Posts Tagged ‘Stoneleigh Abbey’

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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This weekend as we celebrate Mother’s Day, my thoughts turn to Cassandra Austen,  wife of Rev. George Austen and mother of Jane Austen. Cassandra was related to the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey.  In 1806, the recently widowed Mrs. Austen visited Adlestrop Rectory in Gloucestershire with her two daughters, where they stayed with her cousins Rev. Thomas Leigh and his sister Elizabeth.  During their visit,  Rev. Thomas Leigh learned that the Hon. Mary Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey had died and that he would inherit the great house, whose origins go back to 1154. The Austen women traveled with Rev. Leigh to Warwickshire. In the following letter, Mrs. Austen writes glowingly about their stay at the mansion:

“August 13, 1806.

“MY DEAR MARY, – The very day after I wrote you my last letter, Mr. Hill wrote his intention of being at Adlestrop with Mrs. Hill on Monday, the 4th, and his wish that Mr. Leigh and family should return with him to Stoneleigh the following day, as there was much business for the executors awaiting them at the Abbey, and he was hurried for time. All this accordingly took place, and here we found ourselves on Tuesday (that is yesterday se’nnight) eating fish, venison, and all manner of good things, in a large and noble parlour, hung round with family portraits. The house is larger than I could have supposed. We cannot find our way about it – I mean the best part; as to the offices, which were the Abbey, Mr. Leigh almost despairs of ever finding his way about them. I have proposed his setting up direction posts at the angles. I had expected to find everything about the place very fine and all that, but I had no idea of its being so beautiful. I had pictured to myself long avenues, dark rookeries, and dismal yew trees, but here are no such dismal things. The Avon runs near the house, amidst green meadows, bounded by large and beautiful woods, full of delightful walks.

Stoneleigh Abbey, 1808, Humphrey Repton

“At nine in the morning we say our prayers in a handsome chapel, of which the pulpit, &c. &c., is now hung with black. Then follows breakfast, consisting of chocolate, coffee, and tea, plum cake, pound cake, hot rolls, cold rolls, bread and butter, and dry toast for me. The house steward, a fine, large, respectable-looking man, orders all these matters. Mr. Leigh and Mr. Hill are busy a great part of the morning. We walk a good deal, for the woods are impenetrable to the sun, even in the middle of an August day. I do not fail to spend some part of every day in the kitchen garden, where the quantity of small fruit exceeds anything you can form an idea of. This large family, with the assistance of a great many blackbirds and thrushes, cannot prevent it from rotting on the trees. The gardens contain four acres and a half. The ponds supply excellent fish, the park excellent venison; there is great quantity of rabbits, pigeons, and all sorts of poultry. There is a delightful dairy, where is made butter, good Warwickshire cheese and cream ditto. One manservant is called the baker, and does nothing but brew and bake. The number of casks in the strong-beer cellar is beyond imagination; those in the small-beer cellar bear no proportion, though, by the bye, the small beer might be called ale without misnomer. This is an odd sort of letter. I write just as things come into my head, a bit now and a bit then.

Stoneleigh Abbey, Gatehouse. 1807

“Now I wish to give you some idea of the inside of this vast house – first premising that there are forty-five windows in front, which is quite straight, with a flat roof, fifteen in a row. You go up a considerable flight of steps to the door, for some of the offices are underground, and enter a large hall. On the right hand is the dining-room and within that the breakfast-room, where we generally sit; and reason good, ’tis the only room besides the chapel, which looks towards the view. On the left hand of the hall is the best drawing-room and within a smaller one. These rooms are rather gloomy with brown wainscot and dark crimson furniture, so we never use them except to walk through to the old picture gallery. Behind the smaller drawing-room is the state-bedchamber – an alarming apartment, with its high, dark crimson velvet bed, just fit for an heroine. The old gallery opens into it. Behind the hall and parlours there is a passage all across the house, three staircases and two small sitting-rooms. There are twenty-six bedchambers in the new part of the house and a great many, some very good ones, in the old.

Bedroom, Stoneleigh Abbey

There is also another gallery, fitted up with modern prints on a buff paper, and a large billiard-room. Every part of the house and offices is kept so clean, that were you to cut your finger I do not think you could find a cobweb to wrap it up in. I need not have written this long letter, for I have a presentiment that if these good people live until next year you will see it all with your own eyes.

