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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.

Shards of pottery found on the Steventon Rectory Site ©BBC

Shards of pottery found on the Steventon Rectory Site ©BBC

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!

The Wheatsheaf Inn ©Austenonly

The Wheatsheaf Inn ©Austenonly

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)

©Austenonly

©Austenonly

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.

The Prince Regent from "The Life of Princess Charlotte"

The Prince Regent from “The Life of Princess Charlotte”©Austenonly

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 from an illustration in La Belle Assemblee ©Austenonly

Mrs. Fitzherbert, the Prince of Wales Mistress and morganatic wife, from an illustration in” La Belle Assemblée” ©Austenonly

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.

The Princess of Wales from "The Life of Princess Charlotte"

The Princess of Wales from “The Life of Princess Charlotte”©Austenonly

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:

Draw near, ye frail mortals of every degree,
Who heartily sigh and complain,
We’ll find you a medicine, without any fee,
Shall quickly alleviate your pain.
Would you drive away care,
To the Wheatsheaf repair,
Where mirth and good humour embrace,
Our Hampshire Hunt join,
While young mirth and old wine,
Enliven the joys of the chase!
…………..
On tithes and obligations no longer intent,
The parson came hobbling along,
To forward the sport ever anxiously bent,
Though feeble and last in teh throng,
his weak muse and his horse,
Have alike run their course,
Long hacknay’d, exhausted, and lame,
Yet the veteran entreats,
In return for past feats,
Your favour he humbly may claim.
Then, to drive away care,
He’ll to Vernon’s repair,
Where wit and good humour embrace,
The Hampshire Hunt join,
With young mirth and old wine
Enliven the joys of the chase.
See:Sporting Reminiscences of Hampshire, from 1745 to 1862 by “Aesop” (1864)pages 6-7

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?

You were very interested in  yesterday’s post, and rightly so because it is I think a fascinating project. It really will be fascinating to read of the discoveries being made on the site of Jane Austen’s birthplace,and what it reveals to us about the Austen family’s life style at Steventon. Apparently, interesting “finds” have been made every day of the dig

So, I’ve dug around ( groan!) and found some more information, which clears up some of the questions you raised in the comments, yesterday.

The work is being carried out by a Hampshire based firm, Archaeo Briton. They are a group of experienced archeologists, who have formed their own firm to undertake individual archaeological projects. The Steventon Rectory project is, according to their website, not only going to lead to an exhibition at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke, but also to a publication,  Archaeology Greets Jane Austen.

The Rectory Project will research the home of the authoress Jane Austen to explore the factual lifestyle of the Austen family. Jane Austen was born at Steventon on 16th December 1775 and lived there with her family for 25 years. The “Rectory” was demolished to the ground during the 1820s and very little is factually known about the building or its contents. The project will use archaeological research methods to discover the material culture of the Rectory and the Austen family.

The project has been made possible financially by a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and  also support from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Foundation.  Maureen Stiller of the Jane Austen Society has been closely involved in the project. As have lots of volunteers  from the locality, which is wonderful.

If you go through this link, here, you can see a short BBC Hampshire film on the project.  I am so looking forward to the results of this research. And you can be assured I will keep you all informed of any developments.

I came across the on-going archeological dig at Steventon last week, and I thought you might like to see my pictures of it. As I’ve reported before, the dig is being undertaken to try and discover more about the rectory where Jane Austen was born and which was demolished in the early 1820s by Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother, who had inherited the Steventon and Chawton estates from his adoptive parents, the Knights.

This is a fascinating project for, like so much information surrounding Jane Austen, hard facts are difficult to come by. We know very little concrete information about the Rectory where she was born. The images we have are, in fact, only three and only two of them were made while it was still extant.

