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On a visit to see my relatives in Warwick, England, last month, I stopped at Stoneleigh Abbey. It was late in the day and the house tours had concluded, so I purchased a garden ticket and stepped through the wide, low door from the Gatehouse into the garden. Once inside, I followed a small path, lined on one side with tall flowers and a wooden fence. As the imposing front face of Stoneleigh came into view, I stopped and stared. In person, Stoneleigh Abbey is absolutely stunning.

1 Stoneleigh Abbey-View from lane

Stoneleigh Abbey: View from lane

[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

 

Jane Austen went to Stoneleigh Abbey in 1806 with her mother and Cassandra during a visit to Mrs. Austen’s first cousin, Reverend Thomas Leigh. The Austen women stayed at Leigh’s Adlestrop estate. During their visit, they also went with him to Stoneleigh Abbey, which he had just inherited. It’s believed that Austen drew inspiration from that trip for the Sotherton outing in Mansfield Park.

During the Regency period, the trend in landscape gardening aimed to make the gardens and surrounding land of grand estates look more natural and inviting. Enclosure walls were taken down, streams were redirected, long avenues of trees were chopped down, and new trees were planted in natural clumps. The orderly borders and rows of previous generations gave way to open spaces, grazing sheep or cattle, Grecian urns, and playful fountains.

2 Stoneleigh Abbey-River Avon views

3 Stoneleigh Abbey-River Avon views

Stoneleigh Abbey: River Avon views

[Photos: Rachel Dodge]

 

In Jane Austen and the English Landscape, Mavis Batey closely chronicles the landscape changes made to Adlestrop and Stoneleigh during Thomas Leigh’s day as well as the Red Book design plans proposed by Humphrey Repton. Austen was familiar with Repton’s Red Books, in which Repton presented clients with detailed drawings and paintings of his proposed changes.

During her visit to Adlestrop, Austen had access to Repton’s book, Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, which features examples of his “before and after” overlays, including his design plans for Adlestrop: “Jane Austen’s first real acquaintance with Repton’s work was at Adlestrop in Gloucestershire, where her cousin the Revd Thomas Leigh had consulted him in 1799” (Batey 81). By the time Austen visited Adlestrop in 1806, the improvements were complete.

 

When Austen saw Stoneleigh, no alterations had been made. Her brother, James, visited Stoneleigh in 1809, just after Repton had completed the Red Book for Stoneleigh (89). It’s likely that James provided the Austen women with updates on the progress there.

4 Stoneleigh Abbey-Front Approach (close-up)

Stoneleigh Abbey: Front Approach (close-up)

[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

5 Stoneleigh Abbey- Front

Stoneleigh Abbey: Front

[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

 

Often, Repton’s improvements included redirecting nearby bodies of water, as Repton’s Red Book shows in this “before and after” of the flow of the River Avon next to Stoneleigh Abbey:

6 Stoneleigh Abbey-Repton_s Red Book “Before and After” (River Avo)

Stoneleigh Abbey: Repton’s Red Book “Before and After” (River Avon)

[Pith+Vigor, May 8, 2013]

 

Austen was evidently inspired by Repton’s Red Books and the changes made to Adlestrop, as well as those proposed at Stoneleigh. During the group outing to Sotherton in Mansfield Park, Repton’s name is mentioned in reference to the changes Mr. Rushworth is considering:

Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred [acres], without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been two or three fine old trees cut down, that grew too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down: the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill . . . (Mansfield Park)

 

There are also similarities between the Stoneleigh improvements and those Austen describes in Mansfield Park, such as the removal of a walled enclosure:

Stoneleigh had a walled entrance forecourt on the imposing west front, which had been added by Smith of Warwick in 1726. A walled enclosure was the first object for “fault-finding” when Jane Austen’s improver, Henry Crawford, led the party out to ‘examine the capabilities of that end of the house.’ Anticipating Repton he exclaimed, “I see walls of great promise.” Repton’s before and after illustrations show how essential the removal of these walls were. (Batey 90)

