Jane Austen in London map 1 map 2
Jane Austen visited London many times, but the most important occasions were when, in her late 30s, she was becoming a celebrated author and needed to visit her publishers and correct proofs. Conveniently she stayed with her brother Henry, who also helped her in the negotiations to sell her books. Two of Henry’s series of residences, one at Covent Garden, and one behind Harrods in Knightsbridge, are significant and are also easy for the present-day fan to view on a trip to the capital.
The British Library in Euston Road, close to Kings Cross and St Pancras stations, is well worth a visit for lots of reasons (it’s free and you can see the Magna Carta). In a gallery called Treasures of the British Library are displayed Jane Austen’s small writing desk (a forerunner of the laptop computer?), also a letter to Cassandra and a notebook of Jane’s very early writings. These relics are in the literature section.
There is a memorial to Austen in Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey.
23 Hans Place. It is off Hans Street, five minutes walk from the back of Harrods.
Jane’s brother Henry, her elder by four years, became a banker in London following a short Army career. The bank Austen, Maunde and Tilson had a couple of a short-lived premises before settling at 10 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, from 1807-1816.
Henry lived in various London houses with his wife Eliza, and they were visited by many family members including Jane, who enjoyed shopping, socialising and visiting the theatre.
Eliza died in 1813 and we know from her letters that Jane was in London with Henry very soon afterwards. This may have been to support her recently-widowed brother, but this was also the year in which Pride and Prejudice was published, so there may also have been business with publishers.
She was in London just four months later when Henry moved to live over the bank in Henrietta Street, and she went there again after just six months. At this time, Mansfield Park was being published. Shortly after this visit, Henry moved again to Hans Place, near Knightsbridge, where he had bought No. 23. We know Jane was there twice in 1814 and then from October - December 1815, a visit prolonged because Henry became seriously ill.
This time Emma was in publication and, because Henry was too unwell to help, Jane dealt with the publisher personally.
Henry recovered his health but just a few months later the bank crashed, he was made bankrupt, and he sold his London house. He took Holy Orders and became curate at Chawton, where Jane, her mother and sister were living.
No further visits by Jane to London are recorded.
The plaque at 23 Hans Place, London, SW1.
10 Henrietta Street is only 100 yards from the piazza and market at Covent Garden, and a few minutes’ walk from the tube station. There is now a shop on the ground floor but the upper facade is little changed.