Posts Tagged ‘southampton’

Inquiring readers, Tony Grant, a blogger and contributor to this blog for a decade, has submitted this interesting post about Netley Abbey. He ties history, literature, poetry, and painting to Jane Austen’s fascination with the gothic novel, which led to her writing Northanger Abbey in her wonderfully satiric vein. Enjoy!

My Memories of Netley Abbey

When I was eight years old, I recall one of my grandmothers telling me about the ghosts that haunted Netley Abbey. Netley Abbey is four miles along Southampton Water from where I grew up. I lived in Woolston, a small industrial area of Southampton next to the Itchen River, which flows into Southampton Water at the cities docks. (See Google satellite map image below and Google map image alongside it.)


Within walking distance of where I lived are extensive areas of woodland and farms that specialized in market gardening. Netley Abbey itself is set within woodland near the shore of Southampton Water, not far from The Hamble River and within view of the Isle of Wight.

Google street view entrance Netley

Google street view: Entrance to Netley Castle

I remember my grandmother telling me about a White Lady, who has been seen on occasions wafting through the ruins of Netley. She reputedly had been incarcerated within a bricked up space within the Abbey. Quite a horrific thought. She told me also of the dark presence of a black clad monk that sometimes appeared in the ruined entrances to the cloisters within the Abbey’s precinct.

Abbey Church wall and pillars 1

Netley Abbey’s ruined walls and pillars: Image Tony Grant

Another story tells of a builder at the beginning of the 18th century, when the Abbey’s stones and bricks were being recycled as building material, and how part of the arched window at the western end of the abbey church fell on him, fatally injuring him. Stories like this, imagined and real, were useful in keeping Netley Abbey in a substantial state. These stories became vivid images in the mind of a small boy.


Netley Abbey arches. Image Tony Grant

My friends and I would walk to Netley or take the green Hants and Dorset bus there. We clambered over the ruins of the Abbey in daylight, imagining what might happen at night, especially in the dim glow of a full moon and with the hooting of owls. Many trees around the Abbey have crows nests high up in their branches and the harsh echo of their shrieking almost always pervades the air around and above the Abbey ruins. I remember our young selves feeling scared and worried but drawn helplessly to this haunted place.

Early History of the Abbey

Netley Abbey is the most complete set of Cistercian monastic ruins in England. Peter de Roches, the Bishop of Winchester founded Netley in 1238. Unfortunately, he died soon after and before building work on the Abbey had begun. However, a group of monks from Beaulieu Abbey in The New Forest arrived in Netley a year later, in 1239, and probably lived in wooden huts while the Abbey was under construction. King Henry III (1216-1272) became the patron of Netley. On one of the remaining stone pillar bases inside the church ruins, a clear inscription shows Henry III’s name.

Plan_of_Netley_Abbey (1)

Map of Netley Abbey ca. 1300 – modern times

The Cistercians were an order founded by Robert Molesme in 1089. He was a Benedictine who felt that the Benedictines had abandoned the life of simplicity the rule of St Benedict stated. He set about rectifying this. The monks set up an Abbey at Citeaux in France that gave them their name, Cistercian. They returned to a life of manual work and prayer and dedicated themselves to the ideal of charity and self-sustenance. This is very much the lifestyle the monks at Netley followed.

Fifteen monks and thirty lay brothers lived at Netley, along with officials and servants. They provided sustenance and shelter to travelers and extensively farmed the land around Netley. Interestingly, only a few miles away St. Mary the Virgin, Hound Parish Church, at nearby Hamble le Rice on the Hamble River, was founded by Benedictines separately from the Cistercians at Netley. Bishop Giffard of Winchester had established a cell of Benedictine monks at Hamble Le Rice by the 12th century. These monks came from the Abbey of Tiron in France. (Images below by Tony Grant.)

In 1536 Henry VIII began the suppression of the monasteries in England. The destruction of the monasteries transformed the power and political structures in England. Henry had cut himself off from Rome and had made himself the head of the church in England. He destroyed the monastery system for the wealth they provided and also to suppress political opposition. The monasteries and the church had been a social and political force that in some ways had been more powerful than the monarchy itself. Church property in England had been home to 10,000 monks, nuns, friars and canons. Henry sold the land to landowners. Some of the buildings became churches of the church of England, such as Durham Cathedral. Many were left to ruin ,such as Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley on the border of England and Wales. The monks who resisted were executed. The majority were pensioned off. Some of the funds Henry gathered were used to set up educational establishments, such as Trinity College Cambridge and Christ Church Oxford. One disastrous result from the dissolution of the monasteries was the destruction of entire monastic libraries, including the loss of many ancient music manuscripts.

The Abbey in the 18th and 19th centuries

Netley Abbey however, was not destroyed but given to Sir William Paulet as a reward for his loyal services. He’d held a number of high profile jobs, including the Treasurer to the Royal Household. Sir William turned the Abbey into a private mansion and reused many of the Abbeys existing buildings. The cloisters became a courtyard. He demolished the monk’s refectory and built an elaborate turreted entrance. The mansion remained inhabited until 1704 when the then owner started selling it off for building materials. The Tudor adaptations were mostly removed in the later 19th century, although sections of brickwork can be found within today’s remaining structure.


Netley Abbey. Image Tony Grant

The Tudors built with brick and these are the few remaining Tudor parts.

The Abbey’s Role in Gothic Revival Architecture

NPG 6520,Horatio ('Horace') Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford,by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Horatio Walpole

Netley Abbey played an important role in the 18th and 19th century Gothic revival. Horace Walpole, the 4th earl of Orford, visited Netley Abbey on September 18th 1755. His original name was Horatio Walpole, (born Sept. 24, 1717, London—died March 2, 1797). He was the son of England’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Horace Walpole was an English writer, connoisseur, and collector who was famous in his day for his medieval horror tale, The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764, which initiated the vogue for Gothic romances. He is remembered today as perhaps the most assiduous letter writer in the English language. Walpole wrote to his friend Richard Bentley. He had been staying with his friend, Chute, at The Vyne near Basingstoke. They had departed on a trip to visit Winchester and Southampton. While in Southampton they visited Netley Abbey. Walpole wrote:

“Mr Chute persuaded me to take a jaunt to Winchester and Netley Abbey with the latter of which he is very justly enchanted.”

