not enjoy Mansfield Park at all, as Jane wrote in her letter: "she thought S & S and P & P downright nonsense, but expected to find MP better; having finished the 1st vol. - flattered herself she had got through the worst". People seem to have been very direct with their feedback at the time of Jane Austen!

I am intrigued to see the interiors of the hotel - perhaps at some point, I will go and have an afternoon tea at the hotel. It would be lovely to stay there, too, relaxing on a chaise-longue a la Lady Bertram and take in the breathtaking view from the hotel, admiring the lush, green slopes that go on for miles...

I will leave you now to admire these views of beautiful rural Hampshire...

(Last, but not the least, I visited Wootton St Lawrence - a fascinating visit with links to Jane Austen's love life. But more about that in the next post!)


Townsend, T. (2014) Jane Austen's Hampshire. Halsgrove.