Arch, Stoneleigh Manor, Repton, 1807

“Our visit has been a most pleasant one. We all seem in good humour, disposed to be pleased and endeavouring to be agreeable, and I hope we succeed. Poor Lady Saye and Sele, to be sure, is rather tormenting, though sometimes amusing, and affords Jane many a good laugh, but she fatigues me sadly on the whole. To-morrow we depart. We have seen the remains of Kenilworth, which afforded us much entertainment, and I expect still more from the sight of Warwick Castle, which we are going to see to-day. The Hills are gone, and my cousin, George Cook, is come. A Mr. Holt Leigh was here yesterday and gave us all franks. He is member for, and lives at, Wigan in Lancashire, and is a great friend of young Mr. Leigh’s, and I believe a distant cousin. He is a single man on the wrong side of forty, chatty and well-bred and has a large estate. There are so many legacies to pay and so many demands that I do not think Mr. Leigh will find that he has more money than he knows what to do with this year, whatever he may do next. The funeral expenses, proving the will, and putting the servants in both houses in mourning must come to a considerable sum; there were eighteen men servants.” – Letter, Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends

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Bedroom image: UK Student Life

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Edward Austen Knight

[Marianne] “’What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?’
‘Grandeur has but little,’ said Elinor, ‘but wealth has much to do with it.’‘Elinor, for shame!’ said Marianne; ‘money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction as far as mere self is concerned.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Elinor, smiling, ‘we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?’

‘About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that.’

Elinor laughed. ‘Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end.’” – Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility, volume 1, chapter 17

“To be above vulgar economy” … was one of Jane Austen’s express wishes, yet on the surface it would seem that her rich brother Edward contributed very little to Jane’s and her mother’s and sister’s notions of security. How was it that Edward’s fortunes were so very much above that of his family, and why did he not do more for his sisters and mother than provide them with a roof over their heads and a small annual sum?

Rev. George Austen presents his son, Edward, to Thomas Knight and family

Rev. George Austen presents his son, Edward, to Thomas Knight and family

Edward, third son of the family … became the favourite of some wealthy childless relatives of his father, the Thomas Knights. They met him as a 12-year-old when they visited the rectory at Steventon on their wedding journey. When they left, Edward accompanied them for the rest of the trip and subsequently went frequently for holidays at their estate. Eventually, when Edward was 16, they adopted him as their heir. – Janet Todd, Jane Austen in Context

The Austens must have been thrilled beyond belief when Thomas Knight, George’s rich, childless cousin, took an interest in Edward, his third son. The practice of childless couples in adopting an heir from a less fortunate branch of the family was not an uncommon one for wealthy relatives to take at the time. When Edward inherited his estates from his adopted father, he became richer than Mr. Darcy, earning £15,000 per year from his investments against Mr. Darcy’s £10,000 per year. Multiply this number by 50 and you have an approximate amount of how much income Edward enjoyed in today’s terms.

Godmersham Park

Godmersham Park

And yet, with such a rich brother, Jane and her sister and mother worried a great deal about money after the sudden death of Rev. George Austen in Bath in 1805. Three of the brothers rallied behind them. Edward’s initial pledge of £100 a year almost doubled his mother’s income of  £122 from a small South Seas fortune, and both Henry and Frank pledged £50 apiece per year to support their mother and sisters. Cassandra received a small income from Tom Fowle’s £1000, which he had bequeathed to her in his will.  Even so, the three women were forced to move in March to more affordable rented living quarters on Gay Street, and then to Southampton in 1806, where they, along with their friend Martha Lloyd, shared a house with Frank Austen and his new bride.

The move to the house in Castle Square, Southampton in 1807 brought much cheer to Jane. The house, she noted, was not in good repair but it had a large garden. Her accounts for 1807 show that from her allowance of £50 she spent £2.13.6 to hire a pianoforte.”- Soft and Loud, JASA

Panorama of Chawton

Panorama of Chawton

Edward finally came through for his mother and sisters. Four years after his father’s death, he refurbished Chawton Cottage and invited them to move in. It was in this cottage that Jane was at her most prolific, polishing off earlier versions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and famously writing Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. In skimming through a variety of biographies, many authors treat Edward’s seeming parsimony with a hint of contempt. The Knights had a history of generosity towards their poorer Austen relatives. Thomas Knight, second cousin to Rev. George Austen, gave him two livings that were valued at £210 the year that Jane was born. At Steventon, the Austens also had land to farm, which was an important factor in their diet and maintaining their self-sufficiency. The Austens also took in boarding pupils, and by the time Rev. Austen retired , he was earning almost  £600 per year, the same amount that his eldest son, James, made towards the end of his life.