This, below, showing the view of the rectory’s main facade, was drawn by Anna Austen, later Lefroy, Jane’s niece, in 1814. She lived in the rectory with the Austen’s when her father James Austen  was widowed, and then  from 1801 until her marriage to Benjamin Lefroy in 1814, during which time James Austen was either  curate or, from 1805, rector of the parish, succeeding his father,George Austen in the position:

This image, below, again possibly by Anna, shows the rear of the Rectory:

This final image, below, was draw by Anna’s second daughter Julia, for inclusion in the Memoir of Jane Austen written by Jane’s nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh. This was published in 1869:

Anna described this as:

A little drawing of Julia’s made from my description of the Parsonage; more pretty than true: yet, some thing perhaps may be made of it

(See Le Faye, Jane Austen : A Family Record, page 280)

We do have some written descriptions of the rectory, both outside and in. In Jane Austen: A Family Record Dierdre Le Faye collated them for us: we learn from a set of note compiled by Catherine-Anne Austen that it

consisted of three rooms in front on the ground floor-the best parlour, the common parlour and the kitchen; behind these wr Mr Austen’s study, the back kitchen and the stairs; above are seven bedrooms and three attics.The rooms were low -pitched ,but not otherwise bad and compared with the usual stile (sic) of such buildings, it might be considered a very good house

and, then in the Memoir, James Edward Austen-Leigh thought that:

It was sufficiently commodious to hold pupils in addition to a growing family, and was in those ties considered tone above the average of parsonages; but the rooms were furnished with less elegance than would be now found in the most ordinary dwellings.No cornice marked the junction of wall and ceiling; while the beams which supported the upper floors projected into the rooms below in all their naked simplicity, covered only by a coat of paint or whitewash

There is also this more detailed version, from a Lefroy manuscript detailing the Austen family history, also  written by Anna Austen:

The lower bow windows looking  so cheerfully into the sunny garden, up the middle grass walk bordered with strawberry beds, to the sundial, belonged to my Grandfather’s study; his own exclusive property and safe from the bustle of all household cares. The Dining or common sitting room looked to the front and was lighted by two casement windows; on the same side, the principal door of the house opened into a parlour of smaller size. Visitors it maybe presumed were few and rare; but not a whit the less welcome would they have been to my Grand Mother on account of their finding her seated in this very entrance parlour, busily engaged with her needle, in making or repairing.

There is also this description of the garden: Anna Lefroy wrote to James Edward Austen-Leigh,while he was compiling the Memoir that there was

a well between the house and the Wood Walk…in the square walled-in cucumber garden. The walls of this inner garden are covered with cherry and other fruit trees. On the west side was a garden tool house. On the south a door communicated with the back yard – not far from the granary-  another door opened into the larger garden, in the east wall I think. I remember this sunny cucumber garden well-its frames and also its abundance of pot herbs, marigolds etc-Oh! me! we never saw the like again

And this one, also written by Anna Austen:

Behind on the sunny side of the house was an enclosed garden bounded by a straight row of spruce firs and terrace walk of turf. At one end this terrace communicated by a small gate with what was termed ‘the Wood Walk” which winding through clumps of underwood and overhung by tall elm trees, skirted the upper side of the Home Meadow. At the other end of the terrace a door in the garden wall opened to a lane that climbed the hill, and led through a field or hedgerow to the Church…near the Wood Walk gate, and garden bench adjoining, was place a tall white pole surmounted by a weathercock. How pleasant to childish ears was the scrooping sound of that weathercock, moved by the summer breeze! how tall its stem! and yet how more stupendous was the height of the solitary sliver fir that grew at the opposite end of the terrace and near the church road door! How exquisitely sweet too the honeysuckle, which climbed a little way up its lofty stem!

Here is  a section of the Glebe Map made in 1821 which shows the position of the Rectory and the surrounding gardens, and which I have annotated:

Number 1 shows the position of the Rectory, which faced the lane leading into Steventon. Number 2 shows the direction of the lane which leads to the centre of Steventon. Number 3 shows the field which rises up from the valley and is where the new rectory was built by Edward Knight for his son William, after he had had the old rectory demolished. Number 4 show the lane that leads up the valley, in the opposite direction, to St Nicholas’ church. Numbers 5 and 6 show the points where I took the following photographs. The original Glebe map is on show at the Jane Austen’s House Museum, and you can see a photograph of it below:

If you want to see it in more detail then go here to see a full colour digital version.

I took this photograph from the gate near number 5 on the glebe map. There was a lot of activity going on  when I happened to pass by, and I didn’t like to disturb the people working there as they seemed terribly busy.

In the background, you can see the land rising towards Steventon church, and the hedge that runs along the lane.

The old pump-which is no longer there, sadly, and which was the only remnant of the old rectory, used to be in the enclosure, marked “Keep Out” :  you can see it in the photographs,  behind the chap in blue with a wheelbarrow.

