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Sheridan’s wonderfully funny farce, The Critic is currently being performed at the Chichester Festival Theatre, and I thought I ought to bring it to your attention not only because it is a superb 18th century play that is rarely performed these days, but also because it would appear that Jane Austen admired it too.

The Critic had its first performance at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London on the 30th October, 1779.

This was Sheridan’s opportunity to expose his own experiences in the theatre: of his exasperation with pompous and fretful actors, playwrights who could not abhor criticism, hapless directors, scene designers and, of course, critics, gleefully modelling some of the play’s characters on people with whom he had worked. His play, a satire on the fashions of the theatre of the day, concerns the doings of The Critic, Mr Dangle, and, during the last act, how he and another critic, Mr Sneer and the anxious playwright, Sir Fretful Plagiary,  react to the rehearsal of Mr Puff’s “historical tragedy”, The Spanish Armada.

This play within the play needless to say is ridiculous, a romance that is historically inaccurate and satirizes the theatrical conventions of the day : ranting, addressing soliloquies only to the pit, all concluding with  crazed processions that were the stock in trade of many of the productions in the 18th century repertoire:

“Flourish of drums-trumpets-cannon etc etc Scene changes to the sea- the fleets engage- the musik plays ”Britons strike home”-Spanish fleet destroyed by fire ships etc-English fleet advances-musick plays Rule Britannia-The procession of all the English rivers and their tributaries and their emblems etc begins with Handel’s water musick ends with a chorus to the march in Judas Maccabeaus-During this scene Puff directs and applauds everything-then

PUFF: Well, pretty well-but not quite perfect-so ladies and gentlemen if you please we’ll rehearsh this piece again tomorrow.

Exactly the type of production Edmund Bertram sneers at in Chapter 13 of Mansfield Park

“Nay,” said Edmund, who began to listen with alarm. “Let us do nothing by halves. If we are to act, let it be in a theatre completely fitted up with pit, boxes, and gallery, and let us have a play entire from beginning to end; so as it be a German play, no matter what, with a good tricking, shifting afterpiece, and a figure–dance, and a hornpipe, and a song between the acts. If we do not outdo Ecclesford, we do nothing.”

By the time of The Critic’s premiere, Richard Brinsley Sheridan had already enjoyed great success as a playwright: his first comedy, The Rivals, had opened at Drury Lane four years earlier and was followed by The School for Scandal (1777), which was widely regarded as his masterpiece. Sheridan had by this time also purchased an interest in Drury Lane and eventually became its manager.

Jane Austen must certainly have read the play by the 1790s when she was writing her History of England, for she ironically uses The Critic– or really the play within the play, Mr Puff’s The Spanish Armarda- as a primary source for her statement about  Sir Walter Raleigh in the section concerning James I:

Sir Walter Raleigh flourished in this & the preceding reign & is by many people held in great veneration & respect-But as he was an enemy of the noble Essex, I have nothing to say in praise of him& must refer all those who wish to be acquainted with the particulars of his Life to Mr Sheridan’s play of the Critic, where they will find many interesting Anecdotes as well of him as of his freind(sic) Sir Christopher Hatton.

In Love and Freindship (sic) from Volume the Second of the juvenilia, there is another reference.

“We fainted Alternatively on a Sofa”

This is a clear allusion to the stage direction in Act III Scene 1 of The Critic, when during rehearsal of The Spanish Armarda The Justice’s Lady is melodramatically reunited with her son :

Mother: O ecstasy of Bliss!

Son: O most unlook’d for happiness

Mother : O wonderful event!

[They faint alternatively in each others arms]

Sheridan in his turn, was an admirer of Jane Austen’s works:

Richard Brinsley Sheridan speaking to a Miss Shirreff at a dinner party ”at Mr Whitbread’s when Pride and p came out…asked her if she had seen it, and advised her to buy it immediately for it was one of the cleverest things  he ever read

( see David Gilson: A Bibliography of Jane Austen, page 26)

The current production has had rave reviews. Libby Purvis writing in The Times said

The rendering of the rehearsal of  Mr Puff’s heroic patriotic Armarda play is blissful.

As you can see from  the wonderful production photographs in this post taken by Manuel Harlan it is a beautifully correct staging of this period piece. It is being performed as a double bill in conjunction with the same cast taking part in a performance of The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard-which was of course originally entitled …The Critics ;-)

And for fans of the BBC’s  1995 production of Persuasion, there is an additional reason to go and see it. Captain Benwick, played by Richard McCabe is in this production: see him first on the left in the picture below,as the hapless Mr Puff.

So, do, if you can go to Chichester Festival Theatre before the 28th August when this production closes to see it and discover exactly the sort of clever and hilariously funny wordplay that so attracted Jane Austen. You will not be disappointed.

I should like to give my profuse thanks both the staff at the Chichester Festival Theatre, with especial praise to Ellen Holbrook, and to their amazing photographer, Manuel Harlan, for their kindness in granting me permission to use their wonderful images of the production in this post.

The current exhibition at the Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton is a fascinating project, the development of which I have been following, fascinated,  on-line for some time.  Entitled Under the Influence, it showcases a series of works produced by design students of the Farnham University of Creative Arts, all of which have been inspired by the special atmosphere of Jane Austen’s house and garden. It will last until the 10th September 2010.

