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Archive for the ‘Regency gardens’ Category

Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

“You cannot imagine—it is not in Human Nature to imagine what a nice walk we have round the Orchard.”—Jane Austen to Cassandra, May 31, 1811

“One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.”—Lady Bertram, Mansfield Park

In the Garden With Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson, a delightful view of English gardens

Jane Austen’s letters and novels are full of references to gardens of one sort or another. The theme of JASNA’s AGM in Victoria, Canada this year is Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens. Following this garden theme, this summer might be a great time to read Kim Wilson’s book, In the Garden with Jane Austen.

 

The lovely photos throughout the book alone are worth the price. We get to see lovely estates and their grounds and gardens as well as many flowers, clearly labeled.

 

Kim Wilson, author of In the Garden with Jane Austen, as well as Tea with Jane Austen and At Home with Jane Austen.

Interview with Kim Wilson

I asked the author, Kim Wilson, to share some of her thoughts with us.

What gave you the idea to write this book?

As I read Jane Austen’s novels, I couldn’t help noticing that the characters we love appreciate nature and the outdoors and the characters we love to hate do not. The characters of Mansfield Park are perfect examples of this. Fanny Price loves nature to the depths of her soul and is inspired by nature poetry, as Jane Austen herself was. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is carelessly indifferent to the beauties of nature, which should be enough to warn us about her dubious moral views. And there are so many references to landscape and gardens in the novels and in Austen’s letters that it made me curious about the gardens she might have encountered that could have inspired her writing. What, for example, was so special about a Regency shrubbery? Austen’s heroines often fling themselves into the shrubbery whenever they get the least bit emotional, and I knew I had to find out why. The next thing you know I was mapping out a tour of the gardens belonging to the Austen family and their friends. It’s always wonderful to have the excuse to see more of Jane Austen’s world!

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

I hope my research gives my readers a better appreciation of Jane Austen’s emotional connection to gardens and the possible inspirations for the outdoor scenes in her works.

What were the hardest and best parts of researching this book?

The saddest thing about researching the book was visiting the sites where the gardens no longer exist, such as the Austen family’s garden at Steventon Parsonage, or Jane Austen’s brother Henry’s garden in Hans Place in London that she had called “quite a Love.” But of course touring the existing sites, such as the beautiful gardens at Jane Austen’s House Museum and at her brother Edward’s Chawton House (both in Chawton, Hampshire) completely made up for it. To sit in the same gardens where Jane Austen herself sat “and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.”

A Variety of Gardens

The first chapter explores Cottage Gardens, focusing, of course, on Chawton Cottage where Austen lived. We also learn about laborers’ cottage gardens, which provided much-needed food, and farm and parsonage gardens, like those of Robert Martin and Mr. Collins. The opposite end of the scale was the cottage ornée of the rich, with much fancier gardens. Such “cottages” are mentioned in Sanditon and Sense and Sensibility. The outbuildings found in a country garden get a mention as well, ranging from the brewhouse to the privy.

Next come “Mansion and Manor House Gardens,” the gardens of great estates like Pemberley. Godmersham, Chawton House, and Chatsworth are good examples. Wilson describes how estates like Sotherton (Mansfield Park) were being “improved” by Repton and others to match current fashions in landscaping. Such estates offered pleasure grounds, flower gardens, shrubberies, and wildernesses. Wilson also explores the fads for temples, Gothic seats, grottoes, and hermitages, as well as conservatories and hothouses.

“City Gardens” provided refreshment in the midst of town. Jane hoped for a house with a garden in Bath. The Georgian Garden in Bath, which I have visited, recreates a lovely city garden of Austen’s era. London is apparently full of hidden “garden squares,” which are thrown open to the public one weekend a year (June 10 and 11, 2023, I just looked it up!). The chapter also explores the role of the job gardener, who was paid by the job, though he sometime stole valuable plants. Again we find out where the privy might be hidden in the garden. Flowers also had a role as party decorations and hat trim, as Austen mentions.

“Public Gardens and Parks” explores gardens like London’s Kensington Gardens and Bath’s Sydney Gardens, across the street from a house where Jane’s family lived. We also see views of Box Hill and Netley Abbey and learn about tours of the picturesque, epitomized by The Tour of Dr. Syntax.

