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Early Life of Robert Geffrye

Robert Geffrye was born at Tredinnick Farm near Landrake in Cornwall in 1613. His father was a yeoman farmer. That meant, unlike a tenant farmer, he owned his own land. He was baptised at St Michael’s Church in Landrake on the 24th May 1613. The local vicar, Roger Jope, chose children from the area to teach the basics of reading and writing. He discovered in Robert a quick and intelligent child. At that time, learning to read and write opened opportunities to any able boy.

A number of national and international incidents happened in the early years of Robert Geffrye’s life. In 1623 and again in 1630, storms affected the crops and many families were left hungry. In 1618, the 30 Years War began in Europe. A period of continuous war over three decades between Catholic and Protestant states in Europe and particularly amongst the Germanic states ensued. Even though Britain was not officially a participant in these wars, James Ist still provided an army of 30,000 English troops to support his Protestant allies. In 1625, three hundred young Cornishmen were conscripted to fight. In 1627 a failed raid on La Rochelle saw the returning English army of 5000 men billeted on Cornish households. Landrake was no exception. Because of the unruly nature of some bands of troops stationed in Cornwall, martial law was imposed on the area. Poor prospects and many dangers beset the young teenage Robert Geffrye.

A young man wanting to get on in life obtained an apprenticeship, especially with one of the great livery companies in the City of London. This was a route to prosperity and advancement. Many Cornish men had made their fortunes by joining such livery companies and many prominent Cornishmen had links to the livery companies. For instance, Richard Randall the Deputy Vice Admiral in Devon had a longstanding connection with The Ironmongers Company. Richard Peate, another Cornishman, made a lucrative career with The Ironmongers and became their senior warden. Robert Geffrye went to London at the age of 17 and applied successfully to join the Ironmongers as an apprentice with Richard Peate.

Robert Geffrye’s father paid Robert Peate the £200 apprenticeship fee. Apprentices became part of their masters family and boarded with them for the seven years the apprenticeship lasted. Robert Geffrye lived with the Peates at Whitecross Street, Finsbury, and initially would have been set to work sweeping the warehouse floor, and packing and weighing goods. Towards the latter years of his apprenticeship he would have worked in the counting house dealing with bills, and learning the elements of book keeping and correspondence, and so became acquainted with Peate’s customers. Daniel Defoe had been an apprentice with the Butchers company. He wrote that on the completion of an apprenticeship, a young man could, 

“turn his hand to anything, or deal in anything or everything.”

Robert Geffrye completed his apprenticeship with credit in August 1637. He was given the freedom of the city, which gave him privileges within the city. He later became a liveryman of the company, putting him in a position of authority, checking standards, and attending church services, dinners, and ceremonies in the name of the company. His dealings were with men who had trained and achieved the same status he had. This put him on a trajectory within the political and trading establishment of the city. 

In 1667 and again in 1687, Geoffrey became the Master of the Ironmongers Company. In 1674 he became the Sherriff of London, an important role in the 17th century. Officeholders had important judicial responsibilities and attended the justices at the Central Criminal Court, The Old Bailey. In 1676, Robert Geffrey became an Alderman and eventually the Lord Mayor of London in 1685. 

Painting of ca, 1745, Westminster from Lambeth, with the Ceremonial Barge of the Ironmongers Company

Samuel Scott, ca, 1745, Westminster from Lambeth, with the Ceremonial Barge of the Ironmongers Company – Google Art Project.

Robert Geffrey’s life and his rise in importance and influence came during a tumultuous time, starting in his youth with The Thirty Years War, the reign of Charles 1st during the English Civil war, when war was waged between the Parliamentarians known as The Roundheads, who were who were mostly Puritan, and the Cavaliers who were monarchists and Church of England followers. The monarchy was defeated, leading to the execution of Charles 1in 1649. Scotland proclaimed his son, also Charles, as King Charles II, whose army was defeated at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when he escaped to The Netherlands.

The following nine years were known as The  English Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. After Cromwell died, Charles II was invited back to England in 1660 and was welcomed in London in May of that year. Charles II died in 1685 and his brother James became King James II. 

Robert Geffrye lived through The Plague year of 1665, followed by The Great Fire of London in 1666. More conflict followed, including a successful attack by Charles II, a Roman Catholic, on The Medway ports with a Dutch fleet. The victory caused problems among many of the Protestant aristocracy and  government ministers. They wanted to get rid of Charles II and, backed by the Protestant Duke of Monmouth, to usurp him. Monmouth’s army was defeated at The Battle of Sedgemoor in Somerset. He was captured and executed and many of his followers were pursued by Judge Jeffryes  and condemned to death at the famous Bloody Assizes.

James II was able to consolidate his power and reigned until 1688, when he was deposed by William of Orange. During this tumultuous time, Robert Geffrye must have been a very astute politician and able administrator to navigate those times. You have to admire him for his tenacity.

Later life and the Almshouses

During his life Robert married a mercer’s daughter, Priscilla Cropely. They lived in Lime Street, very close to Leadenhall Market in the City and by the Ironmongers Hall. They had no children.

In 1653 he joined The Levant trading company. It is recorded that he traded cloth to Leghorn in Italy. Robert Geffrye  became an administrator in The Levant Company trading with Northern Europe, the Mediterranean  and Turkey. In 1670 he profited from the slave trade by his investments and involvement in the Royal African Company, and in 1680 Robert Geffrye became a joint owner of the trading ship, The China Merchant. He and his fellow owners wanted to hire their ship at first to The East India Company. 

He  became an administrator in The Royal African Company whose whole purpose was the ”Triangular Trade” with the Guinea Coast of West Africa, The West Indies, and Britain. All these great trading companies had strong links to The Ironmongers Company, trading in cloth, tin, lead, pewter, calico, spices, pepper and slaves. It is rather chilling seeing a list of their trading interests with slavery as just one more item on the list.

During the last fifteen years of his life, Robert Geffrye devoted his time to charitable work. He became the president of Bethlem and Bridewell Hospitals. Sir Robert Geffrye and his wife Priscilla were childless. She predeceased him by many years. When he died in 1704 at the age of 91 years, he left a small fortune of £13000. In his will, some of the money went to financing a school in his home village of Landrake in Cornwall, but a substantial amount of the  £13000 was left to build almshouses for poor deserving people who had worked mainly for the ironmongers and fell on hard times when they retired. 

Photo of the Geffrye Almshouse

The Geffrye Almshouses, image by Tony Grant

An almshouse is a charitable home for poor people of good character. The Ironmongers Company set up a group of officers called the Geffrye Charity Committee. They took nearly nine years to find a suitable site to build the almshouses–a site near the city so it had convenient access to the committee based at Ironmongers Hall.

They wanted the site to be conspicuous to passers-by so that Robert Geffrye’s legacy could be seen and admired. They first looked at a site in Old Street that the Ironmongers owned and a site in Bow was also considered. By 1711, the committee was still looking for a site and in November of that year they published an advertisement. A Mr Hunt, who owned a large plot of land fronting the Kingsland Road, responded, and sold the site to the Ironmongers for £200. 

There were other charitable foundations in The Kingsland Road too. Just to the north of this new site, The Drapers had built an almshouse. To the south, The Framework Knitters also had their almshouses. The area, although close to The City, consisted mostly of market gardens and arable farming. Clay pits in the area provided clay for brickmaking. In 1712, the Geffrye Charity Committee drew up their architectural plans for the almshouses. Someone who was not an architect must have been a competent draughtsman, for the plans were very good. The almshouses were well designed in a typical 18th century style copying Christopher Wren and aspects of Inigo Jones.