According to the exhibition’s website (which is fascinating: do explore it for the  insights it gives into the creative process as experienced by some of the artists):

The aim of the project is to use the house and garden as a creative space and respond artistically to a sense of place. Using the museum collection and taking inspiration from Jane Austen’s life and novels, students will explore these aspects and develop contemporary artworks as a dialogue with the museum. We want to support up and coming local designers to produce artworks to sell and exhibit in summer 2010 at Jane Austen’s House Museum.

Here are two of the pieces of work inspired by the house and now on show there.

The first is a fabulous necklace, inspired by Catherine Morland’s resounding declaration for Bath in Northanger Abbey: “Oh Who could ever be tired of Bath ?” ( and please do click on it to enlarge the photograph in order to see the detail)

and this bravura ceramics piece, placed on the dining table nestling among Edward Austen Knight’s Wedgwood china.

I’m hoping to make my pilgrimage to Hampshire later in the summer to see this exhibit along with the Winchester Cathedral Exhibit on Jane Austen’s life. If I do mange to get there I will of course report back. But in the meantime I hope you enjoy this preview.

Winchester Cathedral have just sent  me details of the special Evensong Celebration of Jane Austen’s life  which is to take place next weekend.

Here they are for you to  share:

A special service to mark Jane Austen’s burial at Winchester Cathedral will feature her father’s 200-year-old bible.

The bible dates from 1793 and was used by the Rev George Austen while he served in his Hampshire parish. Readings will be taken from the bible during the service.

It is intended the May 1 event, which is to celebrate the opening of the Cathedral’s Jane Austen exhibition, will also redress the fact that only four people were at her funeral and none were women.

The celebration will see some of her descendents attending and taking part in the Evensong service. Jane remained very close to Hampshire throughout her life and the celebration at the Cathedral reflects her life story. Family from her close friend Mrs Lefroy will also be at the Cathedral for the service.

“This Evensong is the perfect celebration of the opening of our exhibition and Jane’s life,” comments Charlotte Barnaville of Winchester Cathedral. “By bringing her family descendents and supporters to her graveside, and reading from her father’s bible, we are making a wonderful connection with the past and recognising just how influential Jane’s contribution to our literary history continues to be.”

The family will be invited to process to Jane Austen’s grave in the Cathedral at the end of the service and be given the opportunity to pay their respects to one of Hampshire’s and the UK’s most famous daughters.

I have been invited to attend but sadly a long standing  prior appointment forced me to decline the very kind invitation. I would have loved to have been able to share the details of the service with you.

From the description above, it certainly does  look like it is going to be a very moving event and I wish all participants the happpiest of times commemorating Jane.

This is a very interesting book, written by Doctor SusannaWade Martins of the University of East Anglia.

Throughout  her career she has studied the Holkham estate in some detail, and therefor it is highly appropriate that she  has written the first biography of Thomas CokeCoke of Norfolk-in over a hundred years.

And it is of interest to anyone who has read Jane Austen’s books and has wondered what exactly did Mr knightly do? How would Elizabeth and Darcy have spent their time at Pemberley? What was Darcy’s life like before he met Elizabeth? What should Henry Crawford have been doing at this estate at Everingham?

I know from my experience in the past ten years with online Austen communities that  speculation about these pressing questions continues apace amongst those of us who are interested in these characters and their lives.

Reading this book will , in my opinion give you one of the best impressions of the  type of life they might have led, in one single, very  readable, affordable volume.

Now, do note, I am certainly not arguing that Coke of Norfolk was the basis for any of Jane Austen’s landowning charcters.What I am saying is that  reading this book will give a good over view of the type of life these characters may have led on their estates in the English countryside,and instead of trawling though many varied books to try an understand  just what that life was like , you can now purchase this one volume as a starting point and be very well served by it.

Thomas Coke inherited, in 1776,  the great Holkham estate with as its magnificent centre piece of this Palladian mansion, designed by Matthew Brettingham

It was in wonderful heart.  He continued to improve it and  the conditions of his tenant farms, wanting to encourage gentlemen into the profession to raise standards of his tenantry and consequently of his farms and stock. The detail of how this improvement was achieved- by buildings, lease terms etc- is chronicled in a clear and very readable manner by Doctor Matins,

Prior to inheriting, Coke he  lived the life of  an upper class gentleman, being educated on a Grand Tour

Here he is, above, as depicted by Pompeo Batoni while in Rome.

And then he entered politics. He was a Whig supporter all his life and was vociferously opposed to  the war with America ,talking the side of the colonists. He also supported  the abolition of the slave trade, the emancipation of Catholics and parliamentary reform.

Here is his political map of Norfolk drawn up for Coke by Humphrey Repton-also from Norfolk- who was a parliamentary agent  prior to gaining fame-and mentions in Mansfield Park– as the first “landscape designer’.It was designed and commissioned to show the extent of political interest of both the Tory and Whig parties in Norfolk:

This book covers his personal life as well as his political life and there it is of great  interest to those of us who wonder how Darcy and Elizabeth would have organised their domestic life at Pemberley. Family life for the Cokes was concentrated mainly around Holkham and the orgnaisiation of the domestic life of the house was firmly in the hands of many capable women-namely Cokes first wife and his daughter who took over the domestic reigns on her mother’s death. Doctor Martins  gives a detailed account of estate life from the point of view of the women in the family and it makes for very interesting  reading.

