|4, Sydney Place|
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Jane Austen in Bath
Jane Austen lived in three different houses during her Bath period. Her father had suddenly decided to retire and up sticks from the only home Jane had known for the first twenty-five years of her life and decamp to the fashionable spa of Bath.
We are so accustomed to seeing these beautiful honey-coloured buildings from an historical perspective that it's easy to forget that for Jane and her contemporaries they were new-builds.
Gracious and elegant on the outside, the interiors left much to be desired if we are to believe Jane. While still house-hunting she filled her sister in on their progress after a viewing of Green Park Buildings (which would be a subsequent Austen lodging and the place where her father eventually died):
"Our views of GP Buildings seem all at an end, the observation of the damps still remaining in the offices of an house which has been only vacated a week, with reports of discontented families and putrid fevers, has given the coup de grace..."
But number 4 Sydney Place (built in 1795) appears to have satisfied the Austen family and they moved in in the summer of 1801 and stayed until 1805.
One of its principle attractions was its proximity to one of Jane's favourite Bath haunts: Sydney Gardens, a park where (according to a contemporary source) "The hand of taste is visble in every direction." Indeed, number 4 overlooked (as it still does) the gardens, and the first floor drawing room commanded fine views over its sloping lawns and shady walks.
The hall and dining room were on the ground floor and a passage off led through to a pleasant garden at the back of the house.
The comings and goings of visitors to the gardens must have offered endless people-watching opportunities for the nosy Austen sisters...
And not just by day either.
"Upon gala nights the music, singing, cascades, transparencies, fireworks, and superb illuminations, render these gardens very similar to Vauxhall," wrote a contemporary chronicler.