Tenders were submitted in 1712 for building the houses. Robert Burford, a carpenter, was employed to build the central great room and six almshouses located on the north side. Mr Halsaul, also called a carpenter in the documents, was contracted to build six more almshouses on the south side. In the documents they are merely called carpenters, but they were more likely to have been members of the Carpenters Guild, who had their own building apprentices. The central Great Room was used as a meeting place and to socialise for the first two years of its existence. It was soon turned into a chapel  for Sunday services, which the pensioners were required to attend.

The chosen site sloped to the west. To make it flat, the Committee encouraged people to dump their waste on the land to fill in the dip. Six hundred carts of soil were transported to cover the ground. The actual buildings were constructed at the back on solid ground that had not needed levelling. This provided ground for a solid foundation and left the front area to be grassed over as a  lawn for recreation, and room for Lime trees to be planted. Twelve houses were completed by 1712 with the great room in the middle. Two more houses were added, one to each wing in the following two years, making fourteen altogether.

The Geffrye Charity Committee insisted on high quality materials for the buildings. Today you can see how well constructed they are. The interiors are well designed. The floors are made of strong sturdy oak boards and the interior walls and ceilings are plastered. An American lady I showed round once finished the tour by saying, “ I’m ready to move in now.”

Statue of Robert Geffryes, Founder of the Hospital

Statue of Robert Geffryes, Founder of the Hospital

In December 1714, the first pensioners moved in. The criteria for becoming a pensioner was that you had to be 56 years old at least, poor, and of good character. The rules in the Geffrye Charity Committees documents state, 

“any member or their widow that shall have been Liveryman or Freeman of The Company of Ironmongers shall be preferred.” 

This did not mean that people who were not from the Ironmongers Company could not get in, but Ironmongers were given preference. Until 1740, on average between forty to fifty pensioners lived in the almshouses.

Robert Geffryes’ endowment provided a  Geffrye pensioner with a single room that had a small walk-in cupboard in one corner. They were given a pension of £6 a year. Each pensioner was provided with six sacks of coal a year. A new gown was given to each every Lady Day ( March 23rd). They were required to make ,”petticoats,” from their old gowns. Some of these official pensioners – male – often had wives, and it is thought some even had children living with them. £6 per year was not enough to live on for some. They could petition for extra funds from the almshouse poor box or the Ironmongers Companies estate. Many received extra money in this way. Some were also employed in work in the almshouses. The matron, groundskeeper and chapel clerk were employed from among the pensioners. A chaplain was also employed but he was not a pensioner. The Chaplain held a position of authority over the pensioners.

The committee made up rules for the pensioners to live by and were based on the rules enforced by other almshouses, so they were not unique. 

  • Pensioners could be fined for blasphemy. In this case they would be expelled from the almshouses to return to their parishes. This was not a good thing to happen. Living off their parish made them extremely poor. 
  •  If they were found guilty of adultery or lewdness they could be expelled. 
  • Staying out overnight could bring a fine. The gates were closed from 7pm in the winter and from 9pm in the summer.
  • Rule number 8 stated that a pensioner had to be. “of good life and conversation.” They were expected to get on well with the other pensioners and support each other when ill. Rule number 10 related to drunkenness. A fine would be given. Cases were heard at the Geffrye Charity Committee meetings held in the great room, to begin with. Generally, they were  lenient and expulsion was very rare. 

The almshouses today are called “The Museum of The Home.” Over the last three years a government grant from the lottery fund of £18 million pounds has been given to the museum to extend and develop its work. The basement has been lowered and refurbished to contain exhibitions and displays on the theme of The Home, which covers many aspects. Documentary films have been made about the home lives of local Shoreditch residents and their background. Various themes, such as migrant camps, sleeping rough on the streets ,”games in the home,” and other aspects of home life are covered. The key element about these new exhibitions and displays is to instigate discussion and to ask questions.

The ground floor has remained as the middle class English period rooms from Tudor times to the 21st century. A new addition called “The West Indian Front Room” has been installed as the 1970s room. Eventually, over time, the museum will move away from being predominantly a museum of middle class rooms to rooms that cover all of society. The roof has been opened up to contain a research library.

An important element of the museum’s work is its ground-breaking educational work with schools, colleges, and universities.  A new education block has been built at the back, a major element of the museum. The museum is now famous for its important outreach into the local community. Molly Harrison, the curator of the museum from 1949 into the 50s and 60s, developed child-centred exploratory education techniques, which many museums in Britain and the world over still use today. 

The second part of this series, which is a guided tour of the 18th century room in the Almshouses, will be posted on Thursday of this week. “Welcome to a Guided Tour of the 18th Century Room in the Museum of the Home at the Geffrye Almshouses, Part II.”

Links:

References:

  • Kathy Haslam : A History of the Geffrye Almshouses,  Published by The Geffrye Museum 
  • Penelope Hunting :  Riot and Revolution ( Sir Robert Geffrye 1613-1704)  Published by The Geffrye Museum 2013

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The Matthews Project

Introduction:

Inquiring readers,

The teacher who supervised the creation of this project, Ben John Wiebracht, contacted Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World in the summer of 2020 to propose a research project his students would work on in the fall. After hearing the details, she instantly agreed to publish the finished result in a post, and to create a page for this blog to share with other teachers and students. (My apologies to Dr. Wiebracht for editing this document. I’ve placed quotations around his writing whenever I’ve made no changes.)

The project, entitled “A Day in Catherine Morland’s Bath,” was published on January 4, 2021. It is still attracting readers and is approaching 1,300 readers!

The Basics:

The teacher: 

Dr. Ben John Wiebracht, English teacher at Stanford Online High School, a private high school under the umbrella of Stanford University.

The class:

The class chose a senior-level elective called “Love Stories” which tracked the evolution of love stories from the classical era to the early nineteenth century. The final unit was on Northanger Abbey. (Virtual book, Little, Brown, and Company, 1903, Internet Archive). 

The students:

The article was researched, written, and designed by LiYuan Byrne, Josephine Chan, Ariana Desai, Carolyn Engargiola, Ava Giles, Macy Levin, Gage Miles, Sophia Romagnoli, Kate Snyder, Oscar Steinhardt, Lauren Stoneman, Alexandria Thomas, and Varsha Venkatram.

Image of the Adumbration class of 13 students and teacher Ben John Wiebracht.

The class and teacher.

The Article and its Inspiration (The What):

  1.  “A Day in Catherine Morland’s Bath.” (Posted January 4, 2021 in Jane Austen’s World.) As the title suggests, the goal of the article is to give the reader a sense of how Catherine Morland, heroine of Northanger Abbey, and tourists like her would have spent their time when they visited the city.
  2. The article was based on a long-forgotten Georgian poem that Dr. Wiebracht dug out of the archives over the summer: “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” (1795), by the physician and poet John Matthews. 
    1. “The poem has a wealth of information on the amusements and absurdities of Bath, but it’s tough sledding for a modern reader, chock-full as it is of now-obscure allusions to Bath customs and institutions. Our job was to track them down.”
    2. “A fun example: Matthews mentions at one point a “priest” by the name of “King.” Eh? It turns out he’s referring to a fellow named James King, who wasn’t a priest at all but one of the city’s two “Masters of Ceremonies” – responsible for “presiding over social functions, welcoming newcomers, and enforcing an official code of regulations designed to preserve decorum and promote social interaction” (Gores, Psychosocial Spaces: Verbal and Visual Readings of British Culture, 1750-1820, p. 71). Matthews calls him a priest to poke fun at the city’s almost religious devotion to entertainment. And this same King plays a brief but important role in Northanger Abbey: he introduces Catherine and Henry. All of which is to say, paying close attention to Matthews can often lead to a fuller appreciation of Austen.”

