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Ring in a boxInquiring readers, dear friend Tony Grant (London Calling) has written an article to help jump start my re-entry into blogging. I love this post, for I am a huge Kelly Clarkson fan, and I was happily astounded to learn that she was a Janeite. Who knew that the simple girl from Texas with the huge voice would make it so big in the music industry that one day she would outbid a host of collectors for Jane Austen’s cabochon blue stone ring? Since her winning bid, the ring has lived in limbo, as Tony’s tale will recount, but now it is safely in British hands again, thanks to a committed group of people.

Kelly’s other association with Jane Austen is peripheral. She sang a song for the hit movie, Love Actually, in which a number of actors who starred in Jane Austen films appeared: Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman. I have placed the YouTube video at the bottom of this post. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Tony’s tale.

It is possible that you might have heard about a certain ring that hit the headlines worldwide recently.

American singer Kelly Clarkson, a 31 year old singer from Fort Worth Texas, bought a small gold ring with a smooth turquoise stone set in it at Sotheby’s Auction for around £150, 000. The news hit the headlines because this ring had been the property of Jane Austen. British government officials, the Jane Austen Society and readers of Jane Austen across the known world were aghast.

Kelly Clarkson

A number of issues came to the fore. First, a ring, which is of British national importance, because of its provenance, was about to be taken out of Britain; secondly it was going to a pop star, who although she professed her love of Jane Austen, was really just buying it, because she could. A holding order was placed on the ring by the British Government preventing it leaving the country. A few months were given for a British buyer to raise the funds to purchase it back from Miss Clarkson.

Chawton Cottage houses the Jane Austen House Museum.

Chawton Cottage houses the Jane Austen House Museum.

Chawton Cottage , the home of Jane Austen for the last eight years of her life, came forward to raise the necessary money. An anonymous benefactor provided most of the funds required within a short space of time and petitions and activity,  amongst American, Australian and British Janeites secured the rest. Susannah Fullerton took the lead in Australia and Maggie Sullivan sent out a rallying call in America and Chawton House made clear their aim over here. Janeites from around the world contributed money on the site set up by Chawton Cottage and Kelly Clarkson graciously sold it to Chawton Cottage. The ring will now have associations to Jane Austen, as well as to Miss Clarkson. The whole of the Jane Austen community will feel that they have a part of it because of their contributions. It will truly become a ring owned and loved by all. It has now gained another dramatic layer of history and meaning.

The ring will be on display at Chawton Cottage alongside other pieces of Jewellery, the topaz crosses brought back from a voyage by the Austen’s younger brother, Charles and also a beaded bracelet, also owned by Jane, for all visitors to see.

The Arts Council’s reviewing committee secretary states,

The expert adviser had provided a written submission stating that the gold ring (width 17.5 mm; height 8 mm) set with a turquoise was probably made in the eighteenth century, possibly about 1760-80. In excellent condition, the ring sat in a later nineteenth-century case bearing the name of T. West, Goldsmith of Ludgate Street, London and was accompanied by papers documenting the history of the ring within the family of Jane Austen.”

The gold circle of the ring is 9 carat gold which is rather low in pure gold content and so denotes the ring as being an ordinary piece. The highest carat possible is 23 carat, which is almost 100% gold. It has been assessed because of its design and construction as being made between 1760 and 1780. The ends of the hoop of the ring curve round underneath the bezel. Taken with the thin hoop and simple oval bezel this suggest its date. Jane was born in 1775 so it is evident that the ring was not made for her originally. The provenance of the ring is based solely on letters and documents within the Austen family and only go back to Jane‘s ownership. After her death it went to Cassandra and then passed down through the family. Could it possibly have got to Jane in the same way? A relative dying and passing it on to Jane as a keepsake. It is something that Jane obviously wanted to keep. It’s simplicity and effectiveness would have appealed to her. On her finger it would have had a lustre under candlelight. It would have been something that other people would have noticed at any gathering such as a ball or family event such as Christmas.

Janes ring

Gold itself was not an easy commodity to come by between 1760 and 1780. The American war of Independence which waged between 1775 and 1783 made Gold a rare commodity. It was a vital constituent of the wealth of the nation. Britain had to pay for the War. Much gold came to Britain from Brazil in the 18th century, but because of the European war against France and the War against the colonies in North America getting gold here from South America was not an easy business. Transport ships could be captured or sunk. It pushed the price of gold up. Even 9 carat gold must have been expensive and hard to come by at the time. There were some gold mines in Britain  , at Dollgethlau in Wales, in the low border hills of Scotland and in Cornwall at the Treore mine near Wadebridge, the Carlson veins at Hopes Nose Mine and within the copper veins of Bampfylde, North Molton. The Romans first discovered gold in Wales so there is a long history of gold mining in Britain. It would be good to imagine that the gold in Jane’s ring came from one of the mines in Cornwall. She loved the West Country and had family holidays in Lyme, Sidmouth and Colyton.

