JANE AUSTEN’S ENGLAND (F)


This is essay is number six, in a series of twelve, about places associated with Jane Austen, although it does not claim to be a definitive gazeteer.

F. THE WARWICKSHIRE AVON AND THE COTSWOLDS

Given that Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) lived in the pre-railway age, she managed to visit quite a large number of places in England, travelling by horse-drawn coaches and carriages. However, the farthest north that she managed to reach was the village of Hamstall Ridware in Staffordshire (2).


Maggie Lane, (Ref B) in describing Blaise Castle, (Essay E) and discussing Catherine Morland, the naïve heroine of Northanger
Abbey, speculates on the possible whereabouts of this imaginary Abbey. “From the distances and directions given, Northanger must lie within the triangle bounded by Tetbury Cirencester Stroud,” (Ref B). This triangle is shown on the map of the Cotswolds (2).

I seem to recall that Henry Tilney, son of the Northanger Abbey family, said that it was near Swindon, which is something one would rather keep quiet about, nowadays. In Jane Austen’s day Swindon was just a sleepy market town. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Swindon had become an industrial town with a railway works, manufacturing locomotives for the Great Western Railway Company.

(ii) Adlestrop

“From Clifton, in July 1806, Jane Austen, her mother and sister proceeded to Adlestrop, where they stayed not at Adlestrop Park (3), but at the Rectory. This was unlikely to have been Jane’s first visit. Adlestrop Park was, so to speak, Mrs Austen’s ancestral home. It had belonged to her branch of the Leigh family since the Reformation; her father had been born there, and during her lifetime it had passed successively to her uncle, her cousin, and her cousin’s son.” (Ref B)


“Jane Austen rarely praised the older generation of her relations; with affection, so the summer visit of 1806 must have been very agreeable. In terms of their surroundings, there, was everything to make it so. The Cotswold countryside has a claim to be among the loveliest in England, its golden stone buildings most in harmony with nature. From the Rectory there is a superb view of the rolling landscape of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.” (Ref B)

The name, “Adlestrop” is better-known to most English readers through the poem, written in the summer of 1914, by Edward Thomas. When I visited Adlestrop, in the 1990s, it was because of the poem, which I find intensely moving, rather than for the association with Jane Austen, of which I was unaware at the time.

The poem is of four stanzas, but only the first one is quoted here. (Ref C)

“Yes, I remember Adlestrop–

The name, because one afternoon

Of heat the express train drew up there

Unwontedly. It was late June”

The poem speaks of days that are now over; the railway line is still there, but the station has gone, closed in 1966 as a result of the “Beeching Axe” on supposedly uneconomic branch lines and stations. Today the old railway station’s sign is mounted on the bench at the village bus stop (4).


Although the old Rectory of Adlestrop, at which Jane Austen and her family stayed, (5) is still in existence, as Adlestrop House, it seems that the much grander Adlestrop Park has not survived. I could find no reference to it, and the detailed satellite images show no large building in the village, despite the church and rectory showing clearly at the end of Main Street.


(ii) Daylesford

“A house of extreme interest to the Austen family, which Jane must have visited, was Daylesford, less than two miles from Adlestrop (2), the home of Warren Hastings.” (Ref B) The Hastings family were a part of the old nobility of England, and William Hastings appears in Shakespeare’s “Richard III” as a supporter of the king. Warren Hasting was a very successful career colonial administrator, finally rising to become Governor-General of India in 1774.

He spent a lot of money on the design and decoration of the new Daylesford in the late eighteenth century. As a result of his time in India, he employed an architect, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, of the East India Company, so that the house has many Indian features, most notably the Moorish dome (6).


The house passed out of the possession of the Hastings family in 1853, and has had a chequered history. (See Ref E) It is now owned by Sir Anthony Bamford of the well-known JCB Company. Although it is not open to the public, a wealth of illustrated interior detail is present in the website, “The Devoted Classist” run by Carole and Anthony Bamford. Details of public access to the grounds are also given there.