Note from the Teacher: Searching for a Unique Contribution (The Why):

“The previous sentence begins to answer this question: we wanted to make a serious contribution to the study of Northanger Abbey

But let me speak as a teacher now, and not just a scholar. Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the standard way of teaching writing and research at the high-school level: the five-page essay. A thesis statement establishing the argument, some body paragraphs elaborating or demonstrating the argument, plenty of quotations and analysis – chances are you’ve written a couple in your day! In defense of the form, it does offer a space in which students can practice rhetorical and argumentative skills. My problem with the form is that it has no authentic audience, and the kids know it. Now I might pretend it has an audience by telling them, “imagine you’re writing for someone who is familiar with the text, but hasn’t studied it in depth.” Yeah right! In the history of the world, no one has ever thought: “I’m mildly interested in Northanger Abbey; now let me go find some five-page close-readings of it, but only ones with clear thesis statements and at least two quotes per paragraph.” Nope, the only audience for these essays is the teacher, and the teacher is bringing a very different attitude to the piece and making a very different set of judgments about it than the hypothetical “curious reader.” So the poor students have to pretend to be addressing one audience that for them does not exist, in order to please a very different audience. A recipe for stress – not to mention strained and awkward writing.

What if we changed the equation? What if there were ways to really give students an audience for their academic writing? If we could pull it off, I think it would send the message that the work we ask of students is meaningful and important – that the study of literature itself is important. That’s what the football coaches do, after all (the arch-rivals of us English teachers). How do they convince the kids that running into each other at high speeds is a meaningful, important endeavor? They stick them in a stadium where a bunch of people watch them do it, and it becomes immediately, empirically obvious to the students that football matters. In short, they give the kids an audience.

These were the considerations that prompted me to devise the Matthews project and to reach out to Vic about potentially publishing it on JAW – a forum with a thriving conversation about Austen. And this leads to the practical section of this page.”

Working with Your Students (The How):

If you’re interested in running a project like this with your kids, here are some tips to make it work.

  1. Canon-adjacent may be better than canon. What does that mean? It means that if you’re teaching Pride and Prejudice, it’s going to be tough for your students to break new ground simply by scrutinizing that text. But, if you can find some neglected texts whose study might shed light on Pride and Prejudice, then the picture changes. What about some of her juvenilia? What about Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women, which found an appreciative reader in Mr. Collins? What about some Georgian satire making fun of pompous clergymen? This is something to do over the summer, when you’re planning the class, and it might take some digging: the text has to be obscure enough that it isn’t already saturated with criticism, but relevant enough to your main text that there are readers out there who might care about it. “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” fit the bill: almost untouched by scholarship, but with clear connections to Northanger Abbey.
  2. Line up your venue in advance. This is key: you want the kids to know who their audience is from the beginning. Are you going to create an exhibit for a local public library? Will you try to get something published on a blog? Will you self-publish the students’ work on Amazon or some such service? Whatever the case, the students, like all writers, will do better work if they have a clear idea of whom they are addressing, and in what form. 
  3. Make sure students’ research tasks are well-defined. In our case, that meant combing through the poem, asking questions about various lines. Who are Tyson and King? What is a “macaroni”? Then students volunteered to tackle a certain number of research questions in groups. As a teacher, one of your roles is to be the executive planner, making sure there is the right number of students working on the right things.
  4. Offer continuous feedback. My students turned up all kinds of fascinating stuff in the course of their research, but of course they embarked on some rabbit trails as well. In order to help them make the most of their efforts, it’s a good idea to keep track of what students are doing while they’re doing it, rather than waiting to assess their work at the end. How can you do this? By creating a single google doc to which everybody contributes. Ours had a list of research questions, and I would simply check in every few days to see what students had added. Then I would leave comments offering encouragement, advice, and, if necessary, redirection. 
  5. Dive in yourself. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of writing and research of your own. Remember that your students are still learning the ropes of our discipline. If you want to produce a publishable class project, you’ll probably have to do more than simply split up duties and set deadlines. You’ll have to integrate and harmonize the students’ efforts, and fill in some of the gaps yourself. It can change the classroom dynamic in a refreshing way, too, to join in the action. It’s a bit like the old master-apprentice relationship, according to which teaching is a matter of showing, doing, and collaborating, not just telling or advising.
  6. Don’t grade. Or, if you must, do it on completion alone. A grade is what you give to practice scholarship, to performative scholarship – the five-page essay and other such readerless forms. The point of the project I’m describing is to allow students to do some real work. And a particularly good way to make it real is to remove yourself, the teacher, as the audience. For the purpose of this project, you’re the opposite of an audience, you’re a co-author, and the real audience is what all good writing deserves: an interested public.

Sub pages:

Link to “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme, 1795,” John Matthews

Plans for Going Forward: 

Our class ended last December, but currently about half the students and I are working on a new project: a scholarly edition of “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme,” complete with an introduction and notes. We’ll be publishing it with Kindle Direct, an Amazon service. Digital copies of the edition will be available to the public at no cost, and hardcopies for under ten dollars.

In the long term, I hope to start a book series to which successive classes can contribute. It might be called something like “Forgotten Contemporaries of Jane Austen.” The goal of the series would be to recover Georgian and Regency writers whose work has fallen out of print, but whose study can shed fresh light on Austen’s life and work. As with the Matthews project, the students and I would work together to introduce and annotate these texts. We would also share the nitty-gritty tasks of publication — obtaining an ISBN, formatting, that sort of thing.

Jane Austen’s World’s Participation in the Project and Two Powerpoint Presentations: Tony Grant and Victoire Sanborn

About the PowerPoints:  

For a visit to Bath and a visual background, Dr. Wiebracht scheduled two workshops, one for Tony Grant, who lives in England and has served as a tour guide to visitors interested in learning more about the places where Jane Austen lived or visited. His PowerPoint and talk were given first, and should be viewed first for those who are interested.

Vic Sanborn’s presentation came the following month. She, too, had visited Bath and used a few of her own photographs, but mostly she concentrated on discussing the years of 1795-98, when Matthews wrote the Adumbration and when Thomas Rowlandson created his illustrations for “The Comforts of Bath.” Tony’s PowerPoint sets up Vic’s perfectly, for her notes are not in the PPT slides. Enjoy!

  • Link to Tony Grant’s PowerPoint Presentation on a Virtual Tour of Bath, given October 2020. This PPT, consisting of Tony’s photographs of his trips to Bath as both a visitor and a guide, comes with descriptions and annotations. If you use his photographs, please give him attribution.
  • Link to Vic Sanborn’s PowerPoint Presentation of Bath 1795, the year the Adumbration was written. The PPT is without explanatory text or the presenter’s voice. A majority of the images are from Thomas Rowlandson’s Prints of “The Comforts of Bath” from 1798. The images, on Wikipedia and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are in the public domain. If Vic Sanborn’s photos are used, please give her attribution. 

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Inquiring readers: While our world travels have been curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can think of no better a way to take a tour than with Tony Grant, who has served as a guide in Jane Austen country for many years.

