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To interrupt your festivities for a moment…I was very pleased to discover a report on the BBC News site, about the results of the research undertaken by Archeo Briton, from the excavation of the site of the Steventon Rectory. This excavation took place last year and you may recall that I wrote about it here.
Archeo Briton have now released some further information about their findings, and some of the conclusions they have made about the type of life the Austens lived at the Rectory. It does confirm, I think, what we thought to be the situation: that the Austens lived a modest, self-sufficient life at Steventon with one or two touches of luxury here and there. Below is a picture of some shards of salt-glazed domestic pottery found on the site.
There will be an exhibition next year, and a book is to be published about this wonderful exercise, Archeology Meets Jane Austen, by Deborah Charlton. I will of course report back. I’m determined to visit the exhibit and the book is on my “To Be Purchased” list!
This will be my last post this year, and I thought it rather appropriate to pay a quick visit St Nicholas’ Parish Church, Chawton.
Chawton village has many treasures…The Jane Austen House Museum, the Chawton House Library, once the home of her lucky brother, Edward Knight and to various other members of her family, and the parish church, which though terribly altered since Jane worshipped there, does retain the memorials to her mother and her sister who are buried in its graveyard.
This post is not meant to be an exhaustive history of the church and its memorials( l hope to come back to it next year, perhaps) but I thought you might like to see the final resting place of Mrs. Austen and Cassandra, Jane Austen’s most beloved elder sister.
The church is about half a mile from Jane Austen’s House, set along the drive to Chawton House itself, just off what once was the Gosport Road. Jane Austen would have passed it every time she went to visit her relatives there, and of course it was in this church that she worshipped while she was resident in Chawton.
it is believed that a church has stood on the site of the present parish church since at least 1270. However a disastrous fire in 1871 effectively destroyed the whole building except for the chancel so that the present nave, north aisle, vestry and tower date only from around the rebuilding that took place between 1872 to 1873.
Luckily, many of the early memorials were saved and are still displayed on the walls. The ones that concern us today are set on the west wall of the entrance to the Chancel, one to the right and one to the left.
Mrs Austen’s memorial is very factual, and there are some notable omissions. Here is the wording:
In Memory of
daughter of the late
Reverend Thomas Leigh
Rector of Harpsden Oxfordshire
and relict of the Late
Reverend George Austen
Rector of Steventon Hants
She died this 18th day of January 1827
aged 87 years
Leaving four sons
and one daughter surviving namely
of Chawton House in this Parish
Henry Thomas Austen
Francis William Austen
Charles John Austen and
Cassandra Elizabeth Austen
who have inscribed this tablet
to the Memory of
an Affectionate and Beloved Parent.
Jane Austen predeceased her mother by nearly 10 years, and this may explain why she was not included, but George Austen, who lived apart from his family due to his various disabilities, was still alive. He did not die until 1838, but was also omitted from this memorial.
The other memorial is to Cassandra Austen:
They are buried in the churchyard, near to the south wall of the nave,where it meets the chancel:
Here is Mrs. Austen’s grave:
And next to it is the same sort of simple gravestone to Cassandra Austen:
And so, they rest together in the village that bought them both security and peace.
That ends my postings for this year.Its been a busy one, and next year –the Year of Pride and Prejudice- promises to be very busy and , hopefully, interesting. I do hope you will join me on our journey around all the places mentioned in the novel and down along the by-ways of interesting social history points raised by the novel.
All it remains me to say, is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, and that hope you will allow me to
Sincerely hope your Christmas may abound in the gaieties which that
season generally brings
I thought you would all enjoy this!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune will probably go for dessert too, as the opening line of Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice almost goes. But why the reference to dessert? Well, Dear Reader, it appears I’ve been baking (again)…
Fun fact before we continue, I baked this on the 16th December, which just happens to coincide with Jane Austen’s birthday!
Now,on with with the adventure!
The Jane Austen Cookbook?
A little while ago, I was sent an email from my friend Rosie with “Your Next Baking Challenge” in the subject line. Intrigued, I opened said email and was delighted by a link to a blog by the Jane Austen House Museum detailing the Austen family’s recipe for Pudding in Verse.
Yes, you read that correctly. A rhyming recipe for pudding.
The recipe comes from Martha LLoyd’s Housebook, which…
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Today in 1775, Jane Austen was born in Steventon. The Reverend George Austen, Jane’s father, wrote what I consider to be one of the nicest letters of announcement the following day:
You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire and perhaps wondered a little we are in our old age grown such bad reckoners but so it was, for Cassy (Mrs Austen-jfw) certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago: however last night the time came and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over. We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion. She is to be Jenny, and seems to me as if she would be as like Henry, as Cassy is to Neddy. Your sister, thank God is pure well after it and sends her love to you and my bother not forgetting James and Philly…
I thought you might like to know that today there have been some interesting announcements which might interest you…
First the Jane Austen’s House Museum Blog is holding its First Anniverasry Giveaway. The prize is rather spectacular, and the Giveaway is open to everyone, wherever you are in the world. All the details can be found, here.