I can highly recommend it for anyone interested in the lives of the upper classes of this period.

For a more detailed examination of the organisation and development of such a large estate, then  I can recommend anther book by Doctor Martins:

A Great Estate at Work is a fascinating book, the result of Doctor Martin’s work for her Phd thesis.She was granted access to the Holkham Archive and the result is a fabulously detailed book  chronicling the development of the estate from 1776-1860. Obvoiulsy  this covers more than the period about which Jane Austen wrote, but it is a great help to read it in order to set in context the  improvements of the agrarian revolution and how they panned  out later in the 19th century.

In the same vein this book,above,  The English Model Farm again by Doctor Martins is rather  on the specialised side , but is fascinating, showing how landlord were able to develop the ideal farming conditions, if they were sufficiently interested and motivated during the period 1700-1914. I am afriad it now appears to be out of print,but for anyone seriously interested in the development of farm bulings etc during this period I can highly reccommend it.

For those of you interested in the social effects of the agrarian revolution, for example,  the social distress caused by enclosing the land , then I can recommend this book by another member of staff at the University of East Anglia: Professor Tom Wilkinson.

The Transformation of Rural England is a fascinating book for  in great detail, it chronicles the impact of the improvements in  agriculture and  the changes in the usage of the land as a result. In addition it deals with  the physical effect on the landscape  and the social consequences of these improvements.  I highly recommend it,but it is rather technical and detailed, and I would only recommend purchasing it  to those of us who are serious students of the subject.

But  for a good and comprehensive view of the type of improvements that someone  like Mr Knightley might have made and the type of life  he and Darcy might have lead I can think of no better introduction than Susanna Wade Martins book on Thomas Coke. And as it is soon to be released in paperback form at a very reasonable price :got to it,say I !

(Funeral Procession by Thomas Rowlandson, circa 1810 )

The great Mrs. Churchill was no more…

Mrs. Churchill, after being disliked at least twenty-five years, was now spoken of with compassionate allowances. In one point she was fully justified. She had never been admitted before to be seriously ill. The event acquitted her of all the fancifulness, and all the selfishness of imaginary complaints…

Short letters from Frank were received at Randalls, communicating all that was immediately important of their state and plans. Mr. Churchill was better than could be expected; and their first removal, on the departure of the funeral for Yorkshire, was to be to the house of a very old friend in Windsor, to whom Mr. Churchill had been promising a visit the last ten years..

Emma, Chapter 45

So, poor Mrs Churchill who ruled her family with an iron fist, died in Richmond, in Surrey,  after apparently really having been ill all the time. It always makes me smile that as soon as his domineering wife is dead, Mr Churchill suddenly appears free enough to be able to visit an old friend, whom he had been promising to visit for ten years! How wickedly funny Jane Austen is in those passages from Chapter 45….

On to more serious matters…..The funeral was to be in Yorkshire at the great Enscombe estate. And really we would have expected nothing else…I can imagine Mrs Churchill  resting forever in some great mausoleum like the one at Castle Howard ( also in Yorkshire)

But could a corpse be transported a journey of at least 200 miles? Let’s see shall we?

In “The English Way of Death” by Julian Litten, there are some descriptions of 18th century funerals, rather in the grand manner, where the dead body was to be transported some distance for burial.  The story of Edward Colston is a very interesting one.

Edward Colston died at his home in Mortlake in Surrey, near London in 1771. His funeral instruction were to the effect that his dead body was to be taken to Bristol and after having been paraded through the streets of the town he was to be buried in All Saints Church.

The journey in 1771 would have taken 6 days, involving five overnight stays at inns( and while on the road luncheons and breakfasts) for 16 attendants who attended the corpse. Together with stabling for 20 horses, shelter for the funeral car and the three mourning coaches which followed it. An extra room was taken at each inn for the corpse to lie alone, in state each night.

But before the body could embark on this journey, the Archbishop of Canterbury had first to be applied to, in order for him to give permission for the corpse to be  transported from the parish in which Colston died- in the Surrey diocese -to the parish in Bristol in which he was to be buried.

As this was before the time of life insurance or a proper funeral insurance plan, the whole funeral cost £513… an enormous sum. It was also not unknown for coffins to be transported by river and canal was well as by road.

By the time Jane Austen was writing Emma, funerals for the gentry and middles classes of people were, in the main, organised by professional firms of undertakers. They were suspected of insisting on elaborate mourning rituals to increase their profits sometimes ignoring the wishes of the deceased, a situation that reached its peak in the Victorian era.

The cost and details of one funeral of a person known to Jane Austen has been transcribed by Deirdre Le Faye and published in Volume VII of Bath History (1998) and this, indeed, reflects the conflict between a desire for a simple funeral and the reality of  unnecessary ritual and cost. The account of the costs of the funeral of Mrs Lillingston, a friend of the Jane Austen’s aunt and uncle, the Leigh Perrots in Bath, who left Jane Austen a legacy of £50 in 1806 (which said sum which was enough to pay all her living expenses for one whole year) makes for interesting reading.