There is a turquoise gem set in the ring. Turquoise is meant to be a bringer of good luck. It has been found in the tombs and on the artifacts of many Egyptian Pharaohs and important people. It can change colour under certain circumstances. Turquoise is found all over the world. It is associated with copper mining and indeed Cornwall, where copper has been mined it is also associated with turquoise. Because of the geopolitical state of the world in the 1770’s onward, Cornwall, like the gold in Jane’s ring, is the most likely source of the turquoise. It has also been suggested that the turquoise stone in Jane’s ring might be a special variant called Ondontolite. Ondontolite is also called bone or fossil turquoise. It is a gem formed by the infiltration of surrounding minerals into fossil bones. This would fit with the turquoise stone in Jane’s ring because, Dorset and the West Country have rich fossil deposits.

Jane’s ring is therefore connected to wars, national financial need, geology, the mining industry and mining communities and the lives of their inhabitants, which were being developed exponentially with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, social status, personal attractiveness, social occasions and mystical meaning. A designer designed it and a craftsman made it and a shopkeeper sold it. It is one symbol of economic and social endeavour within an historical context.

In the novels rings and jewellery have their importance and meaning. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia describes how her carriage overtakes the curricle of William Goulding and she lowers the window and lets her ring be seen. Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey looks forward to the day that friends and neighbours will envy her her, “exhibition of hoop rings on her fingers.” These two examples are of characters who show vanity and self-importance but in Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, who receives the present of a small cross from her brother William, is at pains to find just the right simple chain to wear it with and show off her brothers generosity. William cannot afford the chain to go with the cross and Edmund eventually comes to Fanny’s rescue with just the right sort of simple chain for her to wear. The jewellery in the novels  seem to portray elements of character. They show Jane Austen’s understanding of the use of jewellery. This adds to the importance of the turquoise ring that Chawton Cottage have managed to now acquire.

In the Arts Council assessment of the ring, in the part where they describe the provenance of the ring, they describe documentary evidence for it belonging to Jane and various members of her family through the generations.  The report sets out the ownership of the ring after Jane’s death. The other point to be made is the report in the news that the ring is, ” a never seen before ring owned by the novelist Jane Austen.”

The family for generations have kept the ring  to themselves. Jane is one of the most pored over, read about and speculated upon authors in history. The family appeared to want to keep something of her just to themselves, their own private bit of her.

Letter to the next recipient of the ring.

Letter to the next recipient of the ring.

One member of the family in each generation was given guardianship over the ring. So what was special about the keepers of the ring? After Jane’s death Cassandra owned it. She passed it on to her sister in law Eleanor Austen, the second wife of Henry Austen, “as soon as she knew I was engaged to your uncle.” Henry had been Jane’s favourite brother and it was he, whilst a banker living in London, who had arranged for her novels to be published. Eleanor passed it on to Caroline Mary Craven Austen, the daughter of Jane’s brother James. Caroline Austen passed it on to her niece Mary Austen Leigh who passed it on in turn to her niece Mary Dorothy Austen Leigh. Mary Dorothy Austen Leigh then passed it on to her sister Winifred Jenkyns in 1962. Apart from the obvious observation that the ring passed along the female line what else can we deduce? The ring was adapted for the use of somebody with a smaller finger than the original owner. A bar of gold, called a stretcher, has been fitted at a later date, probably by the company T West Goldsmiths of Ludgate Hill which is named on the inside of the box holding the ring. It seems that the ring was worn and not just kept as a memento. This might suggest things about the owner in each generation. A memorial ring, which this is, especially after Jane’s death and passed on through the family, commemorates Jane through generations. The wearer and owner could almost be seen as a surrogate Jane to the family in each generation. It is unlike a memento, such as a piece of furniture or a vase, which is set at a distance from people to be viewed. This ring has a different connection. It was worn on occasions. One wonders what occasions the Austen ancestor in each generation would wear it? When you wear an item belonging to somebody you take on aspects of that person. It’s not just the touching of the object which makes a connection with that person and the past but it is also the using it as they would have used it. They almost, in a way, become that person. A little like an actor wearing a costume,however in a case like this, wearing Jane’s ring would have been much more personal and evocative than merely playing a part.

