The Museum at Andover is an interesting place for Austenites to visit. JAne Austen visited it when she passed through Andover, usually while she was on her way from Steventon to Ibthorpe to stay with her friend, Martha Lloyd and her mother.  She would call on the owner’s wife, Mrs Poore and her mother there, as we discover from this extract from her letter to Cassandra Austen, her sister, dated 30th November, 1800:

I left my Mother very well when I came away & left her with the strictest orders to continue so. My journey was safe and not unpleasant. I spent an hour in Andover, of which Messre Painter and Redding has 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. -The latter asked me more questions than I had very well time to answer; the former I beleive (sic) is very big but I am by no means certain;- she is either very big, or not at all big, I forgot to be accurate in my observation at the time, & tho’ my thoughts are now more about me on the subject, the power of exercising them to any effect is much diminished – The two youngest boys only were at home; I mounted the highly-extolled Staircase & went into the elegant Drawing -Room,which I fancy is now Mrs Harrison’s apartment;- and in short did everything that extraordinary Abilities can be supposed to compass in so short a time.

The Poore’s house is now the Andover Museum, and as you can see from the photograph of it, below, you can see that  it has  a core of a fine Georgian building, on the left, while it has been added to by the Victorians, on the right.

Inside you can see the very fine staircase that Jane Austen mentioned: from her tone others must have mentioned how grand it was. And with reason ,as you can see:

Set in its own staircase hall, leading off from the main entrance to the museum to the left of the building…

…it is, as you can tell, very imposing and grand indeed.

No wonder it was highly extolled.

Before she was married to Mr Philip Poore,  Mrs Poore was all known to both Cassandra and Jane Austen, and her maiden name was Mary Harrison. She is mentioned in a couple of Jane Austen’s earliest surviving letters: the first dated 5th September 1796 addressed to her sister, Cassandra written from Rowling in Kent, has this intriguing reference:

Give my love to Mary Harrison & tell her I wish  whenever she is attached to a young Man, some respectable Dr Marchmont may keep them apart for five volumes

The second direct mention is in a letter, again to Cassandra and written from Rowling dated 15th September 1796 :

Buy Mary Harrison’s Gown by all means. You shall have mine for ever so much money, tho’ if I am tolerably rich when I get home, I shall like it very much myself.

Mary Harrison was one of the Austen sisters’ circles of friends. Her  brother was the  Reverend William Harrison (1768-1846). He was, at this time, the vicar of Overton,  which, as you can see from this section taken from my  Cary’s map pf Hampshire for 1797 that it was(and is still) not far from Steventon: the map has been annotated with the positions of Steventon, Overton, Andover and Hursbourne Tarrant, which is near to Ibthorpe, Jane’s final destination of the day she travelled to Andover in 1800:

You can trace  the route Jane Austen would have travelled,  from Dean Gate to Andover. She would have passed through Overton, hone of Mary Harrison’s brother, then through Whitchurch and eventually on to Andover. The arrows are numbered as follows:1, Steventon; 2,Overton;  3, Andover ;4, Hurstbourne Tarrant.

Mary married, as his second wife, Philip-Henry Poore in September 1797. Philip-Henry Poore (1764-1847) was from Andover and he practised as the town’s surgeon, apothecary, and man-midwife. He and Mary had a daughter, Mary-Anne. She was born in March 1799. Was Jane Austen alluding to a possible later and doomed pregnancy in her letter to Cassandra of  November 1800?

…the former I beleive (sic) is very big but I am by no means certain;- she is either very big, or not at all big, I forgot to be accurate in my observation at the time, & tho’ my thoughts are now more about me on the subject, the power of exercising them to any effect is much diminished-…

But what is truly interesting is that Mary Harrison nearly became Jane and Cassandras sister-in-law. Anne Matthews, James Austen’s first wife, died in 1795, leaving him with one daughter, Anna. James, Jane’s eldest brother, had after her death, according to family tradition an infatuation with his glamorous cousin Eliza de Fueillide, but  this was not successfully concluded on his part. He turned his attention instead to  two local Marys: Mary Lloyd, sister of Martha Lloyd, Jane’s great friend, and Mary Harrison. In one of her brittle, carefree, early letters to survive,  Jane Austen asks this question of Cassandra regarding James’ impending martial decision:

Let me know how J. Harwood deports himself without the Miss Biggs-and which of the Marys will carry the day with my Brother James

( See Letter to Cassandra Austen, dated 5th September 1796)

She had still not heard a week later:

I depend  on hearing from James very soon; he promised an account of the  Ball, and by this time he must have collected his Ideas enough , after the fatigue of dancing, to give me one.

( see Letter to Cassandra Austen, dated 15th September 1796)

James eventually did make up his mind and asked Mary Lloyd to be his second wife. Mrs Austen seems to have decided to bring matters to a head by asking Mary Lloyd to spend some time at the Steventon rectory in the autumn of 1796. James proposed in November of that year, and they were married at Hursbourne Tarrant on 17th January 1797. There exists a rather lovely letter of welcome to Mary that Mrs Austen sent to her on hearing the news that JAmes had proposed and was accepted: if my son ever marries (he is but 14 at present!) I hope I have the decency to send my prospective daughter-in-law such a letter:

Mr Austen and Myself desire you will accept our best Love and that you will believe us truly sincere when we assure you that we feel the most heartfelt satisfaction at the prospect we have of adding you to the number of our very good Children. Had the Election been mine, you, my dear Mary, are the person I should have chosen for James’s Wife, Anna’s Mother and my Daughter being as certain as I can be of anything in this uncertain World, that you will greatly increase and promote the happiness of each of the three.

(See: Jane Austen: A Family Record, by Deirdre Le Faye, Page 99)

And so, rejected by James , Mary Harrison opted for the charms of Mr Poore and his lovely house in Andover. Which you can now visit, and admire the much extolled staircase;)

I have to convey my sincere thanks to the staff of the Andover Museum, for  allowing me to photograph the stairs, especially Chloe and Ania who were patience and kindness personified. If you are ever in the vicinity do go to the Andover Museum: it is full of interesting Iron Age artefacts amongst other things,  and see for yourself the splendour that surrounded Mrs Poore and her mother , and give a thought to the woman who was once very nearly Jane Austen’s sister-in-law.