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As you know, the Industrial revolution is a favourite topic of  investigation of mine, and industrial tourism is one aspect of the Revolution that I find terribly interesting. Today, I thought you might like to know about some industrial innovations which were and still are part of the scenery around Jane Austen’s childhood home at Steventon, and which were part of the tourism trail even then. In one of her friend, Mrs Lefroy’s letters, dated Wednesday 17th June 1801, she mentions visiting the silk mill at Overton;

The two Miss Carletons Miss [Vyse] & Miss Speed came to spend the day in the morning we went first to the Silk & then to the Paper Mills

Overton was not far from the Rectory at Ashe, as you can see from this section from my map of Hampshire in 1797. Ashe is marked number 1, and Overton is marked number two.

Section from John Cary's Map of Hampshire showing the positions of Ashe and Overton

Section from John Cary’s Map of Hampshire (1797) showing the positions of Ashe and Overton

Sadly, the Silk  Mill at Overton is no longer operational, but if you would like to follow in Mrs Lefroy’s footsteps it is still possible to do so for another Mill, which was established in the area in the early 19th century still stands at Whitchurch, which is another small town that Jane Austen often visited. She mentions it in her letter to her sister, Cassandra Austen of the 30th November, 1800:

Martha ( LLoyd-jfw) has promised to return with me & our plan is to [have] a nice black frost for walking to Whitchurch…

The Whitchurch Silk Mill ©Austenonly

The Whitchurch Silk Mill ©Austenonly

The Silk Mill at Whitchurch was built around 1813 and in 1817 William Maddick ,who was a silk weaver from Spitalfields, in London, bought it and owned it until 1844. The Overton Mill, which was about 4 miles away from Whitchurch, “threw” or wove  silk and was the main employer in Overton during the 18th and  early 19th centuries. These mills employed mainly  women, and children from the ages of 10 to 14. The Overton Mill went out of business  in the 1840s following a fire and all its remaining machinery , contents and building materials were sold  at auction .

The River Test at the Mill ©Austenonly

The River Test at the Mill ©Austenonly

The Whitchurch Mill was powered by a water wheel. The Mill is built on the River Test. This is famed as one of the finest trout streams in England.

©Austenonly

©Austenonly

It has wonderful clear water, running over chalk beds,  and the quality of it is so pure that  the area is famed not only for its fishing but for the production of watercress, which needs pure,free-flowing water to provide a healthy crop.The river  actually rises in Mrs Lefroy’s village of Ashe, and then it wends its way down to Overton and Whitchurch. It eventually travels though the southern part of Hampshire to enter the estuary  about Southampton water.

The View of the river from the Mill©Austenonly

The View of the river from the Mill ©Austenonly

You can see the whole process of making  silk fabric at the mill,and while the machines now used are older than our era, the process was very much the same when Jane Austen knew Whitchurch. Hanks of Silk are imported from China and are dyed and then would onto a winding machine:

©Austenonly

©Austenonly

and then they are onto bobbins, in preparation for making the warp. Any colour can be produced, for  the dying process takes place on site.

©Austenonly

©Austenonly

The silk is drawn from the bobbins onto the creel by the warping mill, in sections to create the warp.

©Austenonly

©Austenonly

All the machinery is powered by the water wheel, though the bands are all now covered to comply with modern health and safety legislation.

Fabric for clothing or for upholstering furniture is produced here. The types of silk that can still be made at the mill include taffeta, bombazine, ottoman, faille  and organza.The mill can also produce  ribbons, twills and satins.   And, as you may have guessed, costume departments in the television and movie industries often call upon the mill to make authentic materials for them to use in costuming for period dramas. The mill can make small fabric runs which larger businesses might find uneconomic, and this is perfect for costuming departments .