The final chapter provides details on “Re-Creating Jane Austen’s Garden,” including some of Jane’s favorite flowers.

The paperback version of In the Garden with Jane Austen, with a nice sturdy cover.

I see this book as a treasure trove for:

  • Jane Austen fans, of course. In each chapter, Wilson gives us connections with Austen and her novels and letters. For example, we find out that when General Tilney of Northanger Abbey said his pinery “had yielded only one hundred” pineapples, he was boasting of his wealth, since pineapples were very expensive, selling for a guinea apiece or more. (Wilson says this is equivalent to about $100 or £50 each today.)
  • History buffs who will learn things like why people hired hermits to live in their gardens, why shrubberies had gravel paths, and what crimes dishonest gardeners committed. Fun historical recipes are included for things like “Bee’s Wax Lip-Salve” and “Pot-Pourri.”
  • Writers of Regency fiction and Jane Austen Fan Fiction who want to include gardens in their stories. The book will give them lists of appropriate flowers with some pictures, and information about the gardens and their designs. (She doesn’t tell you when different flowers bloom in England, though, so you’ll have to look that up elsewhere.)
  • Gardeners who want to create their own Jane Austen-style garden, or who just enjoy reading about different types of gardens and plants. Wilson gives ideas for recreating a cottage garden, flower border, villa or small mansion house garden, herb garden, great estate garden, and town or city garden. She includes lists of flowers and herbs from real English gardens including those at Chawton Cottage and nearby Gilbert White’s House, along with diagrams of how those gardens are laid out. She even tells you how to find seeds for authentic “heirloom” plants.
  • Tourists (including armchair tourists) who want to visit Austen-style gardens in England. I count 25 gardens Wilson recommends visiting. For each, she shows a lovely picture and gives contact information. She tells readers what to see and what tours are available. (Be sure to check websites for current information, of course.) She includes obvious places, like Chawton Cottage and Stoneleigh Abbey, and unfamiliar ones I’d love to see, like Houghton Lodge and The Royal Crescent Hotel. The end of the book also lists “Gardens Featured in Jane Austen Film Adaptations.” So you can explore those as well, either in person, if you have enough time and money, or online.
  • Any lovers of beautiful gardens and flowers will enjoy the book, as it’s a delight to peruse!

Kim Wilson just informed me that In the Garden with Jane Austen is currently out of print, though you can still find copies at Jane Austen Books, online, or possibly through your library. She plans to work on a new edition next spring, traveling to England for new photos and information. So if you want to wait 18 months to a year, you can get the new edition, if you prefer.

Enjoy the refreshment of In the Garden with Jane Austen.

More about Kim Wilson

Kim Wilson is a writer, speaker, tea lover, gardening enthusiast, food historian, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She is the award-winning author of At Home with Jane Austen, Tea with Jane Austen, and In the Garden with Jane Austen. A popular speaker, Kim gives entertaining talks to audiences nationwide. She has been a featured lecturer for the Royal Oak Foundation (the American partner of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and Road Scholar, and was the keynote speaker for the 2020 Chawton House Virtual Garden Festival. She is currently writing Entertaining Mr. Darcy, and Celebrating Jane Austen’s Birthday for the series Celebrating the Year with Jane Austen with coauthor Jo Ann Staples.

Her other books:

Tea with Jane Austen

“In this delightful book Kim Wilson shares the secrets of tea drinking in Regency England, including a whole batch of recipes to help recreate some memorable occasions. . . . Kim Wilson has assembled a collection of anecdotes, quotations, verses and recipes, charmingly illustrated with largely contemporary engravings and line drawings, to provide an exhaustive and uplifting history of England’s favourite brew.” Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine

At Home with Jane Austen

“Wilson once again leads the reader through a specific aspect of Austen’s life– in this case, the physical spaces which she lived in or visited. . . . Quotes from Austen’s letters convey the day-to-day experience of living in these places, and examples from her work demonstrate how often these experiences found their way into the novels. . . . even casual fans should enjoy following in the beloved author’s footsteps.”Publishers Weekly

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, which should be available this fall.

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When visiting Jane Austen’s England today, you can stroll through the gardens at Chawton House and Jane Austen’s House Museum, explore the churches at Steventon and Chawton, and tour the homes and churches where Jane Austen and her relatives lived and worshipped in Bath and other areas of England. But what about Steventon Rectory (or parsonage) where Jane Austen and her family lived for the first 25 years of her life?

