Austen’s Life in Bath | The Victoria Art Gallery

Austen’s Life in Bath

Jane Austen moved to Bath with her parents in 1801 and lived here for several years.  She worked on The Watsons and Susan (which became Northanger Abbey) while here.  They lived in fashionable Sydney Place for 3 years, followed by shorter stays in Green Park, Gay Street and Trim Street.

Mrs Austen believed that retirement in Bath would be good for the health of her husband.  She may well have thought that it would be a good place for daughters Jane and Cassandra to find husbands.  The Austens had relatives in Bath and had visited the city regularly for years.

The Austen parents did not consult their daughters about moving here. According to one of her mother’s letters, Jane was unhappy about it.  Her niece Anna reported that Jane Austen was so horrified that she fainted on hearing the news of the move.  As her sister Cassandra destroyed letters from this period there is little firm evidence of what she thought about Bath.

Whilst in Bath Jane Austen lived a busy, active life.  She enjoyed many visits to the theatre.  She attended concerts, public breakfasts, firework displays and balls and visited the Pump Room.  She shopped for fabrics and accessories here and went for walks along the canal and to villages like Weston and Charlecombe. 

Jane Austen’s father George died here in 1805, suddenly and unexpectedly.  Mrs Austen wanted to stay in Bath after his death because her brother lived here.  Although George Austen’s salary died with him, the Austen sons helped their mother and sisters financially, so they were not impoverished. 

Mrs Austen and daughters Jane and Cassandra left Bath for good in June 1806.  They went briefly to Bristol then Southampton, eventually moving to Chawton in Hampshire, where Jane Austen lived until her death in 1817 and wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion.

Image: Bridge over the Canal in Sydney Gardens, By John Claude Nattes, 1805

Bridge over the Canal in Sydney Gardens

By John Claude Nattes, 1805

The Austen family lived near here, at 4 Sydney Place from 1801 to 1804. This was a good address in a fashionable location. Jane enjoyed walks along the canal near Sydney Gardens. They took over the house part way through a lease, which meant that they were able to get it at a good price. When the lease ran out they moved to Green Park Buildings, where they lived until shortly after Jane’s father, George Austen died in 1805.

Image: Axford & Paragon Buildings By John Claude Nattes, 1804

Axford & Paragon Buildings

By John Claude Nattes, 1804

‘We know that Mrs Perrott will want to get us into Axford Buildings, but we all unite in particular dislike of that part of town’ Jane Austen’s Letters, January 1801

Jane Austen’s aunt and uncle, the Leigh-Perrots lived at 1 Paragon. When the Austens moved to Bath in 1801, they stayed with them while looking for a house to rent. The Leigh-Perrots clearly hoped that they would all be neighbours, unaware of Jane’s misgivings.

Image:  A General View, By John Claude Nattes, 1805

A General View

By John Claude Nattes, 1805

‘There are three parts of Bath likely to have houses in them {to rent}  - Westgate Buildings, Charles Street & some of the short streets leading from Laura Place or Pulteney Street’  Jane Austen’s Letters, January 1801

On moving to Bath in 1801, it took the Austens some time to find a house. Jane was extremely fussy. She dismissed houses in New King Street as too small, in Green Park as ‘putrefying’ and too damp and those in Seymour Street as too gloomy.

Image: View of Bath taken from Mr Pulteney’s road leading to Claverton Down, By Samuel Alken, 1787

View of Bath taken from Mr Pulteney’s road leading to Claverton Down

By Samuel Alken, 1787

Jane Austen loved going for long walks around Bath. The view shown here would have been familiar to her.

Image: View of Cross Bath & Bath Street, By John Claude Nattes, 1804

View of Cross Bath & Bath Street

By John Claude Nattes, 1804

In 1799 Jane Austen’s aunt, Mrs Leigh-Perrot was accused of stealing lace from a shop in Bath Street. She spent several months in the Somerset County Gaol awaiting trial. Jane Austen’s mother suggested that her daughters go to stay in the gaol with their aunt to cheer her up, but Mrs Leigh-Perrot declined this offer.

Mrs Leigh-Perrot was acquitted, but for several years she was regarded as a slightly scandalous figure. Prints like the one on the right, showing wealthy women found shoplifting, were a popular response to Mrs Leigh-Perrot’s arrest.

Image: Bath Abbey, By John Claude Nattes, 1805

Bath Abbey

By John Claude Nattes, 1805

All clergymen who visited Bath were invited to preach in the Abbey. This would have included George Austen, Jane’s father. He was rector of Steventon, Hampshire from 1765 until he retired to Bath almost 40 years later.

Life in the clergy was not lucrative and George Austen had 8 children. He supplemented his income through running a small farm and teaching 3 or 4 boys who boarded with the family.