(iv) Cheltenham

As earlier essay E suggests, Gloucestershire was one of Jane Austen’s favourite counties, and her last visit seems to have been in May 1816, when she was thirty-one. She was accompanied by her sister, Cassandra, and is believed to have been persuaded to try Cheltenham, for its spa waters, on account of her failing health. At the time, Cheltenham was something of a rival To Bath and it had accumulated a series of fine new classical buildings (7), and had been patronised by King George III in 1788, nearly thirty years earlier than Jane’s visit.

As Maggie Lane sagely observes, “Cheltenham, which has grown and changed far more since Jane Austen knew it than either Bath or Clifton, was then just a simple summer resort, consisting of little more than a very long High Street.” (Ref B)


(v) Warwickshire

During the eventful summer of 1806, Jane, with her mother and sister, continued further north, into the county of Warwickshire, (see map 2). Jane’s mother, born Cassandra Leigh, came of a family who had been landed gentry for 300 years. Sir Thomas Leigh, Lord Mayor of London, during the reign of Elizabeth I, in the 16 C, had two sons; one was based in Adlestrop in Gloucestershire; the other at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire.

Mrs Austen had arranged to stay with her relatives in the Rectory of Stoneleigh, but surprising events had occurred. Due to a death in the family in July 1806, the great house of Stoneleigh Abbey had now been inherited by the Rev Thomas Leigh, “who who had all his life been a poor relation, obliged to live in an indifferent rectory, while first his brother and then his nephew occupied the great house next door, was eager to take occupation of Stoneleigh. He had already visited his new home once, briefly, before his Austen cousins arrived at Adlestrop; at the beginning of August he set off again, taking them with him.” (Ref B)


“It was a fascinating deviation for Jane, introducing her to a new county and to two other extremely ‘ancient edifices’ besides Stoneleigh itself, which, with its combination of old and new, was curiously like her own Northanger – but even more magnificent.

Stoneleigh was a Cistercian abbey, belonging to that order notable for their careful husbandry. The foundation stone had been laid in 1155, ranged about a quadrangle, acquiring, in the course of nearly 400 years of prosperity and growth, all the usual appurtenances of an abbey – chapter-house and cloister, warming room and dormitory, gatehouse and hospitium.


But by far the most impressive – and indeed oppressive – of the additions was the great west range, erected between 1714 and 1726. Out of scale and out of character with all that had gone before, it was a mighty, rectangular edifice of dark grey stone (16), uncompromisingly symmetrical, uncompromisingly Baroque; stunning the observer with its pedimented fenestration and obliterating, from this aspect, all signs that Stoneleigh was of medieval origin (9).

That the Austens found Stoneleigh the most amazing house they had ever stayed in is evident from a wonderfully descriptive letter written by Mrs Austen to a relative a few days after their arrival.” (Ref B)

Much of the medieval structure of the Abbey still exists (10), and today, the entire building and estate is owned by a charitable trust, and is open to the public. (Full details can be found on their website (Ref F).


Although Jane and her family spent only a little over a week at Stoneleigh, and was greatly impressed by the Abbey, the Rev Thomas Leigh, seeing their interest in historic buildings, arranged two visits to the local castles of Warwick and Kenilworth. Both castles had suffered damage during and after the English Civil War (1642 – 1651), but are still magnificent, even in the twenty-first century.

Maggie Lane says that, “Jane was now able to visit two of these places for herself, and see with her own eyes what she had long been familiar with, from Gilpin’s description.” (Ref B) She refers to William Gilpin, who was what we would now call a, “travel writer.” He wrote two travel books, (1786, 1798) on places of what he called, “picturesque beauty”. He was also an artist who “set out precise rules for the production of this effect.” (Ref G)

There is an excellent aerial photograph of Warwick Castle (1) at the head of this essay, and the implacable power of these buildings in their heyday is conveyed by the illustration (11) of the SW side of the Keep, or central tower of Kenilworth Castle. The Keep was built around 1160, but the windows were cut into it four hundred years later, in a more peaceful age.