At Steventon, you can see the site of the rectory and get an idea of where it used to sit before it was torn down in the 1820s. It’s a beautiful spot in the lovely Hampshire countryside. And there’s more to see than just the fields and lanes where Austen grew up.

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well is the only visible remnant of that house.

If you drive up the tree-canopied lane further, you come to St. Nicholas Church, where Jane’s father preached and where Jane and her family attended church. The church is usually open for visitors who want to look or sit or reflect.

Road to St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo @ Rachel Dodge.

The Rectory Landscape

Though we can’t take a tour of the gardens and property surrounding the Rectory, we do have detailed descriptions available to help us imagine what it once was like.

Deirdre Le Faye paints a descriptive picture of the Rectory garden in Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels: “Mr. Austen’s study was at the back of the house, on the warm southern side, overlooking the walled garden with its sundial, espaliered fruit trees, vegetable and flower beds and grassy walks.” Green meadows stretched beyond it, dotted with livestock.

In A Memoir of Jane Austen, James Edward Austen-Leigh provides this further description of the landscape surrounding the Rectory:

“[T]he neighbourhood had its beauties of rustic lanes and hidden nooks; and Steventon, from the fall of the ground and the abundance of its timber, was one of the prettiest spots in it… It stood ‘in a shallow valley, surrounded by sloping meadows, well sprinkled with elm-trees, at the end of a small village of cottages, each well provided with a garden, scattered about prettily on either side of the road…”

Parsonage, Steventon

Austen-Leigh continues with this: “North of the house, the road from Deane to Popham Lane ran at a sufficient distance from the front to allow a carriage drive, through turf and trees. On the south side, the ground rose gently and was occupied by one of those old-fashioned gardens in which vegetables and flowers are combined, flanked and protected on the east by one of the thatched mud walls common in that country, and overshadowed by fine elms. Along the upper or southern side of the garden ran a terrace of the finest turf…”

Improvements

In Jane Austen’s England, Maggie Lane provides several details about the changes the Austens made during their residency there. She says one of the “constant themes of discussion at Steventon Rectory was ‘improvement.’ Much had been done even before Jane’s birth, but throughout her twenty-five years’ residence there her parents were enthusiastically planting and landscaping their modest grounds.”

The following are some of the grander changes the Austens made to the landscape:

  • They planted a “screen” of chestnuts and spruce fir to “shut out the view of the farm building.”
  • They cut “an imposing carriage ‘sweep’ through the turf to the front door.”
  • The Church Walk – a “broad hedgerow of mixed timber and shrub, carpeted by wild flowers and wide enough to contain within it a winding footpath for the greater shelter and privacy of the family in their frequent walks to the church.”
  • The Elm Walk (or Wood Walk) – a similar hedgerow walk that skirted the meadows and included the “occasional rustic seat” where “weary stollers” could sit or rest.

In Austen-Leigh’s Memoir, he provides further details about the walks and hedgerows:

“But the chief beauty of Steventon consisted in its hedgerows. A hedgerow in that country does not mean a thin formal line of quickset, but an irregular border of copse-wood and timber, often wide enough to contain within it a winding footpath, or a rough cart-track. Under its shelter the earliest primroses, anemones, and wild hyacinths were to be found; sometimes the first bird’s nest; and, now and then, the unwelcome adder. Two such hedgerows radiated, as it were, from the parsonage garden. One, a continuation of the turf terrace, proceeded westward, forming the southern boundary of the home meadows; and was formed into a rustic shrubbery, with occasional seats, entitled ‘The Wood Walk.’ The other ran straight up the hill, under the name of ‘The Church Walk,’ because it led to the parish church…”

Hampshire is still breathtaking; scenes like these give us a sense of the greenery and vegetation Austen might have known.

In October 1800, Jane wrote to Cassandra about the improvements her parents were undertaking at the time: “Our improvements have advanced very well; the bank along the elm wall is sloped down for the reception of thorns and lilacs, and it is settled that the other side of the path is to continue turfed, and to be planted with beech, ash, and larch.”

In November, she wrote again: “Hacker has been here to-day putting in the fruit trees. A new plan has been suggested concerning the plantation of the new inclosure (sic) of the right-hand side of the elm walk: the doubt is whether it would be better to make a little orchard of it by planting apples, pears, and cherries, or whether it should be larch, mountain ash, and acacia.”