Durer's image of a rhino

Durer’s image of a rhino

Neil MacGregor, the director of The British Museum, wrote and published “A History of The World in 1000 Objects,” in 2010 and broadcast his readings of the book on BBC radio 4. In his description of the first of his 100 objects, the Mummy of Hornedjitef (circa 240BC), an object taken out of chronological order in MacGregors 100 objects, he uses it as an illustration of how knowledge develops. The interpretation of the mummy has changed as more research has been possible. The Mummy is a vivid example of the work of the academic. Neil MacGregor states that the work of an Archaeologist or Historian is to gather the evidence and make the best of the evidence they can. This changes over time as more evidence emerges but the archaeologist can only do his best with what he has. MacGregor gives Durers portrait of a rhinoceros, drawn in 1515, as an example. Durer had never seen a rhinoceros. He drew his portrait from first hand witness accounts. He did his best with what evidence he had. The drawing is completely wrong. I have used the evidence I have got for Jane’s ring and gathered other evidence to answer questions as they occurred, from various sources but I, like Durer, don’t really know.
Clarkson, had almost the last word. This was her reaction to Chawton Cottage buying the ring from her,

“The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum.”

Chawton actually had the last word. They hoped for a long and fruitful relationship with Kelly and hoped she would visit the ring at the cottage.

Kelly Clarkson wears a facsimile of Jane Austen's ring at a concert.

Kelly Clarkson wears a facsimile of Jane Austen’s ring at a concert. Image @Mirror News

Everybody appears to be friends!!!

Here’s Kelly’s song in Love Actually, The Trouble With Love Is, with scenes from the film

Mirror News: Kelly Clarkson Jane Austen ring row

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Tony Grant’s recent pictorial visit to Chawton was so popular that I thought you would like to see the village in which Jane Austen lived out the last years of her life. You might want to reference Tony’s images with the ones below, which were taken with Google maps. After I made these, I felt as if I had traveled to Hampshire for a pleasant hour or so. Interestingly, the seasons go back and forth, from late summer to early November.  At times you will see full foliage and at other times the scene was shot in the middle of fall.

Winchester Road to Chawton

Winchester Road to Chawton from A31. You can see the signpost marking the village.

Chawton sits in Hampshire, not far from Alton, Steventon, and Winchester, all familiar Jane Austen places.

Chawton sits in Hampshire, not far from Alton, Steventon, and Winchester, all familiar Jane Austen places.

Lovely narrow lanes

Lovely narrow lanes. Click on the images for a larger version.

Approaching Chawton Cottage on the left and Cassandra's Cup Tea Room, the white building in the distance

Approaching Chawton Cottage behind the tree on the left and Cassandra’s Cup Tea Room, the cream colored building in the middle distance. If you turned right, you would be going to Chawton House, Edward Austen Knight’s residence. But we will be turning left.

Chawton Cottage coming into full view, along with the cross roads sign

Chawton Cottage coming into full view on the left, along with the cross roads sign. Check Tony Grant’s images in the previous post for more details.

This is a slightly different angle of the scene, as if we were arriving from Chawton House.

This is a slightly different angle of the scene, as if we were arriving from Chawton House.

A view of the cottage and garden from Cassandra's Cup tea house.

A view of the cottage and garden from Cassandra’s Cup tea house.

The next few scenes show Chawton Cottage from many angles.

The next few scenes show Chawton Cottage from many angles. This one gives a view into the street and down the village. You can see how close the dining parlor window is to the street and sidewalk (to the right of the door.) This is where Jane Austen wrote and revised her novels.

The following text comes from the 1901 travel book, Hampshire, With the Isle of Wight by George Albemarle Bertie Dewar, John Vaughan. Their description of Jane Austen shows how successfully her family had whitewashed her image as a sweet spinster in whose life not much had happened. I thought you might enjoy reading it as you viewed the rest of my virtual trip through Chawton.

The cottage up close

The cottage up close, with bricked up window on the east side of the drawing room and plaques in honor of Jane Austen. Tourists exit from the garden to the left of the house.

A mile south of Alton is Chawton village. Jane Austen, the writer of the pure sweet stories which at the present time are loved better even than they were when Scott and Macaulay and Lewis sounded their praises, lived with her family at Chawton from 1809 to 1817.”

Few photos capture this angle of the cottage, which has always made me curious.

Few photos capture this angle of the cottage, which has always made me curious. The visitor’s entrance is to the right, through the gate, towards the outbuildings. The gift shop is housed in the brick building to your immediate right.