(vi) Staffordshire

The furthest north that Jane Austen ever ventured was into Staffordshire, (see Map 2) to Cooper relatives in the village of Hamstall Ridware, about three miles east of the town of Rugeley, and about ten miles SE of the county town of Stafford. Jane had a poor opinion of her Cooper relatives, and the visit was mercifully short.

Maggie Lane carefully explains that, “Jane Austen’s sense of the northern part of England being very far distant recurs in her letters. In her own novels, the ‘northern extremities’ of England are mentioned only occasionally, but always to good effect.” (Page 136, Ref B)

Several of Jane’s characters have estates in the north of England, but Maggie Lane asks plaintively, “Why did Jane Austen site Pemberley (the estate of Mr Darcy, of Pride and Prejudice) in Derbyshire, a county of which she had no personal knowledge?” (Page 137, Ref B)

In reply, one may reply, “Why not?” It is a commonplace of twentieth century literature that some writers set their novels in places they have never visited. The wealth of travel guides, picture books, films, and other literature make this far easier than in Jane Austen’s day.

It is probable that Jane relied on William Gilpin’s description of the Derbyshire valley of Dovedale (12), when in Pride and Prejudice she describes it as among the ‘principal wonders’ of that county.


SERIES TO BE CONTINUED

REFERENCES

A. “Britain from the Air”, by Michael Swift and George Grant, PRC, 2000

B. “Jane Austen’s England”, by Maggie Lane, Robert Hale Ltd, 1986

C. “Best Loved Poems”, edited by Neil Philip, Little, Brown, 2002

D. “Adlestrop” Wikipedia article

E. “Daylesford House” Wikipedia article

F. “Stoneleigh Abbey” Wikipedia article

G. “Dictionary of Biography”, Wordsworth, 1994

H. “Castles of Britain”, by Patrick Cormack, Peerage, 1982

ILLUSTRATIONS

1. Warwick Castle, Warwickshire, visited by Jane Austen in 1806 (Ref A)

2. Jane Austen’s journeys north through the Cotswold Hills, along the river Warwickshire Avon, and to Staffordshire (Author)

3. Adlestrop Park, Oxfordshire, in 1829 (Ref B)

4. The old railway station sign preserved at the bus stop (Ref D)

5. Adlestrop House, the old Rectory (Ref D)

6. The Moorish Dome at Daylesford, Oxfordshire, exterior and interior (Ref E)

7. Cheltenham Town Hall, top, and Civic Offices, below (Google images)

8. Stoneleigh Abbey in the early nineteenth century (Ref B)

9. The medieval gatehouse of Stoneleigh Abbey (Google images)

10. Stoneleigh Abbey today is owned by a charitable trust (Google images)

11. The Keep of Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire (Ref H)

12. Dovedale, the valley of the River Dove, Derbyshire (Google images)

SERIES SUMMARY

CODE

MAIN SUBJECT

OTHER THEMES

A Hampshire Childhood Introduction-Reminders of the Past
B Kent Country Houses “Improvements”, and Garden Design
C City Elegance History of Bath, Neo-Classical Architecture
D Coastal Scenes Sea Drinking and Sea Bathing
E The Bristol Avon
F The Warwickshire Avon and the Cotswolds Adlestrop
G Return to Hampshire Portsmouth Point
H Winchester Days Medicine in the Early Nineteenth Century
I Locations “Sense and Sensibility” The Regency Period
J Locations –”Pride and Prejudice” The Picturesque
K Locations – “Mansfield Park” and “Emma” The Ha-Ha Boundary, “Lovers’ Vows” play
L Locations-“Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion” The Gothic Novel, Irish History
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