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As we edge ever nearer to the celebrations for Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, I thought you might like to read about a Jubilee that Jane Austen experienced. I’m in the middle of preparations for my family’s celebrations this weekend, so instead of a few posts, published over a few days I thought you wouldn’t object to me posting one long post about the topic.
The celebrations for George III’s Golden Jubilee became the template for all our other jubilees, and it is interesting to see just how similar our experiences are. George III’s jubilee was the first time since James I’s reign that a Jubilee had been celebrated. The Jubilee has religious origins, and the celebrations are based on this passage from the Bible:
A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.
King George came to the throne on 25th October 1760. Not many English monarchs had celebrated 50 years on the throne, and we have no records of how theKings up to this date- Henry III, Edward III and James I had celebrated this rare event. George III’s celebrations appear to be the first to be celebrated on a nation-wide basis, and set a pattern that has been followed in British Jubilee celebrations ever since. We know a lot about the early 19th century celebrations because they are recorded, in greater detail, in a book:
This is a fascinating volume and was reprinted in a second edition in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, giving those who wanted to organise celebratory events then a good idea of what had gone on 70 years before. Go here to read it on Google Books. The Entry for Basingstoke in Hampshire is interesting. It gives a glimpse of what was going on in that area on the 25th Octiber, and many of the name s mentioned will be familiar to you:
Not less than one thousand persons (comprehending the indigent of both sexes and all ages) were liberally treated with an amplitude of wholesome viands, accompanied with ten hogsheads of strong beer, at Lord Bolton’s seat at Hackwood . Mr Chute, COl Jervoise,Mr Wither, Mr Blackburn, Mr Harwood and other neighbouring gentlemen,emulated each other on the joyful occasion, in similar acts of liberality. The day was introduced by a ball and cold collation on the preceding night,at which all the neighbouring gentry were present. The religious service of the day was attended by The Mayor and Corporation, the North Hants Cavalry and Basingstoke Infantry; when an excellent sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Russell Curate of Basingstoke; a liberal subscription was raised for the indigent ands the day concluded with a public dinner, at the Town Hall, attended by the Mayor and Corporation, the North Hants Corps and many of the neighbouring gentlemen,where the utmost harmony and festivity prevailed to a late hour.
But for Jane Austen it appears to have been rather a quiet day. Not, I hasten to add, that we know much about what she did or thought of the celebrations for, as she and Cassandra were together, there would be no reason for her to record her thoughts in a letter and no pocket book survives. However, we do know that on the 24th October 1809, the day before the date for the official celebrations of George III’s Jubilee, Mary Austen, James Austen’s wife (he was Jane Austen’s eldest brother and had succeeded his father as Rector of Steventon) attended a Golden Jubilee ball at Basingstoke.
Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s lucky brother who was adopted by the wealthy Knights, was in Chawton, at the cottage with Jane Austen, Cassandra and Mrs Austen. Fanny Knight, his eldest daughter, made this entry in her pocket-book for the 25th October, which was the day the Jubilee was officially celebrated:
Papa came back to breakfast & brought not a very good account of George. The Jubilee on act. of the dear old King’s 50th accession day. No very grand doings here.We all dined with Mrs F. A.(Frank Austen’s wife-jfw) except G.M. & Charles. I spent the morng. there whilst Papa, Aunts C and Jane called at Froyle.
So, at Chawton, not much was going on. Edward Knight had a tenant, Mr Middleton, who was in residence at Chawton House and so Edward could not host any land-lordly festivities there. Unlike at Steventon, where the Digweeds, the local squires, gave a dinner for the poor of the parish,which was held in their barn on their estate.
So…what was going on in the rest of the country. At Windsor the Royal Family attended a service of Thanksgiving at St. George’s Chapel: you can see the roof of the chapel to the right of the round tower in my print, below:
George III was blind and ill at this stage in his life, and was anxious about the health of his daughter Princess Amelia. She was taken seriously ill on the day of the Jubilee celebrations( the 25th October )and died on the 2nd November 1809. At Batchelor’s Acre at Windsor a giant ox and some mutton were begin roasted for the benefit of the poor, but in the morning of the 25th October Queen Charlotte and many of the other members of the royal family arrived at 10.30 a.m to taste the beef:
Should any player spin a number on which there is already a marker, he must take its place and the other must move one forward.
Any player taking more than his due, must go back as many numbers as he took. If he take too few, and the next player have spun, he must remain where he was.
Persons going backward in the game are exempted from the fines attached to the figures on which they be obliged to rest.
Two hundred years ago last Friday, the 11th May, Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minster, shown below, was shot in the Lobby of the House of Commons.
He was killed by John Bellingham, shown below.
He was, thus far, the only British Prime minister to have been assassinated. The assassination came at a time that has so many parallels with our dire economic situation today. Britain was suffering from a credit crunch and was in a recession, one of the causes of which was the effects of the infamous Orders in Council issued by Perceval’s government in 1809, which expanded the Orders in Council of 1807 that had been brought in by the previous Portland administration, and were designed to restrict the trade of neutral countries with France. These had been enacted in retaliation to Napoleon’s embargo on trade by Britain with all allies of France. Controversially, the Orders gave the British Navy the right to board all neutral ships in search of goods destined for France. Exports sharply declined with the result that ports such as Liverpool, dependant on trade with Russia and the United States, had their trade severely reduced: legitimate trade dwindled.