Reading these descriptions, it’s easy to see why Jane Austen included “improvements” to the grounds of the estates featured in so many of her novels.

Food and Livestock

However, the Austens didn’t just improve their land to make it more pleasing to the eye or pleasurable for walking. Lane tells us that “the garden at Steventon Rectory was a happy compromise between fashionable ideas and down-to-earth utility – typical of the balanced Austen approach to life.”

In Mrs. Austen’s garden, “vegetables and flowers [were] combined” to balance beauty and provision. One can imagine how the garden must have looked in the spring, summer, and fall, with its tangled profusion of color.

Today, “companion planting” is popular for many gardeners who include flowers among their vegetables.

Beyond the gardens around the Rectory, the Austens kept livestock and grew crops. Mrs. Austen oversaw the poultry-yard and the dairy: “She supervised making all the butter and cheese, baking all the bread and brewing all the beer and wine required by a large household. With the exception of such commodities as tea, coffee, chocolate and sugar, the Austens were virtually self-sufficient in food.” As for Rev. Austen, he grew “oats, barley and wheat, and reared cattle, pigs and sheep” and was able to “not only feed his family, but to sell the surplus.” (Lane)

“All the fruit, vegetables, and herbs consumed by the family were raised here. The Austens’ strawberry fields were famous, and Mrs. Austen was one of the first people in the neighbourhood to grow potatoes.” Taking this all into account, we get a better idea of the gardens and food Jane Austen enjoyed in her youth.

Today, strawberry crops are still grown and produced in Hampshire.

Reading these descriptions of the land surrounding Steventon Rectory can help us better envision what the gardens and fields looked like when Austen was growing up. It’s lovely to try to imagine where she walked and read and thought and imagined; what foods she ate; and what her parents did.

If there ever was a fundraising campaign I could get behind, it would be to someday see a replica (or a scale model) built of the Steventon Rectory and its surrounding gardens. Wouldn’t that be something? For now, I’ll keep dreaming and imagining, which almost just as nice.

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the Steventon Rectory and its garden and farm, you can read “Why Was Jane Austen Sent away to School at Seven? An Empirical Look at a Vexing Question” in Persuasions On-Line by Linda Robinson Walker.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women Devotional, The Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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Taking a vacation—whether it’s a staycation or a trip—is all about taking a break from your everyday activities to rest, relax, and get refreshed. As things continue to reopen, it’s fun to think about ways to make the summer season special. And of course, Jane always provides me with special inspiration!

Here are a few activities you might like to try this summer, whether you prefer to keep closer to home or you are ready to set out and have an adventure. These “Jane-cation” ideas are designed to fill your cup and put a pep in your step! Most of these activities can be done virtually, with your family, or in small groups.

#1 – Take a Book Lovers Day Off

  • Clear your calendar—just like a regular vacation day
  • Plan your meals ahead of time
  • Select your books
  • Read books you want to read (not something you have to read)
  • Set up a cozy spot indoors (or create an outdoor reading nook)

Read Like Jane: Read the books Jane Austen read in her lifetime. You can select some of your titles from this list from Jane Austen in Vermont: Jane Austen’s Reading List.

Jane Austen on Reading:

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

―Mr. Tilney, Northanger Abbey

I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.

―Miss Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

If a book is well written, I always find it too short.

―Kitty Percival, “Catharine, or the Bower”
Anne Hathaway, Becoming Jane

#2 – Host a Small Garden Party

  • Plan summer fare that’s light and fresh
  • Invite guests to bring a favorite tea cup
  • Provide a selection of teas, lemonades, and sparkling waters
  • Don’t forget a pretty dessert such as Strawberry Shortcake Trifles
  • Decorate with fresh flowers, tea cups, and stacks of books tied with ribbon

Party like Jane: Ask your guests to bring fresh flowers and create your own bouquets or nosegays. You can read this JAW article about Regency bridal bouquets for inspiration. Learn how to make Georgian ices here!

Jane Austen on Parties:

Our party went off extremely well. There were many solicitudes, alarms, and vexations beforehand, of course, but at last everything was quite right. The rooms were dressed up with flowers, etc., and looked very pretty. 

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 25 April, 1811.

