Chalices, fine art, bones, Richard III and Jane Austen

Our winter historical excursion (January 5-8, 2017) took us to the ancestral villages of the founders of America, an area called ‘The Dukeries’ in Nottinghamshire, the tomb of Richard III, Coventry and Jane Austen’s own country and church.

The Mayflower Villages

The Mayflower Separatists were the exiled communities of Christians of Scrooby and Babworth, villages in north Nottinghamshire, known, at the time, as Brownists. They were followers of the inspiring preaching of Cambridge-educated, Rev Richard Clyfton, once Anglican minister  of All Saints, Babworth near Retford.  Babworth is a lone church without a village or hamlet, in a pleasant wood, once on the road to the North from London. We were frustrated not to be able to enter but there is a plaque, in the porch. From such humble seeds, great oaks are formed.


All Saints, Babworth, Nottinghamshire

But in this other church (Babworth/Scrooby) besides other worthy men, was Mr. Richard Clyfton, a grave and reverend preacher, who by his pains and diligence had done much good, and under God had been a means of the conversion of many”.

His followers included William Brewster spiritual leader of the Mayflower colony in the New World, who came from Scrooby. He was literate estate manager who had briefly studied at Cambridge. Another was  William Bradford from nearby Austerfield, who eventually became Plymouth Colony Governor in America and who penned ’Of Plimouth Plantation’. Intellectually, Cambridge University was behind The Mayflower expedition, a religious flight to an imagined ‘pure church’ from the half-reformed Church of England. Scholarships at Magdalene College, Cambridge had been created for local Puritans in Lincoln and Nottinghamshire by a leading reformed Government minister of Elizabeth 1st.  Richard Clyfton’s reformed preaching had created an separatist church in this area of north Nottinghamshire, whose members felt the Church of England was essentially ‘Catholic’. Their story is related here with photos of the churches.  They fled under James Ist’s persecution to Holland where they lived for 20 years and where Richard Clyfton died and was buried (in 1616) in Zuiderkirk in Amsterdam, Rembrandt’s church. His momentous life’s work was yet to show its amazing fruit. After his death, his congregation went on to found America.


Zuiderkirk, Amsterdam painted by Monet, where Rev Richard Clyfton of Babworth is buried

Who could have imagined, at the time, that the reformed Anglican Vicar of Babworth was the divinely inspired instrument who lit the touchpaper behind an adventure with so many complex historical repercussions? One must not forget the impact on indigenous Red Indians alongside establishment of the concept of freedom of religion free from state control. Where does this movement end, even today? Apparently, Prince William is descended from the earliest Puritan settlers via his mother. Apparently, All Saints, Babworth still uses the chalice that the Mayflower Separatists took communion, from Rev Richard Clyfton. 

Devout William Bradford taught himself Hebrew and penned the first colonists’ history Of Plimouth Plantation , describing their first years in the New World. They proved that they could survive among the Indians by trading with London in beaver skins. This led to more Puritans crossing the Atlantic, funded by London investors interested in stopping the Spanish taking over all The Americas and, of course, in profit. The Puritan settlers created Boston, and then America.  At Scrooby, we spied, across a field, a wing of a private house where William Brewster lived when estate manager to Scrooby Manor.  He sheltered Rev Richard Clyfton after he was defrocked in 1605 losing the living of Babworth.  From a notice left in a piece of plastic on a post in Scrooby, we discovered local historical writer, Sue Allan’s Mayflower Maid. She tells the story of an unnamed character on the Mayflower ship list, named only as ‘a maid’. Sadly, as she self-publishes her books cannot be sold in local bookshops (self-published books do not offer booksellers any profit).  Local churches are very fearful of vandalism, so much so that they are closed in main towns.  Anyone visiting the local churches should write or call in advance.