7 Stoneleigh Abbey-Repton_s Red Book “Before and After” (stone wall) (2)

Stoneleigh Abbey: Repton’s Red Book “Before and After” (stone wall)

[Pith+Vigor, May 8, 2013]

 

In The World of Jane Austen, Nigel Nicolson also provides a history of the Stoneleigh architecture: “It had been a Cistercian Abbey . . . founded in 1143” (141). When it came into the Leigh family after the Dissolution, an Elizabethan mansion was built. “The gatehouse was built by the sixteenth Abbot of Stoneleigh in 1346, and is the only substantial structure of the medieval abbey to survive” (146). The gatehouse still stands today (pictured below). The “entrance front” to the Great House was built in 1714.

8 Stoneleigh Abbey-Gatehouse

Stoneleigh Abbey: Gatehouse

[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

 

Behind the gray-stoned front face of Stoneleigh Abbey stands an older, Elizabethan house (142). The internal courtyard in the latter “was once the cloister of the medieval Abbey . . . remodeled to form the sixteenth-century house” (145). During their visit, Mrs. Austen commented on the interior of Stoneleigh, describing “the state bedchamber with a dark crimson Velvet Bed: an alarming apartment just fit for a heroine” (Batey 88).

9 Stoneleigh Abbey-Red brick Elizabethan portion of house

Stoneleigh Abbey: Red brick Elizabethan portion of house
[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

Today, visitors to Stoneleigh may enjoy an afternoon Cream Tea (tea and scone with clotted cream and jam) or a more elaborate Jane Austen Tea (http://www.stoneleighabbey.org/afternoon-tea) in the outdoor Orangery Tea Room. For those who want to spend more time on the grounds, there is a Jane Austen-themed tour of the house and a Repton Walk landscape tour available on certain days and times (reservations are encouraged for each).

10 Stoneleigh Abbey-Side view (from River Avon walk)

Stoneleigh Abbey: Side view (from River Avon walk)
[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

11 Stoneleigh Abbey-Orangery Tea Room

Stoneleigh Abbey: Orangery Tea Room
[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

One of the many delights of the Stoneleigh gardens is the lavender that grows alongside the walks. I visited on a stormy, breezy summer afternoon, and the smell of lavender filled the air. The Gatehouse has a small gift shop, and I bought dried lavender and Stoneleigh Abbey honey there, which I took as a hostess gift to my cousin that evening.

12 Stoneleigh Abbey-Lavender plants

Stoneleigh Abbey: Lavender plants

[Photo: Rachel Dodge]

Landscape architects still refer to Repton’s Red Books today. On Pith + Vigor, you can view an entire gallery of Repton’s Red Book images in Rochelle Greayer’s article, “Before & After: Humphry Repton.” [http://www.pithandvigor.com/garden/before-after/before-after-humphry-repton]

To view all of the original images from Humphrey Repton’s Red Book for Stoneleigh Abbey, please visit: http://www.stoneleighabbey.org/red-book.

 

Rachel Dodge is an author, college English instructor, and Jane Austen speaker. A true Janeite at heart, she loves books, bonnets, and ball gowns. For more of Rachel’s literary ramblings, you can follow her at www.racheldodge.com or on Facebook or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kindredspiritbooks/). Her book, Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen releases October 2, 2018 (Bethany House Publishers).

Works Cited:

Batey, Mavis. Jane Austen and the English Landscape. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1996.

Greayer, Rochelle. “Before & After: Humphry Repton.” Pith + Vigor, 8 May 2013, http://www.pithandvigor.com/garden/before-after/before-after-humphry-repton.

Nicholson, Nigel. The World of Jane Austen. London: Orion Publishing Group, 1991.

 

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Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. Inquiring Reader, When I visited Bath years ago, I kept a journal, which I completely forgot about until yesterday, when I found it among a pile of papers. It is the custom in my family to arrange for lodging on the day of our arrival and the night before our departure in any foreign land, and to trust in the suggestions from the people at the local visitor’s bureau for the rest of the vacation. We visit such establishments after 3 or 4 PM, when many hotels begin to deeply discount their rooms. This habit is a bit like gambling, but for us it has paid off spectacularly.

