Category Archives: Jane Austen

Southampton Castle

Drum Towers, Gate of Southampton Castle

Within the small medieval town there was a small castle. Nothing is left of it today, save the remains of two gates, a wall and a vault. It stood on the western side of the town on top of an artificial mound. The original castle was probably an early Norman wooden fort within a stockade and a ditch. By the end of the twelfth century the wooden stockade had been replaced by a stone wall. It’s possible that the wooden fort wasn’t replaced until the end of the thirteenth century.

The castle belonged to the king and was run by his governors or constables. It wasn’t a royal residence in the way that Windsor or Eltham were, but it was a handy place for a king to stay if he was about to visit or invade France, for example. Henry V in particular, started most of his expeditions to France from here. In 1415, just before setting out on the campaign that was to take him to Agincourt, he wrote a letter addressed from the castle. Elizabeth I also wrote a letter from there when she was in residence.

In the twelfth century, Henry II and Richard I spent a lot of money on the castle, but John outdid them both. His main building efforts took place from 1204 to 1209, rendered even more urgent when he lost Normandy in 1206 and the threat of invasion from France increased. He also kept a fleet of galleys in Southampton, just in case.

His son Henry III set a levy on wine imported into the town. If a ship was carrying twenty or more tuns of wine, two tuns went into the king’s store in the castle. If the ship carried between ten and twenty tuns, one tun went into the store. In theory, this meant that the king would always have enough wine.

The castle was often allowed to fall into near ruin and it proved useless in assisting the town to defend itself against French raiders in 1338. Although Edward II had ordered repairs towards the end of his reign, he doesn’t appear to have provided the funds to enable them to be carried out. As we shall see when we get on to the walls, the raid, in which much of his property stored in the town was destroyed, focused the attention of his son, Edward III, on the town and its lack of defences. He also neglected the castle, though.

The garrison varied in size over the years, but was usually made up of five knights and their attendant soldiers. In 1369, when Edward III renewed the war with France, there were only eight squires and two archers, which was increased to forty-seven men-at-arms, thirty-nine hobelars and one hundred and seventy-two archers. The town couldn’t really support that many soldiers, though, and the number was quickly reduced again.

By 1378 the keep had disappeared entirely and a new stone one was built by Sir John Arundel, the Keeper of the Castle. It was believed at the time that there was a good chance the French would invade. Richard II was only 12 and the two countries had been at war on and off for forty years. Since 1369 it had been very much on and history had shown that Southampton was very much a target.

The new keep was by all accounts very fine. The castle mound was about 200 feet in diameter. The keep was cylindrical and had four turrets. The castle also had a barbican, two inner gates with portcullises and a twelve-foot ditch. The stone came from Portland, Purbeck and the Isle of Wight, all fairly close by sea. The building work was completed in 1388, just as Richard II’s uncles began to think about negotiating an end to the war.

The earl of Cambridge and Lord Scrope, two of the plotters involved in the Southampton Plot against Henry V in 1415 were kept prisoner in the castle before their trials. Both were found guilty and executed.

The war with France ended and the castle was no longer really necessary. If it had been easy to neglect it when it was needed, it was even easier when it wasn’t needed. By the time James I became king, it was no longer fit to receive royal guests. During the Civil War some of the stones were removed to maintain the town walls. What was left was used to build a castle in the Gothic style in 1804. This was the castle that Jane Austen knew when she lived in Castle Square. It lasted less than fourteen years and the mound itself was removed in 1822. Today there’s modern housing where the castle used to be.

It has left some traces, though. These arches formed the foundations of the northern wall of the bailey. They were mostly buried in an earthen bank and the wall proper started just above the arches. You can see the line where better quality stone was used for the part of the wall that was visible.

Just around the corner are the remains of the drum towers by the main gate into the castle. The towers were built in the late fourteenth century and were over twenty feet high. They were only discovered in 1961.

On the other side of the castle is the Watergate. It opened onto Castle Quay to which goods coming to the castle by water were delivered. Castle Quay belonged to the king and there’s a Norman vault on the other side of the wall where his wines were stored along with weapons for the soldiers in the garrison. Unfortunately, the vault is closed at the moment. There are quite a few medieval vaults in the town and I hope to be able to visit some of them in the summer.

Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Jane Austen lived here: Part Five

Return to Castle Square

Medieval Merchant's House

The Austens had barely arrived in Southampton before they were thinking of leaving and they received the happy news that a house would be made available for them towards the end of 1808. The house was a property owned by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, in Chawton, fifteen miles away from where she had grown up in Steventon. Edward had been adopted by a distant cousin as a child and had inherited Chawton House in Hampshire and Godmersham Park in Kent.

In Southampton the Austens were far from cut off from their family, even after Frank and his wife went back to sea. Austen and her sister Cassandra went often to Godmersham Park. Usually they visited alone and it is to this that we owe Austen’s letters during their time in Southampton. She wrote frequently to her sister either to or from Southampton. Her eldest brother, James, was the rector of Steventon, the post formerly held by their father. James and Edward visited Southampton often. Another brother, Henry, a banker at that time (for he had a number of careers), lived in London and the sisters usually visited him on their way to and from Kent. The youngest brother, Charles, was, like Frank, making a successful career at sea. Along with the brothers came sisters-in-law and various nephews and nieces. When Edward’s wife died while Cassandra was visiting Godmersham Park, two of his sons stayed with their Aunt Jane and their grandmother in Southampton. Austen’s letters told both of their morning and of the things she had done to entertain them, as well as asking if Cassandra had seen their sister-in-law’s body.

As they had been wherever they lived the Austen were busy. Austen’s letters tell about altering dresses and bonnets. They walked almost every day in the Spa Gardens, by Southampton Water which was doubtless very bracing. They visited friends, although, knowing that their stay in Southampton was not permanent, they did not make a great effort to make new friends. They visited locally, taking ferries across Southampton Water to the New Forest and across the Itchen to Northam. As we have seen, they attended balls. As well as in the Dolphin they danced in the Long Rooms, which were even closer to Castle Square. Dances were held there four nights a week. Nothing remains of this building. Its location would have been in the road by the second lamppost in this photograph.

View from the bottom of the garden

It’s very easy to forget that there was a very real fear of invasion at the time. The invasion of Britain had long been one of Napoleon’s aims, although the threat had diminished greatly after Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805. Southampton was very much involved in the war. Austen talks in her letters about seeing warships being built. With two brothers in the navy, she would have taken an interest in this. As well as being a port, Southampton also had shipyards and ships were also built on the other side of Southampton Water at Bucklers Hard. Until shortly before the Austens arrived the town had been a busy garrison.

The Austens also went to the theatre. The Theatre Royal was in French Street, a few minutes’ walk from their house in Castle Square. It was a few yards past the Medieval Merchant’s House which is [pictured] at the beginning of the post. It, too, is no longer with us. The Austens loved amateur dramatics and the theatre must have provided them with much entertainment.

It was this very busyness that probably kept Austen from writing as much as she would have wanted while she lived in the town. Even though the Austens could not afford to keep a carriage, there was a wealth of diversions within walking distance. The Austens left Southampton in July 1809 for Chawton, where they lived very quietly. There was little to distract Austen from her writing and she entered her most productive period.

Due to the RNA Conference and a concert there will be no post next week.


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Jane Austen Lived Here: Part Four

Other Delights

This week I’m looking at some buildings within the Southampton town walls that Jane Austen would have known well.

St Michaels

Not far from Castle Square is the medieval church of St Michael. It dates from 1066-1076 and is the oldest church still in use in Southampton. It stands a couple of hundred yards from Castle Square. The spire dates from 1732, so the Austens would have been familiar with it. The church was built over several centuries, with new sections being added to the original structure and different styles can be seen in different parts of the church. As with the cathedral in nearby Winchester, building was interrupted by the Black Death. Unlike the cathedral, where the temporary west front, put up because it was clear that the plans were never going to be completed, has lasted six hundred and sixty years, work on St Michael’s was resumed, resulting in a change of building style. This was the norm for medieval churches, which were rarely built in a single style.

St Michael’s was the church of the French population of the town shortly after the Conquest. At that point Southampton was approximately two thirds French and one third English. This division is shown in the names of the roads; French Street was to the west and English Street (now the High Street) was to the east. It was ironic, then, that it was in this church that a massacre took place during the French raid on the town in 1338. The building was reconsecrated a year later.

The church escaped the bombing raids of 23rd and 30th November and 1 December 1940 with minor damage. It was said the German pilots were told to avoid destroying the church, since the spire was used by them as a landmark, together with the clock tower of the Civic Centre in the centre of the town.