The Bath undertakers, Ballans and Bradley of Bond Street, presented their detailed account of 8th February 1806 for her funeral costs, and though it was  supposed to be done in the plainest manner according to Mrs Lillingston’s wishes, it still entailed providing expensive mourning for all Mrs lillingston’s old servants, and four horses  to pull the hearse and the following mourning coach,which was thought  to be essential by the undertakers. In her will Mrs Lillington had asked for only two horses to be used. The final bill  for this “simple”  funeral amounted to £115 and 12 shillings.

So though it was undoubtedly expensive, Mrs Churchill’s corpse could most certainly be transported back to her Enscombe estate, at least 200 miles along the Great North Road from London, provided that expense could be met (and I’m sure it could) and the Archbishop of Canterbury  provided his  permission.

On a slightly different tack…I think it might now be appropriate to mention that funeral arrangements and customs were slightly different in northern England  and Yorkshire, where Enscombe is situated,  than in other parts of the country.

A really quite quaint and interesting habit of distributing special funeral biscuits and hot red wine to the mourners existed in the North of England throughout the 17th, 18th and into the 19th centuries.

The biscuits served at northern funerals came in a variety of shapes and sizes and textures. In the  18th century/early 19th century the most fashionable type resembled  Naples or Savoy biscuits, which were  similar to the crisp sponge finger type biscuits -manufactured under the commercial term Boudoir or LadyBiscuits– which can be brought from  confectioners shops  and supermarkets today and are usually used to make the spongebase of puddings like tiramisu or trifle.

Do look at the following extract from The Gentleman’s Magazine (1802) Volume I, p 105:

At the funeral of the richer sort…they had burnt wine and Savoy biscuits, and a paper with two Naples biscuits sealed up to carry home to their families. The paper in which these biscuits were sealed ( always with black sealing wax-JFW) was printed on one side with a coffin, cross bone, skulls, hacks, spades, hour-glasses etc…

Many confectioners specialised in producing them and here are some illustrations of the wrappers which have been preserved in various museum collections in the north,and are included in Laura Mason’s book, Food and the Rites of Passage, published by the fabulous Prospect Books:

(Do note you can enlarge all these illustrations in order to see the detail, merely by clicking on them)

Sometimes mourners  were met at the deceased’s house by servants prior to the funeral procession leaving for the church and were then presented with the biscuits and wine. In Lincolnshire  port or sherry was the preferred drink. Sometimes the wrapped packs of biscuits were simply left on a table in the house, so that mourners could carry them to the church, each taking a package as they left with the funeral procession.

A recipe for the biscuits was published in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in 1816 in S. W. Stanley’s book The New Whole Art of Confectionery:

Funeral Biscuits

Take twenty-four eggs, three pounds of flour, and three pounds of lump sugar , which will make forty eight finger biscuits for a funeral.

As Mrs. Churchill was most definitely  “of the richer sort” I feel sure the mourners at her funeral would have gone away clutching some funeral biscuits in a fancy wrapper, together with appropriate sentiments, and sealed with black sealing wax, obtained from the swankiest confectioner  in Yorkshire.

Over the course of the next week I shall be posting a series of posts  about Jane Austen and Christmas before I take a festive break from blogging to enjoy time with my family and friends…and my new Kindle ;-)

So do join me to discover that , surprise, surprise, Charles Dickins did not “invent” Christmas….the type of pies that Mrs Musgrove served at the mansion house at Uppercross during Christmas….How Pemberley might have been decorated…..To discus if Jane  Austen might possibly have decorated her own Christmas tree… learn how to make a Twelfth Night Cake, and how to enjoy it in the Georgian way.

Jane Austen lived in Southampton, Hampshire in Castle Square from 1806 until 1809 together with her sister in law, Mary Austen (nee Gibson, wife of Frank ), her mother, Mrs Austen ,Cassandra Austen her sister, and their friend Martha Lloyd. In July 1809 Jane, Cassandra Mrs Austen and Martha left Southampton to live at Chawton, in a house provided by their brother Edward Knight.

Today we think of Southampton mainly as a modern port-much changed and modernised since the ravages of the Second World War; but in Jane Austen’s time it had been discovered by “persons of rank” and became known as a resort and spa from the middle of the 18th century.

The old port had long been in decline at this point and the new business rejuvenated it. New houses were built, inns were modernised and communications with London improved. The rich built villas in the surrounding countryside. Fashionable promenades were created and shops boomed along with circulating libraries etc.

This is a general description of it from my copy of A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham

EQUALLY adapted for :health, pleasure, and commerce, Southampton, distant about seventy-seven miles from London, is bounded on the east by the river Itchin which flows past the ancient city of Winchester, and on the west by the Tese or Anton, which rises near Whitchurch. It occupies a kind of peninsula, the soil of which is a hard gravel ; and, as the buildings rise from the water with a gentle ascent, the streets are always clean and dry. The approach from the London road is uncommonly striking and grand; in fact, it is almost unparalleled in the beauty of its features, for the space of two miles. At first appear an expanse of water, and the distant Isle of Wight, the charming scenery of the New Forest, and Southampton itself, in pleasing perspective. Elegant seats and rows of trees, nearer the town, line the road on both sides ; and, on entering the place, by one of its most fashionable streets, that venerable remain of antiquity the Bargate, gives a finish to the scene, and fixes the impression of the objects through which we have passed.