The Dukeries

The ‘Dukeries’ of Nottinghamshire, is the area of the estates of four Dukes. Parks now exists where grand houses have disappeared but the Portland Estate (Welbeck Abbey) is still intact and remains in private hands. It is impossible to visit except by pre-booked ticket in August. In the Dukeries, well-known Thorseby Hall is now a rather enticing Warner Hotel (once the home of Earl Manvers). The Portland title died out and has been inherited by Anglo-Italian descendants, who recently opened the magnificent Harley Art Gallery of fine art, which belonged to all the Dukes of Portland (they owned the Portland Vase at the British Museum).  Below is a view of the Thames and old Whitehall in the Harley Gallery.


Duke of Portland and Queen Elizabeth

Twice during Jane Austen’s life, the 3rd Duke of Portland, William Cavendish-Bentinck was Prime Minister.  He is a great-great-great grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II through her mother. In fact, Queen Elizabeth II is a blood descendant of both the King (George III was her great-great-great-great grandfather) and his Prime Minister (in 1783 and 1807-1809). The Duke Portland the King did not see eye to eye on the India Bill,  which proposed to reform the government of India by transferring political power from the East India Company to Parliamentary commissioners (supporters of the King’s enemy, Fox) and Portland was forced out. Below is a painting of the Third Duke of Portland with his horses. The Queen inherited her passion for horses, on both sides.  


The Queen’s Portland grandfather X 3 (William Cavendish-Bentinck, Prime Minister under George IIi)  with horses.

The Portland Collection which opened in March 2016, fine paintings by Stubbs of race hoses are the least of the wonders.  One’s breath is taken away by an exquisite miniature of Queen Elizabeth I by Hilliard, and the chalice and earring of Charles Ist, at his execution.


Queen Elizabeth 1 by Hilliard (The Harley Gallery)

It is a collection worthy of the National Gallery in London (and free to enter). What’s more it rotates each year with further paintings in store. There is a farm shop and restaurant making it a real family and cultural attraction.


Philip Lazslo’s portrait of Winifred, Duchess of

Portland who held the canopy over Queen Alexandra

At her coronation.  Winifred turned

Welbeck Abbey into a nursing home during World War One

(Harley  Gallery)

Richard III and Leicester Cathedral

We drove to Leicester, recently blessed by stunning football success, under an Italian manager, accredited to Richard III, his rediscovered skeleton clearly showing acute scoliosis. It was uncovered under the letter “R” in a social work car park once the nave of ‘The Greyfriars’. We thought The Richard II Visitor Centre at £7 is too costly to enter (with no one going in). One senses the optimistic zeal of The Richard the Third Society everywhere. shroud.jpg

A delightful embroidered shroud for Richard’s reburial topped by a fake crown. The Richard the Third Society and Leicester University figure on the left.

The heavy tomb itself, in unsuitable white stone, blocks the approach to the altar. One is discouraged from doing ‘a selfie’ in front of it - in reverence. I found the experience surreal and even ‘Gothic’, an exotic cocktail of wonder incredulity and repulsion, combined with the thought ‘Will Shakespeare, if only you could be here to see this!’  My sense is that Richard’s  dubious reputation merits a black flagstone on a side floor, not a pure, white slab slapbang in the main aisle. I was fortified by the proven facts about his spine, long maligned as ‘nasty Tudor propaganda’ but now proved correct. Our Bard did not lie, nor about character, I believe. I was not impressed by the concept, or by the Gothic ‘chill’ of the extraordinary collision of Shakespeare, chance, melodrama, scoliosis, false reverence and bones. It is almost more than one can mentally process - outside the normal flow of life.  In my view, Leicester Cathedral’s best artifact is an old chest made from a single tree trunk, a medieval safe for preventing theft. One needed three people with three separate keys, to open it.  It speaks volumes about human nature in relation to money. It is a parable in itself:


The secure chest with three locks, and three different keys held by three different people

We visited the Leicester’s Guildhall Library next to the Cathedral in search of Italian books by reformation theologian Zanchi (from Bergamo). We found them and reported them to the LIbrarian of Leicester, in the hope that someone will kindly copy them (like Google Books) in spite of being in Latin. Then some student of Latin may then translate them all.