Tudor House

On the other side of St Michael’s Square is Tudor House. Now a museum, it is a late fifteenth century timber-framed building. It backs onto the same stretch of walls as the Austens’ garden. Built by Sir John Dawtrey, who was Southampton’s Member of Parliament, it contains graffiti from Tudor sailors and privateers.

It was almost demolished in the 1880s, but was purchased by a philanthropist, who refurbished it and sold it to the town for a museum. During the Second World War the wine cellar was used as an air raid shelter. At the beginning of this century it was closed for almost a decade for significant structural repairs.

Bargate from High Street

The Bargate is the most famous building in Southampton and is the symbol of the modern city. It was the main gate out of the town to the north, going to Winchester and London. Jane Austen would have seen it almost every day. It was at the top of the High Street, which was the main shopping street of the town. It is a hundred yards from All Saints’ Church which the Austens attended. This is the view that they would have seen. The statue in the middle of the four windows is George III in Roman dress.

It dates back to the end of the twelfth century and is the earliest of the town’s fortifications. The earliest part is the Norman tower enclosed in the north front. The first floor was built in the fourteenth century.

Bargate from Above Bar

Henry II arrived in Southampton from the continent in 1174 to put down a rebellion. Realising that the rebellion was seen as just retribution for his part in the murder of Thomas Becket, Henry decided not to go north to quash the rebellion, but east to Canterbury, to do public penance. He set off through the Bargate. Those responsible for the Southampton Plot (the Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scrope and Sir Thomas Grey) were executed in front of the Bargate at the beginning of August 1415. Henry V then set sail for France and Agincourt. The Southampton Plot was a plan to replace Henry V with Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. The latter had a better claim to the throne than Henry V. Over the centuries thousands of soldiers have marched under the arch to join ships taking them to fight, mainly France.

This has nothing to do with Jane Austen, but is a rather wonderful film taken from a tram passing through the Bargate in the 1900s. Because of the shape of the arch, special trams had to be built to pass through it. The film shows the tram pass from the High Street, which was well-known to Austen, into Above Bar, which was an area that was being built up in her time. In Jane Austen’s time there were buildings on either side of the Bargate. These were demolished in the 1930s. This a photograph of a road which runs parallel to Above Bar and contains some Georgian terraced houses and were close to the Spa Gardens where Austen walked most days with her mother.

Portland Terrace


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Jane Austen Lived Here: Part Three

Jane Austen Danced Here

The Dolphin

The Dolphin is one of two coaching inns still standing in Southampton. Jane Austen attended balls here and it’s rumoured that she celebrated her eighteenth birthday here.

When Austen lived in Castle Square winter assemblies were held in the Dolphin every other Tuesday. At the beginning of December 1808 she wrote to tell her sister Cassandra that she had been asked to dance at the ball on the Tuesday before by a man she had met on Sunday and whose name she was unable to remember, which makes her sound very flighty for a spinster a few days short of her thirty-third birthday. In her letter she reminds Cassandra that they had danced there fifteen years earlier, which would have been around her eighteenth birthday. Viscountess Palmerston, mother of the future prime minister, travelled from the Palmerston estate in Romsey for a ball at the Dolphin. It was clearly a very fashionable place.

The first recorded mention of the Dolphin was in 1267. In 1454 it was documented as being the property of the wardens of the parish of Holy Rood and it stands only a few doors away from the ruins of the fourteenth century church in the High Street. It wasn’t uncommon in the fourteenth century for an inn to be built fairly quickly near the site of a church so that it could accommodate the travelling artisans who would build the church over several years. Like Austen’s own parish church of All Saints, Holy Rood was bombed in the air raids at the end of 1940. The site is now a memorial to sailors in the Merchant Navy killed during the Second World War.

The Dolphin Hotel that you can see in the photograph above dates from the mid-eighteenth century and reflects the prevalent coaching inn style of the time. The building fronting the street allows entry to a coach or a carriage from the street through a central arch into a courtyard and the stables are at the back. In the Dolphin’s case the stables date from the sixteenth century.

The bow windows mark the Dolphin as a particularly elegant example of its type. It is much more elegant than the Star, Southampton’s other remaining coaching inn. Both are hotels today.

The Dolphin managed to escape destruction during the Second World War and remains the most elegant building in the High Street. It is said that William Makepeace Thackeray wrote Pendennis sitting in one of the bay windows. Other visitors have included Nelson and Queen Victoria.