Many of the 1990 adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels used the mill to provide fabric for them, and there is a small display at the Mill showing stills from various films and adaptations including, Becoming Jane, a bio of Jane Austen that sadly really missed the mark for me:

©Austenonly

©Austenonly

The BBC’s production of George Elliot’s Middlemarch:

and The Aristocrats, based on the story of the Lennox sisters, who lived fascinating lives in 18th century England and Ireland:

©Austenonly

©Austenonly

Since 1990 the Mil has been restored and administered by the Whitchurch Mill Silk Trust, and it is a most delightful place to visit ( the on-site shop is very tempting too).It is fascinating to see an example of the type of industry of which Jane Austen would have been  aware when she lived in this area, and to realise that though the area of Hampshire around Steventon was primary an agriculturally based economy, other industries flourished there too.

A Selection of the Silks produced by the Mill, cleverly displayed ©Austenonly

A Selection of the Silks produced by the Mill, cleverly displayed ©Austenonly

The Letters of Mrs Lefroy:Jane Austen's Beloved Friend, Edited by Helen Lefroy and Gavin Turner.

The Letters of Mrs Lefroy:Jane Austen’s Beloved Friend, Edited by Helen Lefroy and Gavin Turner.

To conclude our series on Mrs Lefroy, I thought I would review this book, although it is not new. It was published by the Jane Austen Society in 2007, but is still in print and is available to purchase from many outlets, but beware for the prices quoted for it varies greatly. You can purchase it for its Recommended Retail Price from the shop at the Jane Austen House Museum in person or by mail order via this link (and of course the profits from this purchase help maintain the museum!).

Any cache of letters from our period are of interest to me, but this collection is doubly fascinating, for Mrs Lefroy had many associations with Jane Austen and her family.  They moved in the same social circles and by reading Mrs Lefroy’s letters to her family we meet many of the same characters who were mentioned in Jane Austen’s early letters and who played vitally important  and influential parts in her life: the Biggs-Wither family, the Bramstons, the Portals, the Harwoods  and the Heathcotes. However, we see them through a very different pair of eyes, that of a mature, intelligent, humorous and compassionate woman. Reading Mrs Lefroy’s letters  adds greatly to our knowledge of the society around Steventon, and for that reason alone I would recommend you buy a copy of this book.

The 140 letters date from 1800 to 1804 (the last later included in the book is a very melancholy one, written by Charles Lyford, the surgeon, announcing the unexpected death of Mrs Lefroy, due to a fall from her  horse). The members of the Austen family appear : James Austen,  is mentioned most often, and as fellow neighbouring clergyman this is not a surprise. Tantalizingly there are few mentions of Jane, but we do hear of the Miss Austens when they are visiting the area from Bath, where they moved in 1801. In her letter of the 23rd  September 1801 we learn that the Austen sisters are visiting Ashe:

The Miss Austens spent the day here- next week they mean to return to Bath& after that I suppose it will be long before they again visit Steventon

On 20th october 1803 in a letter to  her son, Edward,  Mrs Lefroy wrote:

Miss Austens have been with me these two or three days & I believe stay till Monday next…

We learn  a lot about the defensive measure the locality had to take in preparation for any attempted invasion by Napoleon, in particular  the formation of The Ashe Volunteers, a group of about 60 men, with which the Lefroy’s elderst son, George, served.  That Mrs Lefory took a lively interest in the world outside the confines of the society of Ashe and Steventon is apparent from her remarks in the letters: for example, in Letter 50 we hear of her reading the Anti Jacobin Review and Magazine a short-lived periodical which strongly espoused Tory political views ; she also refers to Buonapartes(sic)

cruelties with regard to the massacre of the Garrison at Jaffa & the poisoning of his prisoners”

in addition to news of her innoculation programme:

I am now again very busy in Cowpox inncoluation as the Smallpox is in many of the Village around us  the common people are all now eager to be secured from infection ..

The book is sympathetically  and sensibly edited by Gavin Turner and Helen Lefroy. They take pains to explain obscure points in the correspondence and there are five short essays which give ample and clear information regarding the complexities of Mrs Lefroy’s family and the Hampshire of the time. There are a few black and white illustrations, but the primary joy of this book is to further our acquaintance with Mrs Lefory by reading her  intimate correspondence. We  have already seen from the obituaries of her and by Jane Austen’s reaction to her death, that she was an exceptional person. Reading her letters we find ample evidence of her being a vibrant, sensible, compassionate woman. Someone who loved her family and her parishioners and took her role as a rector’s wife seriously. She was not without humour and seems to have been a terrible “empty -nester”, but never empty headed. The impression gained by reading these later is that she was an exceptional woman, interested in her parish and the outside world. It really is no wonder then that she was Jane Austen’s “beloved friend”.