Medieval Leicester Guildhall and its ancient library which witnessed the events surrounding Richard III’s death and humiliation

Coventry Cathedral

We drove for lunch in the redstone Guildhall Crypt, another surreal place, which survived a Nazi firestorm which destroyed the old Cathedral next door. Sadly, we could not inspect the magnificent medieval room above, but its courtyard is adorable, eccentric, traditional English architecture, long before classical Italian reached these shores.  Nothing looks solid or straight, but boy, has it lasted - even firestorms. The insulation of these old wooden  buildings is still ‘top rate’.


Courtyard of St Mary Guildhall, Coventry

The new Coventry Cathedral is a favourite of mine as I used to sing in its St Michael’s Singers. Through singers,  I met devout Christians and went to their church. I was baptised by full immersion in the borrowed Baptist Church near the city centre by the chaplain of the new Cathedral’s  first Bishop, saintly Cuthbert Bardsley, whose services my family attended, at The Garrison Church, Woolwich during World War Two. Its interior is unchanged, but Coventry University around it, has much altered and improved. richard.jpg


We learned that the scriptural lettering of the Gospels in grey stone, admirably placed down either side of the aisle was designed by a former German Prisoner of War, the son of a specialist in the lettering of Rome’s Catacombs.  

I loved the jolly fragments of the medieval windows in the old Cathedral which were destroyed in the WW2 bombing of the City, especially the little bird (middle at bottom).  The act of betrayal survived too - the guilt of Mankind.stones.jpg


Fragments of medieval stained glass windows from the Old Cathedral, Coventry

There is a fine website, ‘Historic Coventry’, about what remains of old Coventry here.

Possibly because I found Christ in Coventry, the building has always been a living parable for me about resurrection from ashes, which is the underlying story of victory over sin, alienation and death. The Cathedral building narrates the story of the power divine Love acting through The Cross, which appears on the new altars shaped as burnt (but surviving) wood beams from the old roof.

Jane Austen Country - Hampshire

2017 is the bicentenary of the death of Jane Austen in Winchester, Hampshire where she is buried. Her imagined face is on the £10 banknote so 2017 is Jane’s year. We arrived at  The Vyne well known to Jane, hoping to see portraits of Eliza Chute, wife of the Hampshire MP, who herself visited the Austen Family in Steventon - but the upstairs was closed for restoration.

Did Jane fantasize about marrying this man below who owned The Vyne. Was he the local Darcy?  Jane knew him before and after he married ‘well’. His wife, Eliza, soon found that she was  a ‘hunting widow’ (the old form of ‘cricket widow’). She left a diary about how lonely she was. For no clear reason, Jane did not like Eliza (and probably not her husband, either).

She may have sensed some ‘condescension’ in them, but her brother, local vicar James Austen often dined with them.

Eliza Chute’s husband, an MP (Eliza was well known to Jane Austen)chute.jpgpiano.jpg


I sightread some Handel on the Chute’s 1840 piano which was “a change from chopsticks”, said the National Trust volunteers.  The piano still has a lovely sound: I was momentarily transported back to life in a stately home in a more elegant era, something that I imagine Jane Austen and I would have liked to have been born into. But then remind myself that it was all built on the work of live in servants treated like slaves, with no time off! Eliza Chute’s own botanical watercolours were out of sight but The National Trust volunteers were on top form and made up for it, one telling me about the ‘Epiphany Ball’ in Winchester than evening, in full regency costume, with regency dancing.  

We then explored Jane Austen’s rural homeland for the first 25 years of her short life. We saw the elegant rectory home of Mrs Lefroy, aunt of Tom Lefroy (see the film “Becoming Jane” for their supposed romance). Then we saw delightful thatched St Mary Bourne, which Jane regularly passed through, on the way to stay with her friends the Lloyds, fifteen miles from her home.