I took these photographs, below, from the gate marked  6 on the glebe map. This was probably the entrance for the old carriage “sweep” in front of the rectory.

This shows the archeologists working on the site from the sweep gate . You can see how the ground rises rather steeply behind the site of the old rectory. No wonder it used to flood.

This photograph, below, shows the new rectory, now known as Steventon House, which was built by Edward Knight to accommodate his son, William, who was also rector of the parish.

You can see that it is built on much higher ground, and I wouldn’t think it has ever flooded.

The only tangible link left to Jane Austen in the field where the Rectory used to stand is the lime tree. This  was planted by her brother James who, of course, lived in the rectory with his wife and children, including Anna Austen, from 1801, when Jane Austen and her family removed to Bath, until his death in 1819.

This is the view from the rectory , looking to the left into the centre of Steventon village:

And this photograph shows the view along lane that rises up from the corner of the old rectory site to the church:

It is a fascinating project, and very worthwhile. The old rectory seems to have been a much-loved place, and certainly Anna Austen had very  lovely, sunlit memories of it. I cannot wait to see the results when they are published.

I spotted these snowdrops flowering in the hedge in front of the space where the old rectory stood. I wonder if they are descendants from Jane Austen’s  garden?

Today, we conclude our visit to the church where Jane Austen worshipped for the first 25 years of her life. Our first two visits are available to view here, and here.

Above is the view of the Nave from the Chancel.

This, below,  is the view of the Nave, looking towards the East window of the Chancel from the western end of the church.

You can see the early Victorian wall painting- in the style of William Morris- inside and above the arches.

To the right hand side of the nave is a small side chapel- opposite the pulpit- and here is a small display of tapestry kneelers

…all decorated with the church’s own design – a silhouette if you like- of Jane Austen, and this is  similar to the figure representing Jane Austen on the church’s notice board in the churchyard.

When Jane Austen worshiped in the church, the windows would have had plain glass, like this one below

But now there are some Victorian stained glass panels

There is a touching memorial to Jane Austen in the nave, which takes the from of an engraved  bronze plaque. This was donated to the church by  Emma Austen-Leigh in 1936. It reads:

JANE AUSTEN

Born December 16th 1775

Died July 18th 1817

WORSHIPPED HERE

This tablet was erected to her memory by her great grand-niece Emma Austen Leigh 1936

Emma Austen-Leigh was the author of Jane Austen and Steventon(1937) and in it she describes the ceremony that took place when the plaque was dedicated:

It was unveiled and dedicated on Sunday July 19th 1936, the day after the anniversary of Jane’s death, in the presence of many who thought of her with gratitude and affection. On this occasion the Lesson was read  by a great-grand nephew from a  Bible which had been in use in George Austen’s time and a short account of her life was given by Sir Frank MacKinnon.

A fireplace was discovered on the North wall of the Nave in 1988: in it are some finds that have been discovered on the site: they include a  medieval tile and a pattern, which would have been attached to shoes to raise the wearer above the mud and dirt. The fire screen attached to the opening was funded by the Ohio North Coast Chapter of JASNA.

The Vestry, now  on the south west corner of the Nave, is in fact the old Squires Pew. It was once in the south east corner of the Nave and was moved to its present position circa 1912. The Digweed family were the old Squires of Steventon,who lived in the Manor House which used to be  opposite the church. In 1932 it was destroyed by fire and only the stable block survived. This has now been converted into a large family home. It was first known as Steventon Manor Stables but is now known as Steventon Manor, though of course it is not the building with which Jane Austen would have been familiar. The pew dates from the 17th century.

The churchyard has some memorials to members of Jane Austen’s family, including the Reverend William Knight and his trio of daughters who so sadly succumbed to scarlet fever in 1845.

The memorials to the family are found in the north eastern part of the churchyard.

And probably the most important for Janeites is that of James Austen, Jane Austen’s eldest brother and his second wife, Mary Austen

Here is a close-up picture of the inscription on the stone, covered in moss

and the modern translation , which is affixed to the grave .

This side view of the church, taken form the south,  shows the steeple, which, of course, was not in situ when Jane Austen lived in the village, as her father George Austen did not replace it when it fell down in a storm in 1764.

However, you should always remember to look up at the steeple, for the weather vane is one last tribute to Jane Austen, for it takes the form of a quill.