In our last post in this series,we looked at the exterior and the churchyard of the Parish Church of Holy Trinity and St Andrew in the tiny village of Ashe in Hampshire. This was the place of worship for Jane Austen’s great friend, Anne Lefroy. Her husband was the Rector of Ashe and they lived in an elegant Rectory , a few minutes walk away from the church.

As we discovered last time, the church was rebuilt in the late 19th century  due to its extremely bad state of repair, but a church appears to have been consecrated on this site since the mid 12th century. The interior does not therefore have the same appearance as it did during the time of the Lefroys, but I include a view of the Nave for you, all the same:

The Nave, looking East towards the Chancel and Altar, Ashe Parish Church ©Austenonly

The Nave, looking East towards the Chancel and Altar, Ashe Parish Church ©Austenonly

The Lefroy memorials, as I understand it, were originally installed in the Chancel. But since the restoration and re-build of the church, they have been moved, and are now on the North wall, near to the junction with the East wall. Indeed, you can see them immediately as you enter the church:

The Lefroy Memorials ©Austenonly

The Lefroy Memorials ©Austenonly

As ever, these memorials make for sad reading, particularly when you realise just how very quickly the members of this family, with whom Jane Austen was on very friendly terms, died in relation to each other.

This, below,  is the memorial to William Thomas Lefroy, Anne Lefroy’s third born son, who was nearly four years old when he died:

Below is the memorial to another of their sons, Anthony who was only 14 years old when he died, together with another son, Christopher Edward who was 71 years old at his death:

This memorial has a representation of the Lefroy arms underneath it. Here is a close-up photograph of them:

The magnificent memorial which dominates this section of the wall is dedicated to Anne Lefory and to her husband:

The Memorial to Anne Lefroy and her husband, and the Reverend Isaac Peter George Lefroy ©Austenonly

The Memorial to Anne Lefroy and her husband, and the Reverend Isaac Peter George Lefroy ©Austenonly

The wording on the memorial is rather difficult to decipher, but I hope I have transcribed it correctly for you: it is important because it tells another sad story:

The Rev’d Issac peter George Lefroy

late Rector of this Parish and of Compton

in Surry (sic) and formerly Fellow of All Souls

College,Oxford, Son of Anthony Lefroy,

esq: by Elizabeth his wife, was born Nov 1745

and died at the Parsonage House of this Parish

of a paralytic stroke on Monday Janr 13th  1806

Anne, wife of Rev’d George Lefroy 

and daughter of Edward Brydges Esq;

by Jemina his wife, was born March 1749

and died at the Parsonage House of this 

Parish in consequence of a fall from her

horse the preceding day on Sunday December

16th 1804.

Reader: The characters here recorded need no laboured panegyric; prompted by the elevate dictates

of Christianity, of whose glorious truths they are most firm believers, they were alike exemplary

in the performance of every duty, and amicable in every relationship of life; to their fervent piety

Their strict integrity, their active and comprehensive charity, and in short to the lovely and useful

tenor of their whole lives and conversations

Those amongst us who they lived, and especially the inhabitants of this parish, will bear ample and

Ready testimony, after a union of 26 years, having been separated by death scarcely more than 12

months, their earthy remains are together deposited in peace near this marble. Together to be raised. 

We humbly trust in glory when the grave shall give up her dead, and death itself be swallowed up in Victory 

Rev. 14 v. 13

Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord, even so saith the spirit for they rest from their labours.