St Nicholas, Steventon - Jane Austen’s family Church


We attended morning worship and communion at the delightful medieval church of the Austen family, more a remote private chapel for Steventon  Manor House than a parish church, warmly painted. We discovered that Steventon is pronounced Steeventon from the small very friendly congregation. We took communion from the very same chalice from which Jane took communion from her father and brother, which I was permitted to hold. I liked it so much and felt so at home here that I am planning a return in July, for the 200th anniversary.  

We inspected the spot, now a field, in which Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey were written. Here Steventon Rectory stood until 1824 when it blocked the view of the new Rectory. We measured the distance Jane has to walk to post a letter: it was about six miles, there and back.  By visiting, I grasped that Jane was a bookish, quiet, country-loving Hampshire girl, with a witty poetry-writing mother and a clever supportive father who, through brains and family, had some level of access to some very fine houses in this area. Jane herself lived ‘on the margins’, often reliant on her legs for transport, consoling herself for female confinement, with her piano, and writing while her brothers sailed and saw the world. I was astonished to read, in Claire Tomalin’s biography that Jane Austen never went on a long walk on her own until she was 22. When I saw the rural distances on the ground, I could better understand it.  Nowhere is a ‘quick hike’, even into pretty Overton, her local village where she bought ribbons. Each way must have taken at least one and half to two hours, walking through muddy lanes, wearing pattens.  No wonder the family used a donkey cart in Chawton (the equivalent of a small car).  My research into the Jane’s familiar surrounding are attached, as an Annex below.steventon.jpg

A group of us had a fine Sunday lunch in grand Oakley Hall Hotel  which was well known to Jane Austen, as the home of the slightly odd spinster, Augusta Bramston, and her brother.  


I was also delighted that we had with us a descendant of the MP who  owned nearby Manydown House, in the mid Victorian era. Before him, it was owned by the man who proposed marriage to Jane Austen -  Harris Bigg Wither.  Jane could have been its mistress, if she had not, in her heart, believed that marriage and love belong together.  Jane often stayed at Manydown, even after the rejected proposal. There are extant photos of the old interior Jane knew which would thrill ‘Janeites’. Manydown Park will soon vanish under expansion of West Basingstoke, under a new housing estate.   Who knows whether Steventon Church and Jane Austen’s homeland will one day vanish forever, in the same way?  

I’m now watching the recent film “Becoming Jane” about this area and her supposed love story with Tom Lefroy while staying at Ashe Rectory with his elegant angelic aunt, Anne Lefroy, who sadly died by being thrown from her horse after shopping in Overton.

I have to admit that Jane Austen belonged to the side of The Richard The Third Society in her assessment, in the Juvenilia   She thought Richard’s name was blackened on purpose (so clearly she got some things wrong!).

Jane Austen’s Social Circle in Hampshire

An impression of Jane Austen’s home Steventon Rectory

For further information on the building see here.

Jane Austen’s social life at Steventon provided material for her novels. See here for a short  helpful analysis of her satire about social ‘rank’. Her life-long friendships emerged from her close connections to several moneyed families in this small area of Hampshire.

In terms of annual income, the Austens were not living among their peers, but they did access a society well above their ‘station’ as an educated clergy family with good connections. Jane could have climbed the ladder of rank and money, if she had not believed that marriage and love must go together. Perhaps the social excitement of her youth was reflected in this quote of Mary Mitford to Sir William Elford describing the young Jane Austen:  

That mamma knew all her (Austen) family very intimately; and that she herself is an old maid (I beg her pardon – I mean a young lady) with whom mamma before her marriage was acquainted. Mamma says that she (Jane) was then the prettiest, silliest, most affected, husband-hunting butterfly, she ever remembers...”.