In his letter, Walpole doesn’t seem to think much about Winchester, “it is a paltry town,” but he enthused about Netley Abbey.

“The ruins are vast, and retain fragments of beautiful fretted roofs pendent in the air, with all variety of Gothic patterns of windows wrapped round and round with ivy — many trees are sprouted up amongst the walls, and only want to be increased with cypresses! A hill rises above the abbey, encircled with wood: the fort, in which we would build a tower for habitation, remains with two small platforms. This little castle is buried from the abbey in a wood, in the very centre, on the edge of the hill: on each side breaks in the view of the Southampton sea, deep blue, glistering with silver and vessels; on one side terminated by Southampton, on the other by Calshot castle; and the Isle of Wight rising above the opposite hills. In short, they are not the ruins of Netley, but of Paradise.— Oh! the purple abbots, what a spot had they chosen to slumber in! The scene is so beautifully tranquil, yet so lively, that they seem only to have retired into the world.”

Thomas Gray, English Poet

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771)

Thomas Gray

Horace Walpole goes on to mention that his friend Thomas Gray had visited Netley previously. Gray had written a letter about his visit to Netley to the Rev. N. Nichols:

 “Monday, 19th November 1764.

In the bosom of the woods (concealed from profane eyes) lie hid the ruins of Netley Abbey. There may be richer and greater houses of religion, but the abbot is content with his situation. See there, at the top of that hanging meadow under the shade of those old trees that bend into half a circle about it, he is walking slowly (good man!) and bidding his beads for the souls of his benefactors interred in that venerable pile that lies beneath him. Beyond it (the meadow still descending) nods a thicket of oaks, that mask the building and have excluded a view too garish and too luxuriant for a holy eye: only, on either hand, they leave an opening to the blue glittering sea. Did not you observe how, as that white sail shot by and was lost, he turned and crossed himself to drive the tempter from him that had thrown distraction in his way. I should tell you, that the ferryman who rowed me, a lusty young fellow, told me that he would not, for all the world, pass a night at the Abbey (there were such things seen near it), though there was a power of money hid there. From thence I went to Salisbury, Wilton, and Stonehenge; but of these things I say no more, they will be published at the University press.”

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) was an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar, and professor at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is widely known for his, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,”published in 1751.

Gray’s ,”Elegy written in a country churchyard,” was completed in 1750 and first published in 1751.  The poem was completed when Gray was living near St Giles’ parish church at Stoke Poges. It was sent to his friend Horace Walpole, who popularised the poem among London literary circles. Here is an extract that might evoke the atmosphere of Netley.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,

The plowman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,

And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r

The moping owl does to the moon complain

Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r,

Molest her ancient solitary reign.

John Constable

John Constable, RA (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837)

John Constable

John Constable, 1776 – 1837, is famous for his landscapes, which are mostly of the Suffolk countryside, where he was born and lived. He made many open-air sketches, using these as a basis for his large exhibition paintings, which were worked up in the studio. His pictures are popular today, but they were not well received in England during his lifetime. His most famous pictures include ,”The Hay Wain,” and a series of paintings, sketches and drawings of Salisbury Cathedral from the water meadows. He painted many pictures in the area of East Bergholt, Suffolk, where he was born and brought up.

Constable and his wife visited Netley Abbey, Hampshire on their honeymoon in 1816. One of the drawings made on that occasion was the basis for this much later watercolour.

Netley Abbey by Moonlight c.1833 by John Constable 1776-1837

Constable Painting of Netley Abbey, Tate Gallery

It resembles the designs Constable painted in 1833 to illustrate an edition of Gray’s ‘Elegy.’

George Keate

George Keate, another visitor to Netley Abbey, was born on 30 November 1729 at Trowbridge in Wiltshire, where his father had property. He was educated by the Rev. Richard Wooddeson of Kingston upon Thames, together with Gilbert Wakefield, William Hayley, Francis Maseres, and others.

On leaving school, Keate was articled as clerk to Robert Palmer, steward to the Duke of Bedford. He entered the Inner Temple in 1751, was called to the bar in 1753, and in 1791 was made bencher of his inn, but never practised the law. In 1850, when his mother died, he inherited his family’s money. For some years he lived abroad, mainly at Geneva, where he knew Voltaire. By 1755 he was in Rome. After settling in England, Keate, began to write. He was in turn poet, naturalist, antiquary, and artist. A founder member of the Society of Artists in 1761, he left it for the Royal Academy in 1768. Keate was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and Fellow of the Royal Society in 1766. In 1764 he wrote this poem about Netley Abbey entitled,

The Ruins of Netley Abbey. A Poem.” Here is an extract.

More welcome far the Shades of this wild Wood
Skirting with cheerful Green the seabeat Sands,
Where NETLEY, near the Margin of the Flood
In lone Magnificence a Ruin stands.

How chang’d alas! from that rever’d Abode
Which spread in ancient Days so wide a Fame,
When votive Monks these sacred Pavements trod,
And swell’d each Echo with JEHOVAH’S Name!

Now sunk, deserted, and with Weeds o’ergrown,
Yon aged Walls their better Years bewail;
Low on the Ground their loftiest Spires are thrown,
And ev’ry Stone points out a moral Tale.

Mark how the Ivy with Luxuriance bends
Its winding Foliage through the cloister’d Space,
O’er the green Window’s mould’ring Height ascends,
And seems to clasp it with a fond Embrace.—

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding

In 1826 Copeley Fielding visited Netley Abbey and produced this water colour.

Copeley Fielding Sept 22nd 1826

Copeley Fielding Painting of Netley Abbey, Tate Gallery

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (22 November 1787 – 3 March 1855), commonly called Copley Fielding, was an English painter born in Sowerby, near Halifax, and famous for his watercolour landscapes. At an early age Fielding became a pupil of John Varley. In 1810 he became an associate exhibitor in the Old Water-colour Society, in 1813 a full member, and in 1831 President of that body (later known as the Royal Society of Watercolours), until his death.