John Bellingham was a merchant from Liverpool who had become involved in the Baltic trade, trading with Russia. He was imprisoned in the Russian port of Arkangel for a fraud he claimed did not commit. As a result , he lost a sum that would amount to many hundreds of thousands of pounds today. He appealed for help to the British ambassador in St Petersburg, who passed the case on to the consul, who did little to help Bellingham. When eventually released and back in Britain, Bellingham regarded the government as morally bound to indemnify him for his losses for his dependant family’s financial future depended upon him recovering all he had lost. He was married and had 12 children.
Bellingham believed every man in Britain had the right to petition Parliament to bring attention to grievances, and wanted to petition Parliament about compensation for his losses. Perceval insisted that the government had no obligation to recompense him, and refused to receive his petition. Bellingham reasoned that the only remaining chance of a remedy was to kill the prime minister. He claimed that he had no personal grudge against Perceval, but considered that to kill the Prime Minister would be a simple act of justice and would be the means of bringing his claim to court. He sincerely held the belief that once he explained the reasons for his action at his trial, he would be acquitted and his losses would be repaid by the Government. This defence, which his lawyers insisted was the workings of a deranged mind, cut no ice and, indeed Bellingham insisted he was sane. Bellingham was tried four days after Perceval died and was hung a week after the assassination.
What I find fascinating in all this, are not only the parallels with today’s economic situation, but the reaction to the assassination of Jane Austen’s sister-in -law, Mary Austen, neé Lloyd, who was married to James Austen. She recorded her thoughts in her pocket-book, which is now in the collection of the Hampshire Record Office . This, below, is a silhouette of Mary, who was Jane Austen’s eldest brother’s second wife:
Pocket books were small red leather covered booklets which contained standardised useful information- much more on this in my next post-and a section for diary entries, and were used by many people in the early 19th century .They were rather like the small diaries we carry about today- if we don’t rely upon electronic means to keep track of our engagements. Indeed, Jane Austen kept one, and one page of it, detailing her expenses in 1807, survives in the collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. Go here to read more about it. If only the other interesting pages of Jane Austen’s pocket books could be found…..
Back to Mary Austen. Most of Mary’s pocket-book entries are concerned with day-to-day life at the Steventon, where her husband, James was rector. And in themselves these domestic entries are fascinating, giving us some glimpses of their life at home, detailing visits made , visitors received. The entries have been transcribed by Deirdre le Faye into her fantastic book, The Chronology of Jane Austen, and so if you cannot visit the Hampshire Record Office to see the real thing, you can read its interesting entries by purchasing a copy of this book. This picture of the entry in Mary Austen’s pocket-book concerning Jane Austen’s death on 17th July, 1817 comes from the Chronology:
It translates as:
Jane Austen was taken for death about 1/2 past 5 in the evening
I like to compare Mary’s sometimes terse entries with those of Fanny Knight’s entries for the same day,especially when they are in the same company. For example in her entry for May 4th 1812, Fanny writes:
Sweet Day.We all went to The Vine a beautiful old place of Mr Chute’s & spent the morning in going all over the House & Grounds. Mr Trimmer brought me a letter from At.Cass.
Mary,who was used to intercourse with the Chutes at the Vyne simply wrote:
We all went to the Vine.
So, it really was with some surprise that I noticed that Mary had included a note on the Perceval assassination in her pocketbook:
Mr Perceval was shot as he entered the house of Commons, he was the prime minister.
And , further, that this entry was actually made on the 11th May 1812, the very day the murder had taken place. This is, as far as I can see, the only political event Mary Austen ever comments upon in her pocket-book. What does that tell us? That the event was so momentous that even in sleepy Steventon the news had travelled from London the same day.Well, yes. But I think it might also tell us something about Mary and her view of politics. It sounds as if she is recording Perceval’s status (He was the prime minister)almost as if that information was news to her. Perhaps I am doing her an injustice, but it does seems if she is writing a note to herself to explain who exactly had been killed and what his status was.
Respectable Georgian women were not, of course, supposed to entertain political ideas. It was somewhat surprising therefore to find Mary Austen including this item of news, having become aware of it the day it happened, in her pocketbook which was otherwise full of rather more mundane matters.I thought you might be interested to note that this terrible event was in some way, important to Mary Austen living in Steventon in 1812.
You were very interested in yesterday’s post, and rightly so because it is I think a fascinating project. It really will be fascinating to read of the discoveries being made on the site of Jane Austen’s birthplace,and what it reveals to us about the Austen family’s life style at Steventon. Apparently, interesting “finds” have been made every day of the dig
So, I’ve dug around ( groan!) and found some more information, which clears up some of the questions you raised in the comments, yesterday.
The work is being carried out by a Hampshire based firm, Archaeo Briton. They are a group of experienced archeologists, who have formed their own firm to undertake individual archaeological projects. The Steventon Rectory project is, according to their website, not only going to lead to an exhibition at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke, but also to a publication, Archaeology Greets Jane Austen.