But by the time of Jane Austen’s death in 1817 its star had faded, and it was only with the introduction of the railway in 1840 that Southampton once again became a port and place of some import. However, it was undoubtedly a fair place in JAne Austen’s time:

THE lovely situation of Southampton, the elegance of its buildings, the amenity of its environs, and the various other attractions which it possesses, in a very high degree, will always render it a place of fashionable residence, as well as of frequent resort. As a sea-bathing place, indeed, it has less reputation than some others that are described in this work. It has no machines, nor is its beach favorable for immersion; the marine is, also, deeply mixed with the fresh water; but, if the opinion of those is correct, who maintain, that water acts only by the shock and ablution, and that one cold or one warm bath is the same as another, Southampton, notwithstanding the disadvantages we have mentioned, is as eligible as any other station on the coaat, and, in many respects, it is superior. The air is soft and mild, and sufficiently impregnated with saline particles to render it agreeable, and even salutary, to those who cannot endure a full exposure to the sea, on a bleak and open shore.
(See: A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham)

For Frank Austen it was a place not too far away from Portsmouth, the naval base, where he could safely leave his new wife , his mother, sister and their friend Martha while he was away on duty. For the Austen ladies it was a chance to return to Hampshire, and to leave the confines of Bath and a way of life ever decreasing in style and consequence.

Frank wrote of the new domestic arrangements as follows:

He fixed his abode at Southampton making one family with his mothers and sisters a plan equally suited to his love of domestic society and the extent of his income which was somewhat restricted
(See: A Family Record, Le Faye p 153)

This is a detailed map of the areas surrounding Southampton circa 1803:

This is a map of the town centre made in 1791 by T. Milne. If you enlarge it you can clearly see the castle -a circular structure in the lower part of the map.

The Marquis of Landsdown for a very short time before his death in 1809 , lived at Southampton in this Gothic style castle. The Castle was put up for sale in 1816 but no buyer was found and it was demolished in 1818. Jane Austen’s house was in the square surrounding the castle:

Our Dressing-Table is constructing on the spot, out of a large Kitchen Table belonging to the House, for doing which we have the permission of Mr Husket Lord Lansdown’s Painter, -domestic Painter I should call him, for he lives in the Castle-Domestic Chaplains have given way to this more necessary office, & I suppose whenever the Walls want no touching up, he is employed about my Lady’s face.

(see Letter to Cassandra dated 8th February,1807)

The Castle and the Square around it no longer exist, but here is a description of it:

This stands near the middle of the south part of the town. From the High-street, the approach to it is up Castle-lane. The area of the castle seems to be of a semicircular form, of which the town wall to the sea, formed the diameter. The keep stood on a very high artificial mount, and from its ruins a small round tower has been constructed, from the leads of which there is a delightful bird’s-eye view of Southampton, and of the environs, lying like a map before the eye of the spectator.

” The high mount, and circular form of the keep,” says Sir H. Englefield,” indicate an Antiquity much higher than the time of Richard II. who probably only repaired and strengthened the castle.” This ingenious and learned antiquary seems to think it of Saxon origin.

In Porter’s-lane, at the bottom of the High-street, he discovered a building, which he conjectures was originally a palace. It is evidently of great antiquity, and was probably inhabited by the Saxon or Danish kings, who occasionally made Southampton their residence.

Here are two views of the High Street in the early 19th century:

The Southampton Guide of 1805 stated:

Many of the shops rival those of the metropolis…the shopkeepers are equally strenuous to excel in the elegance of their shops and displays of heir goods. Strangers in general are exceedingly struck at the size and the very superior appearance of the shops as in this town nor are they less so on viewing the abundant stocks of goods with which they are stocked

The town was full of antiquities: this is the Bar Gate as it looked  in 1802:

This was singled out in many of the Guidebooks to the town as a “truly beautiful specimen of medieval military architecture”
(See A Walk Through Southampton by Sir Henry Englefield, Bart (1801), page 8.

But look at this description from John Feltham’s Guide(1803) and spot the Austen-esque names:

The principal and formerly the only approach by land is a splendid remain of the fortifications of this place. The north front which is supposed to have been erected in the reign of Edward III is semi-octagonal, flanked with two lower semi-circular turrets.

The arch of entrance which is long and deep is highly pointed and adorned with a profusion of mouldings. Above the arch on a row of sunk pannels alternatively square and oblog, is a shield in relief charged with the arms of England, Scotland, Paulet, Tylney, Abdy, Noel, Mill, Wyndham etc. These arms however are not of ancient date and from a minute inspection of the compnent parts of this curious gate Sir Henry Englefield is of the opinion that the internal centre must have been erected in the early Norman time or even before then.

The front towards the High-street, is modern, plain, and uninteresting, except that in a central niche is contains a whole-length statue of Queen Anne, still and formal enough.

Over the arches of the two foot and carriageways, is a spacious TOWN-HALL, fifty-two feet by twenty-one, with which a room for the grand jury communicates. The windows in these apartments, withinside, bear marks of antiquity.