The house is still standing. Part of it has been made into a workman’s club, whilst the remainder is occupied by three families of working people, but it has been altered a good deal since her time. In the church there is a tablet to the memory of some members of the Austen family, Cassandra Elizabeth and her brothers. Jane Austen was quite a Hampshire woman.”

A view of the gardens.

A view of the gardens and a clear view of the yew trees.

She was born at Steventon near Oakley in December 1775, and lived there till twenty-five years old. I went to see Steventon one day in the summer of 1899, and found it the sleepiest little spot one could imagine. The country is green and leafy, but the scenery is without distinction: there are no hills to speak of, no beautiful troutstreams, no fine old houses, no stately parks. The old parsonage where Jane Austen was born has gone, and there are no remains whatever of her or her family at Steventon.”

Continuing through the village and away from the cottage.

Continuing through the village and away from the cottage, still on Winchester Road. One can imagine the coaches and wagons rattling by the window near Jane’s writing desk.

The spired church in which her father held service stands a little distance from the village at the edge of a hazel and oak coppice. It was in this quiet nook, seven or eight miles from the nearest town, that Jane Austen at twentyone years of age began to write that perfect story “Pride and Prejudice.” In 1797 she was at work on “Sense and Sensibility,” and in 1798 completed “Northanger Abbey.”

You can imagine Jane and Cassandra walking a mile through the village to get to Alton, where they could shop.

Jane and Cassandra walked a mile north through the village to get to Alton, where they could shop.

Where in the world did she get her knowledge of human nature—a knowledge so great that Macaulay was almost ready to extol her as the Shakespeare of her sex? What life could she have seen about Steventon a hundred years ago? In 1801 Jane went to Bath, and in 1805 to Southampton, where the family had rooms in Castle Street: in 1807, as we have seen, the Austens settled at Chawton, and four years after the story “Sense and Sensibility” was published, being followed by “Pride and Prejudice” and “Mansfield Park.”

Looking back, you can see a different approach to Chawton Cottage. In this scene, it would be towards your right.

Looking back, you can see a different approach to Chawton Cottage. In this scene, it would be towards your right around the bend.

In 1817 her health broke down and she removed to rooms in College Street, Winchester, and died there the same year. The memorials of Jane Austen are but few, and it is clear that her life was uneventful. It has been said that the woman without a history is the happier. The life of Jane Austen, like her death, was placid; there is here no record of harrowing anguish, or anxiety, such as we find in the story of that strong sufferer Mrs. Oliphant. Nor in the scant materials which have been left for a “life,” could the biographer find anything in the nature of a sad love-affair.”

No wonder Jane Austen was inspired to write in this pretty and quaint setting, so quintessentially British. Hope you enjoyed your short trip.

No wonder Jane Austen was inspired to write in this pretty and quaint setting, so quintessentially British. Up ahead and to the right is Wolff’s Lane. This concludes my short trip through Chawton.

Serenity is the word that best describes her career: and in this Jane Austen may remind one of Gilbert White, who was spending his happy days at Selborne when at Steventon, only about fifteen miles off as the crow flies, she was doing her French exercises and getting her first insight into the little world around her. She has given us a small but very choice portrait gallery of masterpieces. The irresistible Elizabeth, as easy to fall in love with as Scott’s Di Vernon, the alluring if sometimes rather irritating Emma, the worldly but very human Constance—they live and move to-day. You should read Jane Austen after one of the unwholesome, much-boomed, ephemeral novels of to-day, as Dean Stanley read his “Guy Mannering” to take the nasty taste out of his mouth. Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral, where she is to have at length a worthy memorial.”

Sattelite view of Chawton Cottage with its walled in garden and outbuildings. Click here to see the image of the village from satellite.

Sattelite view of Chawton Cottage with its walled in garden and outbuildings. Click here to see the image of the village from satellite. On the left you can see a narrow footpath between the hedges.

Oh, those Victorians and their simplistic view of Jane Austen. Hope you enjoyed the 112 year old description of Jane’s life as well. In the image below you can see the short trip, which started on the Winchester Road (which started on the left, below A31), then turned left at Jane Austen’s house, and ended at Wolff’s Lane, which turns right and parallels with A31 at the top of the image. Alton would have been a mile up the street and NW of the cottage. Chawton House would have been too much of a walk for Mrs. Austen. I imagine that Edward must have sent his carriage to his mother and sisters when they came to visit.

A Walk Map

View a contemporary watercolor of the village in this article by Joan Austen-Leigh, Chawton Cottage Transfigured

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Inquiring Readers, Tony Grant visited Chawton on his way to Southampton on a gorgeous day in early March and sent on these photos. Below his recent images, I added a few that he took several years ago of the cottage’s interior. Enjoy.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by. Image @Tony Grant

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane's brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden.