“The Rectory Project will research the home of the authoress Jane Austen to explore the factual lifestyle of the Austen family. Jane Austen was born at Steventon on 16th December 1775 and lived there with her family for 25 years. The “Rectory” was demolished to the ground during the 1820s and very little is factually known about the building or its contents. The project will use archaeological research methods to discover the material culture of the Rectory and the Austen family.
The project has been made possible financially by a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and also support from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Foundation. Maureen Stiller of the Jane Austen Society has been closely involved in the project. As have lots of volunteers from the locality, which is wonderful.
If you go through this link, here, you can see a short BBC Hampshire film on the project. I am so looking forward to the results of this research. And you can be assured I will keep you all informed of any developments.
I came across the on-going archeological dig at Steventon last week, and I thought you might like to see my pictures of it. As I’ve reported before, the dig is being undertaken to try and discover more about the rectory where Jane Austen was born and which was demolished in the early 1820s by Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother, who had inherited the Steventon and Chawton estates from his adoptive parents, the Knights.
This is a fascinating project for, like so much information surrounding Jane Austen, hard facts are difficult to come by. We know very little concrete information about the Rectory where she was born. The images we have are, in fact, only three and only two of them were made while it was still extant.
This, below, showing the view of the rectory’s main facade, was drawn by Anna Austen, later Lefroy, Jane’s niece, in 1814. She lived in the rectory with the Austen’s when her father James Austen was widowed, and then from 1801 until her marriage to Benjamin Lefroy in 1814, during which time James Austen was either curate or, from 1805, rector of the parish, succeeding his father,George Austen in the position:
This image, below, again possibly by Anna, shows the rear of the Rectory:
This final image, below, was draw by Anna’s second daughter Julia, for inclusion in the Memoir of Jane Austen written by Jane’s nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh. This was published in 1869:
Anna described this as:
A little drawing of Julia’s made from my description of the Parsonage; more pretty than true: yet, some thing perhaps may be made of it
(See Le Faye, Jane Austen : A Family Record, page 280)
We do have some written descriptions of the rectory, both outside and in. In Jane Austen: A Family Record Dierdre Le Faye collated them for us: we learn from a set of note compiled by Catherine-Anne Austen that it
consisted of three rooms in front on the ground floor-the best parlour, the common parlour and the kitchen; behind these wr Mr Austen’s study, the back kitchen and the stairs; above are seven bedrooms and three attics.The rooms were low -pitched ,but not otherwise bad and compared with the usual stile (sic) of such buildings, it might be considered a very good house
and, then in the Memoir, James Edward Austen-Leigh thought that:
It was sufficiently commodious to hold pupils in addition to a growing family, and was in those ties considered tone above the average of parsonages; but the rooms were furnished with less elegance than would be now found in the most ordinary dwellings.No cornice marked the junction of wall and ceiling; while the beams which supported the upper floors projected into the rooms below in all their naked simplicity, covered only by a coat of paint or whitewash
There is also this more detailed version, from a Lefroy manuscript detailing the Austen family history, also written by Anna Austen:
The lower bow windows looking so cheerfully into the sunny garden, up the middle grass walk bordered with strawberry beds, to the sundial, belonged to my Grandfather’s study; his own exclusive property and safe from the bustle of all household cares. The Dining or common sitting room looked to the front and was lighted by two casement windows; on the same side, the principal door of the house opened into a parlour of smaller size. Visitors it maybe presumed were few and rare; but not a whit the less welcome would they have been to my Grand Mother on account of their finding her seated in this very entrance parlour, busily engaged with her needle, in making or repairing.
There is also this description of the garden: Anna Lefroy wrote to James Edward Austen-Leigh,while he was compiling the Memoir that there was
a well between the house and the Wood Walk…in the square walled-in cucumber garden. The walls of this inner garden are covered with cherry and other fruit trees. On the west side was a garden tool house. On the south a door communicated with the back yard – not far from the granary- another door opened into the larger garden, in the east wall I think. I remember this sunny cucumber garden well-its frames and also its abundance of pot herbs, marigolds etc-Oh! me! we never saw the like again
And this one, also written by Anna Austen:
Behind on the sunny side of the house was an enclosed garden bounded by a straight row of spruce firs and terrace walk of turf. At one end this terrace communicated by a small gate with what was termed ‘the Wood Walk” which winding through clumps of underwood and overhung by tall elm trees, skirted the upper side of the Home Meadow. At the other end of the terrace a door in the garden wall opened to a lane that climbed the hill, and led through a field or hedgerow to the Church…near the Wood Walk gate, and garden bench adjoining, was place a tall white pole surmounted by a weathercock. How pleasant to childish ears was the scrooping sound of that weathercock, moved by the summer breeze! how tall its stem! and yet how more stupendous was the height of the solitary sliver fir that grew at the opposite end of the terrace and near the church road door! How exquisitely sweet too the honeysuckle, which climbed a little way up its lofty stem!