You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 15 June, 1808.

The Orange Wine will want our Care soon. –But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 1 July, 1808.

Strawberry Shortcake Trifles from CookingClassy.com

#3 – Plan a Picnic or Fruit-picking Excursion

  • Meet up with family or friends for a picnic
  • Explore a new park or picnic area
  • Bring a pretty basket, delicious food, drinks, and a blanket
  • Play games or provide riddles for guests
  • Try a new recipe

Picnic like Jane:
Take cushions, flowers, and other items to make it comfortable and picturesque. You can read this JAW article on Box Hill and Regency picnics. Or plan a Regency picnic menu courtesy of the Jane Austen Centre.

Jane Austen on Excursions:

We are to walk about your gardens, and gather the strawberries ourselves, and sit under trees;—and whatever else you may like to provide, it is to be all out of doors—a table spread in the shade, you know. Every thing as natural and simple as possible.

―Mrs. Elton, Emma

To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.

―Fanny Price, Mansfield Park

The pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions will make good amends for orange wine.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 20 June, 1808.

Emma, 2009

#4 – Take a Home & Garden Tour:

  • Explore a local public garden
  • Tour a historic home
  • Volunteer in a community garden
  • Revamp a corner of your own garden or patio
  • Take a gardening class

Garden like Jane: Try planting flowers like Jane might have had in her garden. Read this JAW article on Jane Austen’s garden when she was living at Chawton Cottage. Or enjoy this Pictorial Visit to Chawton by Tony Grant.

Jane Austen on Homes & Gardens:

Pemberley House . . . was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted.

―Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Some of the flower seeds are coming up very well, but your mignonette makes a wretched appearance. …Our young piony [sic] at the foot of the fir-tree has just blown and looks very handsome, and the whole of the shrubbery border will soon be very gay with pinks and sweet-williams, in addition to the columbines already in bloom. The syringas, too, are coming out. We are likely to have a great crop of Orleans plums, but not many greengages—on the standard scarcely any, three or four dozen, perhaps, against the wall.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 29 May, 1811.

Two . . . hedgerows radiated, as it were, from the parsonage garden. One, a continuation of the turf terrace, proceeded westward, forming the southern boundary of the home meadows; and was formed into a rustic shrubbery, with occasional seats, entitled “The Wood Walk.” The other ran straight up the hill, under the name of “The Church Walk,” because it led to the parish church.

―James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen (Description of Steventon)
Jane described the syringa in the garden. Image@Tony Grant

#5 – Take a trip to the seaside or mountains:

  • Go to the seaside
  • Drive to the mountains
  • Take a day trip
  • Rent a house or cabin
  • Camp out

Travel like Jane: Looking for something literary? Explore one of these Literary-themed Day Trips. Or check out some of the Best Literary Places to Read and Eat around the world. Want to stay closer to home? Visit your local independent bookstore, buy a book, and show your support.

Jane Austen on Travels:

A little sea-bathing would set me up forever.

―Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

What delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend!

―Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

The Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.

―Jane Austen, Persuasion

We had a little water-party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I had intended to take them to Netley to-day; the tide is just right for our going immediately after moonshine, but I am afraid there will be rain; if we cannot get so far, however, we may perhaps go round from the ferry to the quay.

―Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra, 24 October, 1808.
Lyme Regis and The Cobb (Rachel Dodge, 2007)

Wishing you all a summer filled with bookish plans, dear Jane Austen’s World readers! If you could choose any “Jane-cation” (if travel/health restrictions did not exist), where would you go?

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases later this year. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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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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Canaletto's view of Vauxhall Gardens and the Grand Walk

Vauxhall Gardens opened in 1661. The most famous of London’s diarist’s, Samuel Pepys, recorded in his diary that he visited Vauxhall Gardens no less than twenty four times. The first time he recorded a visit to the gardens was on 29th March 1662, when Vauxhall it really was just a country inn set within a pleasant garden setting with walks and flower beds. It was approached from a path from the Thames and the Vauxhall stairs. Visitors would cross the Thames in a boat from the north bank. They generally would bring their own picnics.

Map of Vauxhall Gardens in 1800. Click on image to enlarge. Image @Ideal Homes: History of South East Suburbs (see link below).

