In 1956, Johnny Cash wrote his famous song, “I Walk the Line,” backstage in a small Texas town. He once said in an interview, “I was newly married at the time, and I suppose I was laying out my pledge of devotion.” Recently, I walked the line, but for a different love (JA), and in 2017 in a small English town. Think of this blog post and what it expresses as a kind of ballad to Jane, a pledge of devotion.
On Sunday morning (July 23), I headed out to Southampton to follow the Jane Austen Trail. The trail is accessible through a PDF guide, which I downloaded to my phone and used as a kind of geocaching device. See the guide below:
I was desirous of a trip to Southampton because I knew that Austen had lived there at two times in her life: as a child and an adult. Below I will post pictures of the plaques that mark each point on the trail and say a small bit about my experience there. Note that finding each of these plaques was something of a scavenger hunt. Due to the modernization of the town, it is easy to miss these smallish, oftentimes not well-placed plaques. Actually, it was fun looking for them!
1. The Bargate
Jane and Cassandra Austen visited Southampton as school girls, but due to sickness they were forced to return home. It was exciting to find this spot–first on the list–and think about that very young Jane (the one I am so eager to write about).
2. All Saint’s Church
Ah, this one was tricky because it was placed on small corner next to an Oxfam shop. The church that JA attended was once here, but it was destroyed in WWII. At least the site now has a shop that attempts to do good. Check out the link above to learn more about Oxfam.
3. The Spa Gardens
This one I missed on a first walk and had to return to find it because it is placed between a bookstore and a restaurant! Yes, the Jane Austen Heritage Trail now runs through a shopping center.
4. Jane Austen’s House
Indeed, I was so happy to find this one–the Juniper Pub! I do not think that most people realize that JA moved from Bath to Southampton before moving to Chawton. Frank, Jane’s older-by-a-year brother, lived with his family in Southampton, so it made sense for the women (mom, sisters, and Martha Lloyd) to move here.
5. The Long Rooms and Hot Baths
This plaque was almost impossible to find. It is partially hidden by the greens, and it is literally on the far end of a shadowy wall. Nowadays, this wall flanks a hotel and a swimming complex. I guess it’s fitting, given the description on the plaque.
6. The Theatre Royal
Oh, how I wished the theatre was still there. Alas, no–only some ugly apartments/flats.
7. The Watergate
Tea time! Well, not today. This wall does not lead to any tea room or coffee shop–just a wall.
8. The Platform
This is fun one to read! I like reading stories about Frank. I can almost see him now–not afraid of water of any kind, even frozen. Come one, let’s ice skate!
This site also makes me smile because it recalls another memory of young Jane. I can imagine the eighteen y.o. Jane dancing as many dances as she could tolerate. For those of you who do not know that Jane liked dancing, she really did; evidence is found in her letters.
I highly enjoyed this walk, even in the misty weather, for it helped me get a sense of the places JA visited and resided in while in Southampton. I do love a good treasure hunt, and of course the booty comes in seeing all of these lovely plaques and taking a walk down memory lane.
To make my own contribution to this walk, I’ll show you a few extras:
Near one of the plaques I saw this sign above–a little alien encounter–and before I left Southampton, I walked across an old walkway that includes this statue of a former Southampton mayor looking down on his citizens.
You never know what you will find when you follow Austen around. Again, I am grateful to have the opportunity to walk in her footsteps, sometimes figuratively and this time literally.
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