In 1824, Copley Fielding won a gold medal at the Paris Salon alongside Richard Parkes Bonington and John Constable. He also engaged largely in teaching the art. He later moved to Park Crescent in Worthing and died in the town in March 1855.

Origins of Gothic Novels

1795 Richard Warner wrote a potboiler entitled Netley Abbey, a Gothic Story in two volumes, featuring skullduggery at the abbey during the middle ages.

Netley Abbey: A Gothic novel by Richard Warner, 1795

John Mullins, in an article about ,”The Origins of the Gothic,” published in 2014 for the British Library, writes,

“Gothic fiction began as a sophisticated joke. Horace Walpole first applied the ,”Gothic,”to a novel in the subtitle-“A Gothic Story,” – or, “The Castle of Otranto,” published in 1764. Mullins writes that when Walpole used the word Gothic he meant ,”barbarous,” as well as, “deriving from the middle ages.


Anne Radcliffe, Wikipedia Commons

In the 1790s novelists rediscovered what Walpole had imagined. Anne Radcliffe wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) She created a brooding aristocratic villain, Montoni, who threatens the resourceful heroine Emily with an unspeakable fate. Radcliffe’s fiction was the natural target for Jane Austen’s satire, Northanger Abbey. Catherine Morland imposes her ,”Gothic,” thoughts and ideas on the real world of the Tilneys.”

Reading novels and novels of the Gothic genre especially are one of Catherine Morland’s greatest pleasures. When meeting her new friend Isabella Thorpe in the Pump Room, Isabella enquires why Catherine is late.

”But my dearest Catherine what have you been doing with yourself all this morning? Have you gone on with Udolpho?”

Catherine had and they began to discuss the plot.

“… and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”

These ”same kind” included, Castle of Wolfenbebavch, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine and Horrid Mysteries. Actually the titles alone set a gloomy mysterious dark mood. The enthusiasm of Isabella and Catherine for these novels seem to be echoed by Jane Austen’s tense, breathlessness that emerges from her writing. Is there a tone of cynicism and ridicule too in their listing? Although Austen exaggerates the Gothic genre you can’t help thinking that she must have read all of these novels herself, how else would she know them? Her close mimicking of the genre in Northanger Abbey also points to the realization that she absorbed all the traits of the Gothic genre and was using those effects to her own great delight. I think Jane Austen loved the Gothic genre even as she seems to ridicule it. It was a guilty pleasure to her, perhaps.

Jane Austen – full circle from Netley and Southampton to Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)

Jane Austen, watercolour by her sister Cassandra, National Portrait Gallery

In 1806, Jane Austen, her mother Cassandra, her sister Cassandra, her friend Martha Lloyd and her brother, Francis’s new bride, Mary Gibson moved into a house in Castle Square Southampton rented from Lord Landsdown. The previous year, 1805, George Austen her father had died in Bath. Her mother, herself and her sister were in straightened circumstances. They had to rely quite heavily on Jane’s brothers for support. Francis was to be away at sea and his new bride, Mary, was already pregnant. She needed the support of the women in the family. Francis was to sail from Portsmouth but being a naval port it was not entirely suitable for his new wife, and his mother and sisters. Southampton, nineteen miles along the coast, was far more genteel.

The Austens knew Southampton and the surrounding areas well. Jane had visited Southampton on a number of occasions before moving there again in 1806. The family would often take trips into the surrounding areas, going to Beaulieu in the New Forest or take boat trips to the Isle of Wight. They would also go by rowing boat from The Itchen Ferry to Netley. Jane writing to Cassandra from Castle Square on Tuesday 25th October 1808,

“ We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I intend to take them to Netley today; the tide is just right for our going immediately after noonshine but I am afraid there will be rain.”

Edward and George, Jane’s brother Edward’s boys, were staying with Jane at Castle Square. Their mother had died and they were receiving letters from their father about what was to happen. Both boys were naturally upset and Jane took their wellbeing into hand. She appears to have been quite successful keeping the boys occupied with a series of adventures. Netley Abbey must have had an effect on Austen. The Abbey had influenced novelists, poets and artists. Horace Walpole, the originator of the Gothic form, had been impressed by it. We can surmise that her visit to Netley Abbey influenced Jane’s reading of the Gothic novels and so influenced her writing of Northanger Abbey. Or perhaps her fondness for reading Gothic novels influenced her visit to Netley Abbey. It was, after all, a well-known beauty spot.


Northanger Abbey/Persuasion title page, Wikipedia Commons

Northanger Abbey was ready for publication in 1803 but was not published until December 1817 after Jane’s death in July of that year. From the tone of the letter, we can gather Netley was a well-known place to the Austen family. Prior to 1806, Jane had previously lived or stayed in Southampton: In 1783, when Mrs Crawley moved her school to Southampton from Reading; and also in 1793 at the age of 17 to stay with a cousin, Elizabeth Butler Harris, née Austen. Jane celebrated her 18th birthday at a ball at the Dolphin Hotel in Southampton High Street. She may well have been introduced to Netley Abbey on either of those occasions.

Whether Netley Abbey had an influence on Jane’s writing of Northanger Abbey or not, it was a place that had an influence on those connected with the Gothic movement.

Here is a description of Catherine Moorland experiencing Northanger Abbey at night.

“The night was stormy; the wind had been rising at intervals the whole afternoon; and by the time the party broke up, it blew and rained violently. Catherine, as she crossed the hall, listened to the tempest with sensations of aw; and, when she heard it rage round a corner of the ancient building and close with sudden fury a distant door, felt for the firs time that she was really in an Abbey.- Yes, these were characteristic sounds;- they brought to her recollection a countless variety of dreadful situations and horrid scenes, which such buildings had witnessed….”


Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, first published 1818, (Penguin Classic 2006.)

Jane Austen’s Letters New Edition) Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye Third Edition 1995 Oxford University Press.