Here is a section of the Glebe Map made in 1821 which shows the position of the Rectory and the surrounding gardens, and which I have annotated:
Number 1 shows the position of the Rectory, which faced the lane leading into Steventon. Number 2 shows the direction of the lane which leads to the centre of Steventon. Number 3 shows the field which rises up from the valley and is where the new rectory was built by Edward Knight for his son William, after he had had the old rectory demolished. Number 4 show the lane that leads up the valley, in the opposite direction, to St Nicholas’ church. Numbers 5 and 6 show the points where I took the following photographs. The original Glebe map is on show at the Jane Austen’s House Museum, and you can see a photograph of it below:
If you want to see it in more detail then go here to see a full colour digital version.
I took this photograph from the gate near number 5 on the glebe map. There was a lot of activity going on when I happened to pass by, and I didn’t like to disturb the people working there as they seemed terribly busy.
In the background, you can see the land rising towards Steventon church, and the hedge that runs along the lane.
The old pump-which is no longer there, sadly, and which was the only remnant of the old rectory, used to be in the enclosure, marked “Keep Out” : you can see it in the photographs, behind the chap in blue with a wheelbarrow.
I took these photographs, below, from the gate marked 6 on the glebe map. This was probably the entrance for the old carriage “sweep” in front of the rectory.
This shows the archeologists working on the site from the sweep gate . You can see how the ground rises rather steeply behind the site of the old rectory. No wonder it used to flood.
This photograph, below, shows the new rectory, now known as Steventon House, which was built by Edward Knight to accommodate his son, William, who was also rector of the parish.
You can see that it is built on much higher ground, and I wouldn’t think it has ever flooded.
The only tangible link left to Jane Austen in the field where the Rectory used to stand is the lime tree. This was planted by her brother James who, of course, lived in the rectory with his wife and children, including Anna Austen, from 1801, when Jane Austen and her family removed to Bath, until his death in 1819.
This is the view from the rectory , looking to the left into the centre of Steventon village:
And this photograph shows the view along lane that rises up from the corner of the old rectory site to the church:
It is a fascinating project, and very worthwhile. The old rectory seems to have been a much-loved place, and certainly Anna Austen had very lovely, sunlit memories of it. I cannot wait to see the results when they are published.
I spotted these snowdrops flowering in the hedge in front of the space where the old rectory stood. I wonder if they are descendants from Jane Austen’s garden?
Above is the view of the Nave from the Chancel.
This, below, is the view of the Nave, looking towards the East window of the Chancel from the western end of the church.
You can see the early Victorian wall painting- in the style of William Morris- inside and above the arches.
To the right hand side of the nave is a small side chapel- opposite the pulpit- and here is a small display of tapestry kneelers
When Jane Austen worshiped in the church, the windows would have had plain glass, like this one below
But now there are some Victorian stained glass panels
There is a touching memorial to Jane Austen in the nave, which takes the from of an engraved bronze plaque. This was donated to the church by Emma Austen-Leigh in 1936. It reads:
Born December 16th 1775
Died July 18th 1817
This tablet was erected to her memory by her great grand-niece Emma Austen Leigh 1936
Emma Austen-Leigh was the author of Jane Austen and Steventon(1937) and in it she describes the ceremony that took place when the plaque was dedicated:
It was unveiled and dedicated on Sunday July 19th 1936, the day after the anniversary of Jane’s death, in the presence of many who thought of her with gratitude and affection. On this occasion the Lesson was read by a great-grand nephew from a Bible which had been in use in George Austen’s time and a short account of her life was given by Sir Frank MacKinnon.
A fireplace was discovered on the North wall of the Nave in 1988: in it are some finds that have been discovered on the site: they include a medieval tile and a pattern, which would have been attached to shoes to raise the wearer above the mud and dirt. The fire screen attached to the opening was funded by the Ohio North Coast Chapter of JASNA.
The Vestry, now on the south west corner of the Nave, is in fact the old Squires Pew. It was once in the south east corner of the Nave and was moved to its present position circa 1912. The Digweed family were the old Squires of Steventon,who lived in the Manor House which used to be opposite the church. In 1932 it was destroyed by fire and only the stable block survived. This has now been converted into a large family home. It was first known as Steventon Manor Stables but is now known as Steventon Manor, though of course it is not the building with which Jane Austen would have been familiar. The pew dates from the 17th century.
The churchyard has some memorials to members of Jane Austen’s family, including the Reverend William Knight and his trio of daughters who so sadly succumbed to scarlet fever in 1845.
The memorials to the family are found in the north eastern part of the churchyard.
And probably the most important for Janeites is that of James Austen, Jane Austen’s eldest brother and his second wife, Mary Austen
Here is a close-up picture of the inscription on the stone, covered in moss
and the modern translation , which is affixed to the grave .
This side view of the church, taken form the south, shows the steeple, which, of course, was not in situ when Jane Austen lived in the village, as her father George Austen did not replace it when it fell down in a storm in 1764.
However, you should always remember to look up at the steeple, for the weather vane is one last tribute to Jane Austen, for it takes the form of a quill.
Here is a close up of it for you…
This is, in my view, a very elegant and fitting tribute, for the quill was of course the instrument Jane Austen would have used when she was making her first attempts at composition when she lived at the rectory, just down the lane from the church.
The Rectory now longer stands, and only James Austen’s limes tree now marks the space where it stood. But archaeological studies have recently been and win an attempt to discover what teh Rectory like alike and an exhibition will be taking place soon,as I understand it, in Basingstoke, of the findings of the excavations made. I will, of course, let you know all about this in due course, but I hope, in the meantime, you have enjoyed this short tour of Jane Austen’s church.