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane’s brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden. Image @Tony Grant

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road, and the fancier window facing the garden.

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road and afforded little privacy, and the fancier window facing the garden. Image @Tony Grant

Life in the village didn’t offer much in the way of variety. Edward’s windows created a lively scenario, in which a curious Mrs. Austen, upon hearing a commotion (or carriage), would rush from the drawing room to the dining room to watch the goings on.

View from the garden.

View from the garden. One sees how close the village houses are opposite the cottage. Image @Tony Grant

View of the garden

View of the garden. What a lovely spot to sit and reread one’s writing, or plot one’s novel. Image @Tony Grant

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

One is impressed with the coziness of this village and how easy it must have been for Jane and Cassandra to get around on foot.

Cassandra's Tea Room, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors.

Cassandra’s Tea Room, across Chawton Cottage, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors. Image @Tony Grant

Cassandra's Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

Cassandra’s Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

During Tony’s previous visits, he took photographs of the garden in summer and the village and other cottages.

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose.  Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane's and Cassandra's shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane’s and Cassandra’s shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond  pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. The china ware, which once belonged to Edward, has since been auctioned off. You can just glimpse her writing table with pen at the far right. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane's room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane’s room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

This image was taken by Keith Mallet and sent to me in 2009. It is a view of the outbuildings from Jane’s bedroom window.

View from Jane's window. Image @Keith Mallet

View from Jane’s window. Image @Keith Mallet

More on the topic:

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Gentle Readers, these fantastic images are by Tony Grant from London Calling. The text are quotations from the fabulous Chawton House Library site.  This site is rich with information and history. I am so impressed with the section on chickens, which were rescued and given a chicken-friendly coop for roosting and free ranging. The horses are magnificent as well. Sandy Lerner has done a magnificent job of turning this once ruin of a house into an historic library and museum. As Tony’s images show, this house is a world treasure .

Drive leading to Chawton House. Image @Tony Grant

In April 1551, the land was sold for £180 to John Knight, whose family had been tenant farmers in Chawton since the thirteenth century and who had prospered sufficiently to wish to acquire a large estate.

Front entrance. Image @Tony Grant

The medieval manor house was replaced by John Knight’s grandson, also called John, with the largely Elizabethan house that can be seen today.  – History

Window detail. Image @Tony Grant

Eaves. Image @Tony Grant

Climbing shrub. Image @Tony Grant

Side view with side door. Image @Tony Grant

In 1781, Thomas Knight II inherited, but when he and his wife Catherine showed no sign of having children of their own, they adopted a son of the Reverend George Austen, who was a cousin of Thomas Knight’s.

Edward is introduced to the Knights. Image @Chawton House Library

Edward Austen Knight eventually took over management of the estates at Godmersham and Chawton in 1797, living mostly at Godmersham and letting the Great House at Chawton to gentlemen tenants.

Chawton Cottage, where Jane Austen lived. Image@Tony Grant

In 1809 he offered a house in the village to his mother and two sisters Cassandra and Jane, and it was there that Jane Austen began the most prolific period of her writing life.

Image @Tony Grant

Sandy Lerner. Image @The Telegraph

By 1987, when Richard Knight inherited, parts of the house were derelict, the roof leaked, timbers were rotting and the gardens were overgrown with scrub. The decline was halted in 1993 with the sale of a 125 year lease to a new charity, Chawton House Library, founded by the American entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sandy Lerner, via the charitable foundation established by her and her husband Leonard Bosack, the Leonard X. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Foundation.

Kitchen garden entrance. Image @Tony Grant

The grounds and gardens at Chawton House Library continue to be in the process of restoration although a great deal has already been achieved. The focus of the restoration is the English landscape period of the eighteenth century together with Edward Austen Knight’s early nineteenth-century additions of walled kitchen garden, shrubberies and parkland. – The estate

Kitchen gardens. Image @Tony Grant

The Library Terrace was built between 1896 and 1910 (probably in 1904-05) by Montagu Knight (1844-1914). The terrace was actually an Arts & Crafts addition and almost certainly influenced by Edwin Lutyens.

Going round the back of the house. Image @Tony Grant

View from the gardens. Image @Tony Grant

Gravel paths are not typical of the English Landscape period and were probably introduced by Edward Knight II (1794-1879).