Map of Surrey

Map of Surrey

Map of Surrey

Jane Austen criss crossed the county of Surrey many, many times in her lifetime. Surrey is the county north of Hampshire. All the direct routes from Basingstoke, Steventon and Chawton to London pass through Surrey. She mentions Surrey places in her letters, providing a sense of what it was like to travel the roads of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Emma, her completed Surrey novel, is set in the fictitious Highbury and Hartfield located right in the middle of the county, surrounded by the real Surrey, Dorking, Mickleham, Box Hill, Cobham and with Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames to the north. Jane’s earlier attempt at another Surrey novel, The Watsons, begun while living in Bath in 1804 was never completed. The few pages of The Watsons that were completed set the action mostly in Dorking but also some outlying places.  Croydon, a large town, is repeatedly referred to and,” a village about three miles distant,” from Dorking, Westhumble, is a template for Stanton. Jane stayed at Great Bookham just north of Dorking with her relations, the Cookes. It is a short carriage ride away from Box Hill. Just north of Great Bookham is Leatherhead which has a debatable role in this account and to the north west of Great Bookham is Cobham, another place of interest mentioned in Emma. Interestingly a well-known, famous town in Surrey–Epsom– also gets a passing mention in Pride and Prejudice. It is amazing to see how the places and locations in Surrey came together in Jane’s imagination and how she used them in her novels. It’s like pieces of a jigsaw fitting together neatly. 

Great Bookham

Photo of St. Nicholas, Great Bookham

St. Nicholas, Great Bookham. Photo by Tony Grant

I am going to introduce Great Bookham first, because although Jane knew many places in Surrey well and visited most of them many times she actually spent lengthy periods of time in Great Bookham, staying with her aunt and uncle and cousins, the Cookes. Cassandra Cooke, her mother’s cousin, was Jane ‘s aunt. You might notice, the name Cassandra seems popular within the extended family as well as her immediate family. It is the same name as both Jane’s sister and mother. Cassandra Cooke was a budding writer. A forgotten novel called, Battleridge, is her contribution to posterity. Jane’s uncle Samuel Cooke was the vicar of St Nicholas Church in Great Bookham. The Cookes were well acquainted with Fanny Burney, who lived in the village with her husband, General D’Arblay, and their young son. The Reverend Cooke asked Fanny Burney‘s father for advice about church music. Burneys father, Charles Burney, was a reputed musician and composer. It is from Great Bookham that Jane first visited Box Hill a few miles away. Great Bookham, like Highbury and Hartfield, is at the centre of the geographical world of both The Watsons and Emma.

Box Hill

Image Mickleham to the right of Box Hill

Mickleham to the right of Box Hill. Photo by Tony Grant

So, to Box Hill, a mere few miles east of Great Bookham.

“They had a very fine day for Box Hill……. Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, and everybody had a burst of admiration on first arriving.” Emma

Later, Frank Churchill, as though proclaiming from a vast church pulpit, (which indeed, if you stand on the top of Box Hill and look out over the surrounding countryside, does feel like that,) announces grandly and perhaps grandiosely

“Let everybody on the hill hear me if they can. Let my accents swell to Mickleham on one side and Dorking on the other.”

Box Hill is part of the chalk incline that forms the North Downs in Surrey. It was a beauty spot, where visitors loved to look out on the beautiful surrounding countryside in Jane’s time and that is the situation still today. A National Trust shop and café is at the top. A 19th century fort built as part of a line of forts to help repulse a French invasion is there too. Throughout the 18th and most of the 19th century, France was always a threat to Britain real and imaginary. Pre Raphaelite artists painted there, poets wrote poetry about the countryside and John Logie Baird, the inventor of the television, carried out experiments from his cottage at the top of the hill. It is a nature reserve, the site of a very strange burial, and is still a great picnic site, as Emma was anticipating.

Mickleham

Mickleham

Mickleham, photo by Tony Grant

If you do as Frank Churchill informs us, look out from Box Hill with Mickleham to one side and Dorking to the other you will be facing west straight towards Great Bookham. Mickleham is located at the foot of Box Hill on its north west side. It is home to a  junior school called Box Hill School. St Michael’s Church in the village is where Fanny Burney and General D’Arblay were married. General D’Arblay was a French exile, who fled France for England after the rise of Maximillian Robespierre. He and other emigres were living at Juniper Hall on the edge of Mickleham. The house was leased from 1792 to 1793 by David Jenkinson, a wealthy landowner, to a group of French emigres which included Anne Louise Germaine de Staël, a writer who Jane Austen admired, although de Stael was dismissive of Jane Austen’s writing. Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-PérigordLouis, comte de Narbonne-Lara grandson of King Louis XV of France, and General Alexandre D’Arblay were among the key emigres staying at Juniper Hall. D’Arblay met Fanny Burney in the Templeton Room here. 

Dorking

Image Dorking, the Red Lion Hotel, 1904 Postcard

Dorking, the Red Lion Hotel, 1904 Postcard

Dorking is located south west of Box Hill. From Stanton ( Mickleham) the two Watson sisters  travelled by the turnpike road which led to the east end of the town. As they entered the town they could see the White Hart Inn on their right, where the ball they were so anticipating was to take place, and the church steeple of St Martins just behind the inn. In the Penguin Classic version of The Watsons the editor, Claire Lamoy suggests that The White Hart was in reality The Red Lion Inn, located in Dorking High Street which Jane visited while staying at Great Bookham. The Red Lion backed on to the churchyard of St Martins Church. The inn does not exist nowadays. A modern row of shops stands in its place. Many buildings in Dorking do originate from the 18th century and some earlier. It is an ancient market town. Dorking has links to The Pilgrim fathers. William Mullins a shoe maker from Dorking was on that first voyage of The Mayflower. His shop still stands in the High Street and is now a coffee shop. There are also connections to Dickens and Vaughn Williams, the 20th century composer.

Croydon

Image of Croydon Town Hall and Art Gallery, by Tony Grant

Croydon Town Hall and Art Gallery. Photo by Tony Grant.

In The Watsons the town of Croydon, about 17 miles from Dorking, is mentioned a number of times. Rich relations of the Watsons live there. It is where Emma Watson has been living with an aunt. When the story starts her aunt has died and Emma has recently returned to her family in Stanton.

Cobham

Image of Cobham churchyard

Cobham churchyard photo by Tony Grant

Cobham, north west of Great Bookham, has a cameo appearance in Emma. John Knightley’s wife Isabella, in praise of Mr Weston, states,

“and ever since his kindness last September twelvemonth in writing that note, at twelve o’clock at night, on purpose to assure me that there was no scarlet fever at Cobham, I have been convinced there could not be a more feeling heart nor a better man in existence.”

I have always thought that Cobham fits a description of Highbury and Hartfield. Many of the features of Cobham are the same. But you can find similar features in most country towns and large villages. There are the church, a mill, a local school, old coaching inns, houses for the local gentry and a large estate such as Mr Knightley’s a mile from the centre of town. Cobham has Painshill Park on its outskirts and Jane herself mentions it in a letter to Cassandra when travelling through leafy Surrey on one of her many visits to London. 

Kingston upon Thames

Image of O Druids head coaching inn Kingston

O Druids head coaching inn, Kingston. Photo by Tony Grant.

Kingston upon Thames is an important location in Emma. Mr Martin and also Mr Knightley go to Kingston regularly.

Harriet after meeting Robert Martin in the street reports to Emma

“He has not been able to get, “The Romance of the Forest,” yet. He was so busy the last time he was in Kingston that he quite forgot it, but he goes again tomorrow.”

Kingston used to have a large cattle market on the edge of town The area where it was located is still called The Cattle Market to this day. The municipal swimming baths and sports centre is on the site. It had an apple market, and that spot is still called The Apple Market, and also a large central market in the middle of the town where fishmongers, butchers, and fruit and vegetables from market gardens were sold. Fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables are sold from market stalls in the same location today. A few of the 18th century coaching inns still exist, The Griffin and The Druids Head are still pubs and inns, and the site of The Crown Inn that Jane Austen knew well is a department store that still retains a magnificent 18th century carved oak staircase. She often mentioned her visits to Kingston in letters to Cassandra as she travelled on the way to London. Kingston was an important place for carriages to change horses.