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding 1787–1855 biography TATE BRITAIN

John Constable 1776–1837 biography TATE BRITAIN

Horace Walpole TO RICHARD BENTLEY, ESQ. Strawberry Hill, September 18, 1755.

George Keate: Wikipaedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Keate

Netley Abbey   English Heritage.

The Origins of the Gothic,” John Mullins published in 2014 for the British Library.



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Gentle readers, Tony Grant kindly rewrote an article that he had originally written for JASA (Jane Austen Society of Australia), adding more images and new information. Tony has also resurrected his blog, London Calling (thank you, Tony).

Jane Austen lived in Southampton between 1806 and 1809. She stayed in a rented house in Castle Square.

Southampton sea walls

In 1806 Francis Austen married Mary Gibson. As he was to be away at sea a lot he made the suggestion that Mary and his mother, Jane, Cassandra and Martha Lloyd should share a house together. Southampton was a good choice because it was near to Portsmouth, where Frank was based and was a pleasant town set within medieval walls. It was also surrounded by picturesque countryside.

Southampton High Street, 19th C.

Jane had been to Southampton twice previously. First when she was eight years of age to attend Mrs Cawley’s school with Cassandra and her cousin Jane Cooper. This was a disaster. Mrs Austen , in her wisdom, had decided to send Cassandra away to school to attend Mrs Cawleys academy in Oxford in the Spring of 1783. Jane didn’t want to be left out. She wanted to be with her beloved sister and insisted on going. What the reasoning of Mrs Austen was in allowing a seven year old to be away from home for an extended period of time is anybody’s guess. Mrs Cawley removed her school to Southampton that same year.

Reading Abbey, Mrs Cawley's school in Southampton

Unfortunately, because Southampton was a port it was often one of the first places that diseases and infections from abroad would first take hold. Cassandra, Jane Cooper and Jane became gravely ill. It was not until Jane Cooper, writing to her mother in Bath, alerted Mrs Cooper and Mrs Austen to the problem. Both mothers removed their children promptly and nursed them back to health.

How Southampton would have looked in Jane's time

The second time Jane stayed in Southampton when was when she was eighteen. She stayed with her cousin Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Austen from Tonbridge had married money and moved to Southampton where her husband was…the Sherrif.” (from Claire Tomlin, Jane Austen A Life)

This branch of the Austen family lived in St Mary’s Street in the St Mary’s district of Southampton. While staying with their cousin, Jane and Cassandra attended a ball at the Dolphin Hotel.

Ball room at the Dolphin Hotel. Image @Tony Grant

Castle Square today consists of recently built housing, flats built in the 1960’s and some buildings built in the 1940’s and 1930’s. A pub, originally called The Juniper Berry later called The Bosun’s Locker and now renamed The Juniper Berry, is on the site of the house Jane lived in.

The Dolphin Hotel. Image @Tony Grant

To Cassandra Austen who was staying at Godmersham to help with the forthcoming baby: Friday 20 – Sunday 22 February 1807

“ We hear that we are envied our House by many people, & that the Garden is the best in Town.”

Jane Austen map of Southhampton

Jane also enjoyed the fact that the house in Castle Square had a garden. Something she had not been able to enjoy when living in Bath. She wanted to improve what was already there and the family hired a gardener. She didn’t think much of the roses that already existed,

we mean to get a few of a better kind therefore & the latter of an indifferent sort,—we mean to get a few of a better kind therefore & at my own particular desire he procures us some syringas…”

Jane also mentions getting a laburnum and having currants, gooseberry bushes and raspberries planted.

Site of the Itchen ferry in the 18th C.

Jane refers to, “The Beach,” in her letters from Castle Square to Cassandra. This was a stretch of land that bordered the Itchen River between the Town Quay and Cross House, which was a sort of Medieval shelter.

Cross House, a medieval shelter for Itchen ferry travelers. Image @Tony Grant

The shelter was built to shield passengers from inclement weather waiting to be rowed across the Itchen by ferrymen from The Itchen Ferry community situated on the Woolston side of the river. Jane probably sat here waiting for the ferrymen on the various trips she took on the river. (Click here to learn more about the fishermen and ferrymen at Itchen Ferry.)

Itchen Ferry cottages. Image @Tony Grant

“The Beach,” no longer exists. In the late Victorian period a large area of land was reclaimed stretching out into Southampton Water. Southampton Docks was built on this reclaimed land.

God's House gateway. Image @Tony Grant

The gateway through Gods House Tower, a medieval section of Southampton’s town walls, would have been the entrance through which Jane and her family accessed The Beach.

Southampton's town wall. Image @Tony Grant

On the 7th October 1808, Edward’s wife Elizabeth died soon after giving birth to her eleventh child. Ten days after this sad occurrence their two boys, Edward and George, travelled to Southampton to stay with their aunt Jane.

The Bosun's Locker, a pub that sits on the site of Jane's house. Image @Tony Grant

Jane did well in occupying their minds and played games with them and took them on excursions.

To Cassandra Austen at Godmersham: Wednesday 7 – Thursday 8 January 1807

We did not take our walk on Friday, it was too dirty, nor have we yet done it; we may perhaps do something like it today, as after seeing Frank skate, which he hopes to do in the meadows by the beach, we are to treat ourselves with a passage over the ferry.”

The Itchen has been industrialised now for a long time. The area was badly bombed during the war because there was a shipyard in that part of the river,called Thorneycrofts, which built minesweepers and destroyers. In Jane’s time Thorneycrofts were there but they built fishing boats and sailing boats, perhaps even the rowing boats Jane rowed in with her nephews.

Northam Bridge in the 18th C.

On one occasion Jane took Edward and George on the Itchen up as far as Northam Bridge where they saw a battle ship being fitted out.

To Cassandra Austen at Godmersham: Monday 24 – Tuesday 25th October 1808

“We had a little water party yesterday: I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I had intended to take them to Netley today; the tide is just right for our going immediately after noon shine but I am afraid there will be rain; if we cannot get so far, however, we may go round from the ferry to the quay. I had not proposed doing more than cross the Itchen yesterday, but it proved so pleasant, and so much to the satisfaction of al, that when we reached the middle of the stream we agreed to be rowed up the river; both the boys rowed a great part of the way, and their questions and remarks, as well as their enjoyment, were very amusing; George’s enquiries were endless, and his eagerness in everything reminds me often of his uncle Henry.”

