Part 1: In Castle Square
Clearly Jane Austen didn’t live here, not in this building. The pub, The Juniper Berry, was built fairly recently, only dating from the late 19th century. It was built on the site, more or less, of the house in Castle Square into which Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra, their mother and their friend Martha Lloyd moved to live with their brother Frank and his wife Mary in 1806. Up until then the Austen women had been living in Bath, but Reverend Austen died and they couldn’t really afford to continue living there. They moved to Southampton where they had had friends for many years. Like Bath, Southampton was a spa town, but was much cheaper than Bath, as it was nowhere near as fashionable.
This is the first post in a series about places Jane Austen knew in Southampton. I work in Southampton, just outside the walls of the medieval town and ten minutes’ walk from Castle Square, so it was easy enough to go out on a Friday on the way home and take some photos of places Austen knew.
The Austens knew Southampton well and Jane Austen had first visited their friends in the town as a child. Rather annoyingly to a native Sotonian, it was never the Austens’ intention to stay long in Southampton. From the beginning they were looking for somewhere else to live, so they made no real effort to make friends or to put down roots. They set up home with Frank and Mary, but he was recalled to sea and his family went with him.
When the Austens lived in Castle Square part of the castle was still standing. None of it remains now, save part of the outer wall of the bailey, which is now on the edge of a very strangely-shaped car park.
Many of the buildings Jane Austen knew in Southampton were destroyed by the Luftwaffe or the town planners, but I have taken photographs of the sites that remain, sometimes with their views, and have looked into their history. Most of the centre of the town (where the Austens lived) was destroyed in air raids on 23rd and 30th November and 1 December 1940. One of the casualties was the church in which the Austens worshipped. All Saints was a modern building (finished in 1792) in the High Street when the Austens knew it. Now there is only a plaque to show where it stood.
The Spa Gardens just outside the medieval walls where they used to walk most days is now a shopping mall, although it has long pleased me that the plaque commemorating their walks is on a wall of Waterstone’s.
In Castle Square the Austen’s garden went down to the medieval walls from which they could see across Southampton Water to the New Forest. In the photograph below you can see a view looking along the walls and the New Forest can just be glimpsed between the buildings and the trees. The river used to come to the quays at the bottom of the walls and everything in this photo would have been underwater. Thanks to a reclamation project, the water is now much further away from the walls.
Over the next few weeks I shall visit the places Austen knew in Southampton and discuss some of the events that occurred during her stay in Castle Square.