Here is a close up of it for you…

This is, in my view, a very elegant and fitting tribute, for the quill was of course the instrument Jane Austen would have used when she was making her first attempts at composition when she lived at the rectory, just down the lane from the church.

The Rectory now longer stands, and only James Austen’s limes tree now marks the space where it stood. But archaeological studies have recently been and win an attempt to discover what teh Rectory like alike and an exhibition will be taking place soon,as I understand it,  in Basingstoke, of the findings of the excavations made. I will, of course, let you know all about this in due course, but I hope, in the meantime, you have enjoyed this short tour of Jane Austen’s church.

Today, taking off from where we left, in our last post in this series, we now enter the church, which was very important in Jane Austen’s early life until she left Steventon for Bath in 1801. This simple church was the site of her baptism, where she and her family worshipped,and where for many years, members of her family were rectors.

This is the view from the rear of the Nave toward the Chancel and the East window. We will talk about the Nave and its contents in our next post in this series, and so today we shall concentrate on the Chancel, which you can see, below:

The East Window is decorated with some Victorian Stained glass, which was  designed by Meyer and Co of Munich and was installed in 1883.

Jane Austen would not have known this window. Nor would she have known the altar, below, which again is Victorian.

But in the Chancel are some very important Austen family memorials. The first, next to the organ on the south wall…

is dedicated to James Austen, Jane’s oldest brother . He was the Rector at Steventon from 1805 until his death in 1819, having taken over the family living on the death of his father in 1805. Please do note that you can enlarge all these photographs by clicking on them to see the details.

It is surmounted with the Austen family crest and motto, which you can see in the photograph below:

The inscription reads:

To the Memory of 

The Revd. James Austen,

who succeeded his father, the Revd George Austen

as Rector of this Parish

and died Dec  13th 1819 aged 53 years,

this monument and the Stone which covers his grave in the churchyard

were erected by his widow and children

There midst the flock his fond attention fed

Teh village pastor rests his weary head

Till called to join, from sin and suffering freed

That Heavenly flock which Christ himself shall feed:

For long and well he bore the chastening rod

Long, marked for death the vale of life he trod;

For talents honoured, though to fees displayed,

And virtues brightening through dejections shade

Simple yet wise, most free from guile or pride,

He daily lived to God and daily died.

Best earliest friend for thee whose cares are o’re

Dear as thy presence was, we grieve no more;

Well taught by thee, our heart scan heavenward rise;

We dare not sorrow where a Christian lies

Also in the Chancel is this elegant monument dedicated to James first wife, Anne Mathew, who was the granddaughter of the 2nd  Duke of Ancaster of Grimsthorpe.

The beautiful and elegant  inscription reads:

Sacred to the Memory of

Anne Austen

Wife of the Revd. James Austen Vicar of Sherbourne St John in this County

Daughter to Lt General Mathew Governor of Grenada

who exchanged this life for a far better on the 3rd May 1795

in the 37th year of her Age.

as the Innocency of her Heart,

Simplicity of her Manners

And amiable unspotted Tenour of her Life, in every Relation,

Will render her Memory ever dear to her surviving Friends;

So the humble and pious Resignation

Eminently manifested at that trying Period

When parting with what was most dear on Earth

Will always be considered by them

As an Example

of

Christian Fortitude

which, though they can scarcely hope to Equal

They will yet endeavour 

to imitate

The memorial is decorated with her coat of arms. James’ second wife, Mary, who was the sister to Jane Austen’s great friend, Martha Lloyd, also has her memorial here.

Her inscription reads:

Mary

Wife of the Revd. Jame Austen

Late Rector of this Parish

and Daughter of

The Revd . Noyes Lloyd

formerly

Rector of Enbourne near Newbury 

Died at Speen Berks

3rd August 1843

aged 73

and was buried here in the adjoining churchyard

her son and Daughter with sorrow 

inscribe this stone

To the honoured Memory of

Their Good and affectionate Mother

Whose loss they will Long lament

together with two verse from the Bible.

Also in the Chancel is the memorial to the Reverend William Knight, Edward Knight’s son who was also Rector at Steventon,

but who lived in the new Rectory now known as Steventon House, built for him by his father, and not the in one in which Jane Austen was born, which has now been demolished. There is also a very moving memorial, affixed to the wall underneath it, dedicated to his three daughters who died in June 1848 of scarlet fever, aged 3,  4 and 5 years respectively  :

And on that rather somber note, we shall leave the Chancel to look, next time, at the Nave.