Jane, her sister and mother had fallen on hard times. Financially dependend on their families, they are forced to move in March to rented living quarters on Gay Street, and then to Southampton in 1806, where they, along with their friend martha Lloyd shared a house with Frank Austen and his new bride.
“The move to the house in Castle Square, Southampton in 1807 brought much cheer to Jane. The house, she noted, was not in good repair but it had a large garden. Her accounts for 1807 show that from her allowance of £50 she spent £2.13.6 to hire a pianoforte.” JASA Soft and Loud,
Finally, four years after his father’s death, Edward Austen Knight refurbished Chawton Cottage for his mother and sisters, and had them move in. The walled garden, designed by Edward Austen Knight on the advice of his sisters Jane and Cassandra, is being recreated to provide not only flowers but organically grown fruit, vegetables and herbs, some of which will be used in contemporary recipes to be prepared in the kitchens. The church where Jane’s mother and sister are buried sits halfway up the drive.(from Chawton site)There had always been generostiy from the Knights towards the Austens. .

Jane’s mother, Cassandra, who was related to the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey, placed a great hope that her rich childless brother, James Leigh-Perrot, would leave money to her eldest son James. While James Leigh-Perrot provided James with a clerical living and some supplementary cash, his property eventually went  not to James, but to his son, James Edward, who was Jane Austen’s biographer. James Leigh-Perrot left nothing to his sister Cassandra, even knowing that she lived on a small income. He might have supposed that her uber rich son, Edward, would take care of his mother, which, in a fashion he did. Why did Edward not contribute more to his mother and siblings?

This is mere conjecture on my part, but Edward did the best he could under the circumstances. Yes, he was rich beyond imagining, but his responsibilities were many and heavy. He inherited two large estates, which were the physical embodiment of his inheritance. The laws of primogentirue demanded that as the heir, he should keep everything intact, from the land, which provided the income, to the house and all the family heirlooms within it. The heir was merely a “keeper” of the estate and the family name, and his actions were proscribed. Edward was more a tenant than an owner, and he was duty bound to turn over his entire estate to his male heir. – The Country House, JASA.

Chawton Cottage

Chawton Cottage

Running these estates, with their attendant servants and necessary improvements, took an enormous, some would say crippling, amount of resources. In addition, Edward’s family was large. His first wife, Elizabeth, died after giving birth to their eleventh child. Add his seven brothers and sisters, his biological mother and adopted mother and her family, the Knight family, and the ever widening circle of nieces and nephews, and the even larger circle of aunts, uncles and cousins on both the biological and adopted sides, and you can imagine the pressures Edward must have felt all around.  Had he doled out what we would deem as adequate support to all the needy individuals in his extended family, Edward’s estate would soon have been frittered away.

Chawton House

Chawton House

One cannot fault Edward too much for moving prudently and cautiously, for he was obliged first to his immediate family and the need to provide for adequate dowries for his daughters and support for his younger sons. I do fault him for not helping Jane to repurchase her manuscript, Susan (renamed Northanger Abbey), for the measly sum of £10, so that she could pursue its publication, but for all we know she might have never applied to him for help.

I sometimes wonder if the Austen women were as destitute as people today conjecture. Unlike 90% of their countrymen, who rarely traveled outside of their immediate area, the Austens traveled frequently, visiting friends and relatives. They were able to keep two servants and supplement their diet with vegetables from their kitchen garden, and received an endless supply of milk from Edward’s cows. Jane secured a modest but extra income from her writing, and the three women lived off a yearly income of  £500 pounds, which was only  £100 less than Rev. George Austen earned, who had a family of eight to feed, in addition to his boarders. Jane’s eldest brother,  Rev. Frank Austen, managed to keep a carriage for his second wife on an income of  £600 per year. I am not saying that the three women were rich, by any means, for, like Elinor Dashwood, they lived frugally and prudently, but they did dine frequently with Edward and visited him over extensive periods of time at Godmersham Park, which must have been as luxurious an experience as any visit to a high end resort.