My budget-minded family has followed this practice successfully, sometimes even at the height of tourist season, in England, the Netherlands, France, New Zealand, and the great American west. The pay-off is in finding lodging in charming hotels or B&Bs at a fraction of their normal price. (Our best bargain ever was in the French Quarter in New Orleans at the Place d’Arms, where we spent 4 glorious days in a luxury suite for $78/night. It was April, perfect weather for N.O.)

Bath to London coach on the open road

Back to England. My ex and I traveled from London to Bath (yes, we rented a car, and yes, he successfully negotiated his way out of London with me reading the map and helping him to enter and exit the round-abouts. Talk about a hair raising journey, for he had never driven on the British side of the road before and I am at best a terrible map reader). We entered Bath along the London Road, looking for the distinctive blue and white V sign, and discussed the price we were willing to pay. Those good people steered us to the Dukes Hotel on Edward Street, just off Great Pulteney Street,  across the Pulteney Bridge in Bathwick and near Sydney Gardens.

The Dukes Hotel on the corner of Edward Street and Great Pulteney Street

As a Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen fan, I felt that I had simply died and gone to heaven.

Entrance to the Dukes Hotel

Compared to Bath’s ancient Roman buildings and medieval streets, Great Pulteney Street is rather modern.  In the 3rd quarter of the 18th century, the city council voted to expand Bath’s boundaries across the River Avon. This era marked an expansion and growth for the city that resulted in the addition of thousands of new houses inside Bath proper and outside of it. Sir William Pulteney, who resided on an estate called Bathwick and fortuitously located across the river, commissioned architect Thomas Baldwin to design and build Great Pulteney Street. The task was completed in 1789.

Location of the Dukes Hotel

Situated at one end of this long broad thoroughfare is Sydney Gardens, the pleasure gardens mentioned so often by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and others who have journeyed to Bath.

Bath Hotel at the entrance of Sydney Gardens 1825

Seen prominently at the entrance of Sydney Gardens was the Bath Hotel (see a 360 panoramic view), now the Holburne Museum.

View from Laura Place towards Sydney Gardens with the Holburne Museum barely visible at the end of the street.

To return to our first evening in Bath, our room at the Dukes Hotel was charming but offered no view (which often happens when you wait for a bargain). We  immediately set off to explore Bath on foot, for it was mid-July when the days were long. Great Pulteney Street did not disappoint me with its wide sidewalks and row upon row of graceful houses made of Bath stone.  I would take this walk several times per day, and it is this street in particular that I still recall most vividly. I imagined myself wearing a Regency outfit and hearing the clopping of horses’ hooves and the rattling of carriages as I made my way towards Bath proper.

The wides expanse of Great Pulteney Street, walking from Edward St. towards Pulteney Bridge

At this point I must share with you why I am using Google earth images. My own photos are still missing. You can imagine how delighted I was to be able to reconstruct my journey from my newly found journal and the images I pulled from Google maps.

Laura Place. The fountain was built in the third quarter of the 19th century.

We walked past Laura Place, where Lady Dalrymple from Persuasion had taken a house for three months, until Great Pulteney Street ended at the fountain. It is then named Argyle Street.

Pulteney Bridge, 1779 by Thomas Malton Image @Victoria Gallery

We ambled along slowly, taking in all the sights and brazenly looking into windows when we could, and continued on to  Pulteney Bridge, a Palladian bridge designed by the Adam brothers and finished in 1773. The bridge has seen several renovations since, especially in the design of the shops that line it.

The Weir as seen below the bridge

We walked down the steps to the bank of the river and listened to the rush of water on the Weir  until the sun set. Click here for an arial view of the walk I have just described.

And so I conclude our first evening in Bath, which, due to the stress of driving in a foreign land from a major city along by-ways that eschewed busy thoroughfares, ended quite early for us. I did have time to write down my thoughts at a tiny desk in our third floor room.

This video brings back memories of driving around Bath’s environs. Driving up and down green hills near Bath, England

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