Netley Abbey, south transept. Image @Tony Grant

Netley Abbey appears to have been a popular place for the Austens to visit. This is a quote from Claire Tomlin’s “Jane Austen A Life.” Tomlin also quotes Fanny, who shows a great enthusiasm for Netley Abbey.

Netley Abbey, church nave. Image @Tony Grant

Claire Tomlin writes, “ There was a boat trip to Hythe and another to see the picturesque ruins of Netley Abbey; (Fanny is quoted as writing)

we were struck dumb with admiration, and I wish I could write anything that would come near to the sublimity of it.”

Chessel House, home of the Lances

During their time in Southampton they made new friends. Some did not make a good impression on Jane at first. A Mrs Lance, who lived at Chessel House on the other side of the Itchen, was not approved of. The Austens received cards from the Lances and presumed that they were acting on orders from Mr Lance of Netherton. Frank and Jane went to call on Mrs Lance. They would have got a ferry across the Itchen to the Itchen Ferry Village side and then would walked over Peartree Green, past the chapel on Peartree Green and along Sea Road to get to the Lance’s Chessel Estate at what is now Bitterne.

Peartree Church. Image @Tony Grant

The gate posts to the drive, which Frank and Jane would have walked through and the gatehouse to the estate which they would have walked past, are still there.

Little Lances Hill. Image @Tony Grant

The gate posts have been moved further apart to allow a modern road to pass through. Two of the local roads, Lances Hill and Little Lances Hill remind us of the Lance family.

Site fo the beach from God's House Tower gateway. Image @Tony Grant

To Cassandra Austen at Godmersham: Wednesday 7th – Thursady 8th January 1807:

“We found only Mrs Lance at home, and whether she boasts any offspring beside a grand pianoforte did not appear. She was civil and chatty enough, and offered to introduce us to acquaintance in Southampton, which we gratefully declined…………………They will not come often, I dare say. They live in a handsome style and are rich, and she seemed to like to be rich, and we gave her to understand we were far from being so; she will soon feel therefore that we are not worth her acquaintance.”

This does not turn out quite as Jane predicted. They did meet again. Mrs Lance visited Castle Square and the Lance daughters were part of their social circle at the Dolphin Balls. The importance of the pianoforte to Mrs Lance has echoes in Jane’s novel, Emma.

One, maybe slightly salacious story, emerges while Jane, Martha and her mother are in Southampton. Jane, perhaps a little teasingly, relates a relationship between Dr Mant, the rector of All Souls Church in the High Street and Martha Lloyd.

All Saint's Church, Southampton

Dr Mant was well known in Southampton. He had been the headmaster of King Edward VII’s Grammar School in the town . King Edwards Grammar School is now situated in the north part of the city. It has beautiful, extensive playing fields and an iconic, elegant, brick 1930’s style main building. It provides a very high standard of education and all pupils expect to go to university, many go on to Oxford and Cambridge and the other top universities in the country. In Jane’s day the grammar school was in French Street, very close to Castle Square, in a small medieval building. The ruins of it still exist. Dr Mant had also been a professor of Divinity at Oxford and written religious discussion pamphlets. He was a super star in the firmament of vicars. He was a very charismatic preacher too. Dr Mant had his following of inspired young ladies. Martha was apparently a besotted member of this clan.

Tuesday 17th January 1809 from castle Square to Cassandra.

“Martha & Dr Mant are as bad as ever; he runs after her in the street to apologise for having spoken to a Gentleman while she was near him the day before. – Poor Mrs Mant can stand it no longer; she is retired to one of her married Daughters.”

The Dolphin Hotel, which still stands today, was the venue for Balls in Jane’s time. The Dolphin is within easy walking distance of Castle Square and it would have taken no more that six or seven minutes to walk there.

The Dolphin Hotel, where Jane Austen attended balls

To Cassandra Austen at Godmersham: Friday 9th December 1808:

“ The room was tolerably full & there were perhaps thirty couples of dancers; The melancholy part was to see so many dozen young Women standing by without partners & each of them with two ugly naked shoulders! It was the same room we danced in fifteen years ago! – I thought it all over – & in spite of the shame of being so much older felt with thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then.”

Quadrille, 1820

Also within easy walking distance of Castle Square was Southampton’s theatre. Jane is a little dismissive of the Theatre when she writes:

To Cassandra Austen at Godmersham: Sunday 20th November 1808:

Martha ought to see the inside of the Theatre once while she lives in Southampton & I hardly think she will wish to take a second view.”

Site of the Southampton Theatre where Jane took Martha Lloyd. Image @Tony Grant

Southampton was a place Jane preferred to Bath. She appears to have had some enjoyable experiences there. It was obviously not a place she felt settled enough to write. Although, I am sure she used her experiences there in her novels.

Tony’s article in the JASA Chroniclem December, 2007.

Click on image to enlarge.

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Gentle reader, This post was written by Tony Grant of London Calling, whose association with this topic is mentioned at the bottom.

I’ve been reading a book recently called, The British Museum is falling Down, by David Lodge. One of the main threads of the story is that Roman Catholic, Adam Appleby, a research student, husband and father of three and with possibly one more on the way, goes off one night into the surreal and ethereal world of a smog bound London to visit an old lady in Bayswater who knew the writer, Egbert Merrymarsh. The author he is researching for his thesis. There is the possibility she has an unknown manuscript by this writer that would make Adam’s thesis shed new light and insights into the writers work and life. Within this world of smog, where he can hardly see in front of his own nose, he stumbles into sexual temptation, meat cleaver wielding characters from a sort of hades underworld and his strongly anti contraception, Irish parish priest, who he has a conversation with inside a shop that sells whips, corsets, chains and belts to be used for sexual gratification. The priest remains unaware of the shops purpose. The whole scenario had me laughing out loud. The story is a morality play but one hell of a funny one.