View from one of the gravel paths. Image @Tony Grant

According to Montagu Knight, the brick Upper Terrace was built in 1901. In the early twentieth century this was a broad grass terrace with a central gravel path, recently uncovered.

Image @Chawton House Library

In Jane Austen’s time, the kitchen garden was located to the north of the Rectory (opposite the current entrance to Chawton House). Edward Austen Knight had the idea to build a new walled garden during his sister’s lifetime: in 1813, Jane Austen wrote to her brother Frank:

‘[h]e [Edward Austen Knight] talks of making a new Garden; the present is a bad one & ill situated, near Mr Papillon’s; — he means to have the new, at the top of the Lawn behind his own house’.

However, her brother’s plans did not come to fruition until after her death in 1817. – The estate

The grounds. Image @Tony Grant

The farm buildings. Image @Tony Grant

The fields. One can see the horses. Image @Tony Grant

The Wilderness dates from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and was originally set out geometrically with trees in straight rows, a practice which was later dropped. It survived the English Landscape improvements.

St. Nicholas Church. Image @Tony Grant

Church Copse. This area to the rear of St. Nicholas Church was cleared between 1999 and 2000, revealing the Knight family pet cemetery and the rear lychgate into the churchyard. Of particular interest in this area are the several large, important eighteenth-century lime trees and a yew tree, probably from the same period. – The estate

Image @Tony Grant

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Gentle Readers: Jane Austen Pilgrimage III: Jane Austen House Museum and the Writing Class I Took There is Christ Steward’s third post on her travels to England last summer. The author of the blog, Embarking on a Course of Study, Chris has been closely examining the life and novels of Jane Austen for well over a year.

We arrive at the magical day I’d been dreaming of for many years!

The day after my visit to Winchester I woke up in my charming little room at the Alton Grange so happy because I’d slept well but I had the best day of all ahead of me: a visit to the Jane Austen House Museum – Jane’s home – also known as Chawton Cottage.

This is where Jane’s writing life came back to life, after the grief over her father’s death and moving around to several places in Bath, the rectory in Adlestrop and also Stoneleigh Abbey. Finally she had a place that felt like home again—peaceful, beautiful, with a garden she loved. And it was here that she resurrected previous work and wrote new novels that were subsequently published, two posthumously.

It was a gorgeous day!

I thought I could take a taxi to Chawton (the map on the Jane Austen House Museum – JAHM from now on – site wasn’t at all clear about how to walk there, in my opinion. It looks easy, but once you’re standing there with the map and no real street signage, it’s not), but there was some conference in the area that was monopolizing all of them so I took the bus right outside the hotel.

I was told too late about the taxi problem to catch the right bus, so had to wait an hour for the next, fretting, I don’t mind telling you, all the while about how late I would be for the class. It started at 11:00 and the bus didn’t come until 10:50. I really didn’t want to walk in late to the class and miss anything.

But, lucky me, the bus driver was the same gentleman who had dropped me off the night before! I told him where I was going and he said he’d get me as close as he could, which he did. I was dropped off at a roundabout (middle of nowhere it looked like) and told to cross it to the other side and keep going.

To read more about the visit, the class, a charming tearoom, visiting Cassandra’s grave: http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

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Gentle Readers, With this article we once again benefit from Tony Grant’s expertise as a tour guide in England. He has written a lovely post about Steventon Rectory and its influence on Jane Austen’s description of Barton Cottage in Sense and Sensibility.

Does Barton Cottage, the cottage that Mrs Dashwood, Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, retreat to and which is located in Devon, just north of Exeter, owe much to Steventon in Hampshire, Jane’s first home?

Elinor ( Emma Thompson) and Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones) in front of Barton Cottage. Sense and Sensibility, 1995

I recently went to Steventon again, the birthplace of Jane Austen and where she spent her formative years until the age of twenty six. Steventon was where she thought she would spend the rest of her life. As soon as she was born she was sent to live with a family in the village. The mother of the household she was sent to became Jane’s wet nurse. Mrs Austen had nothing to do with her children as babies. This might provide an explanation for Jane’s aversion towards her mother as she grew older but it also explains that her attachment to Steventon was not just through her own family and the rectory but it was linked to the wider community and she had very close ties to some of the villagers.

Row of cottages in Steventon. Image @Tony Grant

Steventon is set in a small Hampshire valley about five miles south west of Basingstoke, the nearest large town. When you visit Steventon today there are a few cottages and houses, not dissimilar in number to Jane’s days and a cross roads that has a cluster of old cottages, some of them terraced, set in a beautiful verdant landscape of fields and trees and gently rising downland.

The Dashwood women see Barton Cottage for the first time. Sense and Sensibility, 2008.