On this, the last Sunday in Advent and the week before Christmas, I thought it might be appropriate to begin a small series of posts about the church which has so many associations with Jane Austen, St Nicholas’s Parish Church, Steventon.

The Rectory where Jane Austen was born in Steventon in 1775, was demolished circa 1823-4, by her brother, Edward Knight. He built a new Rectory for his son, William Knight, who was to be the new Rector, taking over from his uncle, Henry Austen. This was sited away from the  position of the old rectory, on the other side of the valley in order to avoid the frequent floods that so badly afflicted the old building. In November of this year a serious archaeological study of the remains of the old rectory took place, and there will be an exhibition of its findings next year in Basingstoke. Here is a link to a BBC report( only 3 minutes long) about the dig and what it hopes to resolve( i.e. exactly what the rectory looked like, given the differing version of the existing drawings of it- more on this later!). I will, hopefully, keep an eye on all developments on this story for you…but , of course, with the demolition of the Rectory, the parish church where her father and two brothers were rectors is now the only remaining building in the village that has very close associations with Jane Austen.

This, above,  is the view along the lane from the site of the old Rectory to the Church, which Jane Austen and her family must have traversed countless times, going to and from services. The village is still small, and was small when Jane Austen lived there, from 1775-1801. The houses and farms are all straggled along the winding lanes of this part of Hampshire. Here is a section from my copy of John Cary’s map of Hampshire, dating from 1797,   which shows the positions of the villages where George Austen held livings: Steventon, Deane and Ashe:

George Austen, Jane’s father, became rector of this church in 1761, thought he didn’t  “do the duty ”  at the church until he took up residence at Dene another of his parishes, which you can see is not far from Steventon, until 1764. He became rector of this church through the good graces of his cousin by marriage, Thomas Knight of Godmersham.

The church is dedicated to St Nicholas, from whom the Santa Clause legend has derived. St Nicolas was reputed to have been Nikolaos, Bishop of Myra , now known as Demre, which is to be found in modern-day Turkey. He was known for giving secret gifts to deserving people, and many miracles were associated with him. His relics were moved from Myra to Bari, in Italy,  in 1087. His fame spread through the Christian world when Crusaders learned of his story during their return form the First Crusade, circa 1096-99.

The church was built probably around 1200 by the Lords of the Manor of Steventon. At the time George Austen became Rector it was in a very dilapidated state, a condition it shared with the Rectory. The spire was in such a bad condition that it was blown down in a gale in 1764. George Austen didn’t replace it,  so the church that Jane Austen did not include the spire that we see today.

He did however, repair the roof and in 1765 wrote to the Bishop of Winchester to assure him that:

The church and chancel are in good repair and everything necessary for the celebrations of divine service and the administration of holy sacrament are provided.

The church is approached through a simple iron gate,

and the entrance to the church is through a door in the West wall, at the base of the tower:

Either side of the door are two medieval heads, one of a man, on the left

and a woman , on the right:

You can see some marks radiating from a central hole in the stone , just beneath the woman’s head in the picture above. This is a form of sundial known as a scratch dial or “Mass Clock”

The doorway dates from the 13th century, when the original door in the south wall of the nave of the church was blocked up. Next in this series we shall go inside the church to look at its rather simple but beautiful interior. But before we do you might like to see the church notice board:

which is adorned with this small carving of Jane Austen at her writing-table:

to alert anyone who is ignorant of the fact that this church has many, many strong associations with Jane and her family. We shall learn more of them in our next post.


A new month- a new site…..

I would like to introduce you all to a new project, one I have been working on for years- a Jane Austen Gazetteer.

The aim of the site is to allow you  to virtually visit all the places associated with Jane Austen and her family. Though we can still visit many of those places to day, they have changed irrevocably in the intervening 200 years. Looking at them via the medium of  maps, engravings and descriptions all contemporary with Jane Austen brings us closer to the places as she knew them.

At present only the main locations associated with Jane Austen have been completed, but in time I hope the site will grow to become a comprehensive guide to Jane Austen’s world as she would have known it.