To Cassandra. Wednesday 15-Thursday 16 September 1813 from Henrietta Street

“… We had a very good journey-Weather and roads excellent-the three stages for 1s-6d & our only misadventure the being delayed about a quarter of an hour at Kingston for Horse, & being obliged to put up with a pair belonging to a Hackney Coach & their Coachman which left no room on the Barouche box for Lizzy.”

Jerry Abershaw

Black and white etching of Louis Jeremiah or Jerry Abershaw, 1773-1795. Highwayman, National Gallery of Scotland

Louis Jeremiah or Jerry Abershaw, 1773-1795. Highwayman, National Gallery of Scotland

Kingston has a more chilling aspect to i,t which has a relevance to Northanger Abbey. On the main road from Kingston into the centre of London the route passed through a remote wild area of heath and woodland. In 1795, at Tibbets Corner (the Putney, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Village junction) beside Wimbledon Common, a young highwayman called Jerry Abershawe was detained and executed. His body hung at Tibbets Corner inside a gibbet to rot and be picked to pieces by carrion crows as a warning to all highwaymen. In Northangar Abbey General Tilney sends the teenage Catherine Moreland away from the Abbey by herself in a public coach. Highwaymen were a danger. Even Jane’s brothers would not let her travel independently. Perhaps Jane and Cassandra witnessed Abershawe’s body in the gibbet. His body would have been left there until nothing was left. It would take a year or two to disappear.

Richmond upon Thames

Photo of Richmond Green The Churchills lived here.

Richmond Green. The Churchills lived here. Photo by Tony Grant.

Richmond upon Thames further north along The Thames from Kingston also has an importance in Emma. The Churchill’s removed from London to Richmond because of Mrs Churchill’s health.  

“It soon appeared that London was not the place for her. She could not endure its noise. Her nerves were under continual irritation and suffering; and by the ten days’ end, her nephew’s letter to Randalls communicated a change of plan. They were going to remove to Richmond. Mrs Churchill had been recommended to the medical skill of an eminent person there.”

I know Richmond well. It is just seven miles north of Richmond Park from where I live. It has an amazing history with connections to the nobility and the Monarchy. A Tudor palace was located at Richmond and also just outside of Richmond is Kew Gardens and Kew Palace where George III and his family spent a lot of time. Richmond was a very well connected town. Jane used this in Emma as an underlying comment about Frank Churchill.

Epsom

Image of Epsom Centre, by Tony Grant

Epsom Centre photo by Tony Grant

Epsom, at the foot of the north downs and famous for the Derby Racecourse, the forerunner of all Derbys around the world, gets a mention in Pride and Prejudice. When Wickham and Lydia elope from Brighton, where Wickham’s regiment is stationed, they of course have to pass through the county of Surrey to reach London. They change horses at Epsom. 

Lydia had disappeared with Wickham and Mr Bennet had turned into a man of action. Elizabeth enquired.

“She then proceeded to enquire into the measures which her father had intended to pursue, while in town, for the recovery of his daughter.”

“He meant,” I believe, “replied Jane, to go to Epsom, the place where they last changed horses, see the postilions and try if anything could be made out … His principal object must be to discover the number of the hackney coach which took them …”

Epsom, is a lovely market town and has an amazing central clock tower and wide thoroughfare for the market stalls set up there. There is also a well preserved 18th century Assembly Rooms called, “The Assembly Rooms,” which is now a Weatherspoon’s pub and restaurant. I have indeed imbibed a pint or two in there. There are many 18th century buildings still in the town.

Leatherhead

Image of leatherhead museum

Leatherhead Museum. Photo by Tony Grant

I must mention Leatherhead, very close to Great Bookham and Box Hill. It is a town Jane would have visited and probably knew well. It has become somewhat a cause celebre in the world of Jane Austen and generally causes arguments.  Highbury and Hartfield are fictitious places set within the real world of Surrey. There are those, however, who are  convinced that Leatherhead is indeed Highbury and Hartfield. They point out all the places that are in and around Leatherhead which they think fit Jane’s descriptions in Emma. It cannot be forgotten that Emma is a fiction, all said and done. Highbury and Hartfield are the quintessential 18th century English villages. Jane is concerned about the lives and relationships of people within a community.  That is what really counts.

There are many places in Surrey that Jane knew. I have included an overall map to show some of the key places I mention in this article and here are a few more places she mentions either in her novels or in her letters.

Guildford, Streatham, The Hogsback (A long hill outside of Guildford) Ripley, Painshill, Clapham, Battersea, Barnes and Egham.

To Cassandra Austen Thursday 20th May 1813

“We left Guildford at 20 minutes before 12- (I hope somebody cares for these minutes) & were at Esher in about 2 hours more.- I was very much pleased with the country in general-;- between Guildford and Ripley I thought it particularly pretty, also about Painshill & everywhere else; & from a Mr Spicer’s Grounds at Esher which we Walked into before dinner, the views were beautiful. I cannot say what we did not see but I should think there could not be a wood or a meadow or a palace or a remarkable spot in England that was not spread out us on one side or another.-“

Streatham is interesting, located  in South London at Tooting. It is where Dr Johnson lived for a while with Esther Thrale and her husband in their grand house next to the common and where many of the artistic glitterati of the 18th century met.

REFERENCES:

  • Austen J. Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon Penguin Classics (first published 1974) Revised edition published 2015
  • Austen J. Emma, Penguin Classics (Published in Penguin Classics 1996) reissued 2003.
  • Austen J. Pride and Prejudice, (published by Penguin Classics 1996) reissued 2003.
  • Austen J. Northanger Abbey, (published by Penguin Classics 1996) reissued 2003.
  • Le Faye D. Jane Austen’s Letters, (Third Edition) Oxford University Press 1995.

TONY’S OTHER BLOG POSTS: Below are some of the blog posts I have written connected with places I have mentioned in this article located in Surrey and South London where I live.

London Calling, Tony’s blog

Jane Austen in Vermont, Tony’s guest posts

Jane Austen’s World, Tony’s posts

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Inquiring readers: The lists in this blog post describe us (Vic, Rachel, Brenda, and Tony) and our interests to a tee. If we were to remove our names heralding our choices, you could probably guess who chose which list. The books mentioned are those that we read in 2020 and that have influenced our interests, thoughts, and research. Enjoy! Feel free to leave your own book suggestions in the comment section!

Vic Sanborn

1. Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era: The Eighteenth-Century Struggle for Female Success in a Man’s World, Mike Rendell, Pen & Sword History, Pen & Sword Books LTD, 2018.

This useful reference details the contributions of 18th century women (despite their lack of legal standing) in the arts, literature, sciences, business, commerce, reform, and education. Some women, like Frances Burney and Mary Wollstonecraft, are well known to us today. How many of us know about Mary Darly, Jane Marcet, Elizabeth Fry, or Ann Damer? This is a beautiful book well worth owning.

2. What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, John Mullan. 2003, Bloomsbury Press

John Mullan’s book was highly recommended to me. In it he discusses diverse topics in 20 chapters, such as: “How Much Does Age Matter?,” “Which Important Characters Never Speak in the Novels?,” “How Do Jane Austen’s Characters Look?,” “When Does Jane Austen Speak Directly to the Reader?,” and more. Mr. Mullan’s analysis prompts me to reread crucial passages in Austen’s novels; he helps me understand how much I still need to explore in her novels after all these years.

3. Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, Paula Byrne, 2014, Harper Perennial.

I decided to purchase this book after watching “Bridgerton.” I did not see “Belle,” the movie, but have read short descriptions of the remarkable life of this illegitimate daughter of a captain in the Royal Navy and an enslaved African American woman.

4. The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman: 1776-1800, National Trust, a primary source.

This extremely short book (62 pages) was not noticed until it was printed in 1952. Whatman’s observations on household management was for personal use only. It provides a snapshot of how an 18th century housewife managed a household, and describes her expectations and relationship with her servants. This primary source is extremely useful for anyone interested in the servant/mistress relationship during that time.

5. Hamnet, kindle edition, by Maggie O’Farrell, Deckle Edge, July 2020, mentioned as one of the 10 best books of 2020. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

This is my only entry that was recently published. My Janeite friend, Deb Barnum, could not praise the book enough and urged me to read it. O’Farrell’s tale about the death of William Shakespeare’s son is told in prose so beautiful, lyrical, poignant and magical that one enters another world entirely. The tale is sad, for Hamnet died of the plague, but the topic speaks to the grief that so many families in this world are feeling as they mourn lost ones due to the pandemic.

Brenda Cox

1. Jane Austen and Religion, by William Jarvis. ISBN: 095271261X

This fascinating little book gives more insight into the role of religion in Austen’s life and novels. Quite easy to read, unlike some of the other books on this topic.

2. Paupers & Pig Killers: The Diary of William Holland, A Somerset Parson, 1799-1818, edited by Jack Ayres. ISBN-10 : 0750932015

These selections from a parson’s diary give you an idea of what the daily lives of Austen’s family might have been like (since her father and two of her brothers were country parsons).

3. Untold Histories: Black People in England and Wales during the period of the British Slave Trade, c. 1660-1807, by Kathleen Chater. 2011. ISBN-10 : 0719085977

If you’d like to know about black people in Jane Austen’s England and their lives, this book is based on extensive research from primary sources. See the History tab above, the section Black History, for more resources.

4. The Woman of Colour, anonymous, edited by Lyndon Dominique. ISBN-10 : 0719085977

This novel of 1808, possibly written by a woman of color, gives you a more personal view of the situation for black people in Austen’s England. It includes contemporary accounts from the slave-holding colonies.

5. Jane Austen & Crime, by Susannah Fullerton. ISBN-10 : 0976353954

This novel is full of great insights into law and crime in Austen’s England and in her life and her novels.

6. Unmarriageable, by Soniah Kamal. ISBN-10 : 0525486488

This book is a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan. Lots of fun. See my review.

Rachel Dodge

1. Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Patti Callahan. ISBN-10: 0785224505

“In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.”

This book is perfect for fans of C.S. Lewis who want to know more about his wife, Joy Davidman. This novelized version of Joy’s life is hard to put down! I loved getting to know more about the brilliant mind and life of the woman Lewis called “my whole world.”

2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: ISBN-10 : 1846140498

This novel is one of my best memories of 2020 and one of my greatest achievements as a reader. I read this with an online read-along group for six months and fell in love with the novel and with Hugo’s writing. I could have never finished it without the group to help me stay on track. We had weekly online discussions that were incredibly invigorating. I highly recommend Les Mis to anyone who hasn’t read it — but if you can, read it with a buddy or a group. There’s nothing like it!

3. Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller: ISBN-10 : 006268535X

“In this novel authorized by the Little House Heritage Trust, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, “Ma” in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books.”

This book gives a detailed view of the Little House books as told from Caroline “Ma” Ingalls’ perspective. It is meticulously researched and written, and I was mesmerized by the story of this incredibly strong woman. I have always wondered about the “real Ma” and how she handled even the worst situations with such grit and grace.

4. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery:mISBN-10 : 1402289367

“Valancy Stirling is 29 and has never been in love. She’s spent her entire life on a quiet little street in an ugly little house and never dared to contradict her domineering mother and her unforgiving aunt. But one day she receives a shocking, life-altering letter―and decides then and there that everything needs to change. For the first time in her life, she does exactly what she wants to and says exactly what she feels.”

I’m including this on my list because it’s one of L.M. Montgomery’s best books–and many people have never read it. It is one of only two books Montgomery wrote for an adult audience, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t enjoy it. If you need a fun, quick, and invigorating read, this is a great one to pick up. You will love Valancy and Barney.

Tony Grant

1. A Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce. Published by the Penguin Group 1992 (First published 1914-15.)

Published in 1916, the book plots the course of the early life of Stephen Daedalus, his struggles with religion, education and relationships. All the things that matter in life. At that time the way people lived in Ireland was strongly controlled by the Catholic Church. We all know how that has turned out. As a lapsed catholic, even I shuddered and felt troubled by the four page description of hell.

2. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Published by the Penguin Group1999 (First published 1839)

I like a good dose of Dickens every now and then. I read Nicholas Nickleby recently. If you want a roller coaster of emotions, good, bad and ugly this is for you. The evil Ralph Nickleby and the Yorkshire headmaster, Squeers of Do The Boys Hall, are counterbalanced by the angelic Brothers Cheeryble and a few ,”Madonna,” like young women.It wouldn’t be Dickens without an angelic, perfect, beautiful young woman, defenceless waiting to be saved. Its Dickens at his best, mining the depths of humanity, sending your emotions in all directions like a firework display.

3. The Neopolitan Novels by Ellena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein, and published by Europa Editions (2012-2015). Four novels entitled:

  • My Brilliant Friend.

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.

  • The Story of a New Name.

  • The Story of the Lost Child.

Even if you read just one of these amazing novels it is worth it. The quartet is a powerful evocation of humanity. Like all of us, the characters in these novels make awful mistakes and some terrible things happen to them but nevertheless their lives move forward. Lina and Ellena, two friends who have known each other from birth, brought up in the back streets of Naples live off their innate animal intelligence. Ferrante plots their lives. If you think in terms of soul mates these two are each one half of the same organism. Both brilliant in different ways, their lives diverge but the link between them always remains. Their power and strength is derived from their connection. Together they are a force of nature. It is tough reading at times . There is not much humour but you feel that you have gone through a cathartic experience. This is Joyce and Dickens combined. Ferrante is a genius.

4. Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney. Published by Faber and Faber, 2017

This is the book Rooney wrote before, “Normal People.” Set in Ireland in the present time, it plots the love lives of young people. Rooney writes about her own age group. She is a great writer, plotting human relations through many hard, confusing, elating and passionate moments. Her characters are on a journey. The novel feels real, honest and gritty, with tenderness mixed in. Even at my advanced age I can empathise with the way their relationships pan out. This is the book James Joyce wanted to write, tried to write and for which he was virtually kicked out of Ireland.

5. The Rio Tape/Slide Show (Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 1980s)

Published by Isola Press London (IsolaPress.com) October 2020.

Ok, this is not a novel but it engaged and absorbed me completely. I felt so inspired I wrote a long review for my blog, London Calling. Hackney is a London Borough in the east end of London. In the 1980s, there was a lot of unemployment and poverty. It was a whole melting pot of different cultures and ethnic minorities. People were bullied by the police and government policies made life even harder. The Rio Tape Slide project based at The Rio Cinema in Kingsland Road began community initiatives. They educated the local people in ideas, photography, art workshops, news reporting, writing and community action. News reals, shown at the cinema, were made by local people who went out with cameras to record and write about their community. The project brought people together to form very effective action groups. This is Gandhi’s peaceful action alongside Martin Luther King’s ideas about community . As well as the photographs illustrating much of what went on, there are essays written by some of the original organisers of the campaigns that occurred. They explain their philosophy and thinking behind their actions. This should be read by everybody. It is a template for grass roots social action. I kept thinking,” this is how it’s done!!” Politics can be beneficial.