From the leads, the whole of this noble gate may be traced, and great part of site town may be seen. Two lions serjant, cast in lead, guard the entrance of Bargate, and on this side there are likewise portrayed two gigantic figures, representing Ascupart and Sir Bevios, of Southampton his redoubted conqueror, according to the following couplet:

“Bevois conquer’d Ascupart, and after slew the boare,
And then he cross’d beyond the seas to combat with the More.”

I’m sure this and the castle appealed to Jane Austen’s sense of the Gothick, if not to inspire names of characters in Northanger Abbey and Emma… Southampton had many of the amenities necessary for the amusement of its visitors. In addition to a riding school…

it also possessed chaylebeate springs, baths, public rooms owned by a Mr Martin( complete with a full set of Assembly Room regulations) and winter assemblies were held at the Dolphin Inn

( now sadly closed due to the effects of the current credit crunch)and a theatre:

Jane Austen attended the French Street Theatre while living there .

It also had a multiplicity of circulating libraries:


BAKER’s LIBRARY, in the High-street, contains a well-chosen collection of more than 7000 volumes, in every branch of learning, and in every department of composition Jewellery, stationary, &c. are likewise sold at this shop.

Messrs. Baker have also a printing-office, from which books have issued that would do no discredit to the London presses. The good sense, information, and civility of that family, which is large and respectable, render their acquaintance desirable to every visitor of the place.

Skelton’s Library, standing nearly opposite, is likewise well filled with valuable and entertaining books, and much frequented.

He has likewise a printing-office, and a subscription News-room, which is open from nine in the morning to nine in the evening, on reasonable terms.

If superior industry, understanding, and a zeal to oblige, are claims to patronage, Byles will not be forgotten, though his establishment is comparatively new.

There are some other libraries in Southampton,which possess their appropriate merits, and are ad mired by their respective customers.
(see The Guide to all the Watering Places etc (1803) by John Feltham.)

Jane Austen also attended All Saints Church, which was built in 1792-3 and was designed by William Revesley. Frank’s daughter, Mary Jane, born in April 1807 was christened here.

The beach was a tree-lined walk made around 1769 on the old causeway from the Platform to the Cross House

And it was here -on flooded meadows that froze -that Frank skated :

We did not take our walk on Friday, it was too dirty, nor have we yet done it; we may perhaps do something like it to-day, as after seeing Frank skate, which he hopes to do in the meadows by the beach, we are to treat ourselves with a passage over the ferry. It is one of the pleasantest frosts I ever knew, so very quiet. I hope it will last some time longer for Frank’s sake, who is quite anxious to get some skating; he tried yesterday, but it would not do.

(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 7th January 1807)

And here is a picture of a contemporary couple skating circa 1805…it won’t be long before braver souls than I can attempt that here in darkest Lincolnshire….

This post should really be entitled Martha Lloyd and London for reasons that  will soon become obvious…

Jane Austen possessed some Wedgwood china : let’s read this extract from her letter to Cassandra Austen of the 6th June 1811,wherein she articulates many  feelings common to modern mail-order purchasers :

On Monday I had the pleasure of receiving, unpacking and approving  our Wedgwood ware. It all came very safely and upon the whole is a good match, tho’ I think  they might have  allowed us rather larger leaves, especially in such a year of fine foliage as this. One is apt to suppose that the Woods about Birmingham must be blighted.

There was no bill with the Goods-but that shall not screen them from being paid. I mean to ask Martha to settle the account. It will be quite in her way for she is just now sending my Mother a Breakfast set, from the same place. I hope it will come by the Waggon tomorrow; it is certainly what we want and I long to know what it is like: and as I am sure Martha has great pleasure in making the present,I will not have any regrets..

Such a sort passage for one letter: but such a lot of points to consider.

First to the showroom. This a print above is from my copy of Ackerman’s Repository of Arts for February 1809. I love this print. It gives us such a lot of detail about Wedgwood’s tempting wares and his method of selling them.

Let’s consider some of the detail;

Here is the manager showing his customer the ware….The manager of the Wedgwood showroom in Bath was of course  Mrs Radcliffe’s father ,and her uncles was Wedgwood’s business partner, Thomas Bentley…..

In 1771-2 Ann Ward stayed with her uncle Thomas Bentley in Turnham Green while her parents prepared for their removal to Bath, where her father was to manage the Wedgwood showroom, a position obtained for him by Bentley, who was Wedgwood’s partner and a man of refined taste.

.(see Mistress of Udolpho:The Life of Ann Radcliffe by Rictor Norton)

In the showroom are some  well-behaved children…

Tables laden with wares….

and a rather fagged lady  wanting to go home and drink tea from the wares and not to  have to look at any more cups and pots.

The showroom where Martha Lloyd placed her order, was just off St James’s Square in London, in  York Street. This was a very fashionable and smart address being not far from St James’s Palace  where  the court of the King (and the Prince Regent) held all its official levees etc.Wedgwood clearly wanted to appeal to the  highest classes of society.

