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I should imagine that few visitors to the Wheatsheaf Inn today – which is now a Chef and Brewer Pub and part of a modern Premier Inn- imagine that it played a very important part in Jane Austen’s early life, and that it had spectacular royal connections.
The Wheatsheaf Inn was and is set on what was, in Jane Austen’s life time, the busy London to Winchester and Poole road, on the route which went via Basingstoke. The road is now the very busy A30, and is not far from the equally busy M3 motorway. Here is an extract from my copy of Cary’s Itinerary for 1802 which shows that the Inn was positioned 5 miles 6 furlongs form Basingstoke on the junction of Popham Lane and the road from London to Winchester:
Here, below, is an annotated section from my copy of Cary’s map of Hampshire for 1797 showing the relative positions of the Wheatsheaf (No.2), clearly marked on the map, and Steventon (No.1)You can see the church at Steventon, and the old Rectory was on land just to the left of the junction with the lane leading to the church and the road that led to Waltham.
The reason this inn would have been familiar to Jane Austen was that she often visited it, not to partake of the ales there (Goodness, no!) but to collect the family’s post. In addition to being an important posting inn, where travellers could hire horses and carriages to take them on their journeys, the inn was also a postal receiving house, where post was received from the mail coaches and then kept until it could be could be collected.
The walk from Stevetnon to the Inn is quite an interesting one. It takes you from the low-lying territory of the site of the old Steventon Rectory to the inn, through the village of Waltham (now North Waltham) and then on to quite high ground toward the site of the inn. I’ve not walked it, but have driven along the route many times. Google Maps tell me that it involves a distance of approximately 2.7 miles and it estimates the journey would take 56 minutes on foot, one way. It would have taken Jane Austen, therefore over 2 hours to collect her family’s post from the inn and return home. It is entirely fortunate then that she considered herself ( together with her friend, Martha Lloyd) a desperate walker. I wonder if this walk provided her with valuable ‘thinking” time, away from the hurly-burly of life at the Stevetnon rectory, filled with family and Mr Austen’s boarders?
Next, the Wheatsheaf’s royal connections….
Would you like to purchase a little piece of Austen related history? The Dean Gate Inn is now for sale. If you go here you can see all the purchase details published by the estate agents, Drake and Company.
The Dean Gate Inn is an old coaching inn and postal receiving house on the road that still leads from Basingstoke to Andover, and is now known as the B3400.
Here is a section from John Cary’s Map of Hampshire of 1797, which shows its position, marked red with the arrow numbered “1″
The position of the Steventon Rectory is marked by the arrow marked with number “3″ and the position of the Ashe Rectory, home of Jane Austen’s great friend, Mrs Lefroy, is marked by the arrow numbered “2″.
Jane Austen mentions Dean Gate in her letter to Cassandra Austen, her sister, written on the 9th January 1796:
We left Warren at Dean Gate in our way home last night and he is now on his road to town.
Warren, was John Willing Warren (1771-1831) who was one of the Reverend George Austen’s pupils at Steventon Rectory. He was a life long friend of the Austens and Deirdre le Faye describes him in her book, Jane Austen: A Family Record as follows:
When Jane and Cassandra returned home from school in the autumn of 1786 their daily companions were therefore…the good natured, ugly John Willing Warren, son of Mr Peter Warren of Mildred Court, Cornhill, London who had come some time in the 1780s and who also went up to Oxford in 1786 ,remained a friend for life and is mentioned in several of Jane’s letters.
He became a barrister and a Charity Commissioner and interestingly, was one of the contributors to James Austen’s magazine which was compiled while they were both at Oxford University, The Loiterer.
So, as a place to catch and be dropped off by coaches, this inn would have been a very familiar place for the Austens, travelling to family, university, and naval college. Their pupils, friends and family would have used it on the way to and from Steventon, and no doubt the Austens used it too. Jane Austen almost certainly used it when she travelled to Andover to meet with Mrs Poore and her mother, the wife of Phillip Henry Poore, the apothecary, surgeon and man-midwife, while changing coaches on the way to visit Martha Lloyd at Ibthrope:
My Journey was safe and not unpleasant. I spent an hour at Andover of which Messrs Painter and Redding had the larger part; twenty minutes however fell to the lot of Mrs Poore and her mother, whom I was glad to see in good looks and spirits.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 30th November 1800)
Constance Hill in her book, Jane Austen Her Homes and her Friends, published in 1923, describes her joy at being able to stay at the Dean Gate Inn on her first excursion into what she termed “Austenland”:
After a short halt we again resumed our journey, and finally, as darkness was closing in, we drew up triumphantly at the solitary inn of Clarken Green. But our triumph was of short duration. Within doors all was confusion – rooms dismantled, packing-cases choking up the entries, and furniture piled up against the walls. The innkeeper and his family, we found, were on the eve of a departure. It was impossible, he said, to receive us, but he offered us the use of a chaise and a fresh horse to take us on to Deane – a place a few miles farther west – where he thought it possible we might find shelter in a small inn. The name struck our ears, for Deane has its associations with the Austen family. There Jane’s father and mother spent the first seven years of their married life. By all means let us go to Deane! So bidding farewell to our charioteer, the blacksmith’s wife, as she led her sturdy pony into the stable, we drove off cheerily along the darkening roads. Before long a light appeared between the trees, and in a few minutes we were stopping in front of a low, rambling, whitewashed building – the small wayside inn of Deane Gate.