__________________

And, so, gentle readers. Which books have you read? Which of them would you recommend? Which new books would you add to our list in the comments?  Curious minds want to know. Thank you for participating!

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Inquiring readers: One of the activities I have missed the most during this year of COVID-19 is traveling abroad. In this blog post, Tony Grant takes us on a tour to The Vyne, which is one of England’s grand houses and is closely associated with Jane Austen and her family. Enjoy!

Gentle readers: Please note: this post is updated with corrections about the Stained Glass Windows and Flemish Tiles, as indicated in the comments by Stuart Hall, Tour Guide, The Vyne.

Image of The_Vyne_House wikipediaThe Vyne, Sherborne St John Hampshire, Image from Wikipedia

The Vyne, is an 18th century mansion near the village of Sherbourne St John. It is just north of the town of  Basingstoke; eight miles from Steventon, which is located south west of Basingstoke; eighteen miles from Chawton; twenty miles north of Winchester; and just over fifty miles from the centre of London. It is a typical grand house that, although its present appearance is 18th century, has been developed and adapted over the centuries to fit different periods. In the late 18th century its proximity to Basingstoke and Steventon put it and the Chute family, who owned it, within Jane Austen’s family local connections. George and Cassandra Austen, after their marriage in Bath, moved to Steventon in 1764 when George and Cassandra Austen first took up the living of Steventon Parish and were set to start their family with their first child, James, born on February 13th, 1765. Jane, the Austen’s eighth child, was born 16th December, 1775. As the vicar of Steventon, George Austen associated with the country gentry and landowners in the area and these included the Chutes at The Vyne in Sherborne St John.

The Vyne Estate, The National Trust Map, image by Tony Grant

The Vyne Estate, The National Trust Map, image by Tony Grant

The Vyne was first built as a large Tudor mansion by William, 1st Lord Sandys, Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain who died in 1540. The King himself, was entertained three times at The Vyne by Lord Sandys. The wealth of the Sandys family declined slowly through the centuries, but the Civil Wars 1642 – 1651 finished the family as an authority in the country and their wealth declined drastically. In 1653 the estate was sold to Chaloner Chute, who was the Speaker in the House, a role which had great power in Parliament shaping how Parliament debated issues and passed legislation during the last Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was set up after the execution of Charles 1st and continued to a little after Oliver Cromwell’s death and the reinstatement of the monarchy. Chaloner Chute was a very important man in the country. He reduced the size of the original Tudor mansion and modernised it, employing John Webb, a talented pupil of Inigo Jones to redesign it.

Floorplan of The VyneThe floor plan of The Vyne, The National Trust

Chute died in 1659 and not much more was done to the house for the next hundred years. His great grandson, John Chute (1701-76) inherited the house in 1754. John Chute was a talented architect and along with his friend Horace Walpole helped Walpole design the Gothic interiors of Strawberry Hill, Walpole’s house at Twickenham. Along with Walpole he also redesigned the Gothic interior of the chapel at The Vyne. In his early thirties, he brought back mementoes from his grand tour of Europe which remain in the house today. 

John Chute died without heirs in 1776 and the house passed to his cousin Thomas Lobb (1721-90), the son of a Thomas Lobb of Norfolk who had married Elizabeth Chute (d 1725) in 1720, hence the family connection. This second Thomas Lobb assumed the name of Chute when John Chute died and passed the Vyne to him, thus keeping the family name extant. Thomas (Lobb) Chute married Anne Rachael Wiggett (1733-90) in 1753.

They had two sons, William John Chute (1757-1824) and Thomas Chute (1772-1827). William, who inherited the house in 1790, married Elizabeth Smith in 1794.

Upon his death in 1824 the Vyne passed to his younger brother Thomas, a clergyman. As neither William nor Thomas had issue, the house was left in 1827 to William John Chute’s godson and part of the Wiggett family, William Lyde Wiggett (1800-79). THIS William assumed the name of Chute in 1827 and succeeded to the Vyne in 1842 when Elizabeth Smith Chute passed away.

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James Austen, Jane Austen’s eldest brother (above image on the right), became a close and lifelong friend of Tom Chute, William John Chute’s brother. They both loved fox hunting and often rode with the hounds together. On his clergyman’s income, James Austen was able to keep his own pack of hounds. As rector of Steventon, George Austen, Jane’s father, was also a visitor to the Chute family home.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Bennet and the Bennet girls were all a flutter at wealthy landowners, such as Fitzwilliam Darcy, came to live in their neighbourhood. The game was on to get her daughters married into a wealthy strata of society and rise in the world. You had to be ambitious if nothing else and take a chance.

The local clergy were regularly invited to the local landowner’s home for dinner; they became almost a part of the family in many ways. Mr Collins waxed lyrical about his great honour of being invited to Rosings by Lady Catherine de Bourgh. 

“She had asked him twice to dine at Rosings and had sent for him only the Saturday before  to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening… she made not the smallest objection to his joining in the society of the neighbourhood.”

We can gather that James Austen became closely associated with the Chute family, first because of his father’s connections and subsequently as the vicar of  Sherborne St John, the parish in which The Vyne was located.  Later he took over the incumbency of Steventon Parish from his father, a mere eight miles from The Vyne, which kept him close to the Chutes and the great house.  

James accumulated parishes throughout his clerical career. Deirdre le Faye enumerates the following. 

“curate of Stoke Charity , Hants, 1788, (the year he completed his studies with an MA from Oxford), the curate at Overton Hants in 1790, the vicar at Sherborne St John in 1791, the curate of Deane in 1791, the vicar of Cubbington in 1792, the perpetual curate of Hunningham in 1805  curate of Steventon (under his father) in 1801 and finally the vicar of Steventon  between 1805 and 1819 (died 1819).” 

Photo of The grave of James and Mary Austen at Steventon

James is buried alongside his wife in Steventon Churchyard. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Jane and Cassandra fully took part in local society, including friendships formed through family associations and connections provided by their father and brothers. Jane often wrote about her acquaintances and the local activities she took part in, including information she knew Cassandra would be interested in, often referring to the Chutes of The Vyne.

Thursday 14th – Friday 15th January 1796

“Friday- At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over- My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea. William Chute called here yesterday. I wonder what he means by being so civil. There is a report that Tom ( Chute)  is going to be married to a Litchfield Lass.”

On Saturday 1st November 1800, Jane went to a ball , presumably at Basingstoke.

“It was a pleasant ball, and still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly 60 people and sometimes we had 17 couples-The Portsmouths, Dorchesters, Boltons, Portals and Clerks were there and all the meaner and more unusual etc etc’s- There was a scarcity of men in general and a still greater scarcity of any that were much good for much .- I danced nine dances out of ten, five with Steven Terry, T. Chute and James Digwood and four with Catherine-“

Saturday 9th November 1800

“Mary fully intended writing to you by Mr Chutes frank and only happened intirely (JA’s spelling) to forget it- but will write soon-“

On Saturday3rd January 1801 Jane saw Tom Chute when she visited Ash Park. On Friday 9th January  a few days later she saw him again at Deane. These are all houses belonging to the local gentry in Hampshire.

On Monday 22nd April 1805 she hears of Tom Chute’s fall from a horse.

“I am waiting to know how it happened before I begin pitying him.”

On the 8th January 1807, Jane adds another news item to her letter to Cassandra

“…. and another that Tom Chute is going to settle in Norfolk.” This was of course where another Chute family property was located, through the Wiggett connection.”

