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Better Days

In the mid-eighteenth century the fortunes of Southampton were at their lowest ebb, but the tide was about to turn, bringing sweeping changes to the town and its people, and also to the parish of St. Mary's and that of Jesus Chapel.

For a brief period Southampton became a fashionable Spa town, when a medicinal spring was discovered just north of Bargate in the 1740's. Frederick, Prince of Wales, and later his sons, came to drink that water, and their visits set the seal of royal patronage and approval on the town, and fashionable society began to follow. Apart from health giving baths, drinking the waters, visiting the countryside and admiring the views, the visitors needed entertainment, so assembly rooms for balls, concerts, and card playing were built, botanical gardens created, archery butts set up, and so on. The refurbished hotels of the town enjoyed a period of unprecedented prosperity. Stage coach networks were set up to traverse the good roads recently brought into being by the Turnpike Trusts, and passengers and goods were deposited at the hotels with ease and regularity. There was a building boom. Many of the most beautiful parts of the town and its environs were snapped up as sites for desirable residences for the wealthy.


The Dukes of Cumberland and Gloucester ceased their visits to the town after 1778, but for thirty years or more the seasons continued, led by lesser lights, such as the Marquis of Landsowne, who entertained lavishly in his Gothic castle.

Doubtless the presence of the officers of the various regiments billeted in and around Southampton during the wars with the French added colour and glitter to the various assemblies and provided the young ladies with dashing partners. The bright eyes of the young ladies must often have aroused strong feelings in the young men. A victim of rivalry between officers lies buried in the church yard of Jesus Chapel This was Lieutenant Smith of the 19th Regiment, encamped on Netley Common, who challenged Ensign O'Brie to a duel. Lieutenant Smith was killed, and O'Brie fled to Winchester where he was caught and brought back for trial at Southampton, where he was convicted of manslaughter.

Some of the people who were attracted to Southampton at this time were men of vision, who saw the possibilities of the locality and had the money to put their plans into operation. One such man was David Lance. While in the far east, he had become friendly with Fitzhugh of Bitterne Manor. On his return to this country, David Lance had married Fitzhugh's sister, and had built a fine house in Bitterne called Chessel House, with beautiful views of the Itchen Valley. As Mansbridge was still the only bridge across the Itchen near Southampton, access to Chessel House was rather difficult for visitors from Southampton, so Mr Lance invested in a company which built Northam Bridge, and later, Bursledon Bridge.


During her stay in Southampton from 1806 - 1809, Jane Austen paid occasional courtesy calls on Mrs Lance. She also encountered her and her daughters from time to time at balls and assemblies in Southampton. In one of her letters, Jane Austen told how she and a companion crossed the Itchen by Ferry boat, walked up Sea Road, across Pear Tree Green and on to Chessel House. It is hardly likely that the observant Miss Austen gave only a passing glance at the little church on Pear Tree Green, or at the old and ailing pear tree that gave it its name. After tea and polite conversation with Mrs. Lance, the two visitors made their way homewards to Castle Square by way of Northam Bridge, admiring the views as they went across

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