Several things helped ‘oil the wheels’ of high society for the Austen family:

Steventon and in particular its medieval church is remote society but in close proximity to some grand houses, which together created a lively society, in which the Austens met and mixed with leading county families, MPs, landed gentry, and the nobility in spite of the Austen family not being able to afford a carriage (the girls had to take lifts to get to balls). In fact, when Jane Austen’s parents moved to Hampshire, partly to pursue an ethos of self- sufficiency, combined with a desire to exercise exemplary skills in child education, At the same time, The Prince Regent was holding a debauched ‘court’ within a few miles. Hampshire was, in a sense, the centre of high society England at the time, rather like the Cotswolds and Gloucestershire today.  The spotlight moved to Brighton, when the Pavilion was built.

While at Steventon, Jane Austen wrote Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. When she moved to Bath, much against her will (aged 25) she could barely continue writing due to her sense of loss of all that was solid and good at Steventon especially her friendship  with an exemplary Christian woman and mentor, Anne Lefroy. An imagined version of her romance with Anne’s nephew, Tom Lefroy, is  featured in the recent film “Becoming Jane”.  Anne was sadly killed falling from her runaway horse in the local village of Overton.

Jane Austen had access to some grand properties in Hampshire which were then entirely in private ownership, with some residents funded by the West Indies sugar and slave trade. Among the buildings that have survived neglect, bankruptcy and motorways, they are today either in corporate ownership, used as hotels, run as productive timber estates, owned by the local authority, opened by the National Garden Scheme or National Trust, used for golf clubs or, in the case of the smaller houses, most of them still serve as private dwellings, worth millions of pounds.


An unremarkable field? No, the birthplace of Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Miss Elinor Dashwood.  Once the site of the Steventon Rectory where ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility were written.

Why did the Austens live in Steventon?

Jane Austen’s father was the clergyman, Oxford scholar and Tonbridge School teacher, George Austin,  ‘the handsome proctor’, who could ahve become headmaster of Tonbridge.  He had been a penniless orphan, brought up by his kinder uncles and aunts in Tonbridge,even though his ancestors had included lawyers, a family descended from Lord Mayors of London and wealthy cloth merchants in Horsmonden. The Austens were a leading Kent family originating in wealthy Tenterden. The traumatic story of George as a child is explained here.

Godmersham Park and the Knights

The Austens had earlier intermarried with the Knight family of Godmersham Park near Ashford in Kent. Godmersham still exist, but it is not open (it belongs to the Society of Opticians) and there is a public footpath through it. Godmersham Heritage Centre opens on the first Monday in the month from  April - October. For further information on Godmersham see here.  

Jane Austen’s young life was a round of trips and visits from Hampshire into Kent via London. She often visited her brother, Edward, chosen to inherit Godmersham after he was adopted by the Knights, as the aimiable third son of the Austen family.  His descendants are aristocrats including Lord Romsey, (descended from George and Cassandra Austen) whose Brabourne family published the first edition of Jane’s letters which were left to her favourite niece, Edward’s daughter, Fanny Knight (known as “The Brabourne Edition”).  Jane’s advice to Fanny on love is here.

Goodnestone House, Kent

Edward Austen married the daughter of the owners of elegant Goodnestone House near Canterbury which has the finest walled garden in the country. Jane was very familiar with this house and its dower house, as well as with Godmersham. The dower house of Goodnestone was where Jane stayed with her sister-in-law Fanny (who died in childbirth).

The Knights’ living in Steventon

The elder childless Knight family held the living of Steventon, Hampshire and its manor house as well as Chawton House, its living, and dower house both in Hampshire.  Due to being related to them and then being ordained, when George married penniless Cassandra Leigh, descended from James Brydges, Duke of Chandos, he was given the living of Steventon by the Knights, an income from the tithes of the parish, and a moderate sized rectory with seven bedrooms.  