Today, taking off from where we left, in our last post in this series, we now enter the church, which was very important in Jane Austen’s early life until she left Steventon for Bath in 1801. This simple church was the site of her baptism, where she and her family worshipped,and where for many years, members of her family were rectors.
This is the view from the rear of the Nave toward the Chancel and the East window. We will talk about the Nave and its contents in our next post in this series, and so today we shall concentrate on the Chancel, which you can see, below:
The East Window is decorated with some Victorian Stained glass, which was designed by Meyer and Co of Munich and was installed in 1883.
Jane Austen would not have known this window. Nor would she have known the altar, below, which again is Victorian.
But in the Chancel are some very important Austen family memorials. The first, next to the organ on the south wall…
is dedicated to James Austen, Jane’s oldest brother . He was the Rector at Steventon from 1805 until his death in 1819, having taken over the family living on the death of his father in 1805. Please do note that you can enlarge all these photographs by clicking on them to see the details.
It is surmounted with the Austen family crest and motto, which you can see in the photograph below:
The inscription reads:
To the Memory of
The Revd. James Austen,
who succeeded his father, the Revd George Austen
as Rector of this Parish
and died Dec 13th 1819 aged 53 years,
this monument and the Stone which covers his grave in the churchyard
were erected by his widow and children
There midst the flock his fond attention fed
Teh village pastor rests his weary head
Till called to join, from sin and suffering freed
That Heavenly flock which Christ himself shall feed:
For long and well he bore the chastening rod
Long, marked for death the vale of life he trod;
For talents honoured, though to fees displayed,
And virtues brightening through dejections shade
Simple yet wise, most free from guile or pride,
He daily lived to God and daily died.
Best earliest friend for thee whose cares are o’re
Dear as thy presence was, we grieve no more;
Well taught by thee, our heart scan heavenward rise;
We dare not sorrow where a Christian lies
Also in the Chancel is this elegant monument dedicated to James first wife, Anne Mathew, who was the granddaughter of the 2nd Duke of Ancaster of Grimsthorpe.
The beautiful and elegant inscription reads:
Sacred to the Memory of
Wife of the Revd. James Austen Vicar of Sherbourne St John in this County
Daughter to Lt General Mathew Governor of Grenada
who exchanged this life for a far better on the 3rd May 1795
in the 37th year of her Age.
as the Innocency of her Heart,
Simplicity of her Manners
And amiable unspotted Tenour of her Life, in every Relation,
Will render her Memory ever dear to her surviving Friends;
So the humble and pious Resignation
Eminently manifested at that trying Period
When parting with what was most dear on Earth
Will always be considered by them
As an Example
which, though they can scarcely hope to Equal
They will yet endeavour
The memorial is decorated with her coat of arms. James’ second wife, Mary, who was the sister to Jane Austen’s great friend, Martha Lloyd, also has her memorial here.
Her inscription reads:
Wife of the Revd. Jame Austen
Late Rector of this Parish
and Daughter of
The Revd . Noyes Lloyd
Rector of Enbourne near Newbury
Died at Speen Berks
3rd August 1843
and was buried here in the adjoining churchyard
her son and Daughter with sorrow
inscribe this stone
To the honoured Memory of
Their Good and affectionate Mother
Whose loss they will Long lament
together with two verse from the Bible.
Also in the Chancel is the memorial to the Reverend William Knight, Edward Knight’s son who was also Rector at Steventon,
but who lived in the new Rectory now known as Steventon House, built for him by his father, and not the in one in which Jane Austen was born, which has now been demolished. There is also a very moving memorial, affixed to the wall underneath it, dedicated to his three daughters who died in June 1848 of scarlet fever, aged 3, 4 and 5 years respectively :
And on that rather somber note, we shall leave the Chancel to look, next time, at the Nave.
On this, the last Sunday in Advent and the week before Christmas, I thought it might be appropriate to begin a small series of posts about the church which has so many associations with Jane Austen, St Nicholas’s Parish Church, Steventon.
The Rectory where Jane Austen was born in Steventon in 1775, was demolished circa 1823-4, by her brother, Edward Knight. He built a new Rectory for his son, William Knight, who was to be the new Rector, taking over from his uncle, Henry Austen. This was sited away from the position of the old rectory, on the other side of the valley in order to avoid the frequent floods that so badly afflicted the old building. In November of this year a serious archaeological study of the remains of the old rectory took place, and there will be an exhibition of its findings next year in Basingstoke. Here is a link to a BBC report( only 3 minutes long) about the dig and what it hopes to resolve( i.e. exactly what the rectory looked like, given the differing version of the existing drawings of it- more on this later!). I will, hopefully, keep an eye on all developments on this story for you…but , of course, with the demolition of the Rectory, the parish church where her father and two brothers were rectors is now the only remaining building in the village that has very close associations with Jane Austen.
