As many of you know, recently research, most notably and most diligently undertaken by Janet Clark of the Jane Austen Society, has shown that Worthing in Sussex is most probably Jane Austen’s inspiration for the setting of Sanditon, her last, alas incomplete, work.
Jane Austen stayed in Worthing during the late summer, autumn and possibly winter of 1805, along with her mother, sister, Cassandra and Martha Lloyd, plus her brother, Edward Austen Knight and his wife, Elizabeth, their daughter Fanny, and her governess Anne Sharp. The cottage where she stayed, Stanford Cottage is now a branch of a nation-wide, well- known pizza chain and recently the Worthing Civic Society has erected a plaque there to commemorate Jane Austen’s happy and productive stay in the town.
While she was there Jane Austen seems to have soaked up the atmosphere and the personalities of the locals who were striving to promote a new, bustling watering-place, with an eye to profits . If you go here you can read some more of Janet Clarke’s discoveries,which I find fascinating. I took a trip round Worthing a couple of years ago to see the Austen sites, and while it is no longer the Regency resort of Jane Austen’s day, there are still a few places that she would have known and recognised.
How sad it is to hear, therefore, that one of these places is threatened, and public access to it may permanently cease.
Above is the space under discussion. It is, to use the old Sussex dialect term for it, a Twitten, that is, a small passageway between two walls, examples of which can still be found in some English towns. It is owned by Stagecoach, the nation-wide coaching company, and, as you can see, above, one end of the Twitten is accessed through their property, the local Stagecoach bus station. The other end of the Twitten leads to Library Place, where the circulating library that Jane Austen used in Worthing was situated. It is highly probable that she used this Twitten to visit it, as Stanford Cottage can be accessed via this Twitten and the station, and it is , in fact, a short cut.
This has been the subject of much dispute, and a planning meeting is to be held at the end of March to discuss it.
As Janet Clarke has told me recently, the Twitten
would have been a delightful short cut from her (Jane Austen’s-jfw) residence, in the autumn of 1805, through open land to the seafront and circulating library. It is wonderful for visitors today, to walk in Jane’s footsteps , especially as Stanford Cottage and part of the circulating library are still standing ( the pathway directly links the two as it has done for over 200 years ). Permanently stopping up the pathway would be very detrimental to the Jane Austen trail in Worthing, damaging our heritage and tourism, and diminishing the overall appreciation of Jane Austen’s Worthing for present and future generations.
I really do think that losing any part of our Austen heritage, however small, is just unthinkable. At a time when new discoveries about Jane Austen-related buildings are being made -see the Steventon rectory project- why on earth would a local council want to stop public access to a charming relic of Worthing that Jane Austen would have known and used ? And I would have thought that in these difficult financial times that any direct link to our greatest novelist should be preserved for the public to use and to attract tourism to the town. We are, after all, only five years from the bicentenary of her death in 1817, and interest in all things Jane has never been higher.
I am appalled to be frank, and am considering my response to the council. What do you think about this?