Steventon Rectory

George and Cassandra Austen as a young married couple, were keen to be self-reliant and self-sufficient (see ‘Proper Self Sufficiency in Jane Austen’ by Many Watkins Tate). They also had high aspirations for child education since George was a talented teacher and tutor of the sons of the nobility and middle classes. Tutoring supplemented his modest clergy living and the rest came from cultivation and a farm. He saved his own life through scholarship, being a star pupil at Tonbridge School and passed on  a deep love of reading to his daughter who benefitted from his library, as well as that of Anne Lefroy.

Their teaching regime clearly ‘worked’. Two of the sons reached the highest rank, as admirals, one was Sea Lord. Their daughter is regarded as our greatest female author if not our greatest novelist. George was very ambitious for his promising daughter and tried to have her early works published. Probably, Cassandra her mother, a good writer, was more interested in getting her married off to another respectable clergy family since marriage was the only income that a woman in her position could obtain, without becoming a servant-governess. Throughout Jane’s childhood, the house was partly a lively school, with male pupils lodging on site.  It was a hub of self-sufficient creativity with the family writing and putting on their own plays in the barn  Cassandra Austen ran the household and she and the wider family cultivated their garden, keeping livestock. They had to sell vegetables and produce locally to supplement their income.

The Austen’s Rectory, the house where Jane was born and lived most of her young life, into her twenties no longer exists but the site has been identified with its well in the yard fenced off. It was demolished by Jane’s Knight nephew, to improve the view for his new Rectory, the white house still opposite.  Along the road leading to the heart of the village were the long since vanished cottages of agricultural workers, of whom there were 300 or so in the area.  Elderly village women sat at the crossroads in the main village of Steventon, under the spreading tree, gossiping (as related by Jane Austen).

St Nicholas Steventon

The ancient and remote church of St Nicholas Steventon dates from medieval time and is located about a mile up the lane from The Rectory. Jane would have walked to it every Sunday morning as the family has no other transport.  Her father may have ridden.

Steventon Manor

St Nicholas Church was opposite Steventon Manor, owned, like the Rectory, by the Knights. It is now demolished but was then tenanted by Mr and Mrs Hugh Digweed and four sons John, Harry, James and William Digweeds, farmers.

Their son James Digweed is supposed to have been romantically interested in Jane. The Digweeds lived there for decades renting it from the Knights for £700 pounds a year (roughly £20,000pa). There are Digweed memorials in the church still. steventon.jpg

The Austens and the Digweeds and their farm staff attended remote St Nicholas, Steventon every Sunday, though Jane could have attended Ashe Church with Anne Lefroy. They were part of Anne’s wider genteel society. steventon2.jpg

When Jane heard that the Austens were leaving the district to live in Bath, she nearly had a nervous breakdown.  She was leaving her beloved countryside, her haunts, her libraries, her friends, her walks.

Steventon Manor was demolished in the 1960s

Society in Hampshire

Jane Austen’s social life centred around:

The notable local society which put on balls were all personally known to Jane Austen. They included:

The Earl of Portsmouth

John Wallop, The Third Earl of Portsmouth  was widely regarded as mentally retarded or insane. Today we would not consider him as having ‘learning difficulties’. He lived with the Austen family from the age of five in the Rectory.  There were efforts throughout his life by his family to declare him insane, due to his eccentric and even sadistic behaviour. There was much cruelty towards him, by others. The Austen family’s access to local high society may have been facilitated by their knowing him as a boy and by treating him well. These books have been written about him:

Akihito Suzuki (2006). Madness at home: the psychiatrist, the patient, and the family in England, 1820-1860. University of California Press.

Elizabeth Foyster (2016). The Trials of the King of Hampshire: Madness, Secrecy and Betrayal in Georgian England. Oneworld.

Portsmouth and his wife attended local balls and he invited Jane to balls at magnificent Hurstbourne Park, near St Mary Bourne, demolished in 1891. No portrait of him exists as no one through him worthy of being painted. Its gardens survive but are not open. They are shown here. The estate is now owned by Schroders.