After Thomas Knight died, his widow, instead of waiting until her own death, handed over the family estates to Edward, who from 1798 lived the life of a country gentleman at Godmersham in Kent. When Mrs Knight herself died in 1812, Edward and his family, as stipulated in her will, took the name of ‘Knight’, prompting his eldest daughter Fanny (a favourite niece of Jane Austen’s) to write in her diary that now ‘we are therefore all Knights instead of dear old Austens How I hate it!!!!!’. Fanny’s aunt Jane wrote more calmly to her friend Martha Lloyd that ‘I must learn to make a better K.” – Janet Todd, Jane Austen in Context

Edward was the Austen's third oldest child

Edward was the Austen's third oldest child

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Gentle reader: In honor of JASNA’s annual meeting in Philadelphia this week, this blog, Austenprose, and Jane Austen Today will be devoting posts to Jane Austen and her siblings. Look for new links each day.

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Wentworth Before, Humphry Repton

Wentworth Before, Humphry Repton

One of the biggest names in landscaping during the late 18th and early 19th centuries was Humpry Repton (1752-1818), a self-made man who transformed the formal landscapes around England’s great houses along more natural, fluid, and graceful lines. Repton, who saw the relationship between house and landscape as a picturesque whole, wrote:

Wentworth After, Humphry Repton

Wentworth After, Humphry Repton

“In landscape gardening everything may be called a deception by which we endeavour to make our works appear to be the product of nature only. We plant a hill to make it appear higher than it really is, we open the banks of a natural river to make it appear wider, but whatever we do we must ensure that our finished work will look natural or it would fail to be agreeable.” Agreeable meant adding cattle or deer as focal points, and architectural structures that drew the eye. At times, entire villages were transported away from the great house and mature trees were transplanted so that the bucolic vision of manse and land could remain unspoiled and natural.

Transplanting trees, 1794, Hayes

Transplanting trees, 1794, Hayes

In following his vision, Repton moved roads,  created ponds, planted copses,  and built architectural structures. An artist, he painted his vision of how the property would look in 50 years in a series of red books, many of which still survive. Stoneleigh Abbey,  the ancestral home of Jane Austen’s mother’s family, was one of Repton’s most important commissions. Those who are planning to visit Stoneleigh Abbey will have an opportunity to view Repton’s red book for the Leighs, which took him a year to create and which will be on exhibit through 2009. Repton’s famous red books  showed painted scenes of the landscape before and after his transformations. In Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, he wrote:

“The perfection of landscape gardening consists in the four following requisites. First, it must display the natural beauties and hide the defects of every situation. Secondly, it should give the appearance of extent and freedom by carefully disguising or hiding the boundary. Thirdly, it must studiously conceal every interference of art. However expensive by which the natural scenery is improved; making the whole appear the production of nature only; and fourthly, all objects of mere convenience or comfort, if incapable of being made ornamental, or of becoming proper parts of the general scenery, must be removed or concealed”.

In 1796, following his own advice, Repton painted two watercolours for Whiton, the seat of Samuel Prime, esq., as seen below – (Images from Plants and Gardens Portrayed.)

Whiton, View from the Saloon Before, Humphry Repton, 1796

Whiton, View from the Saloon Before, Humphry Repton, 1796

Whiton, View from the Saloon After, Humphry Repton, 1796

Whiton, View from the Saloon After, Humphry Repton, 1796

Jane Austen famously mentioned Repton and the vogue for landscape transformations in Mansfield Park:

“Mr. Rushworth,” said Lady Bertram, “If I were you, I would have a very pretty shrubbery. One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.”

Mr. Rushworth was eager to assure her ladyship of his acquiescence, and tried to make out something complimentary; but, between his submission to her taste, and his having always intended the same himself, with the superadded objects of professing attention to the comfort of ladies in general, and of insinuating that there was one only whom he was anxious to please, he grew puzzled, and Edmund was glad to put an end to his speech by a proposal of wine. Mr. Rushworth, however, though not usually a great talker, had still more to say on the subject next his heart. “Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether in his grounds, which is little enough, and makes it more surprising that the place can have been so improved. Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred, 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, you know,” turning to Miss Bertram particularly as he spoke. But Miss Bertram thought it most becoming to reply—

“The avenue! Oh! I do not recollect it. I really know very little of Sotherton.”

Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked at him, and said in a low voice—

“Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’”

He smiled as he answered, “I am afraid the avenue stands a bad chance, Fanny.”

“I should like to see Sotherton before it is cut down, to see the place as it is now, in its old state; but I do not suppose I shall.”