And finally, in preparation for the year of Pride and Prejudice that is fast approaching, the Jane Austen’s House Musuem at Chawton in conjunction with the Jane Austen Society, the Jane Austen Society of North America and the Jane Austen Society of Australia, has just launched a special website, Pride and Prejudice 200, which will be the repository for all information about all the many and varied events that are going to be held to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s most celebrated novel. If you go here, you will be able to access it.
These books went on sale at auction today at Sotheby’s in London. The pre-sale estimate for Lot 86 was between £150,000-200,000. Bidding stopped at £142,000. It was ,therefore, unsold.
I have written about the intriguing history of this set of books before, here. This first edition set was sent to Jane Austen’s friend, Anne Sharp, directly from her publisher, John Murray, specifically at Jane Austen’s request.
The next lot, Lot 87, a first edition set of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion once owned by Fulwar Craven Fowle, was also unsold.The biding on this item stopped at £3800.
In our last post we looked at the place where Jane Austen often used to collect the Austen family’s post when they lived at Steventon in Hampshire: the Wheatsheaf Inn, Popham Lane, shown above.
Its existence, however useful it was to the Austens and their communications, may, in my humble opinion, have played a part in forming Jane Austen’s opinion of the Prince Regent, later George IV, which was none too high. You will recall that she was reluctant to dedicate “Emma” to him and voiced her disapproval of the way he treated his wife in a letter to her friend, Martha Lloyd, dated 16th February, 1813:
I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself ‘attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad — I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first.
Few people realise that the first part in that tragic-comic marriage- referred to by Jane Austen in her letter, above- was played out within 6 miles of Steventon while the Austens were resident there, and that the Wheatsheaf Inn was very much a part of the Prince’s social scene. For, from 1788 to 1795 the Prince of Wales leased Kempshott Park, a beautiful house and estate, now sadly demolished to make way for the M3 motorway, as a base from which to indulge in that most fashionable and expensive of 18th century sports, hunting. Kempshott was, at that time, a small settlement south west of Basingstoke, not far from Steventon. It is not marked on my Cary’s map of Hampshire but I have estimated its position on the section, below so you can have some idea of just how close the Prince’s establishment was to Steventon (and therefore to the young Jane Austen)
Arrow One denotes the estimated position of Kempshott Park, Arrow Two show you the position of The Wheatsheaf and Arrow 3 shows the position of Steventon Rectory.
Here is a description of Kempshott taken from my copy of The Beauties of England and Wales; or, Delineations Topographical , Historical and Descriptive, Volume VI by Edward Wedlake Brayley and John Britton
Between three and four miles south east from Basingstoke is the Manor and park of KEMPSHOT, the ancient seat of the Pink family, of whom Robert PInk, who attained celebrity for his acquaintance with philosophy and divinity, was born here in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He afterwards became Warden of New College Oxford, of which he had been admitted perpetual Fellow in 1596; and on his death in 1647 was buried there in the outer Chapel.The last of his family sold Kempshot about forty years ago and it has since passed through various hands to J. C. Cooke esq. The house is a large and handsome brick building.
There is a very succinct but interesting account of the Prince’s time in the Basingstoke area of Hampshire, and of the Kempshot Hunt, in Sporting Reminiscences of Hampshire, from 1745 to 1862 by “Aesop” (1864):
In 1788 the Prince of Wales lived at Kempshot, which was before this occupied by Mr J. C. Crook, and while there had a pack of stag-hounds… Mr Terry says that the stables at Kempshot were full go high-priced horses, but the stables management was bad and they never appeared in condition…At this time William IV was a middy( midshipman-jfw) at Portsmouth and occasionally came up to Kempshot,but he could not ride at all to hounds.
During the French revolution in 1791, Kempshot was crammed with emigrants, and the hospitable welcome they received from the prince must have been some consolation to them. For their amusement a grand stag-hunt was got up, and as the royal stables could not mount them all, ten post-horses were sent for from Demery’s at Hartford Bridge. The foreigners grotesque appearance astounded the Hampshire men, as they were equipped with long horns over their shoulders in the regular French style. Prince William turned out on a pony and soon fathomed a deep ditch. A hind that was not expected to run straight was selected in order that the foreigners might have a better chance of nicking in. At least five hundred horsemen were present.The hind was uncharted at Kempshot Park and very soon after the foreigners were seen sprawling all over the country and out of the whole number that started scarcely fifty got to the end…
At this time the prince was a very hard liver and suffered much from gout. Nanny Stevens of Dummer, a stout strong woman was his nurse and even helped him in and out of his bath, while his lazy valet did nothing but brush his clothes and look on.
