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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"Of this place...I might have been mistress!"

The last place that I visited on my trip around Steventon was Wootton St Lawrence, which has some fascinating connections to Jane Austen and her love life in particular.  

Wootton is where the estate of Manydown was located, just 2,5 miles west of Basingstoke. Manydown was the home of Jane Austen's great friends, Alethea and Catherine Bigg, and their brother, Harris Bigg-Wither. Jane often visited them, staying overnight after a ball in Basingstoke. 

Harris Bigg-Wither. Image from Wikipedia.

In 1802, Harris proposed to Jane and was accepted, but she changed her mind overnight - a decision, which she may or may not have regretted in the years to come, but one that certainly had an effect on her. I discussed the situation in an earlier post, Jane Austen's Love Mystery

Unfortunately, Manydown Park no longer exists, as the building was pulled down in the 1960s; however, there are references to Manydown all over the village.

Wootton St Lawrence church is a great place to visit, as it is a church that Jane Austen visited with her friends and where she would have worshipped, had she gone ahead with the engagement. This is also a place where Harris Bigg-Wither is remembered.

I was not able to find Harris' grave, as the names on the tombstones were covered in moss. However, there is a well-preserved memorial plaque to Harris Bigg-Wither inside the church as well as to his family members.

Harris Bigg-Wither's son, Lovelace's memorial plaque. 

Harris Bigg Wither's memorial stone

The memorial reads as follows:

"To the memory of Harris Bigg Wither Esq
Of Manydown 
A Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Southampton 
Who died at Tangier about midnight March 23rd 1833 
In the 52nd year of his age.

A man 
Whose heart was full of heart and tender feeling,
Whose words were few and faithful 
And who, with the most sparing display of profession 
Endeavoured by God's grace 
To prove his faith sincerely and unostentatiously 
by his works.
Visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction 
And keeping himself unspotted from the world. 

It pleased God to remove him from his family 
By a sudden call 
As they humbly hope to that eternal life 
Which is the gift of god through Jesus Christ. 

In testimony of their love, and their sorrow, "not without hope"
His widow and their ten children 
Lovelace, Harris, Margaret, William, Walter, 
Jane, Anne, Elizabeth, Marianne and Charles 
Unite in placing this stone 
Near the mortal remains of 
A most affectionately indulgent husband and father. 

Be ye also ready:
Anne Howe, his widow died Nov 13th, 1866 aged 83. 
"Her children arise up, and call her blessed". 

Based on this recount, put in more modern words, Harris sounds like a very quiet, painfully shy but kind man who was an honest, modest and caring family man. 

Interestingly, one of his children was called Jane!

There is also an engraving of Manydown Park on one of the church windows, barely visible in this photo.

As I drove through the leafy country roads on the Manydown estate, I imagined Jane thinking (like Elizabeth in P & P ch. 43), "Of this place... I might have been mistress!"

Still, I somehow feel that she would have been happier with her six children, as she called her great novels, rather than as a mother of 10 children and as a wife of a shy, reticent clergyman, with no literary achievement to call her own. 


Townsend, T. (2014) Jane Austen's Hampshire. Halsgrove.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Adventures Around Jane Austen's Neighbourhood

After my visit to Steventon, I decided to explore some of the neighbouring villages in connection with Jane Austen and her family. I used Terry Townsend's fascinating picture book, "Jane Austen's Hampshire", as a guide to the area - I really recommend his book if you ever wish to learn more about the area around Steventon.

This map produced by Hidden Britain Tours shows you the areas around Steventon that I explored on my day trip. I have previously visited the villages of Deane and Ashe, as I wrote in my blog from a few years ago, as well as The Vyne (Sherborne St John). This time, I decided to explore somewhere new.

As I left Steventon, I enjoyed the beautiful leafy ride back to the main road (north from Steventon) where I noticed this pub at the crossroads, Deane Gate Inn.

Deane Gate Inn is a seventeenth-century inn, which used to function as a coaching inn at the time of Jane Austen. I'm not sure if the pub is still in business, as the building looked rather dilapidated to be quite honest. The road opposite the inn takes you to Deane, whose parish George Austen was also in charge of and where Jane visited friends on foot.