Each page on the site gives details of a one particular location, and will usually  contain a contemporary description, a map and possibly an engraving. In addition external links to current websites are provided where appropriate, together with details of all Jane Austen’s references to those places, for example details of  all her letters which document that particular place,etc.

I do hope you will enjoy exploring the site, a glimpse into Jane Austen’s world .

Enjoy!

I recently posted about this at my sister blog, My English Country Garden- and thought that it really ought to be reposted here. I’ve expanded  on some of the details for you….

4386453_1_propertydetails

This Regency house, –Steventon House– shown above,  and which is now for sale ,has some relevance to those of us interested in Jane Austen because it was built to replace her birthplace, the old Steventon Rectory . This was the place in which she was born on the 16th December 1775, and where the Austens raised their large brood of interesting children and schooled many a fine young gentlemen in preparedness for life at public school. I’ve long held the impression that it was a bustling, busy and happy household.

austen recory steventon413 Correction

Jane’s father, The Reverend George Austen, was of course rector of Steventon from 1761-1805.

George Austen411 CorrectionHe  held the living, which was in the gift of his distant cousin, the excellent  Thomas Knight II ,  though in late 1800 he took the decision to retire to Bath, leaving his son James as the  priest in charge and quitting the rectory at the same time. James  became rector of Steventon in 1805 on his father’s death.

James Austen

Austen family tradition has it that on hearing the news that the family were to move to Bath Jane Austen fainted with shock:

As she and Martha arrived from Ibthorpe early in December they were met in the rectory hall by Mrs Austen, who greeted them with :

“Well girls, it is all settled, we have decided to leave Steventon in such a week and go to Bath”

– and to Jane the shock of this intelligence was so great that she fainted away. Mary Lloyd, who was also present to greet her sister, remembered that Jane was greatly distressed”

(See Page 128 Jane Austen: A Family Record, Deirdre Le Faye)

None of her letters to Cassandra have survived from the month of December 1800: Le Faye suggests that they were so intensely, ones wherein Jane Austen gave full vent to her feelings of anger and grief regarding the prospect of the move to Bath, that they were among the first letters that Cassandra destroyed. Frankly, I’m not surprised at Jane Austen’s probable feelings of anger, grief and possibly impotence in the face of Mrs Austen’s determination to move to a city like Bath, but equally I can understand see why someone  like Mrs Austen would want a retirement in a vibrant place with all its attractions,near to her relatives(the Leigh Perrots), and away from the confinement of the country, particularly in the winter months.

But I can also very much sympathise with Jane Austen who must have viewed the prospect of life in Bath in an entirely different light as the dependant un-married spinster of the family, at the beck and call of her relatives, thrown in a social world where  the visitors came took the waters and left-a place of transient relationships must be unsettling and unsatisfying.  And , of course, she was fervently attached to her neighbourhood in Hampshire….

steventon area Correction

…being  a desperate walker, and loving the peace of the quitet, remote countryside surrounding Steventon.

Not much peace was to be had in Bath I fear…..The letters that do survive show a determination to appear cheerful but the underlying tone is bleak:

My mother looks forward with as much certainty as you can do to our keeping two maids; my father is the only one not in the secret. We plan having a steady cook and a young, giddy housemaid, with a sedate, middle-aged man, who is to undertake the double office of husband to the former and sweetheart to the latter. No children, of course, to be allowed on either side. There are three parts of Bath which we have thought of as likely to have houses in them — Westgate Buildings, Charles Street, and some of the short streets leading from Laura Place or Pulteney Street.

Westgate Buildings, though quite in the lower part of the town, are not badly situated themselves. The street is broad, and has rather a good appearance. Charles Street, however, I think, is preferable. The buildings are new, and its nearness to Kingsmead Fields would be a pleasant circumstance. Perhaps you may remember, or perhaps you may forget, that Charles Street leads from the Queen Square Chapel to the two Green Park Streets.

The houses in the streets near Laura Place I should expect to be above our price. Gay Street would be too high, except only the lower house on the left-hand side as you ascend. Towards that my mother has no disinclination; it used to be lower rented than any other house in the row, from some inferiority in the apartments. But above all others her wishes are at present fixed on the corner house in Chapel Row, which opens into Prince’s Street. Her knowledge of it, however, is confined only to the outside, and therefore she is equally uncertain of its being really desirable as of its being to be had. In the meantime she assures you that she will do everything in her power to avoid Trim Street, although you have not expressed the fearful presentiment of it which was rather expected.

