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.
“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.