Our troubles were now over, and much we enjoyed our cosy supper, which we ate in a tiny parlour of spotless cleanliness. A chat with our landlady gave us the welcome intelligence that we were within two miles of Steventon. Our small tavern and Gatehouse (as it was formerly) stood, she said, where the lane for Steventon joins the main road to the west. This, no doubt, would give it importance for the Austens and their country neighbours; and we recalled the words of Jane in one of her letters, when speaking of a drive from Basingstoke to Steventon she says: “We left Warren at Dean Gate on our way home.” So we fell asleep that night with the happy consciousness that we were really in Austen-land.
This is the illustration of the inn from Constance Hill’s book, and you can see that, apart from the presence of the chickens and the different inn sign, not much has changed. The frequency of the traffic certainly has- it is a rather fast and busy road and those chickens would not last long today….
I do hope someone buys it, Steventon is only 1 1/4 miles away, along a lane.
I will keep an eye on developments for you, and if it reopens I will certainly pay a visit ;)
I’m going to interrupt our series on the Brighton Pavilion for a moment, because today I’ve been made aware, via my alert conveyancing solicitor of a husband, that a property which has strong associations with Jane Austen is currently for sale.
This house, above, in Ibthorpe Hampshire, was the home of the Lloyds, who were, of course, great friends with the Austen family. Mrs Lloyd, the widowed mother of Mary Lloyd, James Austen’s second wife and of Martha Lloyd, who was Jane and Cassandra Austen’s great friend, all lived there from 1792 until the death of Mrs Lloyd in 1805. The house is now for sale with the agents, Frank Knight, at a guide price of £3.5 million.Go here to see all the details.
The house has many, many associations with Jane Austen.When she lived at Steventon she would often visit the Lloyds at Ibthorpe, travelling sometimes on her own via the nearby town of Andover, and it is mentioned in many of her letters. The Lloyd’s lodger , Mrs Stent, poor deaf Mrs Stent, was often remarked upon too.
“Poor Mrs. Stent! it has been her lot to be always in the way; but we must be merciful, for perhaps in time we may come to be Mrs. Stents ourselves, unequal to anything & unwelcome by everybody”
And of course it was from Ibthorpe that a young Jane Austen made her debut into society in 1792. She was staying at Ibthorpe with the Lloyds when she attended her first dance as an adult at Enham House near Andover.
I was lucky enough to visit this house in 2006,and have lunch there in the company of friends, all courtesy of the house’s most generous present owner, Sabina ffrench Blake. Mrs. ffrenchBlake was very proud of her home’s association with Jane Austen and was very welcoming and gracious to others who had a genuine interest in seeing a place with such happy associations with our favourite author.
She was convinced that it was in the quiet of Ibthorpe, away from the hurly burly of life at the rectory at Steventon, with all the Austen family and their troop of live- in scholars, that Jane Austen would find the peace she needed to compose her early works. Mrs. ffrench Blake would show the dining room, below, which in Jane Austen’s time served as the sitting room,
and, of course the bedroom, seen below, where Jane Austen stayed while she visited the Lloyds.
The house has other literary associations, notably with the Bloomsbury set. The artist, Dora Carrington lived there before the first World War and used this tiny garden building, below in one of my photographs, as her studio.
She lived there with the writer, Lytton Strachey and was often visited by other writers associated with the Bloomsbury set, notably Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf. Mrs. ffrench Blake related to me an interesting anecdote told to her by Nigel Nicholson, who was the son of Vita and Harold Nicholson. While visiting Dora there with his mother, aged about 8, he had been interrogated by Virginia Woolf and Dora Carrington as to what he was going to do with his life. He coud hardly think of any profession, so formidable were the women asking him the questions!
Yet another property I wish I could buy…Ah, well….let’s hope the next owner is just as welcoming to Jane Austen aficionados.
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 .