Amateur musicians would perform in the gardens and sometimes the visitors themselves would provide their own entertainment.  This was the first time that ordinary people could enjoy gardens like this, which was a unique social aspect at the time of Pepys. It was a freeing of social codes. Such gardens were usually found in the country estates of the nobility.

A view of the Temple of Comus at Vauxhall Gardens. Image @1st Gallery.com

People from different levels of society could meet freely and strangers could meet within the gardens. In the usual course of their lives there were strong social codes about friendships and who could talk to whom. The gardens were a place to be free of many social constraints, where males and females could meet. It was also an ideal place for the business of prostitutes.

Interior view of the elegant music room at Vauxhall Gardens. Engraving by H. Roberts, 1752. Image @1st Gallery.com

Over the centuries various owners and managers oversaw Vauxhall gardens . The greatest of these was Jonathan Tyers. He came from a family of fellmongers from Bermondsey in the east End. Fellmongers were dealers in leather hides.

Jonathan Tyers and his family by Hayman. Image @Wikimedia Commons

Tyers was a shrewd businessman and understood how to advertise and popularise the gardens. He was also good at reinventing himself as a gentleman, landowner, wit, urbane host, and patron of the arts. He owned the gardens from 1729 to his death in 1767 and saw Vauxhall gardens at the height of its fame and popularity. His most important guest was The Prince of Wales, who had his own booth within the gardens.

Pleasure gardens poster at The Museum of London. Image @Tony Grant

All of society, from the aristocracy, to landowners, to the ordinary working people came to Vauxhall. For special events Tyeres would raise the price to attract only certain people but generally the price was one shilling and this price remained the same for sixty years. He offered season tickets for a guinea.

Vauxhall Garden silver pass, c. 1760

The season ticket comprised a metal tag embossed on one side with a scene of classical mythology and the other side was printed with the ticket holders name. There is quite a selection of these season tickets in various collections.

Water gate entrance to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

In 1740 a Vauxhall evening would begin at 7pm.The visitors would get into a boat from Westminster and alight at the Vauxhall Stairs on the south bank, very close to where Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was located. Visitors would walk through the main entrance which fronted the River Thames and proceed along The Grove with the supper boxes lining the walkway on either side.

Chinese Pavillions at Vauxhall

In front of the boxes stood the orchestra building.

Statue of Handel by Louis-François Roubiliac, 1738. Image @V&A Museum

A statue of the composer Handel could be seen in front of this. The gardens were famous at this time for giving performances of new pieces composed by Handel or other composers well known at the time, such as Arne and Boyce.

The orchestra at Vauxhall, Canaletto.

Visitors would have the chance to see wealthy people promenading through the gardens wearing the latest expensive fashions.

One of the surviving Vauxhall genre paintings. Image @ V&A

The fifty large supper boxes were able to entertain up to ten people to supper. Each box was decorated with an original painting. Surprisingly fourteen of these paintings still survive.

Vauxhall Gardens, Rowlandson

The Grand Walk led to the golden statue of Aurora or the Rural Downs where there was a life size statue of Milton. This reminds me of the 18th century gardens at Painshill in Surrey which have been restored very much to their former glories. At Painshill there are grand vistas, a Turkish tent, mysterious grottos near the lake, a ruined Abbey, a hermits lodging and a Roman temple as well as many large statues from Greek mythology set within groves.

Tom and Jerry at Vauxhall

The Vauxhall experience therefore is still possible to experience. If Vauxhall was intended, as the gardens at Painshill were, then each setting was meant to create a different mood or spiritual experience. There is no record of Jane Austen visiting Vauxhall but she obviously knew about it. She stayed with her brother Henry at Hans Place which is almost directly across the Thames from Vauxhall.

Vauxhall pleasure gardens by Cruikshank, 1813

It is about half a mile from the river bank but the lights, the sounds of the music and fire works exploding would easily have been noticed from miles around. In Mansfield Park the walk in the park at Sotherton owned by Mr Rushworth have echoes of Painshill and Vauxhall.

Night scene in a supper box at Vauxhall

The Vauxhall Supper began about 9pm as dusk fell. It comprised of Vauxhall ham, cold meats, salad, cheeses custards, tarts, cheesecakes and other puddings. As night fell during the supper a whistle was blown. Servants lit thousands of lamps positioned strategically about the gardens and illuminated the scene. The effect was sensational.