Stagecoaches to London would use the road through Deane twice a day, and Jane's family members would often walk here to catch a stagecoach to Basingstoke. It is known that Jane's brother, Charles, would sometimes find the coach full and had to walk back home disappointed. Jane would not have travelled in a stagecoach alone, as it was not considered appropriate transport for ladies travelling alone. "I want to go in a stagecoach, but Frank will not let me", wrote Jane.

I then stopped at Overton, a small, lively town closer to Andover.

Overton is a town where Jane sometimes went shopping and, according to Townsend, in 1798 there were five grocers, a fishmonger, butcher, and a mercer selling textiles, a glazier and a clockmaker in the town.

Jane wrote to Cassandra on 25 November 1798, "The Overton Scotchman has been kind enough to rid me of some of my money, in exchange for six shifts and four pair of stockings." The Overton Scotchman she referred to was was John Irving, a mercer with whom the Austens probably had an account. The shop was unfortunately pulled down some years ago and now houses a Domino's pizza takeaway :)

Overton also had two principal coaching inns, one of which still exists, the White Hart (above). Jane must have been very familiar with this inn. The building is charming, with old beams still visible inside the building, as well as the stables, which has been converted into some guest accommodation. I had a lovely leisurely drink at the pub before setting off on my next adventure.

I then went to visit St Mary's Church (above), where Jane's oldest brother, James, took up his first job as curate in 1790. James lived in the Old Rectory (below) until his marriage to Anne Mathew two years later. Anne's brother was vicar at Overton.

The couple then moved to the elegant Court Farm House across the road (below), which was a much more spacious home. Quite an inviting prospect, isn't it?

The couple then had a baby, but unfortunately James very soon became a widow. He later married Mary Lloyd, and they moved to Deane and eventually Steventon where he became vicar following the retirement of George Austen.

On the way back, I visited Oakley, a charming little village closer to Basingstoke. The village is is picturesque, with several thatched cottages and a pond.

Jane came here to shop at a haberdasher's. She often gave gifts as a form of charity and, on the 25th October, 1800, she wrote, "At Oakley, we bought ten pair of worsted stockings and a shift; the shift is for Betty Dawkins, as we find she wants it more than a rug; she is one of the most grateful of all whom Edward's charity has reached".

I also stopped at Oakley Hall on the way, which was a place very familiar to Jane Austen. Now a luxury hotel, the manor house was built in 1795 and home to the Branston family who Jane Austen socialised with and whose home she mentions in her letters. Jane wrote to Cassandra (in the same letter), "On Thursday we walked to Deane, yesterday to Oakley Hall and Oakley, and to-day to Deane again. At Oakley we did a great deal - ate some sandwiches all over mustard, admired Mr Bramston's porter, and Mr Bramston's transparencies...".

Jane was a great walker, as walking was one of the only forms of exercise accessible to ladies.

The road leading up to Oakley Hall was very scenic.

The building itself has changed somewhat since Jane visited there. A second storey and the carriage porch, as seen in the picture, were added in the 1860s.

Some believe that Jane was inspired to create the character of Lady Bertram  (Mansfield Park) based on Mrs Bramston. Mrs Bramston read Mansfield Park and thought Lady Bertram like herself. She "preferred it to either of the others - but imagined THAT might be her want of Taste, as she does not understand Wit." Augusta Bramston, on the other hand, did not enjoy Mansfield Park at all, as Jane wrote in her letter: "she thought S & S and P & P downright nonsense, but expected to find MP better; having finished the 1st vol. - flattered herself she had got through the worst". People seem to have been very direct with their feedback at the time of Jane Austen!

I am intrigued to see the interiors of the hotel - perhaps at some point, I will go and have an afternoon tea at the hotel. It would be lovely to stay there, too, relaxing on a chaise-longue a la Lady Bertram and take in the breathtaking view from the hotel, admiring the lush, green slopes that go on for miles...

I will leave you now to admire these views of beautiful rural Hampshire...

(Last, but not the least, I visited Wootton St Lawrence - a fascinating visit with links to Jane Austen's love life. But more about that in the next post!)


Townsend, T. (2014) Jane Austen's Hampshire. Halsgrove.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Uncovering Steventon Church

A few weeks ago as I was driving past Steventon on the way back from work, I decided to make a diversion to pay my respects to Jane Austen at her birthplace.