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Jane Austen Lived Here: Part Two

In Castle Square Again

Catchcold Tower

When Jane Austen moved into the house in Castle Square, the castle that she knew was not the medieval castle, but a modem gothic building built by the Marquis of Lansdowne, who had purchased the site in 1804. It was from this building that she reported seeing the marchioness leave in a carriage being pulled by 8 small ponies and attended by liveried staff.

The marchioness must not have looked very appealing, for Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in February 1807 about the painter from the castle, Mr Husket, who had allowed her and her mother to make a dressing table out of a kitchen table belonging to the castle, “I suppose whenever the Walls want no touching up, he is employed about my Lady’s face”.

As Austen knew, the marquis was in bad health and he died in November 1809. The castle was demolished in 1819. Even the castle mound had been levelled and flats now stand where the castle used to be.

The son of the Earl of Shelburne, the Prime Minister who negotiated the Peace of Paris and recognised the independence of the United States, John Henry Petty had been an MP. On his father’s death he became the Marquis of Lansdowne. The purchase of the castle site was funded by the sale of his father’s book collection and the sale of manuscripts to the British Library. Very little remained of the medieval castle itself, but what was left was incorporated into a house built in the gothic style with castellations. It was generally considered ugly and disproportionately large for the site. The marquis entertained the town’s nobility in the house and these events were the high points on the social calendar.

The original castle was founded at the end of the eleventh century, when the Normans began their programme of building castles to reinforce their defeat of the Saxons. The medieval castle was a serious defensive building and the main building work was carried out at the end of the fourteenth century. Southampton was vulnerable to attacks from France and had suffered a dreadful raid in 1338, during the One Hundred Years’ War, which killed many inhabitants and destroyed much property, including some of the king’s wool and wine, which was being stored in the town. Believing that the burgesses had connived at the town’s destruction, Edward III ordered defensive walls to be put up and improvements made to the castle. Richard II later had further improvements made when the threat of French invasion loomed again. It was one of the first castles in England to be defended by cannon.

Many monarchs stayed in the castle until it became redundant in the early seventeenth century. Even before the Civil War there was little left, as stones had been removed to build houses and strengthen the medieval walls. The Stuarts sold the site and it was eventually purchased, as we have seen, by the Marquis of Lansdowne.

I was quite disappointed to discover that Austen didn’t know the real castle, but a gothic make-believe replacement. Perhaps that was why she found it so easy to mock the marchioness.

I included the photo of Catchcold Tower at the top of the blog, not because it was part of the castle, we’ve already established that nothing much remains of it, but because the Austens would have seen it almost daily on their way to and from their walk in the Spa Gardens. The gardens were more or less under the shopping centre that can be seen above and to the left of the tower.

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A Dance with Jane Austen by Susannah Fullerton – A Review

A dance with Jane Austen

After the trauma of the series of posts on the Black Death, I thought we might turn to something a bit lighter this week. Susannah Fullerton’s slim volume (published 2012) is a good introduction to dancing and balls at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In each chapter she provides some general background to the subject, then relates it to events in Jane Austen’s novels and to Austen’s own life.

The book’s chapter headings include Learning to Dance, Getting to and from a Ball, Assembly Balls, Private Balls, Etiquette of the Ballroom and Dance in Jane Austen Films. It’s quite wide-ranging, despite being only 160 pages long. The balls and dances in each of Austen’s books are examined with comments about what the characters’ behaviour at these social events reveals about them and how the events at the ball move the plot on. Then there’s a chapter at the end reflecting on how the balls and dances have been realised in TV and film adaptations of Austen’s novels.

For the reader who wants to know what their behaviour at balls tells us about Austen’s characters, there is much to enjoy. Compare and contrast, for example, the very different behaviours of Mr Darcy and Mr Knightley at the Meryton and Crown Inn balls. The social rules of the time demanded that unmarried men should dance if there was an unmarried woman without a partner. Mr Knightley acknowledges his duty and dances with Harriet Smith, which causes the woman he loves to understand her own heart. Mr Darcy does not dance with Elizabeth Bennet, initiating the prejudice that is to blind her to his love for her for most of the novel.

Austen enjoyed going to balls and was known for being rather silly at them. Her letters are full of biting comments about the way in which the other attendees dressed and behaved and she occasionally mentioned her own distress at having nothing suitable to wear at such gatherings. Fullerton quotes from Austen’s letters, showing some of the experience from which she drew in her writing.