This, above, is the view along the lane from the site of the old Rectory to the Church, which Jane Austen and her family must have traversed countless times, going to and from services. The village is still small, and was small when Jane Austen lived there, from 1775-1801. The houses and farms are all straggled along the winding lanes of this part of Hampshire. Here is a section from my copy of John Cary’s map of Hampshire, dating from 1797, which shows the positions of the villages where George Austen held livings: Steventon, Deane and Ashe:
George Austen, Jane’s father, became rector of this church in 1761, thought he didn’t “do the duty ” at the church until he took up residence at Dene another of his parishes, which you can see is not far from Steventon, until 1764. He became rector of this church through the good graces of his cousin by marriage, Thomas Knight of Godmersham.
The church is dedicated to St Nicholas, from whom the Santa Clause legend has derived. St Nicolas was reputed to have been Nikolaos, Bishop of Myra , now known as Demre, which is to be found in modern-day Turkey. He was known for giving secret gifts to deserving people, and many miracles were associated with him. His relics were moved from Myra to Bari, in Italy, in 1087. His fame spread through the Christian world when Crusaders learned of his story during their return form the First Crusade, circa 1096-99.
The church was built probably around 1200 by the Lords of the Manor of Steventon. At the time George Austen became Rector it was in a very dilapidated state, a condition it shared with the Rectory. The spire was in such a bad condition that it was blown down in a gale in 1764. George Austen didn’t replace it, so the church that Jane Austen did not include the spire that we see today.
He did however, repair the roof and in 1765 wrote to the Bishop of Winchester to assure him that:
The church and chancel are in good repair and everything necessary for the celebrations of divine service and the administration of holy sacrament are provided.
The church is approached through a simple iron gate,
and the entrance to the church is through a door in the West wall, at the base of the tower:
Either side of the door are two medieval heads, one of a man, on the left
and a woman , on the right:
You can see some marks radiating from a central hole in the stone , just beneath the woman’s head in the picture above. This is a form of sundial known as a scratch dial or “Mass Clock”
The doorway dates from the 13th century, when the original door in the south wall of the nave of the church was blocked up. Next in this series we shall go inside the church to look at its rather simple but beautiful interior. But before we do you might like to see the church notice board:
which is adorned with this small carving of Jane Austen at her writing-table:
to alert anyone who is ignorant of the fact that this church has many, many strong associations with Jane and her family. We shall learn more of them in our next post.
For most of Jane Austen’s characters a parsonage or rectory was a familiar piece of architecture. As it was, of course, for Jane Austen , born into a clerical family at the Rectory at Steventon.
And she was used visiting them all her life: rectories near to home, as at Ibthorpe to see her friends the Lloyds, and those further apart in Devon, at Colyton
(Colyton Church, Devon, circa 1820 from my collection)
A rectory was not as desirable as a Pemberley House perhaps, but when allied with a hero such as Henry Tilney, well then, a well-built ,well proportioned, modern rectory could become quite the object of much Austenian feminine interest (with the dishonorable exception of Mary Crawford)
(Yaxham Rectory,Norfolk from The English Parsonage in the Early Nineteenth Century)
Catherine Morland was innocently entranced by Henry’s substantial and newly-built stone rectory with its unfinished decoration at Woodston
Catherine’s mind was too full, as she entered the house, for her either to observe or to say a great deal; and, till called on by the general for her opinion of it, she had very little idea of the room in which she was sitting. Upon looking round it then, she perceived in a moment that it was the most comfortable room in the world; but she was too guarded to say so, and the coldness of her praise disappointed him…The room in question was of a commodious, well–proportioned size, and handsomely fitted up as a dining–parlour; and on their quitting it to walk round the grounds, she was shown, first into a smaller apartment, belonging peculiarly to the master of the house, and made unusually tidy on the occasion; and afterwards into what was to be the drawing–room, with the appearance of which, though unfurnished, Catherine was delighted enough even to satisfy the general. It was a prettily shaped room, the windows reaching to the ground, and the view from them pleasant, though only over green meadows; and she expressed her admiration at the moment with all the honest simplicity with which she felt it. “Oh! Why do not you fit up this room, Mr. Tilney? What a pity not to have it fitted up! It is the prettiest room I ever saw; it is the prettiest room in the world!”
“I trust,” said the general, with a most satisfied smile, “that it will very speedily be furnished: it waits only for a lady’s taste!”
“Well, if it was my house, I should never sit anywhere else. Oh! What a sweet little cottage there is among the trees — apple trees, too! It is the prettiest cottage!”
“You like it — you approve it as an object — it is enough. Henry, remember that Robinson is spoken to about it. The cottage remains.”
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 26
Fanny Price is first settled at 8 miles remove form Mansfield at the rectory at Thornton Lacey a place by no means as desperate for “improvement” as Henry Crawford would have us believe ,and then finally at the Parsonage at Mansfield Park:
On that event they removed to Mansfield; and the Parsonage there, which, under each of its two former owners, Fanny had never been able to approach but with some painful sensation of restraint or alarm, soon grew as dear to her heart, and as thoroughly perfect in her eyes, as everything else within the view and patronage of Mansfield Park had long been.