The installation at The Museum of London recreated how the costumes in Vauxhall would look at night. Hats in this exhibit by contemporary milliner Philip Treacy.

By the mid 18th century semi circular piazzas had been opened in the north and south ranges of boxes. Behind the north range of boxes Tyeres had the Rotunda built. This was a covered concert room for wet weather.

Costumes of the Vauxhall pleasure gardens, installation at The Museum of London

More costumes from the pleasure garden. This man is obviously a waiter.

Female costume. Note how the yellow light (from oil globes or candles) affected the colors of the costumes. Some colors would not show up well. People kept this effect in mind when choosing evening wear. Image @Tony Grant

Costume of one of the entertainers. Image @Tony Grant

Exotic costume from the exhibit. Image @Tony Grant

Later a Pillared Saloon was added to the eastern side of the Rotunda. Within the Rotunda, Tyers got Francis Hayman to paint four huge canvases showing Britain’s victories in the Seven Years War. Each canvas was 12 feet by 15 feet. Only two oil sketches remain of the originals and an engraving is still in existence. The paintings have disappeared. Jonathan Tyers and Francis Hayman gave British art in the 1760’s its direction.

Vauxhall was also famous for its music. Many famous songs, some still known and sung today, were commissioned for the gardens. The most famous of which is, Lass of Richmond Hill. The singers became the superstars of their day, Thomas Lowe, Cecilia Arne, Joseph Vernon and Charles Dignum.

Miss Leary singing at Vauxhall, 1793-4

In 1758 the orchestra building was replaced by a neo gothic structure. The famous architect, Robert Adam, wrote to his brother:

“ I am now scheming another thing, which is a temple of Venus for Vauxhall which Mr Tyers proposes to lay £5000 upon……”

David Coke, author of a recent book on Vauxhall Gardens, wrote that this building was probably never built. Jonathen Tyers died in1767 and his children took over who themselves were followed by their children until 1822.

Photograph of Vauxhall in 1859. Image @The Guardian

The gardens closed finally closed on 25th July 1859. By this time Vauxhall had become run down and dilapidated. Its popularity had waned. Vauxhall railway station is situated opposite to where the entrance to Vauxhall gardens was. It epitomises the changes that were occurring in the world and society. People were able to travel about the country easily. The ordinary people preferred to go to the seaside and the new entertainments that were provided at these holiday resorts. If you go to Brighton on the south coast in Sussex you can experience the delights of Brighton Pier.

Brighton Pier. Image @Tony Grant

It is a Victorian construction and many of the buildings on it date back to Victorian times. The pier has more than an echo of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. These Victorian piers built at popular resorts have been described as Vauxhall piers.

Map in Vauxhall Station showing the pleasure gardens. Image @Tony Grant

Recently I was looking at an old map showing the layout and design of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. I could see Kennington Road marked clearly on the map bordering the southern border of where the pleasure gardens had been. It showed the road curving slightly. It struck me that I know that part of Kennington Road well. Vauxhall is part of the London Borough of Lambeth. My wife Marilyn worked for over ten years in schools in Lambeth and often got off the train at Vauxhall and walked to her inner city school in Walnut Tree Walk next to the Lambeth Walk that is of Charley Chaplin and that song, fame. We decided that we would go for a walk around Vauxhall and see if we could find any signs or remains of the pleasure gardens.

Marilyn and Abi reading the information board in the gardens

Marilyn, myself and Abigail, our youngest daughter, got off the train at Vauxhall and walked across the road to a pub which has its windows blacked out. This pub is now famous for the performance of strippers. This must be reminiscent of the courtesans who sold their bodies in the pleasure gardens of the 18th century perhaps.

Looking across where the gardens were situated. Image @Tony Grant

Behind the pub is a small park called Spring Park. This area was covered in Victorian terraced housing up to the second World War and then during the Blitz on London many were destroyed. After the war, to commemorate the old pleasure gardens, Lambeth Council decided to make the area into a park again. This was the site of the original pleasure gardens. We had found it. To one side you can see the green glass and concrete structure that is MI6.The entrance to the park announces that this is Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, although it is officially called Spring Gardens. When I researched the old gardens I discovered that indeed it used to called Vauxhall Spring Gardens when it first began. There is a large sign board as you walk into Spring Gardens which provides a display of old pictures of the gardens and a history of the site.