I last visited Steventon in the winter when the roads were slippery with sleet, and there was an eerie mist about the village. What a different world it was this time around as Steventon was at its greenest, with lush high hedgerows and green arches of foliage sheltering the roads that lead up to Steventon Church.

This time, I had the opportunity to enter the church where Jane Austen's father, George, preached.I last visited the church a few years ago, but my photos from inside the church were disappointing so I decided to go inside to to try and get some better shots.

There were some memorial plaques for Jane Austen and her family members. Her brother, James, followed George Austen as Rector here and there is also a plaque for his wives, Anne and Mary, and their graves can also be found in the graveyard. William Knight, Jane Austen's nephew, is also well represented here.

There are also memorials to the Digweed family who were tenants on the estate, living in the manor house, and very close friends of the Austens.

Some of these made me feel sad. 

It is wonderful to see some little touches to Jane Austen inside the church, such as these cute pew cushions and a print of her prayer.

I understand that most of the interior of the church is unaltered since Jane worshipped here, but the wall murals date back to the Victorian era.

James and Mary Austen's gravestones in the churchyard.

Whenever I see an old gravestone covered in moss, it makes me feel somewhat downhearted, and I felt like scraping the moss off to reveal the names better and give the Austens their due respect. Steventon is, after all, the birthplace of the Austens who are the most notable family in the entire district of Basingstoke.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Starstruck at Chawton House

It is Regency Week in Alton again, and today I attended a beautiful summer picnic at Chawton House.

Preparations for the picnic...

The picnic was organised by Caroline Jane Knight, a descendant of Jane Austen's brother, Edward, who grew up in the house, in aid of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, founded by Ms Knight. This year, the foundation are raising funds to provide education and resources to a cluster of five schools in impoverished areas of Delhi, India - a very worthy cause close to my own heart, as I have a history of charity work in India. 

The picnic was organised together with the Jane Austen Parade for Literacy, which is the second of its kind. This year, the event attracted far more people, and it was lovely to see so many clad in period attire as well. 

Caroline Jane Knight with Susannah Harker

We assembled at Jane Austen's House, where we met Caroline Jane Knight and *FANFARE* Susannah Harker, who acted Jane Bennet in my favourite version of Pride and Prejudice (1995)! 

I was also excited to meet a fellow blogger, Tony Grant, who writes the fascinating and informative blog, London Calling, for the first time after exchanging ideas through our blogs for the last nine years. Is it really that long since I started Austenised?

                                                      Paying our respects to the statue of Jane Austen at Chawton Church on our way to Chawton House. 

We then walked to Chawton House where our lovely Regency-inspired picnic was served on the lawn in front of Jane's "Great House". What a perfect setting for a summer picnic, especially as we were blessed with good weather after several weeks of downpour. We had a taste of Georgian lemonade, buns filled with cheese and chutney, pork pies (unless you were a vegetarian like myself), ginger biscuits, and a  delicious strawberry tartlet amongst other things - all put together by Caroline Jane Knight after a lot of research into 18th/19th Century dishes. 

We then enjoyed a lovely programme put together by Caroline and Jane Austen superfan Sophie Andrews together with her "Pineapple" society. The highlight of the programme must have been a snippet of the new play created by Susannah Harker and her sister, Nelly. The play is called "The Austen Sisters" , and it is touring theatres this summer. The play features interactions between the two Austen sisters and, and based on the short sample, will certainly be a hilarious but very apt take of Jane and Cassandra. 

Susannah and Nelly Harker as Cassandra and Jane Austen.

Compulsory fan photo (sorry, Susannah!).

With Jeremy Knight, of the Knights of Chawton (Caroline's father).

It was lovely to meet several of my fellow Jane Austen bloggers. Rita L. Watts, one of the Literacy Ambassadors of the foundation, who blogs at All Things Jane Austen, had come all the way from Boston to participate in the Regency Week events. I also met Mira Magdo from Obsessed with Mr Darcy and many more familiar bloggers.

Cass Grafton, Rita L Watts and J. B. Grantham (photo courtesy Rita Watts). 

With Mira Magdo.

We also enjoyed some musical performances and readings done by the brilliant Alison Larkin and the very talented Pineapples, as well as some Regency dancing and games. All in all a very pleasant afternoon, and I will certainly participate again, should the foundation decide to continue the tradition next year. 

The Pineapples showing us the moves.