We know that Mrs. Perrot will want to get us into Oxford Buildings, but we all unite in particular dislike of that part of the town, and therefore hope to escape. Upon all these different situations you and Edward may confer together, and your opinion of each will be expected with eagerness.

As to our pictures, the battle-piece, Mr. Nibbs, Sir William East, and all the old heterogeneous miscellany, manuscript, Scriptural pieces dispersed over the house, are to be given to James. Your own drawings will not cease to be your own, and the two paintings on tin will be at your disposal. My mother says that the French agricultural prints in the best bedroom were given by Edward to his two sisters. Do you or he know anything about it?

She has written to my aunt, and we are all impatient for the answer. I do not know how to give up the idea of our both going to Paragon in May. Your going I consider as indispensably necessary, and I shall not like being left behind; there is no place here or hereabouts that I shall want to be staying at, and though, to be sure, the keep of two will be more than of one, I will endeavour to make the difference less by disordering my stomach with Bath buns; and as to the trouble of accommodating us, whether there are one or two, it is much the same.

According to the first plan, my mother and our two selves are to travel down together, and my father follow us afterwards in about a fortnight or three weeks. We have promised to spend a couple of days at Ibthorp in our way. We must all meet at Bath, you know, before we set out for the sea, and, everything considered, I think the first plan as good as any.

My father and mother, wisely aware of the difficulty of finding in all Bath such a bed as their own, have resolved on taking it with them; all the beds, indeed, that we shall want are to be removed — viz., besides theirs, our own two, the best for a spare one, and two for servants; and these necessary articles will probably be the only material ones that it would answer to send down. I do not think it will be worth while to remove any of our chests of drawers; we shall be able to get some of a much more commodious sort, made of deal, and painted to look very neat; and I flatter myself that for little comforts of all kinds our apartment will be one of the most complete things of the sort all over Bath, Bristol included.

We have thought at times of removing the sideboard, or a Pembroke table, or some other piece of furniture, but, upon the whole, it has ended in thinking that the trouble and risk of the removal would be more than the advantage of having them at a place where everything may be purchased. Pray send your opinion.

Martha has as good as promised to come to us again in March. Her spirits are better than they were.

I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth. I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.

(extract from Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 3rd January 1801.)

This seemingly happy house, the one Jane Austen so dreaded leaving for Bath in 1800, was eventually demolished by Edward Austen Knight, her rich brother in 1824.

edward austen414 Correction

He owned  the Steventon estate in Hampshire, which included  the benefice , the church of St Nicholas and the Rectory , for he had inherited it along with the Hampshire estate of Chawton and the Kent Godmersham estate from his “adoptive “cousins we have mentioned before,  Thomas Knight II and his wife.

knights silhuoette415 Correction

St Nicolas’s is a fascinating church, though somewhat altered since Jane Austen knew it.

stevchurch_a

It lies a short walk along the lane from the site of the old rectory  and Jane’s eldest brother James, who was also rector of Steventon following in his fathers footsteps, is buried in the churchyard there with his second wife Mary (née Lloyd):

dscf0623

The field where Jane Austen’s home once stood is still empty save for a sad relict: the water pump that supplied the household. Steventon House has therefore little direct association to Jane save for the fact that Edward Knight built it as a replacement for her old beloved home , and that the first possessor of the new house was her nephew and Edward’s son, the Reverend William Knight, who became rector in 1823 , succeeding to the living from Jane’s brother Henry ( who held the living from 1820)

The benefice was brought by the second Duke of Wellington in 1855, by which time most Austen family associations with the rectory has ceased. The Duke’s associations with the manor of Steventon ceased in 1877,when he sold it to the Harris family.

rectory(1)416 Correction

This house remained as the rectory for the village till 1930,when the parishes of North Waltham and Steventon were amalgamated. Since that date it has been a private home.

4393108_2_propertydetails-1

The house, I have to say, is beautiful and elegant as those later Regency rectories often are. It possesses 59 acres of gardens, parkland ,paddocks and woodland (I wonder if they are hangars?) and (here’s the rub) a price tag of £4.5 million. I wonder what Jane Austen would have made of that. A somewhat caustic and wondering comment no doubt. I know it means that I wont be moving to Hampshire any time soon, however much I might desire it…

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