In January 1813, she again refers to the use of Mr Chute’s franks.

And probably most intriguing of all on Wednesday, February 26th 1817 Jane writes,

“I am sorry to hear of Caroline Wiggetts being so ill. Mrs Chute would feel almost like a mother in losing her.”

The reference to using the Chutes’ “frank” refers to the means by which the Chutes addressed an envelope. The MP wrote the address, dated it properly, and wrote the word “FREE” in the middle of his signature. This  meant that the recipient of the letter didn’t pay for its delivery (which was the custom), but that the Chutes would pay.  At the time of this last message Jane was still in the process of writing Sanditon and she had a mere few months left to live. Jane died in Winchester on the 18th July 1817. The Chutes remained in her sphere of interest to the last. 

Claire Tomalin makes links between Jane Austen’s real life associations, the Chutes, etc., and some of her novels’ characters. She surmises that William John Chute and Elizabeth Chute nee Smith could have inspired some of her ideas about Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Jane and Elizabeth Chute did not become great friends but Elizabeth Chute was well read and was an intelligent person from all accounts. There is also the matter of Caroline Wiggett, who was mentioned in the letter above. Caroline was a second cousin of William’s mother, who came to live with Elizabeth and William and thought of them as her Aunt and Uncle. She was brought up at The Vyne from 1803. From Caroline’s reminiscences we learn that she had a rather lonely childhood at The Vyne. Could she have been an inspiration for Fanny Price in Mansfield Park? Tomlin rightly warns us about making too many assumptions. Writers use many experiences from their lives but use them creatively within their works. A writer will not use personal experiences in a factual way, but aspects of their experiences can inevitably be adapted, drawn upon, and used fictionally.

However, what attracts me most about Jane’s letters, which is clearly obvious in the quotations above, is her humorous tone, often teasing, and making fun of those people and situations she writes about. Of course these letters are private letters to her dear sister Cassandra. She and Cassandra would have had their private jokes and opinions, not for publication. Haven’t we all?

Eventually in 1956, upon the death of Sir Charles Chute, the final Chute owner, The Vyne was bequeathed to The National Trust, who take care of the house today. It is open to the public.

Photo of a National Trust membership cardNational Trust Membership card.

A few years ago, Emily, one of our daughters, bought us a National Trust membership as a Christmas present. The trust looks after hundreds of old houses, estates, gardens, coastal paths and wild areas of the British Isles. With membership we get free entry into these estates, gardens and historic houses, which is an amazing thing. 

In March 2017, Marilyn and I went to visit The Vyne. I had heard of the Austen connection, of course, and also the connection with Horace Walpole (1717-1797) and the Gothic Revival movement. After university, Emily had worked as an intern at Strawberry Hill House, Walpole’s mansion at Twickenham, and we visited Strawberry Hill with Emily as our guide. We were expecting to see something of the Gothic Revival style of interior design at The Vyne, just as we had seen at Strawberry Hill. 

Photo of Sherborne St John road sign Sherborne St John. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

I have focused a lot of this article on the period when the Austens lived at Steventon and on the connections between the Austen family and the Chutes. In an earlier period, Horace Walpole was best friends with John Chute (1701-1776) before William John Chute and Thomas Chute, the Austens’ acquaintances.

The Vyne is rich in objects and paintings brought to The Vyne after John Chute returned from his grand tour of Europe. At 39, John was older than his fellow travellers. His cousin Francis Whitehead, who he went on tour with, was 23, and the friends he made on the tour, including Horace Walpole, were virtually a generation younger.

Photo of Some of John Chute's porcelain collectionPorcelain brought back by John Chute from his Grand Tour. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Marilyn and I entered through the entrance on the south side overlooking the extensive surrounding parkland and the lake.  Each room is attended by a guide. Once you ask a question you are inundated with the most interesting and detailed, in-depth information about the Chutes, the house, and the very room you might be standing in at the given moment.

Photo of the Vyne library, National TrustThe library. Image from The National Trust

We walked through the rooms packed with objects and paintings. The library has two large globes of the world, a fantastic ornate baroque fireplace, full length portraits of the Chutes, and walls with shelf upon shelf of books. I must admit to a quirky disposition when I walk through libraries in old houses. You must not touch the books. They are rare, ancient, bound in leather and cost a fortune. I have an enormous urge, which I have to fight against, to spend time with the said books, take them off the shelves and read them. It is always a difficult time having to merely walk past them. I spent a moment reading the titles on the spines though. 

We walked along the oak gallery, the walls lined with portraits and landscapes. The floor is of oak timbers. The walls are faced with oak wainscoting with an intricate “folded linen” effect carved and finely chiselled into the surface of each panel.  They are similar to the panelling I have seen in the Tudor Palace at Hampton Court and other Tudor mansions around the country. This is a fantastic example of the Gothic Revival on the walls, created in the 18th century and not the 16th century.

Photo of linen fold panelingLinen fold oak panelling. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

The chapel attached to the eastern wing of the house is a sight to behold. It is the epitome of Gothic Revival. We think Jane Austen did visit The Vyne, so there is a good chance she too gasped at what you see today. Horace Walpole advised on the decoration. John Chute employed an Italian craftsman called Spiridore Roma, who worked on the chapel between 1769-1771. He used a technique called trompe l’oeil, to create a three dimensional effect of buttresses, Gothic arched windows, and fan ceilings.

Photo of Trompe l'oeil in the chapel National Trust pictureTrompe l’oeil in the chapel. National Trust image.

I have seen the real thing in Bath Abbey and other medieval churches and cathedrals and it is obvious that this is not the real thing, but this paint effect is very impressive indeed. There are medieval-styled tiles on the floor and stained glass windows–all of 16th century medieval originals. The effect is glorious.

Image of Tudor floor tiles (Gothic Revival)

Image of Tudor Revival Gothic floor tiles, courtesy of Tony Grant

Next to the chapel is the Tomb Chamber. It is set out like a Gothic cathedral chapter house. It has valuabele 16th century stained glass windows and a stone slab floor, but the centre piece is a table tomb with a reclining white marble statue of Speaker Chute  (Chaloner Chute 1595- 1659) lying full length with his head propped up on an elbow. Horace Walpole wanted to create the emotions derived from Gothic architecture and in this chapel and tomb chamber he aided John Chute, his friend in recreating that Gothic moment.

Photo of Challoner Chutes tombChaloner Chutes tomb. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

After our tour inside the great house Marilyn and I walked in the grounds. We had a wonderful view of the long lake, smooth green lawns, and the massive cedar trees. We went inside the brick summer house and looked up at its web-like beamed ceiling.

Photo of the summer houseThe Summer House. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

We walked through the walled garden where the National Trust is recreating a great houses kitchen garden with a variety of shrubs, fruit trees, herbs and vegetables.

Photo of the kitchen garden by Tony GrantThe walled kitchen garden. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

 We walked along the Lime Walk and listened to the wind in the branches and birds singing in the canopy.

Photo of The lawns and lake at the front of The Vyne

The lawns and lake at the front of The Vyne. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

Visiting a National Trust property such as The Vyne lifts the spirits, and provides beauty, natural and man-made, that soothes the soul. Afterwards, we drove into the village of Sherborne St Peter nearby and walked to the church where James Austen was vicar.

References:

“The Vyne Hampshire,” published by The National Trust  1998 (revised 2015)

Jane Austen A Life, by Claire Tomalin published by Penguin Books 1997.

Jane Austen’s Letters Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Third Edition)  Published by Oxford University Press 1997.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen  Published by Penguin Classics 1996

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen  Published by The Penguin English Library 1966

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