One of the more interesting facts in the books is just how long a single dance could be. Half an hour was not unusual, but sometimes a dance could last an hour. As Fullerton says, imagine having to spend an hour dancing with Mr Collins. Instead, I prefer to imagine spending an hour dancing with Mr Knightley. No wonder it was shocking to dance with one man more than twice in an evening. With dances of that length it could mean spending most of the evening with him, a very definite declaration of preference on both sides.

This is not an academic book. It is easy to read and the plentiful illustrations are lovely. Although there is a bibliography, there are no footnotes and the illustrations lack captions, which renders them almost useless for anything other than providing something pretty for the reader to look at. It is a very well-produced book. If you want to understand more about how Austen uses balls to advance the plots of her novels and to tell her readers more about her characters, this is a very good book. If you want to know more about Regency balls and dances and the customs around them, the bibliography will be of more use.

Susanna Fullerton is President of the Jane Austen Society in Australia. She leads literary tours and gives lectures on literature. Her website is here. If you don’t like muzak, turn your speakers off when you visit.

The book can be purchased from Amazon.

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First Catch Your Husband

A Regency ball could take more than one form. There were balls in assembly rooms that could be attended by anyone able to afford the entry fee, private balls to which one needed an invitation and court balls which met various political and social needs.

Balls could be lively affairs. They allowed young men and young women the opportunity to get to know one another and for each to appraise the other as a possible marriage partner. It was a chance to show off one’s skill, stamina and body in dancing and it also permitted moments of intense conversation. A single dance could go on for twenty minutes or more and couples could take advantage of being unchaperoned to discuss things that they needed to know about one another, but might not be able to discover under other circumstances.

Learning to dance was part of the education of a gentleman or gentlewoman. For centuries men and women had been showing off their bodies to one another at dances of some kind, demonstrating their good health and stamina. A woman who could dance her way through a ball was more likely to survive the rigours of childbirth than one who could not and a man who could do the same was likely to live long enough to provide for a wife and children.

The rooms in which balls were held would usually be fairly small for the number of people attending. The physical effort involved in dancing and the heat generated by the many candles meant that everyone involved would become unbearably hot fairly quickly, even in winter. Although the woman might be wearing light gowns, the men would be wearing woollen jackets, which were unsuitable for an evening’s dancing.

Clever hosts used mirrors to make the room in which the ball was held appear larger and brighter. Candles were expensive and mirrors would reflect their light. The length of the candles would also tell the guests how long the ball would last. Once the candles had been lit it would have been difficult (impossible in the case of the chandelier) to replace any that burned out, so they had to be long enough to last the whole evening without waste. Everyone would know at a glance how much longer the ball would continue.

At private balls, at least, a fair amount of alcohol would be imbibed and this could lead to incautious behaviour, making balls even more interesting for those in attendance. They would also be a rich source for gossip afterwards.

There was very little physical contact during the dances, at least until the waltz became popular and respectable. Gloved hands would touch as a couple made an arch for the other couples or as the gentleman led the lady through the steps. A gloved hand might touch an arm as the gentleman accompanied his partner to and from the dance floor.

Married people tended not to dance, making it even clearer that the purpose of a ball was to allow young people to get to know one another. The married men (and some of the unmarried ones) often sat in another room playing cards while their wives chaperoned the young women who were sitting out or gossiping about the dancing couples.

The ball would be broken by supper. In a private house this would usually be a lavish affair with many elaborate dishes. The supper dance, the one that preceded supper, was the most important dance of the evening, for the gentleman was expected to lead his partner into supper and to sit with her during the meal and to attend to her. It was an opportunity to get to know her better so the gentleman had to ensure that the woman he chose for the supper dance was someone with whom he wanted to spend the meal. Supper would not normally begin until after midnight, by which time the dancing would have been going on for three or four hours.

One of the most famous balls of the Regency period was one that came to a premature end. The Duchess of Richmond’s ball was in progress in Brussels when the officers in attendance were called away after supper to fight Napoleon at Waterloo. Wellington briefed most of his senior officers there and they left Brussels in the early hours of the morning.

The Dolphin

This is a photograph of the Dolphin Inn in Southampton taken during the recent solar eclipse, which was pretty much like any other cloudy day on the south coast. It’s a coaching inn where assemblies were held in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Jane Austen attended some of them when she lived in the town. Later in the year I’ll be doing a series on places Austen knew in Southampton which will include photographs of buildings and places she would have known.

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