Mansfield Park, Chapter 48
Edmund Bertram and Henry Tilney are of course, lucky second sons who were able to improve their residences, using family funds (eventually, in the case of Edmund and Fanny). Mr Collins, however, is lucky too for, due to the superintendence of his noble patroness Lady Catherine, his rectory- his humble abode- has been fitted out with every modern convenience, even down to shelves in the closets
As for the odious Mr Elton in Emma, his vicarage at Highbury, save for the yellow curtains that entranced the stupid Miss Nash so much, seems to have been a pitiful place, in need of much redesign:
…about a quarter of a mile down the lane rose the Vicarage; an old and not very good house, almost as close to the road as it could be. It had no advantage of situation; but had been very much smartened up by the present proprietor; and, such as it was, there could be no possibility of the two friends passing it without a slackened pace and observing eyes.
Emma, Chapter 10
His new wife’s fortunes –as many thousands as will always be called ten- will no doubt be used to beautify and improve that place.
But what of the poorer parson ? With no wife’s pretty dowry to help improve his home and no family money and/or living as incentive to improve it either, what could he do?
Until the late 18th century there was little he could have done to improve his dwelling and many were in a parlous state.
However, a spate of legislation, beginning with the The Gilbert Acts, enacted from 1777 onwards, allowed the governors of the Church of England access to the fund known as Queen Anne Bounty in order to lend money to the clergy for the repair and/or rebuilding of existing parsonages, using their income from tithes as a security.
The rush to build new style parsonages also coincided with the social status of the clergy becoming more and more important, and the houses built in the early part of the 19th century, for those who benefited for Queen Anne’s Bounty and/or from their own family wealth, reflected this.
This situation was also echoed in Jane Austen’s family, for after her death, on his son becoming rector of Steventon, Edward Knight, Jane’s brother, commissioned the demolition of Jane’s birthplace and a replacement modern rectory, shown above, to be built on a site just across the valley (see this old AustenOnly post here for details)
This book, The English Parsonage in the Early Nineteenth Century by Timothy Brittain-Catlin, explores the extraordinarily rich archive of architectural pans and drawings this rush to build produced, and follows the development of the parsonage from the small Georgian villa of the period 1800-1820, to the large, grand, substantial gentleman’s residences they became during the middle of the 19th century.
The book is wonderfully produced, and is extremely well and clearly written. Profusely and well illustrated it has reproductions of ground plans to satisfy even me( for you do know I love to study a set of plans for a house).
Individual parsonages are studied in some detail, one of my favorites being Walkerinham Vicarage in Nottinghamshire, shown below.
Mr Brittain-Caltlin details the changes in architectural fashions during the first half of the 19th century as reflected by the designs for parsonages by such famous designers as Loudon, Blore and Pugin. This is a fine book, and a useful one for Janeites to refer to,the parsonage playing as it does so important a part in her life and in the lives of her characters.
Desirable residences still, this book is a fabulously detailed examination of the type of building-the parsonage- that has become an important part of English country life. And if you want to speculate on what Mr Elton did with his Augusta’s lovely money, then this book is the perfect place to start ;-)
So.. continuing from our last post on Music in the Sydney Garden wherein we discovered that Jane Austen did everything in her power to avoid listening to it…for whatever reason…(which she did not share with us )…we now turn to the fireworks…..which we know she did enjoy :
We did not go till nine and then were in very good time for the Fire-Works which were really beautiful and surpassing my expectations- the illuminations too were very pretty.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 19th June, 1799)
The advertisement for the evening states that:
There will be a most
CAPTIAL DISPLAY OF FIREWORKS
By Signor INVETTO
Who will exert the utmost of his ingenious skill to produce new and astonishing effects;to enumerate the particulars would be too long for an advertisement
Signor Invetto was one of a few itinerant firework masters who traveled around England creating firework displays at the pleasure gardens in different towns during the 18th and 19th centuries.
I thought you might be interested to see this advertismentle from the Norfolk Chronicle of 1782, which gives us a little more background to the firework master from Milan who seems to have made a good living in England by supplying fireworks to various pleasure gardens .
At BUNN’s Pantheon, On Tuesday, June 18, 1782, (being Guild-Day, will be performed a Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music.
First Violin, Mr Abraham STANNARD, jun.
The Vocal Part, by Mr LEVI, (After the Manner of Mr LEONI, of the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden.) Act.1. “Auld Robin Gray” Act 2. The Soldier’s Tir’d, etc ” The Evening to conclude with a Brilliant Display of Fire-Works, by Sig. Baptista PEDRALIO; Consisting of many new Designs, Emblematical and Picturesque, beautifully ornamented with all the various coloured Fires, representing Suns, Cascades, Rockets, illuminated Balloons, Horizontal, Vertical, Pigeon, and Balloon Wheels, etc etc.
The Concert to begin at Eight o’Clock.
Admittance One Shilling; Sixpence to be returned in Liquor, etc QUANTRELL’s Gardens Will be illuminated on Tuesday, June 18, (being Guild-Day) when there will be a Concert of Martial Music; the Evening to conclude with a capital Display of Fire Works, by Sig. Antonio INVETTO, from Milan, who has had the Honour of exhibiting in the Presence of the principal Part of the Nobility and Gentry in these Kingdoms, and likewise at QUANTRELL’s Gardens on the 4th Instant, and gave more Satisfaction than any Person that has exhibited there for nine Years past. In the Course of the Fire-works will be exhibited the Battle and Capture of Count DE GRASSE by the gallant Admiral RODNEY, executed in a Stile (sic) far superior to any thing ever seen in this City.