“Have you never been there? No, you never can; and, unluckily, it is out of distance for a ride. I wish we could contrive it.”

“Oh! it does not signify. Whenever I do see it, you will tell me how it has been altered.”

“I collect,” said Miss Crawford, “that Sotherton is an old place, and a place of some grandeur. In any particular style of building?”

“The house was built in Elizabeth’s time, and is a large, regular, brick building; heavy, but respectable looking, and has many good rooms. It is ill placed. It stands in one of the lowest spots of the park; in that respect, unfavourable for improvement. But the woods are fine, and there is a stream, which, I dare say, might be made a good deal of. Mr. Rushworth is quite right, I think, in meaning to give it a modern dress, and I have no doubt that it will be all done extremely well.”

Miss Crawford listened with submission, and said to herself, “He is a well–bred man; he makes the best of it.”

“I do not wish to influence Mr. Rushworth,” he continued; “but, had I a place to new fashion, I should not put myself into the hands of an improver. I would rather have an inferior degree of beauty, of my own choice, and acquired progressively. I would rather abide by my own blunders than by his.”

“You would know what you were about, of course; but that would not suit me. I have no eye or ingenuity for such matters, but as they are before me; and had I a place of my own in the country, I should be most thankful to any Mr. Repton who would undertake it, and give me as much beauty as he could for my money; and I should never look at it till it was complete.”

“It would be delightful to me to see the progress of it all,” said Fanny.

“Ay, you have been brought up to it. It was no part of my education; and the only dose I ever had, being administered by not the first favourite in the world, has made me consider improvements in hand as the greatest of nuisances. Three years ago the Admiral, my honoured uncle, bought a cottage at Twickenham for us all to spend our summers in; and my aunt and I went down to it quite in raptures; but it being excessively pretty, it was soon found necessary to be improved, and for three months we were all dirt and confusion, without a gravel walk to step on, or a bench fit for use. I would have everything as complete as possible in the country, shrubberies and flower–gardens, and rustic seats innumerable: but it must all be done without my care. Henry is different; he loves to be doing.” – Mansfield Park, Chapter 6

Repton's suggested improvements for house and landscape, p. 48, The Landscape Gardening and the Landscape Garden of the Late Humprhey Repton

Repton's suggested improvements for house and landscape, p. 48, The Landscape Gardening and the Landscape Garden of the Late Humprhey Repton

Repton, who was prolific in his thirty year career, taking on over 400 commissions, believed in providing picturesque vistas that included focal points from certain stops along a circuitous path wending its way through the landscape. He wrote how he accomplished this:

First, by collecting the wood into larger masses and distinguishing the lawns in a broad masterly manner without the confused frittering of too many single trees;

Secondly, by the interesting line of road winding through the lawn;

Thirdly, by the introduction of cattle to enliven the scene; and

Lastly, by the appearance of a seat on the knoll and a part of the house with its proposed alterations displaying its turrets and pinnacles amongst the trees. –  The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the Late Humphrey Repton, Esq Being His Entire Works on These Subjects By Humphry Repton, John Claudius Loudon

Learn More About Humphry Repton by clicking on these links:

Hayes Image: Lasdun, Susan. The English Park, Royal, Private and Public. London. 1991, p 103. Print.

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The Gardens of Jane Austen’s England are a series of photos taken on a tour group in 2007. Click on the site to find images of Jane Austen’s houses and locations of her film adaptations.

The Royal Horticultural Society writes about the Royal pavilion’s restored Regency gardens, and defines the Regency garden style in this short article.

Beautiful black and white photographs of the architectural details of Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire are featured in Art and Architecture. Stoneleigh Abbey was the county seat of Cassandra Austen’s (nee Leigh’s) family. (Click on family tree to see the connection.)

Famed landscape architect Humphry Repton worked on the gardens at Stoneleigh Abbey. These images show the mansion and its surroundings before and after Repton’s changes, in which the house becomes integral to a natural looking landscape.
Jane Austen’s Life and Works in Google Earth is an amazingly detailed site that lists every location Jane visited, lived in, or mentioned in her novels. Download Google earth, and see images of these sites as taken from above. Find a direct link to the site here.

Mansion Illustrations from: Humphry Repton at Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, by Edward Malins, Garden History, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring, 1977), pp. 21-29, Published by: The Garden History Society.

Mother and child illustration: Maternal love, from: Kate Greenaway. Language of flowers. London: G. Routledge and Sons, [1884]

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