This is a description of the showrooms from my copy of A Picture of London (1809), one of the early guidebooks to the Metropolis:

Upon the north side and near the middle of Pall Mall is St James Square, having a circular bason inclosed within an octagonal railing, in its centre; the houses surrounding this square are chiefly inhabited by nobility. The town residence of the bishops of London a large inelegant pile of brick building occupies along with its neighbour Norfolk House in which our present sovereign was born, all that portion of the eastern side of the square, intercepted between Charles Street and Pall Mall. At the corner of York Street an avenue leading from this street to Jermyn Street is the large house and manufactory of Mr Wedgwood in whose exertions much of the late reformations of public taste is to be ascribed. This house has been originally the habitation of the Spanish Ambassador to which was attached the adjoining chapel,which, upon his quitting this place was used as a place of worship by sundry sectarians and is at present in the possession of a Mr Proud one of the adherents to the singular tenets of an eccentric Swedish Baron Emanuel Swedenborough for an account of whose doctrine we must refer our readers to Evans’s useful comprehensive yet concise account of the various denominations of Christians.

Of course the wares would not be made in London: they were only retailed there. They were created in Staffordshire, which is where Jane Austen’s  knowledge of geography is shown to be slightly lacking in the letter I quote from  above. She is confusing Birmingham in Warwickshire with Burslem in Staffordshire where  Josiah Wedgwood and his descendant had their factory.

She might be doing so because  the Wedgwoods were famously a radical family and were part of the Lunar Society group based primarily in Birmingham-along with Richard Lovell Edgeworth( father of Maria) and Matthew Bouton, Joseph Priestly etc.  But who knows for certain?

This is a  picture of the Wedgwood works at Etruria as they appeared in the late 18th century. The pottery  industry was  of vital importance to the Staffordshire economy  in the late 18th /early 19th centuries as this extract from England Described etc (1818) by John Aikin M.D. explains:

Staffordshire has long been noted, and is now particularly famous, for its potteries, the chief seat of which is near Newcastle, in a line of villages extending about ten miles. The neighbourhood affords abundance of the most bulky materials for this business, namely fire-clay and coals; but their finer clays are brought from Purbeck in Dorsetshire and other parts of that coast; and flints from the chalk pits near Gravesend, with some from Wales and Ireland. For the conveyance of these articles they have the benefit of water-carriage, either from Hull or Gainsborough, by means of the Trent which communicates with the southern extremity of the Staffordshire Grand Trunk Canal; or from Liverpool by means of the Mersey, and the duke of Bridgwater’s navigation, to the northern extremity of the same canal. The manufactured goods are sent away by the same conveyances. The perfection to which this manufacture has been brought, and the great elegance of the useful and ornamental articles of which it consists, have rendered it a very important object of commerce, both foreign and domestic.

Burslum was the site of Wedgewood’s Etruria Works,a name inspired by the classical vases, particularly those illustrated by Sir William Hamilton in his book “Etruscan Vases’, upon which Josiah Wedgwood  based his neoclassical designs. Look at this extract, again from England Described, and note that the whole area became known as The Potteries,a name that is still applied today even though the manufacture of pottery is sadly in decline there:

The principal place in the Potteries is Bruslem, lately raised  to the priviledge of a market town,and supplying the wants of a very populous neighbourhood, the inhabitants which have been drawn together by this demand are very numerous and are employed chiefly in various branches of manufacture.

Jane Austen tells us how these delicate and precious gods were  transported to her in Hampshire: by Waggon. The waggon system of  transporting goods  and livestock was operated by private contractors all over the country. Nearly every small town possessed a company which supplied waggons travelling to and from London,and delivering parcels of goods to their area.

While Jane Austen was living at Chawton the waggon services available in Alton, her nearest market town were as follows:

Coaches,Waggons etc. Collier’s Alton Coach from the Bell Savage Ludgate Hill, 3 times a week. A Southampton coach passes daily Sundays excepted to and from the same inn; also a Gosport dilligence daily to the White Horse Fetter-lane. Knight’s waggons leaves the New Inn, Old Bailey every Tuesday and Friday morning and arrives at Alton every Thursday and Saturday evening. Falkner and Lamport’s Farnham and Alton waggon leaves the George, Snows-hill every Tuesday and Friday and other waggons pass through the town almost every day.

(See the entry for Alton, Hampshire in  Crosby’s Complete Pocket Gazetteer of England and Wales (1807). NOTE : this was the same firm of publishers, owned by  Benjamin Crosby, who bought the copyright of Northanger Abbey, then known by the title “Susan”, in  1803 for £10 but never  published it.  Jane Austen eventually purchased  the manuscript back from them . The correspondence between them included her famous letter of April 5, 1809 which she wrote under the pseudonym of  Mrs Ashton Dennis thus enabling her to end the letter with the following phrase, I AM GENTLEMEN, MAD.)

Jane Austen and her mother were not the only fans of Wedgwood’s wares in the Austen family. Still extant at The Jane Austen House Museum is the set of Wedgwood ware that Edward Knight, Jane’s brother ordered, exactly  as Jane Austen described itThe pattern is a small Lozenge in purple,between lines of narrow Gold ; & it is to have the (Knight) crest

And so, there you have a little explanation of that small mention of Wedgwood ware in Jane Austen’s letter. We have seen the showroom in London, learnt about where the wares were made and just how Jane Austen would have received them form London via waggon.

I trust you have enjoyed this little excursion into the retail world of the early 19th century, and that your own excursions in the realms of 21st century Christmas shopping is as pleasant and satisfactory as were Jane Austen’s goods from The Potteries and St James’s.