Mrs. Fitzherbert visited the prince at Kempshot and while she was there Mr. Ridge’s hounds with Joe Hall and Phil Gosling came over from Kilmiston. Lady Jersey, lady Cunningham and Mesdames Hodges and Sturt, in hunting costume, joined the field and Charles James Fox was at the breakfast, booted and spurred, but he was so gouty that he could neither walk nor ride. In February 1793 the Prince’s establishment underwent an alteration.They hunted stag no more but took to fox instead.The prince submitted the entire direction of the hounds to Mr Poyntz of Midgham who gave up his Hampshire country to his royal highness.
George IV kept his honeymoon with Queen Caroline, April 1795, at Kempshot. In this month the prince was in treaty for Penton lodge, near Andover; but in October he went to the Grange and paid £5000 for the stock and fixtures.The beer alone was estimated at £500 so large a stock had Mr Drummond in his cellar. Lord Dorchester succeeded the prince at Kenpshot; and often no doubt amid the domestic troubles on his after days, did the prince look back on the privacy and tranquil enjoyments of the sojourn at the Grange…
The Mr Poyntz mentioned in the text was William Poyntz. The Mr. Terry mentioned in the text was Stephen Terry of Dummer, friend of the Austen family. James Austen, Jane Austen’s oldest brother was very keen on hunting, and often rode out with The Vyne Hunt founded by his friends and patrons The Chutes when he was rector of Sherbourne St John. But in 1789 he was appointed to the curacy of Overton, which as you can see from the map above, was the nearest small town to Steventon, and what is interesting to me is that while he lived there James “went out” with the Kempshot pack. According to Deirdre Le Faye’s Jane Austen: A Family Record
Here he (James Austen-jfw) lived in the “very small vicarage house” and indulged in his love of hunting by going out with the Kempshot pack under the mastership of Mr. William Poyntz. At this date Kempshot Park was leased by the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and George IV) and Mr Poyntz’s diary shows several occasions when James went out in the field alongside the Prince and his courtiers.
Back to the inn. The Wheatsheaf was a very popular haunt of the hunting fraternity, and was the venue for many post-hunt dinners held by the Hampshire Hunt. Mr Vernon, the proprietor of the Inn, and someone with whom Jane Austen would, no doubt, have been familiar, kept a fine cellar of port wine at the inn, which was reserved for the Hampshire Hunt’s use. Charles Powlett, who was the illegitimate son of the third Duke of Bolton, the Rector of Itchen Abbas attended the Hampshire Hunt’s dinners at the Wheatsheaf. Known as the “poet of the Hampshire Hunt ” he immortalised the inn’s role in a song which he composed and which was sung at their monthly dinners: here are the lyrics to the first verse and the last verse:
The Kempshot Hunt also held many celebratory dinners at the Wheatsheaf: did James Austen attend any of these, do we suppose? The Kempshot hunt ceased to exist in 1793 due to the Prince’s debt crisis. Retrenching all round meant that the Prince left the area and gave up his interest in the hunt, which folded. It is interesting to note that after 1795, when the Prince had ceased to visit the area for hunting that poor Mr Vernon, the proprietor of the Wheatsheaf was bankrupted:
Up to February 1784 it (the Hampshire Hunt-jfw)was called the Kilmiston Hunt and it will be seen in the “Hants Chronicle” of that year that , under that name, meetings were advertised tone held at the White Hart,Winchester; the Swan Inn, Alresford; and at Mr Vernon’s at the Wheatsheaf,Popham-lane; at this last place the club possessed a very fine cellar of port wine; the proprietor, however,became bankrupt, and it was seized by his creditors and sold…
See: page 6, Sporting Reminiscences of Hampshire, from 1745 to 1862 by “Aesop” (1864)
Did the extravagances of the Prince and his hunting fraternity play any part in the financial demise of Mr Vernon? This needs more investigation but it might be linked. These goings on of the profligate and, in the eyes of Jane Austen, I am sure, immoral Prince and his circle, must have caused a tremendous buzz of gossip and speculation in the Steventon neighbourhood. Jane Austen’s brother James rode out with the Prince and his cronies, and no doubt talked about the goings on at the Steventon Rectory. Stephen Terry of Dummer was also involved. The Nanny Stevens who bathed the Prince under the eyes of his lazy valet may have been linked to the family of Stevens who lived in Steventon at the time and one of them was employed by the Austens as a cleaner at the Steventon Rectory:
John Steeven’s(sic) wife undertakes our Purification:She does not look as if anything she touched would ever be clean, but who knows?
(See: letter to Cassandra Austen dated 27th October 1798)
I have no doubt that the scandalous high life goings-on of the Kempshott circle were talked about with gusto in the Austen family home at Steventon. The fate of Mr .Vernon of the Wheatsheaf was also very probably a topic of debate. Is it too much to speculate that Jane Austen’s dislike for the Prince of Wales may have begun at this time?
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….