“a view of Barton Valley as they entered it gave them cheerfulness. It was a pleasant fertile spot, well wooded and rich in pasture.”

The site of the Rectory at Steventon. You can see the fence that surrounds the pump in back of the tree. Image @Tony Grant

Take the fork at the cross roads along the valley and within a few hundred yards you come to a lane that branches off to the right, almost hidden by bushes and trees. If you can stop at this corner and look into the field on the right, there are two or three tall mature trees , sycamore and ash, and next to one tree is a rustic wooden fenced area with an old water pump in the centre. This is the site of Steventon Rectory, Jane’s old home. The pump is presumed to be the pump the Austens had in their back yard. This rectory had become derelict, and was demolished by Edward Austen Knight when his son, William Knight, took over as vicar of Steventon.  When George Austen retired, he moved Jane, Cassandra and their mother to Bath. James Austen became the new vicar until his death in 1819, when Henry Austen stepped into the position.

The pump. Relic at Steventon Rectory. Illustration by Ellen G. Hill, 1923.

Edward had the new rectory built in the valley in fields on the opposite side of the road.  It still stands today, a fine white house on the sunny side of the valley facing south east.

Steventon House, built by Jane's brother Edward c. 1820-22. Image @Jane Austen Today

Behind the site of the original rectory where Jane lived there is a grassy meadow sloping steeply upwards for a quarter of mile to where her father’s church, St Nicholas, is situated next to a large house where the Digweeds lived. Jane, Cassandra and her brothers often scrambled up the hill behind their rectory to play with the Digweed children.They were some of their childhood friends. There are cultivated fields, meadows and woody areas all around, especially on the top of the hill near the Digweeds home behind the rectory site.

Site of the Steventon Rectory today. The fenced in pump is at left.

“The situation of the house was good. High hills rose immediately behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open downs, the other cultivated and woody.”

The rectory Jane lived in would have been quite spacious because at least seven children lived there, five of her six brothers, herself and her sister Cassandra as well as her mother and father, a couple of servants and for much of the year, sons of some of the local gentry who sent their boys to the Reverend Austen for education and entry to Oxford or Cambridge. Oxford had been the Reverend Austen’s university. Her brother George did not live with the family however because of his disabilities. He was virtually adopted by another family who cared for him. Whether it was for financial gain I am not sure. So the rectory must have been spacious.

“Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind. On each side of the entrance was a sitting room about sixteen feet square; and beyond them were the offices and the stairs. Four bedrooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house.”

Cottage of local stone. Image @Tony Grant

Barton cottage doesn’t resemble the rectory from this description but Jane must have used her knowledge of cottages in the area of Steventon. Jane is very precise about the size of the two sitting rooms, sixteen feet square. The cottage is used in a special way within the novel. She describes it as being , “defective.” This is symbolic of the situation Elinor, Marianne and their mother are in. They are experiencing fractured times and are out of place financially, socially and the cottage they have come to, places them in a different strata of society than they are accustomed to. From the exact dimensions of the sitting rooms Jane Austen gives us, aren’t those rooms too small to socialise in the manner they are used to? It is a,”defective,” place on many levels and it’s not like other cottages.

Cottage without honeysuckle. Image @Tony Grant

Jane would have been very familiar with the traditional country cottage but she makes Barton Cottage different, almost an eye sore, bare of climbing honeysuckle and green painted windows. Mrs Dashwood has plans for it, to change it and develop it. But can these come to fruition? Can the cottage be developed and grow? Can the Dashwood sisters adapt, develop and grow ? Does Barton owe much to Steventon? I would say so. Steventon formed Jane’s knowledge and experience of cottages and she used that knowledge of how cottages are and the meaning in social class and wealth different cottages might portray to incorporate the cottage at Barton into the fabric and meaning of Sense and Sensibility.

Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

Hampshire cottages:
If you ever visit Hampshire and pass through the countryside you will see a variety of types and styles of cottage. Cottages have always been built with local materials readily at hand.

Clay tile roofs. Image @Tony Grant

In the Cotswolds you will find most villages made from Cotswold stone and roofed with tiles sliced from the same stone. This is a creamy yellow colour. Climbing roses, wisteria, lichen and mosses have had plenty of time to insinuate themselves into and on these mellow warm coloured buildings.

Roses round the door. Image @Tony Grant

Hampshire, with its oak, elm and ash forests has many timber frame cottages. Great beams of wood cut from massive oaks have been merely incorporated into the frame and the spaces between the oak beamed framework filled with wattle and daub.