We are very familiar with the sites in Hampshire and the south of England associated with Jane Austen: Steventon,Chawton, Lyme…But not many people realise that there is a very interesting site in Lincolnshire, open to the public and easily accessible via the A1, which has a very interesting connection to Jane Austen’s aunt, Jane Leigh-Perrot.

The family who own this estate are named Cholmeley and Jane Austen’s aunt was a part of this family. Though Jane Leigh Perrot  was born  in Barbados in the West Indies, her maiden name was Cholmeley, and she was a niece of the baronet, Sir Monatague Cholmeley who was then in posession of the estate.

(Section from The West Indies, map by Thomas Kelly, 1816)

Jane Cholmeley was the daughter of Robert  Cholmeley  who owned land in Barbados.

(Lincolnshire from Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc.(1812) by John Cary)

.She was sent to England  and was  educated there at a boarding school. Because of the rigours of travelling to the West Indies-as recounted accurately by Jane Austen in Mansfield Park-she did not return to Barbadoes  during school holidays but instead  spent much of her  time here at Easton with her uncle and his family.

She married James Leigh-Perrot, who was Mrs George Austen’s brother, on the 9th October  1764 . Jane Austen’s aunt was of course infamous for being charged with grand larceny an attempt, seemingly at blackmail, by some Bath haberdashers meant that in 1799 she was accused of stealing a quantity of lace.  Go here for an essay on her trial by Albert Borowitz. If found guilty she would no doubt have been transported to Botany Bay in Australia for 14 years- a virtual death sentence for a woman of her age.

When she was incarcerated in Ilchester Gaol awaiting trial at Taunton, Montague Cholmeley of Easton wrote her a series of kind letters to her to help maintain her spirits. Here is an extract from one commenting on Mrs Austen’s generous but slightly deranged offer to have Jane and Cassandra accompany their aunt in the gaol( in reality Jane Leigh-Perrot lived together with her husband in the squalid but humane lodgings with the Gaol Keeper and his family and not in a jail cell). Mrs Leigh Perrot declined the offer, recoiling in horror at the thought of the Austen girls having to spend time there writing to her cousin ,Sir Montague Cholmeley  the then owner of Easton, as follows :

One of my greatest Miseries here ( indeed my very first) is the seeing what my dearest Husband is daily going through-Vulgarity, Dirt, Noise from Morning till Night. The People  not conscious that this can be Objectionable to anybody, fancy we are very Happy and to do them justice they mean to make us quite so…this Room joins to a Room where the Children all lie, and not Bedlam itself can be half   so noisy, besides which, as not one particle of Smoke  goes up the Chimney, except you leave  the door or window open, I leave you to judge of the Comfort I can enjoy in such a Room…No! my Good Cousin, I cannot subject even a Servant to the suffering we daily experience…My dearest Perrot with his sweet composure adds to my Philosophy; to be sure he bids fair to have his patience tried in every way he can. Cleanliness has ever been his  greatest delight and yet he sees the greasy toast laid by the dirty children on his knees and feels the small Beer trickle down his sleeves on its way across the table unmoved…Mss Scadding’s Knife well licked to clean it from the fried onions helps me now and then-you may believe how the Mess I am helped to is disposed of-here are two dogs and three Cats always full as hungry as myself.

Sir Montague appeared to have agreed with her decision:

You tell me that your good sister Austen has offered you one or both of her Daughters to continue with you during your stay at that vile place, but you decline the kind offer as you cannot procure them Accommodation in the House with you and you cannot let those Elegant Young Women be your Inmates in a Prison nor be subject to the inconveniences which you are obliged to put up with….

Jane Leigh Perrot was eventually found not guilty after the long and infamous trial.

The estate is a very interesting place to visit. Here is a link to its website. The current owners have embarked on a very laudable and brave project to restore the gardens: the site as you can see from these photographs which I took on a recent visit  is spectacular, spanning the River Witham :

.The stables are the only part of the massive structure that survive: the main house was sadly demolished in the 1950s. This is all that remains :

The buildings that do survive are fascinating…

..all emblazoned with the Cholmeley crest of a wheat-sheaf in different forms:

And the gardens are  bewitching:

Here is a link to the history of the house from  Easton Walled Gardens current website:

…and here  are some photographs from the family’s archive as to show the hall as it looked before it was demolished.

I do have to sincerely  thank Lady Cholmeley, the present chatelaine,  for her generosity in allowing me to reproduce them here .

Walking about the grounds, imagining the splendours of the place in Jane Leigh Perrot’s youth is a very interesting experience, and give some idea of her background and possibly explains her imperious attitude, ending her life playing games with the possible inheritors of her wealth-as she was childless and had inherited all her husbands property on his death she knew she had power to wield.

And I’m not sure that Jane Austen had much affection for her aunt, certainly from the evidence of her letters, but in any event, viewing the place where Jane’s aunt spent her early summers was an interesting way to spend a summer’s afternoon, speculating on her character while wandering around.

And I find the prospect of these gardens being fully restored bewitching: but even in their present state , much akin to a half-finished archaeological dig-they exert a certain charm , and evoke memories of eras long gone. I highly recommend a visit

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