Poor Anne Lefory died as a result of a fall from a horse , on what was her friend, Jane Austen’s birthday, the 16th December 1804. An account of her death is given in the published Reminiscences of Caroline Austen, Jane Austen’s niece. Caroline was the daughter of James Austen, Jane’s eldest brother, who had succeeded his father as Rector of Steventon:

December 16th 1804: Died Mrs Lefroy of Ashe. On the 21st my father buried her. She was greatly lamented and her end was a sad one. She was riding a very quiet horse, attended by a servant, as usual. My father saw her in Overton, and she observed the animal she rode was so stupid and lazy she could scarcely make him canter. My father rode homeward, she staying to do some errands in Overton; next morning the news of her death reached Steventon. After getting to the top of Overton hill, the horse seemed to be running away-it was not known whether anything had frightened him-the servant, unwisely, rode up to catch the bridle rein-missed his hold and the animal darted off faster.He could not give any clear account, but it was supposed that Mrs Lefroy in her terror, threw herself off and fell heavily on the hard ground. She never spoke afterwards, and she died in a few hours.

Her husband died on January 13th  in 1806, poor man. Another untimely Lefroy death.  Indeed, this period 1804-1806 was a sad year for the Austens and the Lefroys together, for George Austen , Jane Austen’s father died on the 21st January  1805, and then on April 16th, in the same year, Mrs Lloyd the mother of Mary, James Austen’s wife, also died.

The final memorial I want to write about is dedicated to Benjamin Lefory and to his wife, Anna, who was Jane Austen’s niece and Caroline Austen’s half-sister:

As we learnt in our last post, Benjamin Lefroy succeeded his brother, John Henry George Lefroy, as Rector of Ashe  in 1823.  John Henry had been appointed Rector of Ashe after his father’s death in 1806. Sadly, John died aged only 41 in 1823. Benjamin was then appointed as Rector of Ashe and he and Anna came to live at the Rectory and remained there until Ben’s very untimely death in 1829.

Reading these memorials made me feel very sad: so many lives cut short. But they still do not give us much of a picture of what Mrs Lefroy was really  like, apart from paying tribute to her piety .We still do not know much of   her character or habits, one that was apparently so bewitching to Jane Austen and many others. For that we need to look at other sources: obituary notices, Jane Austen’s letters and, indeed,Mrs Lefroy’s own letters, which luckily for us have been preserved and published. More on this in my next post in this series.

A few days ago we looked at the Georgian Rectory where Madame Lefroy, Jane Austen’s most beloved friend, lived in the small village of Ashe in Hampshire. Today, let’s discover a little about the church where her husband, Isaac Peter George Lefroy was Rector, the parish church of Holy Trinity and St Andrew, Ashe.

The Parish Church of Holy Trinity and Saint Andrew, Ashe ©Austenonly

The Parish Church of Holy Trinity and Saint Andrew, Ashe ©Austenonly

I have to say, from the very outset, that appearance of the church is not quite as it would have been in the late 18th century.  The original church building dated from the mid 12th century, and was then a single cell building. It was described  in The Reverend William Bingley’s History of Hamsphire, Volume 2 ( 1807-13 ) as a

very small but neat building … single aisle and the chancel with a mural monument to Rev. Richard Russell, rector 1729-83, who died 27 Jan 1783 in his 80th year, and an elegant mural monument of marble, commemorates the Rev Isaac Peter George Lefroy, the late rector here and of Compton in Surrey and Ann his wife who died at the Parsonage house on Sunday, Dec 16 1804, in consequence of a fall from her horse the preceding day.

When I visited the interior of the church I was able to take photograph of a drawing of the church as it was prior to its rebuild, in order to give you some idea of how it looked when the Lefroys were resident in the village:

I hope you can discern some of the detail: I do apologise for its quality (or lack thereof)  for I have had to manipulate the photograph a lot to try and make it at all useful. Hopefully you can see , by comparison with the photographs, that the rebuild,while it made the church larger, tried, in my very humble opinion, to keep to the style and character of the original, simply-designed church

The rebuild of the church was effected in the late 19th century, because, frankly, it was falling down around the ears of the Rector, Francis Walter and his congregation.  In 1873 Walter discovered, on an inspection of the fabric of the building, that his church was in a very dangerous state of repair. The North and East walls were leaning and were subject to settling, or subsidence, and, despite having been repaired in 1866, the West wall had further subsided and was considered  to be in a very dangerous state; also, the roof was considered to be beyond any practical repair.