Cottage with wattle and daub. Image @Tony Grant

Wattle and daub being made from woven ash fencing and plastered with a mixture of cow dung, lime and straw. (Click here for a video.)

The oldest building in Winchester is made with wattle and daub. Image @Tony Grant

The roofs are thatched with reeds or wheat stalks. Some have clay tiles where local clay deposits provide the raw material and Hampshire brick works do the work of firing the tiles.

Thatched cottages. Image @Tony Grant

Many buildings are made of flint. Hampshire has large areas of chalk downland. Within the chalk are found nodules of flint.

Winchester College Shield erected on a wall made with flint building material. Click on photo for a larger image. Image @Tony Grant

Nobody is quite sure how flint is formed in the chalk but it is a very hard crystalline rock, glassy in substance. It has been one of the most versatile materials ever.

More thatched cottages. Image @Tony Grant

Stone age man used it for axes, arrow heads, scrapers and knives. It has been used and is still used to build strong walls. Flint lock muskets used tiny bits of flint fixed into their firing mechanism to create a spark which ignited the gunpowder to propel the musket ball down the barrel. Flint can be struck against flint or metal to create a spark to light a fire.

Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

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Dancing With Mr. Darcy is a fabulous book. A book reviewer isn’t supposed to reveal an opinion right away, but I have many reasons for liking this compilation, which began as a short story competition in 2009 sponsored by Chawton House Library to celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s arrival in the Hampshire village of Chawton. This was a momentous occasion in Jane’s life, for she would enjoy her most productive years there.

Dancing with Mr. Darcy is great for bed time reading.

When my head hits the pillow, I can stay awake for 20 minutes at the most. That’s just the right amount of time to savor one of these stories, which is between 2,000-2,500 words in length, reflect upon it, and turn off the light. The book will remain on your bedstand for at least 20 nights if you stick to this schedule. But here’s the kicker: It’s hard to put down.

The stories are truly original.

The inspiration for these stories was taken from any theme in Jane Austen’s novels, like a character or single sentence. Authors could also draw upon Chawton House, an Elizabethan mansion, as their muse. Whatever they decided, they were encouraged to get their creative juices flowing. And were they ever!

The book opens with a story inspired by Chawton and a dead Jane Austen crossing the River Styx . She is accused in a Higher Court by the older female characters she created for wilfully portraying them as manipulative harpies and scolds. I wondered how author Victoria Owen would resolve this curious plot, but it ended beautifully and logically. Another story that drew my attention was Felicity Cowie’s ‘One Character in Search of Her Love Story Role‘, in which the central charcter, Hannah Peel, a contemporary heroine, finds her voice by interacting with classic literary heroines, including Jane Bennet and Jane Eyre.

Fresh voices are given an opportunity to shine.

Unknown authors do not often get to compete in a public forum for an opportunity to have their work published with the backing of a prestigious institution. I read the short biographies at the end of the book, and while many of the authors took creative writing or majored in English, some are still students, one lives on a farm, another is a book reviewer, several are scholars, another is a math and science teacher, and yet another was educated to be a lady. With such a variety of backgrounds, it is no wonder that the stories are not clichéd.

Many of the tales had contemporary settings, and there were times that I had to puzzle out just what their connection was to Jane Austen or Chawton house. Like all compilations, I preferred some stories over others, such as Kelly Brendel’s Somewhere, inspired by a passage in Mansfield Park, and Eight Years Later, which is Elaine Grotefeld’s take of love lost and found again in the mode of Persuasion.

Jane Austen would have approved.

The variety of the stories, and their excellence and fresh approach to the Austenesque genre makes this book stand out from the pack. Jane Austen would have approved of their original plots, their intelligent writing, and the variety of ideas that sprang from the original impetus. These twenty stories were selected from 300 submissions, and one can only imagine how many good stories barely missed the cut.

Sarah Waters at Chawton House, July 2009. Image @Chawton House

In a different way, I found this compilation equally as thrilling as A Truth Universally Acknowledged, edited by Susannah Carson, a book of critical insights by famous authors about Jane Austen that I adored and reviewed late last year. Stories that are judged, weighted, or juried tend to have an edginess and contemporary bite that attract me.

In this instance, the stories were judged by a Chair judge, Sarah Waters, the author of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, and a panel of judges: BBC journalist Lindsay Ashford; author Mary Hammond; Rebecca Smith (five-times great niece of Jane Austen, descended through her brother Frances); and freelance editor Janet Thomas.

The book is available today at your local or online bookseller. Run, don’t walk to obtain your own copy. I give it three out of three Regency fans and then some.

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