What makes it funny? Trying to explain humour is a death knell. Humour happens!!! And we enjoy it. To analyse it takes the humour away and the joke is lost. However a few pointers might be; humour is created when, misunderstandings lead to a series of unlikely mishaps, which often can be related to ourselves. The use of highly unlikely and ridiculous metaphors and similes with a strong ring of truth also can create humour. Negative statements cancelling each other out to make something positive or direct, can create a chuckle of recognition. Unlikely scenarios and happenings being put side by side can be funny. Opposing statements creating a third view. But, we must be taken by surprise to really laugh out loud.

Word play of every sort is what jokes are made from. Jane Austen was good at this. Throughout her letters and often in her novels there are examples of what people describe as waspishness. Sometimes this can be hurtful or even insulting to the person she talks about, if that person were to hear or read what Jane said about them. Some of them did, because she wrote the letter directly to them. Cassandra, Martha Lloyd and her own mother, Mrs Austen, did not escape.


Jane's Ballroom


Sunday 10th January 1796 to Cassandra written from Steventon.

Jane has just turned 21 the month before. This is the first letter we have of hers and one of her most famous because in this letter she extols the virtues of Tom Lefroy but it is not towards Tom she turns her twist of humour, it is towards another young man. She is relating to Cassandra the events of a ball at Ashe the night before.

“ I danced twice with Warren last night, and once with Charles Watkins, and, to my inexpressible astonishment, I entirely escaped John Lifford. I was forced to fight for it however.”

Bad breath, body odour, an inexpressibly boring way of talking, I wonder what it was?

Sunday 9th November 1800 to Cassandra from Steventon.

“Earle Harwood has been giving uneasiness to his family, & Talk to the neighbourhood; – in the present instance he is only unfortunate & not at fault.- About ten days ago, in cocking a pistol in the guard-room at Marcou, he accidently shot himself through the Thigh. Two young Scottish surgeons in the island were polite enough to propose taking off the Thigh at once but to that he could not consent; & accordingly in his wounded state was put on board a cutter & conveyed to Haslar Hospital at Gosport; where the bullet was extracted & where he now is I hope in a fair way of doing well.”

The more you consider this story you begin to think, how? what? did he really? were they going to? Sometimes telling a story straight is enough.

Here is one of my favourite quotes in a letter to Cassandra. I wonder how Cassandra was left feeling? The speed of this delivery is enough to bring a smile.


Jane's letters


Friday 31st May 1811

“ I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive. We shall have pease soon- “

A double negative if I am not mistaken. A master of the art.


Castle Square today


Wednesday 28th December 1808 from Castle Square to Cassandra.

“ We spent Friday evening with our friends at the boarding house, & and our curiosity was gratified by the sight of their fellow inmates, Mrs Drew & Miss Hook, Mr Wynne and Mr Fitzhugh, the latter is brother to Mrs Lance, & very much the gentleman. He has lived in that house more than twenty years, & poor man is so totally deaf, that they say he could not hear a cannon, were it fired close to him; having no cannon at hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, & talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough.”

From the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. That’s almost a scene from Monty Python.


Chessil House, the home of the Lances.


Mrs Lance, who was mentioned in the last quotation comes under Jane’s scrutiny a few times over the two years the Austens are in Southampton. Mrs Lance was the wife of a well to do merchant and local politician, who owned a beautiful mansion and grounds just outside of Southampton at Bitterne Park. Two roads are named after the Lances to this day. The house no longer exists.


Little Lances Hill. On part of the Lance's estate.


Just after Jane, Mrs Austen and Martha move to Southampton they receive cards from Mrs Lance inviting them to tea. A mutual friend has informed Mrs Lance of the Austens coming to Southampton.

Thursday 8th January 1807 from Southampton to Cassandra.

“ We found only Mrs Lance at home, and whether she boasts any offspring beside a grand pianoforte did not appear.”

Synical, waspish,how would you describe that comment? Poor Mrs Lance obviously thought a lot of her pianoforte. Maybe she mentioned nothing else. Mrs Lance did have daughters and they appear in other letters and especially in Jane’s description of a ball at The Dolphin Hotel in Southampton’ s High Street.

Tuesday 24th January 1809 from Castle Square to Cassandra.

“The room was tolerably full, & the ball opened by Miss Glyn; – the Miss Lances had partners, Capt. Dauvergne’s friend appeared in regimentals, Caroline Maitland had an Officer to flirt with, & Mr John Harrison was deputed by Capt. Smith being himself absent, to ask me to dance, – Everything went well you see, especially after we had tucked Mrs Lance’s neckerchief in behind,& fastened it with a pin.”

What on earth was going on there? Can you imagine the scene?


The Dolphin Hotel. Jane Austen attended balls here.


There is another ball Jane describes that took place at The Dolphin. Her sharp observation is in evidence here.

Friday 9th December 1808 from Castle Square to Cassandra.

“The room was tolerably full & there were perhaps thirty couple of Dancers; – the melancholy part was to see so many dozen young Women standing by without partners, & each of them with two ugly naked shoulders! – It was the same room we danced in 15 years ago! – I thought it all over – &in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then. – We paid an additional shilling for Tea, which we took as we chose in an adjoining & very comfortable room. – There were only four dances and it went to my heart that the Miss Lances ( one of them too named Emma!) should have partners only for two.- You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance – but I was…..”

This is not what you might term funny but perhaps confrontational in the style of Lenny Bruce. It’s confessional and opinionated. The emotions and the thoughts waver between memory, sadness, melancholy, joy and happiness. Jane is contemplating her past and her present.

I couldn’t possibly finish without a quote about, “The Americans.” Jane is staying with Henry at Hans Place. Henry hasn’t been well. Jane has been privy to a conversation between Henry and some of his banker friends, or, Henry has related their thoughts and beliefs to her.


Jane's handwriting


Friday 2nd September 1814 from Hans Place to Martha Lloyd.