Illustration above - an engraving of the Hurstbourne Park (now demolished) familiar to Jane Austen. This house was designed by James Wyatt 

Jane wrote about feeling the effects of drinking wine at Hurstbourne: “I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand today. You will kindly make allowance therefore for any indistinctness of writing, by attributing it to this venial error.“Letter to Cassandra (1800-11-20) [Letters of Jane Austen -- Brabourne Edition]

Lady Dorchester

 Kempshott Park - now demolished - a view

Lord Dorchester (Guy Carleton) rented the Prince Regent’s huge country (hunting) estate at Kempshott Park, west of Basingstoke given up in favour of Brighton Pavilion. He housed Mrs Fitzherbert, in a house in the grounds. The M3 construction led to the demolition of the house after decline during the 1960s but part of its park remains as Basingstoke Golf Course (Kempshott Park). This blog is about the site of the house today.  Lady Dorchester probably knew Jane Austen through Mrs Lefroy, wife of Rev Lefroy of Ashe and social facilitator and the life of soul of parties. Jane regularly attended to balls at Kempshott Park. After one ball she complained that there room was too small for sixty people attending, and that there was ‘a shortage of men’. She noted the main guests (some on the list above) and the presence of ‘the meaner sort’, a phrase for more ordinary people used quite widely in the past. A further history of Kempshott Manor, with impressive photo, is here. Jane’s elder brother James, later rector of Steventon, had ridden with the Prince Regent’s hunt at Kempshott in the 1790s. The hunt participants sometimes met for dinner in The Wheatsheaf, where Jane collected her letters.

The Wheatsheaf is on the London to Winchester Road beyond North Waltham. Jane walked here from Steventon to collect letters.

The Bramstons

Jane would walk with others to Oakley Hall to visit Wither Bramston, who built the present hall at the end of the 19th century. The house is now a hotel. Jane would meet his wife Mary (nee Chute) and eccentric sister Miss Augusta Bramston, who made transparencies for the windows.


Oakley Hall Hotel

The Lefroys

Jane Austen may have considered she was a distant cousin of elegant and ‘angelic’ ‘Madame’ Anne Lefroy who was a Miss Brydges but in after years it was proved that Mrs Lefroy was descended from a Canterbury grocer, not from titled ancestors. Mrs Lefroy is probably the model for the well-meaning but over conventional counsellor of Anne Elliott, Lady Russell in the late novel ‘Persuasion’ (written after Anne Lefroy died).Jane wrote a moving poem (on the link above) on her tragic death from a fall from horse which views her as the perfect Christian woman. Anne Lefroy educated the poor in her house and inoculated 800 poor workers against smallpox herself.  She knew much of English poetry, by heart, encouraged Jane to use her library and she wrote.  

A memorial to her and her husband Rev Lefroy is in Ashe Church. Jane would regularly walk from Steventon to Ashe to see her and use her library (books cost weeks of wages at that time).

Tom Lefroy, Jane’s real love according to the film ‘Becoming Jane’, was Anne’s nephew who in old age, as Attorney General of Ireland, said he had loved Jane Austen (he was obliged to marry for money).  It was Mrs Lefroy who put a stop to their budding romance, since his future career, at that time, was entirely resting on a rich relative, who would have cut him off if he had married the impoverished daughter of a clergyman.

The Lloyds

Jane’s closest friends were Mrs Lloyd, Mary and Martha Lloyd who moved from Deane to Ibthorpe, north of St Mary Bourne and rented this house. Mary Lloyd married Jane’s brother Admiral James Austen, after Jane died.  

The Lloyd’s attractive rented house in Ibthorpe

Jane prepared in this house for her first ball in 1792, at Enham House (now a centre for the disabled near Andover).

Harris Bigg-Wither at Manydown

Jane turned down becoming mistress of this house: Manydown, at Wootton St Lawrence, when Harris Bigg-Wither, a clergyman’s son, proposed to her. She accepted, then slept on it and rejected him. The historic house was demolished in 1965.   Today, its land is held by Basingstoke local authority, in case Basingstoke seeks to expand westwards.