Accordingly, it was decided that a  new church had to be commissioned, to be built on virtually the same site, only slightly enlarged.  The great Victorian architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott (who, you may care to know, was commission to design a parish church by my family in 1854) was employed to create it, and it was consecrated for use as the parish church by the Bishop of Winchester in 1878.

The Entrance Porch and Bell Tower  ©Austenonly

The Entrance Porch and Bell Tower ©Austenonly

Not only was the building different in the Lefroy’s time but the name of the church was different then too. During the Reverend Lefroy’s era the church was  known only as the Church of Holy Trinity. The appellation St Andrew was added in 1899.  It had always been assumed that the church had always been  dedicated in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, but Mortimer George Thoyts, who was the father of the then rector, Francis walter, whom we have met above, and who was also the owner of the advowson, thought that the dedication to the Holy Trinity was something that had only been applied to the church after the reforms of the Reformation, when the old Catholic reverence to  individual saints was discouraged by the newly formed Protestant Anglican church. And he was proved to be correct : he discovered that in 1503 the church had received a bequest,

Ecclesiae Sancti Andrea de Asshe    

and as you can see, it seems clear from the wording of the bequest that the church was then, prior to the Reformation, dedicated to Saint Andrew. So the additional dedication was duly approved and made.

The church, as you can see below,  is set on a sloping site, the ground running downhill from the road that runs at right angles to the Andover Road, now the B3400.

A View of Ashe Parish Church from the Lytch Gate ©Austenonly

A View of Ashe Parish Church from the Lytch Gate ©Austenonly

The wooden Lytch Gate stands at the junction of this road and the lane that leads to the church. This is but a few minutes walk from the Lefroy’s elegant rectory.

View of the Lytch Gate from the entrance to Ashe Churchyard ©Austenonly

View of the Lytch Gate from the entrance to Ashe Churchyard ©Austenonly

The Lytch Gate has, as I understand it,been moved from its original position near to the entrance to the church to its present position on higher ground.

The Lychgate at the far entrance to the Parish Church of Holy Trinity and St Andrew Chruchyard, Ashe ©Austenonly

The Lychgate at the far entrance to theChurchyard of the Parish Church of Holy Trinity and St Andrew, Ashe ©Austenonly

The churchyard, (which in the winter seems to be covered with snow, which is, in reality, large drifts of pure white snowdrops) has some very old gravestones. I did find the directions to the Lefroy graves a little confusing, but I think this photograph shows them ( if anyone knows otherwise, please do let me know):

In addition to the connection with Jane Austen’s beloved friend,  Madame Lefroy, this church eventually became associated with Jane’s niece, Anna. She is buried there and there is a memorial dedicated to her memory inside the church( more on this in my next post).  Anna Austen, the daughter of Jane’s eldest brother, James and his first wife, Anne Matthews, married Anne and George Lefroy’s son, Benjamin in 1814.  Eventually he became rector of Ashe, like his father. He was ordained in 1817. His brother, John Henry George Lefroy, was appointed as Rector of Ashe after their father’s death in 1806. Sadly, John died aged only 41 in 1823. Benjamin was then appointed as Rector of Ashe and he and Anna came to live at the Rectory and remained there until Ben’s untimely death in 1829. After Benjamin’s death, Anna moved from the Rectory with her seven children and lived in various houses, first at a home owned by her brother-in-law, Edward Lefroy at West Ham, near Basingstoke. Subsequently, she lived at Oakley,Winchester and Monk Sherbourne before spending the last ten years of her life at Southern Hill near  Reading. Reading was, of course, where Anna’s aunts,  Jane  and Cassandra Austen, had attended the Reading Ladies Boarding School, situated in the former Abbey Gateway, from 1785-1786.

And that ends the first part of our visit to Ashe parish church. Next in this series we shall  look at its interior and, in detail, at the Lefroy memorials.

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