“ His view and the view of those he mixes with, of Politics is not cheerful – with regard to an American War I mean; – they consider it as certain, & as what is to ruin us. The Americans cannot be conquered, & we shall all be teaching them the skill in War, which they may now want. We are to make them good Sailors & Soldiers & gain nothing ourselves. – If we are to be ruined, it cannot be helped – but I place my hope of better things on a claim to the protection of Heaven, as a Religious Nation, a nation in spite of much evil improving in religion, which I cannot believe the Americans to possess.”

Powerful Lenny Bruce type stuff again. Confessional.

Any talk shows over there that could accommodate our Jane?

There are so many instances of Jane’s wit, humour, waspishness and deep intelligence throughout her letters. One of you could write a post with the same title as this and choose entirely different quotations. I can only regard what I have written here as a taste, a mere flavour. The letters are worth reading. Although they were thoroughly culled by Cassandra after Jane’s death, they do give us a deep insight into her thoughts, worries, beliefs, hopes and joys. Letters are very direct things. It’s the writer’s immediate voice talking to you.


The white houseis 18th century. Jane would have seen this on the other side of the valley from Chessil House.


PS. The white house on the opposite side of the valley to where the Lances lived is my old school in Southampton still run today by the, de La Mennais Brothers, a French order from Brittany. It was their boarding school I went to at Cheswardine Hall in Shropshire – A connections between me and Jane!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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francis william austen

My dearest Frank, You will be glad to hear that every copy of  S. and S. is sold, and that it has brought me £140 besides the copyright, if that should ever be of any value.

In 1788,  14 ½ year-old Frank Austen prepared to put out to sea and leave his family. After excelling in his courses at the Portsmouth Naval Academy, the Commissioner of the Dockyards recommended that Frank join the Perserverance under the direction of Cornwallis, who was recently appointed Commander-in-Chief of India. The letter that young Francis received from his father, Rev.  George Austen, upon his departure was one that he would treasure for the rest of his life. In part, the Reverend wrote:

As you have hitherto, my dear Francis, been extremely fortunate in making friends, I trust your future conduct will confirm their good opinion of you; and I have the more confidence of this expectation because the high character you acquired at the Academy for propriety of behaviour and diligence in your studies, when you were so much younger and had so much less experience, seems to promise that riper years and more knowledge of the world will strengthen your naturally good disposition. That this may be the case I sincerely pray, as you will readily believe when you are assured that your good mother, brothers, sisters and myself will all exult in your reputation and rejoice in your happiness …

Ten years later, Jane would write with exultation:

My dear Cassandra, Frank is made. He was yesterday raised to the rank of Commander and appointed to the Petterel sloop, now at Gilbraltar. – Dec 28, 1798

Vice Admiral Sir Francis Austen

Vice Admiral Sir Francis Austen

By 1800, Frank, was still single, although his captain’s salary would enable him to marry and support a family in reasonable comfort. The letter Jane would write him on January 21, 1805 was heartbreaking:

My dearest Frank

I have melancholy news to relate, & sincerely feel for your feelings under the shock of it.—I wish I could better prepare you for it. But having said so much, your mind will already forestall the sort of event which I have to communicate.—Our dear Father has closed his virtuous & happy life, in a death almost as free from suffering as his Children could have wished. He was taken ill on Saturday morning, exactly in the same way as heretofore, an oppression in the head, with fever, violent tremulousness, & the greatest degree of Feebleness….towards the Evening however he got better, had a tolerable night, & yesterday morning was so greatly amended as to get up & join us at breakfast as usual, & walk about with only the help of a stick, & every symptom was then so favourable that when Bowen saw him at one, he felt sure of his doing perfectly well. But as the day advanced, all these comfortable appearances gradually changed; the fever grew stronger than ever, & when Bowen saw him at ten at night, he pronounc’d his situation to be most alarming. At nine this morning he came again—& by his desire a Physician was called in;—Dr. Gibbs—But it was then absolutely a lost case—. Dr. Gibbs said that nothing but a Miracle could save him, and about twenty minutes after Ten he drew his last gasp…My Mother bears the Shock as well as possible; she was quite prepared for it, & feels all the blessing of his being spared a long Illness. My Uncle & Aunt have been with us, & shew us every imaginable kindness. And tomorrow we shall I dare say have the comfort of James’s presence, as an express has been sent to him. Adieu my dearest Frank. The loss of such a Parent must be felt, or we should be Brutes—. I wish I could have given you better preparation—but it has been impossible. Yours Ever affectly – J A.

The news must have been a great blow to Frank, who sailed the world over and only saw his family sporadically. Perhaps his grief was somewhat ameliorated by Jane’s next letter a little over a week later:

My mother has found among our dear father’s little personal property a small astronomical instrument, which she hopes you will accept for his sake. It is, I believe, a compass and sundial, and is in a black shagreen case…Yours very affecly, JA.

When Frank asked Miss Mary Gibson to marry him, Jane and Cassandra discovered that they liked her extremely well. Their cordial relationship had an opportunity to flourish after Rev. George Austen’s death. Frank invited his mother and sisters to live with him and his bride in Southampton from 1806 to 1808.  It was to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, for Frank did not want his young wife to be alone while he was away on his next voyage. He rented a house in Castle Square  with a fine garden and a view across Southampton Water to the Isle of Wight, which Jane found very much to her liking. The invitation included the Austen women’s close friend, Martha Lloyd, sister to James Austen’s wife Mary.

Sir Francis Austen lived until 1865, well into the age of photography

Sir Francis Austen lived until 1865, well into the age of photography

Unfortunately, like Edward’s wife Elizabeth, Mary did not survive into old age and died after the birth of her 11th child in 1823.  In an ironic turn of events, Frank asked Martha Lloyd to be his second wife in 1828 and she accepted. By any stretch of the imagination, Frank’s career was illustrious. He eventually achieved Knighthood as Sir Francis Austen and rose to the position of Admiral of the Fleet. Jane last saw her brother in the New Year of 1817, when a lull in her fatal illness allowed her to visit Frank and his large rambunctious family in Alton.

