The turbulence caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has put paid to any international holidays for me this year. Though the UK government is encouraging all its citizens to take a staycation (a term I’ve come to loathe ), I think I’ll stay put for now.
But if physical travel is off the cards, I can still indulge in some day dreaming and virtual travel.
Italy would be top of my list. Sunshine, stunning scenery, more heritage sites than anywhere else in the world plus yummy ice-cream and real coffee. Oh and some rather nice red wine to sip while the sun goes down. What more could I want?
But it isn’t going to happen. Italy will just have to get along without me this year.
So I’ve reigned myself in and looked closer to home.
Did you know you could rent a house once occupied by Jane Austen?
Nope, neither did I. Not surprisingly it’s in the city of Bath in south west England, a place that, as every Austen fan knows, features in several of her books.
In the Georgian era it was the place to be seen: a thriving spa resort of grand crescents and colonnaded buildings with balls and concerts in the Assembly Rooms providing plenty of opportunities to socialise (and meet prospective marriage partners).
Jane Austen Takes Up Residence
The Austens had relatives in Bath and visited the city regularly. Jane’s first visit was in 1797 when her family stayed at 1 The Paragon. On a later visit in 1799, they were in Bath for two months during the summer when they stayed at 13 Queen Square.
In 1801 Jane Austen’s father George unexpectedly announced his decision to retire from his life as an Anglican rector ministry and to move from Steventon in Hampshire, to Bath.
The family took over the lease on a house at 4 Sydney Place, a fashionable part of Bath close to Great Pulteney Street.
Directly opposite the house were The Pleasure Gardens (now called Sydney Gardens), a public space where visitors could stroll among flower beds and trees, and admire the view from one of the elegant iron bridges. It was a place for the fashionable people of Bath to be seen as they attended the many balls, supper parties, concerts and musical breakfasts held within the grounds.
We don’t know how far Jane Austen participated in the many diversions Bath had to offer since because her sister Cassandra destroyed all of her sister’s letters from this period. But it’s reputed that, while at Sydney Place, Jane Austen worked on her first (but unfinished) novel The Watsons.
When the lease ran out in 1804, the Austen family moved to Green Park Buildings, where they lived until shortly after Jane’s father, George Austen died suddenly in 1805. The Austens left the city for good in 1806, to Southampton and then Chawton in Hampshire, where Jane Austen lived until her death in 1817.
Spend The Night In Austen’s House
Today, 4 Sydney Place, has been significantly modernised and is available to rent via Airbnb as a two bedroom flat with a central outdoor courtyard. A plaque showing the association with Jane Eyre is visible to the left of the door.
The living room features distressed blue panelling, flagstone flooring, traditional furnishings and walls full of framed paintings.
By way of homage to its former tenant, a wooden writing desk sits in an alcove in the dining area.
It’s tempting to imagine this bedroom was once occupied by Jane Austen herself but I suspect, given the size, it was more likely to have been her parents’ room.
I was expecting the rental price to be quite steep given the Austen connection and the fact that accommodation in Bath tends to be on the pricey side. But I was pleasantly surprised. I’m so tempted to put my name down for next year. Anyone care to join me?