Admittance at the Gate One Shilling; Sixpence to be returned in Liquor, etc.
Note. The Artist makes and sells all Sorts of Fire-works for Rooms, Wholesale and Retale (sic), in a neater and genteeler Manner than any Person in this City, and on the most reasonable Terms.– Enquire at the Gardens.
Certainly from 1780 at the pleasure gardens in England the firework displays were a prominent feature. For most of these the “ingenious Signor Invetto, the celebrated Italian Artist from Milan,” was responsible, and invariably each successive exhibition was ” the most superb display ever exhibited in this City.”
The advertisment for the postponed gala sadly does not give details of the fireworks Signor Invetto produced. However this advert, again from the Bath Chronicle of 1799, for another Sydney Gardens gala ( this time to be held to coincide the Bath Races on July 16th ) gives details of the type of fireworks which Signor Invetto, the Italian who supplied fireworks to the Sydney Gardens might have used when Jane Austen was there:
And if we cross reference these with both 18th century illustrations and descriptions in a contemporary book on fireworks – Artificial Fireworks Improved to the Modern Practice from the Minutest to the Highest Branches (1776) by Captain Jones -we should be able to get a fairy good idea of the type of fireworks Jane Austen would have seen at the Sydney Gardens that evening.
The picture above is of the firework display held by the Duke of Richmond at Richmond House near the Thames in Whitehall, London and shows both the whole effect of all the fireworks and also, very interestingly, gives individual details of the individual fireworks which made up the whole display.
The “frame” of the picture shows details of the individual fireworks.
The ones that tally with Signor Invetto’s display at the Sydney gardens are as follows:
1. Marrons and Battery of Marrons
These were named from the French word for chestnuts, because of their size and shape before they burst open. They burst into fire with a loud report. The firework was a small box of flash powder covered with a base of flame powder. As a result they flared brilliantly before they burst and exploded.
The illustration above shows a battery( i.e. more than one) of Marrons.
Captain Jones advises these are useful in musical displays:
If well managed will keep time to a march or a slow piece of music. Marron batteries are made of several strands with a number of cross rails for the marrons, which are regulated by leaders, by cutting them of different lengths and nailing them tight or loose according to the time of the music. In marron batteries you must use the large and small marrons and the nails of the pipes must have flat heads.
3. Fixed Sun (a brilliant sun fix’d)
This was a circular firework, which was fix’d to a pole and blaz’d like the sun.
This was spectacular but very dangerous: Captain Jones warns:
To make a sun of the best sort there should be 2 rows of cases which will shew a double glory and make th rays strong and full The frame must be very strong…In the centre of the block of the sun drive a spindle on which put a small hexagonal wheel whose cases must be filled with the same charge as the cases of the sun…a sun thus made is called a Brilliant Sun because the wood work is intierly covered with fire from the wheel to the middle so there appears nothing but sparks of a brilliant fire…
3. Pots de Bruin
These were rolls of paste board filled with basic gunpowder which shot vertically into the air many showers of stars, snakes, rains and crackers.
Captain Jones advises:
A number of these are placed on a plank thus: having fixed on a plank 2 rows o wooden pegs in the bottom of the plank cut a groove the whole length under each row of pegs; though the centre of each peg, bore a hole down to the grove and on every peg fix and glue a pot whose mouth must sit tight on the peg…
2 or 300 of these pots fired together make a very pretty show by affording a great variety of fires…
4. Sky Rockets
but the illustration above also shows Water rockets: which look terribly difficult to manage…
These were small rockets propelled along an horizontal rope, and sometimes they were used to ignite other parts of the display.
6. Chinese Fire
This was gunpowder which was mixed with fine cast-iron filings .The effect produced was a very brilliant and intense flame.
The recipe is as follows( but please do not try this at home…)
Saltpetre 12 oz, meal powder 2 lb, brimstone 1 lb 2 oz and beat iron( cast iron fillings-jfw) 12 oz
These were small rockets without rods, so that they rose obliquely and descended in a zig-zag manner. They could also be added to the charge inside a large rocket, so that they would explode at the summit of the rocket’s climb, thus heightening the effect.
So there you are, and I hope this has enabled you to enjoy as Jane Austen did some extraordinary early 19th century fireworks.
A new month- a new site…..
I would like to introduce you all to a new project, one I have been working on for years- a Jane Austen Gazetteer.
The aim of the site is to allow you to virtually visit all the places associated with Jane Austen and her family. Though we can still visit many of those places to day, they have changed irrevocably in the intervening 200 years. Looking at them via the medium of maps, engravings and descriptions all contemporary with Jane Austen brings us closer to the places as she knew them.
At present only the main locations associated with Jane Austen have been completed, but in time I hope the site will grow to become a comprehensive guide to Jane Austen’s world as she would have known it.
Each page on the site gives details of a one particular location, and will usually contain a contemporary description, a map and possibly an engraving. In addition external links to current websites are provided where appropriate, together with details of all Jane Austen’s references to those places, for example details of all her letters which document that particular place,etc.
I do hope you will enjoy exploring the site, a glimpse into Jane Austen’s world .