Tyers Road along the top of the present Spring Gardens

To the north of the park is Tyers Road commemorating Jonathen Tyers. There is a city farm called Vauxhall City farm on the site where the battle of Waterloo was re-enacted. In the far right eastern corner there is situated St Peter’s Church, which is reputedly on the very site of the Neptune Fountain that was placed at the end of The Grand Walk.

St. Peter's Church, Kennington Lane, on the site of the Neptune Fountain at the end of the Grand Walk. Image@Tony Grant

There are no remains of the actual pleasure gardens to be seen in the new park. Because it is an open area with walkways and grassy mounds within the park you can get a sense of the size and feel of the original pleasure gardens.

Vauxhall city farm; the site of the Waterloo grounds

Here are some quotations from people who visited the gardens at different times during its existence.

An article in The Spectator 1712:

We were now arrived at Spring-Garden, which is exquisitely pleasant at this time of the Year. When I considered the Fragrancy of the Walks and Bowers, with the Choirs of Birds that sung upon the Trees, and the loose Tribe of People that walked under their Shades, I could not but look upon the Place as a kind of Mahometan Paradise. Sir Roger told me it put him in mind of a little Coppice by his House in the Country, which his Chaplain used to call an Aviary of Nightingales.

Fireworks Vauxhall Gardens, 1800

A letter to a Lord describing the Spring gardens in 1751:

These Gardens, containing about twenty Acres and a Half, make part of a Mannor, belonging to His Royal Highness the PRINCE OF WALES, as Earl of Kennington; the famous black Prince, son to our immortal Edward III, having anciently had a Palace there. —But leaving Antiquity, I shall proceed to the present State of the Spot, which is the Subject of your Lordship’s obliging Command; after observing, that the Hint of this rational and elegant Entertainment, was given by a Gentleman, whose Paintings exhibit the most useful Lessons of Morality, blended with the happiest Strokes of Humour.
Being advanc’d up the Avenue, by which we enter into the Spring-Gardens; the first Scene that catches the Eye, is a grand Visto or Alley about 900 Feet long, formed by exceedingly lofty Sycamore, Elm, and other Trees. At the Extremity of this Visto, stands a gilded Statue of Aurora, with a Ha ha; over which is a View into the adjacent Meads; where Haycocks, and Haymakers sporting, during the mowing Season, add a Beauty to the Landskip. This Alley (a noble Gravel Walk throughout) is intersected, at right Angles, by two others. One of these Alleys (at the Extremity whereof, to the Left, a [p.3] fine Picture of Ruins is seen) extends about 600 Feet; being the whole Breadth of the Garden, or Spring-Gardens, as they are commonly called, which Terms I shall use indiscriminately.

These are the thoughts of a German Prince in 1827:

Yesterday evening I went for the first time to Vauxhall, a public garden in the style of Tivoli at Paris, but on a far grander and more brilliant scale. The illumination with thousands of lamps of the most dazzling[157] colours is uncommonly splendid. Especially beautiful were large bouquets of flowers hung in the trees, formed of red, blue, yellow, and violet lamps, and the leaves and stalks of green; there were also chandeliers of a gay Turkish sort of pattern of various hues, and a temple for the music, surmounted with the royal arms and crest. Several triumphal arches were not of wood, but of cast-iron, of light transparent patterns, infinitely more elegant, and quite as rich as the former. Beyond this the gardens extended with all their variety and their exhibitions, the most remarkable of which was the battle of Waterloo.

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens entrance today. Image @Tony Grant

Here is part of a satirical poem written for the PUNCH magazine in 1859 and depicts the decline of the gardens before they were finally closed:

Comrades, you may leave me sitting in the mouldy arbour here,
With the chicken-bones before me and the empty punch-bowl near.
‘Rack’ they called the punch that in it fiercely fumed, and freely flowed:
By the pains that rack my temples, sure the name was well bestowed.
Leave me comrades, to my musings, ‘mid the mildewed timber-damps,
While from sooty branches round me splutter out the stinking lamps.
While through rent and rotten canvas sighs the bone-mill laden breeze;
And the drip-damp statues glimmer through the gaunt and ghastly trees.

And the ode goes on and on. It has become a depressing place.

Vauxhall Park looking towards the Thames. Image @Tony Grant

Written by Tony Grant, London Calling

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