Manydown (now demolished)

The sisters of Harris, Alethea and Catherine and Elizabeth were also close friends of Jane Austen. Elizabeth, a widow living in the close at Winchester who aided Jane in her final illness there. She may have helped see that she was buried in the Cathedral as a famous Hampshire writer.  Elizabeth Bigg-Wither married the Rev William Heathcote who died aged 30 (Jane surely knew him).  He is portrayed on a horse is here:


The Rev. William Heathcote (1772–1802), on horseback (son of the 3rd Baronet); Sir William Heathcote of Hursley, 3rd Baronet (1746–1819), holding his horse and whip; and Major Vincent Hawkins Gilbert, M.F.H., holding a Fox’s mask.

The Heathcote's family seat was Hursley House near Winchester now belonging to IBM (oil on canvas, 200.5 x 155 cm, on display at Montacute House).

James Holder

Ashe Park, an imposing private house, survives (pse google to find a photo). It is a seven bedroom brick house with 235 acres, worth around £10m. In Jane Austen’s time it was the home of middle aged bachelor, James Holder, who donated his used newspapers to the Austen family, which is how Jane followed her brothers’ fortunes, in the Navy lists. Holder had an income from the West indies (slaves?). Jane was wary of him and once, trapped in the drawing room alone with him for ten minutes, kept her hand on the doorknob, ready for a quick escape. Ashe was close to Steventon and near Mrs Lefroy, at Ashe Rectory.

The Harwoods

Rev George Austen was also rector of Deane (that church was remodelled) where there was Deane House owned by the Harwoods who had three sons, John, Earle and Charles. The family had lived in Deane House, next to church of All Saints for generations. The house remains in private ownership. Its garden is open under the National Gardens Scheme (at times). Jane first met Tom LeFroy at a ball, here:

Deane House

The Dukes of Bolton at Hackwood Park

The ancestral seat of the Dukes of Bolton, Hackwood Park  as shown below in 1818.  It was recently sold for £65m following the death of Lady Camrose, the mother of the Aga Khan. Now in mixed public and private ownership (partly owned by local authority) with the estate dissected by the M3 its modern particulars are here.

The Duke of Bolton died in 1794 at Hackwood Park due to his lack of male progeny the dukedom became extinct. During Jane Austen’s youth, Hackwood Park devolved on his brother's illegitimate daughter, Jean Browne-Powlett, wife of Thomas Orde (later Thomas Orde-Powlett, 1st Baron Bolton) who adopted the additional surname of Powlett.

Hackwood Park

The Portals at Laverstoke


Laverstoke House- Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The estate  was built up by the Huguenots Portals and inherited by Harry Portal, a friend of James Austen, who built this new house designed by Joseph Bonomi, the fashionable Italian architect mentioned in Sense and Sensibility. The family produced the bank notes for the Bank of England from their papermill.

The Chutes at the Vyne

Mary Chute, known to Jane, came from the leading Hampshire family of MPs and she married Wither Bramston of Oakley Hall. Her family owned The Vyne in Old Basing.  Jane attended balls at The Vyne, probably taken there in the Bramston carriage as Mrs Bramston was a Chute.

The Lyfords of Basingstoke

The Lyfords were the Austens’ family doctors. They may not have given balls but mixed in Austen company and are buried in Holy Ghost Cemetery Basingstoke. They give their name to the Lyford NHS health centre in Basingstoke. 


The local economy was farming, sheep, silk (there is a working silk mill in Whitchurch, open to the public) and the production of banknotes. The Portals, a Huguenot family made the fortune which built Laverstoke House (designed by fashionable Joseph Bonomi) from paper production.


The leading occupation of gentlemen was mostly fox hunting (country pursuits).  Young women’s occupations were household management, drawing, music, dancing and gossip.