The novelist Jane Austen stayed in Southampton on two separate occasions. In 1783 Jane and her sister Cassandra were sent to Mrs Cawley’s school in Oxford, but for unknown reasons Mrs Cawley moved her school to Southampton after just a few months. Jane’s first stay in the town was not a happy one as she and her sister caught a fever and Jane almost died. Mrs Cawley had neglected to tell their parents that she had taken the sisters to Southampton, or that they were ill. The parents eventually discovered the truth and took their daughters home.
Jane also lived in Southampton for about 3 years from the 1806 to 1809. From 1801 the Austen sisters had been living with their parents at Bath, but in 1805 Jane’s father died leaving the family in such financial difficulties that they were obliged to move in with Jane’s brother Frank and his wife who were already residing in Southampton.
Jane lived in a house in Castle Square with her mother, sister, her brother Frank and his wife. The house was rented furnished from the Marquis of Lansdowne who lived nearby in his mock-gothic folly built on the site of the original medieval castle. Jane’s house is long gone and it is not possible to pinpoint it exactly on contemporary maps. However, Jane described its garden as being bounded on one side by the town walls, so it is reasonable to assume that it was one of the houses on the west side of Castle Square.
Although the family were short of money, Jane’s stay in the town appears to have been tolerably pleasant. She described walking along the town walls and enjoying the views across the water to the New Forest shoreline. She occasionally went to dances at the Assembly Rooms, and she became acquainted with the Lance family of Chessel Lodge. She may also have socialised with the family of John Butler Harrison who had married her relative Matilda Austen and who lived in St Mary Street. She visited the Lances at Chessel House. Austen worshipped at All Saints Church in the High Street.
None of her novels were written during her stay in Southampton.
A memorial to Jane Austen was unveiled by the Southampton Literary and Philosophical Society in the Art Gallery of the Central Library in London Road in December 1917 to mark the hundredth anniversary of her death. The memorial tablet (image below) was made by Garrett and Haysom, stonemasons of East Street. Presumably, the tablet was destroyed when the library was bombed in 1940.
Newspaper clippings (online or available at the Local Studies Library):
- Jane Austen memorial - (Hampshire Independent 22/12/1917)
- City takes great pride in Austen connections - (Southern Daily Echo 12/09/2006). Discusses Jane Austen Heritage Trail and accompanying booklet about Austen written by Arthur Jeffrey. Almost all the places mentioned no longer exist, including the sites of All Saints Church and of Spa Gardens, the Theatre Royal, Water Gate Quay, and The Platform (now Queen's Park), where Austen's brother Frank skated.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 2
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