Thirty-five years after her death there came also a voice of praise from across the Atlantic. In 1852 the following letter was received by her brother Sir Francis Austen:

Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 6th Jan. 1852

Since high critical authority has pronounced the delineations of character in the works of Jane Austen second only to those of Shakspeare, trans-atlantic admiration appears superfluous; yet it may not be uninteresting to her family to receive an assurance that the influence of her genius is extensively recognised in the American Republic, even by the highest judicial authorities. The late Mr Chief Justice Marshall, of the supreme Court of the United States, and his associate Mr Justice Story, highly estimated and admired Miss Austen, and to them we owe our introduction to her society. For many years her talents have brightened our daily path, and her name and those of her characters are familiar to us as ‘household words’. We have long wished to express to some of her family the sentiments of gratitude and affection she has inspired, and request more information relative to her life than is given in the brief memoir prefixed to her works.

Having accidentally heard that a brother of Jane Austen held a high rank in the British navy, we have obtained his address from our friend Admiral Wormley, now resident in Boston, and we trust this expression of our feeling will be received by her relations with the kindness and urbanity characteristic of Admirals of her creation. Sir Francis Austen, or one of his family, would confer a great favour by complying with our request. The autograph of his sister, or a few lines in her handwriting, would be placed among our chief treasures.

The family who delight in the companionship of Jane Austen, and who present this petition, are of English origin. Their ancestor held a high rank among the first emigrants to New England, and his name and character have been ably represented by his descendants in various public stations of trust and responsibility to the present time in the colony and state of Massachusetts. A letter addressed to Miss Quincey, care of the Honble Josiah Quincey, Boston, Massachusetts, would reach its destination.

Sir Francis Austen returned a suitable reply to this application; and sent a long letter of his sister’s, which, no doubt, still occupies the place of honour promised by the Quincey family. – A Memoir of Jane Austen by her nephew, Chapter IX

More links:

Gentle reader: In honor of JASNA’s annual meeting in Philadelphia this week, this blog, Austenprose, and Jane Austen Today will be devoting posts to Jane Austen and her siblings. Look for new links each day.

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Dolphin Hotel in Southampton

Dolphin Hotel in Southampton

According to a recent newspaper report, The Dolphin, a 3-star hotel in Southampton, will close at the end of this month. Jane Austen danced in its ballroom between 1806 and 1809 after her father’s death and after she and her mother and sister moved from Bath. The building that houses the Dolphin was erected in 1250 and the hotel dates from 1550, a venerable history. Southampton is a medieval city. Its western walls were built in 1338 and remain one of the finest medieval town defenses in the UK.

The medieval town that Jane knew was, according to the diarist Mrs Powys, “one of the most neat and pleasant towns I ever saw … once walled round, many large stones of which are now remaining. There were four gates, only three now … one long fine street of a quarter mile in length … At the extremity a capital building was erected with two detached wings, and colonnades. The centre was an elegant tavern, with assembly, card room, etc., and at each wing hotels to accommodate the nobility and gentry. The tavern is taken down, but the wings converted into genteel houses” (Mitton 1917). – Hantsweb

Medieval Merchant's House, Southampton

Medieval Merchant's House, Southampton

In one of her letters Jane mentioned a ball at the Assembly Rooms. These rooms, said a contemporary writer, were situated near the West Quay, and were very elegantly fitted up. “The Long Room, he says, was built in 1761, the Ball Room soon afterwards.”

Quadrille Plate from Le Bon Genre, 1805

Quadrille Plate from Le Bon Genre, 1805

“Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected,” Jane writes . . . . “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 shame of being so much older felt, with thankfulness, that I was quite as happy now as then . . . . you will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance, but I was – by the gentleman whom we met that Sunday with Captain D’Auvergne. We have always kept up a bowing acquaintance since, and being pleased with his black eyes, I spoke to him at the ball, which brought on me this civility; but I do not know his name, and he seems so little at home in the English language, that I believe his black eyes may be the best of him.”[1] Constance Hill, Jane Austen Southampton. – Constance Hill

Southampton Sea Walls

Southampton Sea Walls

During the 18th century Southampton was a popular Spa town, but this development did not last long. Although assembly rooms and baths were constructed, there were not enough features in the town to maintain it as a tourist attraction. Jane and her family could visit the theatre and there was a circulating library, but Southampton was more a working seaport than a resort. Unfortunately the building that Jane Austen lived in and its surrounding area have been demolished, but one can still see the medieval walls and ancient portions of the city.*  The Dolphin’s website describes the Assembly Rooms today:

Jane Austen Assembly Rooms – Jane Austen was a regular visitor to Southampton and famously attended a ball in the Assembly rooms here at the Dolphin on her 18th birthday. The main room divides into three creating: Jane Austen Assembly Room – One A large room, decorated in the Georgian style, featuring a quite stunning stone carved fireplace and one of two enormous bay windows, which are reputed to be the largest in the world, providing ample natural daylight. Jane Austen Assembly Room Two – The smallest of our meeting rooms is still a good size, with three sash windows, opening onto the royal balcony, which hangs over the high street. Jane Austen Assembly Room Three – A large room, decorated in the Georgian style, featuring a quite stunning stone carved fireplace on which one of our resident ghosts (Beau) is reputed to lean, whilst looking out of the bay window, which are reputed to be the largest in the world, providing ample natural daylight. Jane Austen Assembly Rooms Full Room – When the whole room is opened up, the symmetry of the architecture can be seen in its full glory, much as it would have been when Jane danced here. The two stone carved fireplaces, facing one another across the length of the room and the two bay windows together with the high ceilings reflect a style of architecture which has sadly passed. Jane Austen Music Room – The music room is also situated on the first floor, adjacent to Jane Austen Assembly Room One, was built slightly later than the main room in around 1780 and features a marble fireplace and five sash windows, overlooking the high street.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the year Jane took up residence in Southampton, a Jane Austen Trail was launched in July 2006. There are eight plaques each at a location associated with Jane and, available at Southampton Tourist Information Centre.


Find more on the topic in these links:

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