Jane Austen in Southampton

Jane Austen was born in 1776 in the Rectory of the village of Steventon, near Basingstoke, where her father was the Rector.

When her father retired in 1801, the family moved to Bath, and after her father died, they moved to Southampton in 1806.

Jane, her older sister Cassandra, and their cousin Jane Cooper went to school in Southampton.

Jane was really too young to go away, but, in their mother's words, "If Cassandra's head had been going to be cut off, Jane would have hers cut off too”.

Infectious fever spread through the town; Jane and her cousin became ill, and the two mothers took their daughters home.

Jane Cooper’s mother died from the infection.

Jane’ second visit to Southampton was in 1793; she came with Cassandra to help a pregnant cousin, Elizabeth Austen.

Elizabeth was married to John Butler-Harrison, who had been Sherriff of the town, and was later to become Mayor twice.

While in the town, Jane went to a ball at The Dolphin Hotel to celebrate her 18th birthday.

In 1806, the family moved in with Jane’s sister-in-law Mary, who was expecting.

Jane’s brother Frank served in the navy in Portsmouth.

Southampton had become a gentile spa in the 1750s.

The old walls and gates were romantic and fitted the mood of the time, and people flocked to drink from the mineral springs and enjoy sea-bathing.

Many Regency buildings were constructed for visitors to the north of the town, where they can still be found.

The Austen house in Castle Square had a garden which ran down to the city walls, with extensive views. In front of the house was a fairy-tale castle, a folly erected by the second Marquis of Lansdowne.

The picture is looking in from the west; the spire to the right is St. Michael's Church, and the Austen house was one of the tall buildings next to the wall. The Juniper Berry pub now stands on the spot The surrounding area gave Jane plenty of opportunities for outings.

In 1808 she wrote “Yesterday I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74 (-gun warship), and walked home across the (Northam) Bridge”

The Itchen Ferry, a rowing boat, ran just to the north of the modern Itchen Bridge; they would have walked to it along The Beach - a promenade running east from God's House Tower; while waiting for the boat, they may have sheltered in the Cross-House, which can still be seen today.

They also made several excursions to Netley Abbey, and found time for dancing in the Long Rooms, the venue for summer balls and dances, close to the modern swimming pool on West Quay, where one wall still survives.

Jane took her niece Fanny Knight to the theatre in French Street, and attended All Saints Church, on the corner of East Street and the High Street, shown on the left of this picture, which was destroyed during The Second World War.

They also visited acquaintances, including the Lance family, after whom Lance's Hill is named.

In 1809, her brother Edward offered his mother and sisters a house he owned in Chawton, close to Steventon. It’s now the Jane Austen’s House Museum.

Jane was clearly very happy there and returned to her writing.

Early in 1817 she became ill, and moved with Cassandra to Winchester, dying there on July 18, at the age of 41. Her tomb is in Winchester Cathedral.

This sketch by Cassandra is the only portrait of Jane from life. It was later adapted in an attempt to make her look less ill-tempered.

By Jack Wilson, tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .