Monday, 10 July 2017

Daisy, Daisy

Easton Lodge in the early 20th Century


In 1865, members of the Maynard family gathered at Easton Lodge, centre of the ancient manor of Estaines in North Essex. The occasion was the reading of the will of Henry Maynard, 3rd Viscount Maynard, whose family had held the Manor since the days of Elizabeth I, and who had recently passed away only months after his eldest son Charles. With the heir apparent having predeceased his father, the family were anxious to know who would inherit the Maynard estates.

The reading of the will took place in the breakfast room, and the table had not been cleared. A portrait of the late Viscount hung on the wall. The buzz of expectation among the family members must have been intense. Who would be the beneficiary? One of the Viscount's four married daughters? Perhaps his eldest daughter's son, next male member of the family line?

The will was duly read, and the growing consternation of the gathered relatives must have been electrifying. Enraged by what they had heard, several of them took pats of butter from the uncleared table and hurled them at the portrait hanging over their heads.

Viscount Maynard had left everything to a three year old girl, the daughter of his late son Charles. Her name was Frances Evelyn Maynard, but she was known affectionately as 'Daisy'.

This child, so unexpectedly a major heiress, would grow into one of the most celebrated women of late-Victorian and Edwardian England. Socialite, socialist, Royal mistress and philanthropist, she would ultimately be immortalised in the song Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built For Two), written in 1892 by Harry Dacre.

Daisy, by Ellis Roberts, 1904


My personal knowledge of the quiet Essex village of Little Easton, with the gardens of Easton Lodge a short distance to the west, was fragmentary. I dropped by on a warm Spring day to visit the Norman church that dominates this picturesque settlement, as I was aware that it contained the tomb of Isabel of Cambridge, Countess of Essex (1409-1484). She was the daughter of Richard Earl of Cambridge, who was executed in 1415 for his part in the Southampton Plot (memorably portrayed in Shakespeare's Henry V), and brother of Richard Duke of York, a leading commander in the Wars of the Roses. This made her the aunt of Edward IV and Richard III. Her tomb was moved here from Beeleigh Abbey in Maldon following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.


Little Easton church from the south


The church turned out to be full of surprises. In the churchyard lies the 2007 grave of the comedian and actor Mike Reid. Stepping into the church itself, I was struck by the various wall paintings, dating from the 12th to the 17th centuries, uncovered and stabilised during the 1930's. There is an American chapel, dedicated to the airmen who populated a local airfield during World War II. To the right of the altar, enclosed by the railings that demarcate the Bourchier chapel, I located the tomb of Isabel Plantagenet Bourchier and her husband Henry.


Bourchier tomb


Attached to the railings is an Art Nouveau bronze tablet, an unexpected memorial to the actress Ellen Terry (d. 1928) by the sculptor Albert Gilbert, famous for his 'Eros' statue in Piccadilly Circus. Why would a monument to this famous actress, who lived in Sussex and whose ashes rest at St Paul Covent Garden, be placed in such a quiet spot?

I later learned that Ellen Terry was only one of many famous figures to grace this area in its heyday...


Ellen Terry memorial

The Bourchier Chapel is replete with large and exquisite mural monuments to members of the Maynard family, from the early 17th Century through to the 20th. In one corner stands a bust, brought from Easton Lodge. It was created by Sir Edward Boehm and placed in the chapel during World War II. The bust shows an Edwardian woman with a confident, proud pose. It represents the last and most famous of the Maynards - Frances Evelyn Maynard Greville, Countess of Warwick, the woman better known as Daisy.


Bust of Daisy

When Daisy was 15 years old, family friend Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Beaconsfield, presented a glowing report about her to Queen Victoria. The Queen was intrigued by this young heiress and considered that she might be a suitable match for her son Prince Leopold. The two met many times, at Easton Lodge and elsewhere, but a royal romance was not to blossom at this time. Possibly to Leopold's relief, since he had his eye on a German princess, Daisy instead fell in love with the royal equerry, Francis Greville, Lord Brooke. Leopold encouraged the match and stood as best man at their 1881 wedding in Westminster Abbey, reckoned to be the society event of the year.

Lord Brooke, caricatured in Vanity Fair

Following their wedding, Brooke and Daisy became members of the licentious and scandal-ridden Marlborough House Set, headed by the Prince of Wales. The Set convened at Easton Lodge on many occasions, and in 1886 Daisy embarked upon an affair with another of the Set's members, Lord Charles Beresford.

Early in 1889, Daisy learned that her lover had impregnated his wife. She wrote a harsh, berating letter to him but, unfortunately, the letter was intercepted and read by Lady Charles herself. The resulting kerfuffle led to Daisy pleading with the Prince Of Wales for assistance. The Prince agreed to be the go-between for the parties involved, and the scandal was resolved... although it led to Daisy becoming mistress to the Prince himself, supplanting Lillie Langtrey as 'maitresse en titre' (and being supplanted herself a decade later by Alice Keppel).

Lord Beresford, whose affair with Daisy led to a society scandal


Daisy's lack of discretion led to her earning the soubriquet 'Babbling Brooke'. In 1892, the songwriter Harry Dacre penned his popular song 'Daisy Bell', still well known in the present day, and the following year, with the demise of her father-in-law, Daisy became a Countess.

Daisy continued to be a popular figure in high society. In 1895 she held an extravagent gathering, known as the 'bal poudre', at her husband's seat of Warwick Castle, at which she appeared as Marie Antoinette. The ball was criticised in the left-wing publication 'The Clarion' by its editor, Robert Blatchford. Incensed, Daisy visited Blatchford at his offices to complain... and a remarkable, almost Damascene conversion occurred. Daisy entered the offices of the 'Clarion' as a socialite. After meeting and talking at length with Blatchford, she moved from socialite to full-blown socialist.

Daisy as Marie Antoinette

On a further visit to Little Easton, I explored the area around the village, specifically to the south. Most of this area had once been part of the Easton Lodge estate, but after the turmoils of the First World War, when the Maynard family were suffering financial problems, much of it had been sold off.

The fields to the south once formed a deer park, but thousands of trees were lost when the area was cleared for a wartime airfield - the same establishment that inspired the American Chapel in the church. After the war it was turned over to agriculture and quarrying. However, a notable straight track still crosses this land. It is the original driveway to Easton Lodge, starting from a now delapidated 17th Century Gatehouse about a mile from the house, cutting through surviving woodland and across the quarried fields.


Easton Lodge Gatehouse, Grade II listed



The driveway heading north past quarries. Easton Lodge water tower can be seen in the distance.


Driveway heading south through remaining woodland.
Across the torn fields, a belt of trees conceals Easton Lodge... or what remains of it. The grand mansion was swept away decades ago, all but a single wing which today sits near the edge of the grounds, those once magnificent gardens which, slowly but determinedly, are gradually being restored to a semblance of their former glory. Other buildings survive in the grounds, cottages and stable blocks, and the water tower which rises above the trees as though to defiantly proclaim the ongoing legacy of the vanished Maynards.

The forlorn Gatehouse now sits quietly next to a roundabout, close to the A120 bypass. On the other side of the bypass is the Flitch Way, the route of the old Braintree-Bishops Stortford railway, now a footpath. Easton Lodge once had its own station. It closed to passengers in 1952 and to freight in 1972, but the station house and the crossing-keeper's shack remain.


Easton Lodge Station then...

...and now


Daisy had always been possessed of a philanthropic streak. The Agricultural Depression during the 1890's had brought much hardship to the area, and Daisy had ensured that local soup kitchens were provided with produce grown on the estate. Interested in education and equal opoortunities, she had already opened a school at Bigods Hall in nearby Great Dunmow, and now she added to that the Essex Needlework School and the Studley College of Horticulture and Agriculture for Women. She became involved with the TUC and the Labour Party, at one stage standing for election against one of her own cousins, the future Prime Minister Anthony Eden. She came third.

Daisy's affair with the Prince Of Wales fizzled out toward the end of the century, as he became preoccupied with Alice Keppel then, after 1901, the burden of becoming King Edward VII. Her involvement with hedonistic aristocratic activities cooled, thanks to her socialistic zeal. She found herself at the centre of a new circle of progressives, who based themselves at Easton. They included the author H G Wells and the actress Ellen Terry, the latter of whom was already  a regular visitor of friends in the village. Others who came to stay included the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the poet and journalist G K Chesterton, on one occasion, the comedian Charlie Chaplin.

Thaxted


Daisy was also patron of the parish of Thaxted, a village six miles to the north of Easton, and had the power to choose its vicar. In 1910  she presented the 'living' to Conrad Noel, a Christian Socialist then living in his cousin's impressive medieval house Paycockes in the village of Coggeshall. Noel was a good friend of the composer Gustav Holst, who was also living in Thaxted, and who wrote his famous Planets Suite while living there ( his tune 'Thaxted', taken from 'Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity', became the tune of the song 'I Vow To Thee My Country'). The annual Thaxted Festival, and the village tradition of Morris Dancing, owe their existence to traditions introduced by Noel and Holst.

In 1911, Noel hung the Red Flag and the flag of Sinn Féin in the church, which led to the famous Battle Of The Flags, in which Cambridge students and thousands of indignant protesters invaded the village. H G Wells arrived in an attempt to evacuate Noel from danger, but the steadfast vicar refused to leave, even when faced with death threats. A consistory court settled the matter amicably, and Noel remained the 'Red Vicar of Thaxted' until his death in 1942.

'The Old Lock Up' in Great Dunmow, close to Easton
Plaque explaining Daisy's charitable connection

When she was not practising philanthropy, offering property for the use of the TUC or endowing contentious vicars, Daisy also busied herself by bringing improvements to the grounds of Easton Lodge, the most important innovation being to commission the architect and designer Harold Peto to redesign the gardens in 1902.

Harold Peto

Heavily influenced by French, Italian and Oriental designs, Peto introduced wooden pergolas, yew and lime avenues, a sunken garden, classical features and Japanese Gardens.

Peto's wotk at Easton Lodge

All this cost money, of course, and Daisy was beginning to feel the pinch. Following the death of Edward VII in 1910, she audaciously threatened o blackmail his son, George V, by threatening to publish love letters that the late King had written to her during the throes of their affair. Eventually,  the politician and industrialist Arthur Du Cros discreetly acquired the letters in return for £64, 000 ( over 6 million in today's money). The grateful George V rewarded him with a baronetcy.

Daisy's husband, the Earl of Warwick, died in 1924. Despite all the indiscretions and scandals, their marriage had been happy and had produced five children, four of whom had survived infancy. The Earl was buried in the family vault at St Mary's Church, Warwick, and was succeeded by their son Leopold, who passed away himself four years later.

Daisy's charitable works continued. Society events, such as the 'coming out' of her grand-daughter Felice, drew high society to Easton Lodge. She nurtured a herd of prize-winning Jersey cows, and considered giving over a large portion of the estate to become a nature reserve.

Early in 1938, the Countess was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away at Easton Lodge on July 26th, her sister Blanche and daughter-in-law Dora at her side. Dora called Felice with the news, and told her, "I have lost the best friend I ever had."

Daisy was buried in her husband's family vault at St Mary's Warwick, and Easton Lodge passed to her son, Maynard Greville. A year later, the Second World War broke out.

Remnants of a treehouse at Easton Lodge

Peto's Italian Garden restored

The 1816 'Shelley Pavilion' from Maresfield Park, Sussex, was brought to Easton Lodge in 1921

The Gardens of Easton Lodge, now looked after by a Preservation Trust, open to the public on several Sundays a year. They fell into neglect following the death of Daisy and the Second World War, but work began on clearing the overgrown grounds in 1971, and continue to the present day. 

They were busy on the weekend I turned up, and armed with a plan of the grounds I set off to explore, wandering around ruins, reconstructions and remnants of times gone by. Seeing couples picnicking on the lakeside glade where once stood the Japanese garden, seeing children gambolling around the crumbling pavilions and restored lawns, one can imagine the continuity with a time passed, a time when the lawns would throng with members of the entitled classes; Princes, Earls and Ladies mingling at one of the Warwick's garden parties, perhaps discussing in hushed tones the latest scandalous rumours involving their colourful hostess.

I amble through the kitchen garden, currently undergoing restoration, and gaze at the family emblems yet visible in these environs: the 'M' that adorns the Water Tower, the stag-in-a-roundel that graces a doorway. Symbols of the family, still found on many buildings in the area, constant reminders of the reach and influence of the vanished Maynards.


The Kitchen Garden

The Water Tower

Maynard roundel in the Kitchen Garden

Of the mansion itself, all that remains is its west wing, now known as Warwick House. It was in this wing that Daisy spent her final years, and it was the only part of the mansion to survive its post-war demolition.


The Yew Walk

Classical statuary, rescued from ruination

The lawns
The estate was requisitioned by the War Office, and RAF Great Dunmow was created in the Park in 1942, necessitating the destruction of thousands of trees - a development which definitely would not have pleased Daisy. The airfield was occupied by the USAF 386th Bomber Group, known as the 'Crusaders', the name now used for their colourful chapel at Little Easton church.

By the end of the War, the mansion was standing neglected and derelict, having been unoccupied since the death of the Countess. Maynard had the building demolished, with the exception of the West Wing, which stands today under different ownership.

In 1960, the decaying estate was inherited by Felice, who built a house for herself beyond the Garden's lakes. She subsequently wrote many booklets, exploring the history of the estate from its medieval origins to reminiscences of her own time growing up at Easton Lodge, and the many colourful and famous characters that were attracted to the orbit of her irrepressible grandmother.

Felice died in 1994, and with that sad event, the four-century association of the Maynard family with Easton Lodge was at an end...

Grotto in the grounds

The birch copse

Overgrown stairs

Somewhat worn statuary dots the grounds, pavilions both neglected and restored stand in quiet arbours. Signage warns of the danger of the invasive Giant Hogweed, although the only example I've noticed locally was in a ditch about a mile to the southeast, in the fields where the hares hop and the muntjacs munch.


Warwick House...

...Daisy's last home, and all that remains of Easton Lodge

Remnants of the original house, 1597-1847...

...now form part of the modern flowerbeds

A cluster of birch trees provide shade, and among those dappled shadows sound the rustle of springtime leaves and the whispers of vanished times, as the copse was originally planted by Maynard Greville on the site of Easton Lodge itself. Beyond these trees stands the surviving west wing, now Warwick House, and its quiet solitude belies its roaring, kaleidoscopic history, and the touch of Diasy Greville yet caresses the slumbering landscape...




Sources:

Magnus, Spencer Jones, The History Of Easton Lodge, 2000, Trustees of The Gardens of Easton Lodge

Spurrier, Felice, The Maynards of Easton Lodge, 1992, Five Parishes Publications

Spurrier, Felice, A Guide To The Parish Church of Little Easton Essex, rev.1995, Five Parishes Publications

Spurrier, Felice, Beyond the Forest, 1986, Five Parishes Publications

Further Reading:

The Gardens Of Easton Lodge


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Chasing Jane

"Ah! There's nothing like staying at home for real comfort." - Jane Austen

Artist's impression of Steventon Rectory

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that one can not explore many historic sites in the south of England without, at some point, encountering Jane Austen. This year she seems particularly prevalent, as it is the bicentennial anniversary of her sadly early demise at the age of forty-one, and she will soon be adorning the reverse of our ten pound note.

 Even on a personal level, she seems to have been close to me of late; my two previous articles have featured her to a greater or lesser extent, although neither focused upon her as more than an author and commentator. One was a short essay regarding the interpersonal relationships portrayed in her earliest novel, the other was an exploration of an estate in Kent which just happened to adjoin an estate belonging to her brother.

In early April came an opportunity to follow the historic trail of Austen herself. Not the author, not the cultural icon, but the apparently unremarkable clergyman's daughter who never married, never lived apart from her parents or siblings, and spent three-quarters of her life residing at two addresses in a small area of Hampshire.

This is not to say that Jane Austen never travelled. Some of her youthful education took her to boarding schools in Oxford, Southampton and Reading. She has connections with several addresses in Bath, where the family resided for several years following her father's retirement, and I have encountered her in Lyme Regis (where she set part of her final novel Persuasion), and in Tonbridge (her father's home town, now the location of my favourite Italian restaurant). Nevertheless, Jane Austen was born, lived most of her life, died and was buried in a relatively small area of Hampshire and it was this area that, thanks to the enthusiasm of a visiting American friend, came to be explored by us early last month. The life of Jane Austen, from birth to burial, spatially covered in a single afternoon.

Reading Abbey gatehouse, where Jane attended school

On Tuesday 4th April, four of us bundled into the latest Vulpine-mobile, a silver Vauxhall Corsa dubbed 'Hyper', and undertook the mundane journey around the M25, diverting in Surrey to pass through Guildford and over the stretch of A31 known as the Hog's Back. From here, we snaked west across country before arriving on the fringes of a small village near Basingstoke, a quiet rural community called Steventon. Our first point of interest is the parish church of St Nicholas, set on a hill at some distance from the present settlement, a building which played an important role in Jane's life. She was baptised here, her father, two brothers and a nephew were all vicars here, and she would have been a regular attendee of its services for the first quarter-century of her existence.

Steventon Church

The church itself occupies a peaceful and rustic spot, but is of little architectural or aesthetic merit. Its power rests with the superiority of its connections. The steeple, erected after Jane's time, is capped by a weather vane in the shape of a pen. In the churchyard lie her eldest brother James with his two wives, as well as family members of her brother Edward.

Inside the church can be found a plaque dedicated to the author, erected by her great-grand-niece Emma Austen-Leigh in 1936, and also to be found is a card upon which is written a prayer created by Jane herself. This is the building presided over by the Reverend George Austen for thirty years. He was succeeded in his position by his sons James and Henry, and by his grandson William Knight.

The lane leading from the church rolls gently down an incline, and we amble leisurely toward the foot of the hill. A belt of trees shields the meadows to our left; the exposed fields to our right glow with the cheerful verdance of early Spring. Robins flit and scold among the boughs and buds, lambs bounce and scurry around the legs of their dams. Our guest from Colorado wonders if we are likely to see any pheasants in the wild; we assure her that the sighting of pheasants, in the arcadian Springtime of deep Wessex, can be all but guaranteed.

Jane was born in a house in the corner of this field. The New Rectory is in the background.

The church lane terminates at a country road that leads toward the village of Steventon... and here, at the junction, stands a meadow. Sheep gather in its distant corner, and a neat hedgerow attempts to shield its secrets from passers-by. However, by leaning on a gate, one can gain a good view of the trees in the meadow's north-eastern corner, and the remains of an old well. Upon this spot once stood Steventon Rectory, now replaced by a building visible up a slope behind us. Only the trees and the well remain to show that a rambling old dwelling used to stand here, and there is nothing else... no clues, no information boards, no indication that this is the spot where Jane was born in 1775, the seventh of eight children, where she grew from childbood to adulthood, where she made her coy and incisive observations of the Georgian society to which she belonged, and where she wrote the drafts of what would eventually emerge as Northanger Abbey, Pride And Prejudice and Sense And Sensibility.

Right here in this unimposing field in Hampshire.

The spot of Jane's birth and childhood
As a perpetual student of literature and history, this unassuming pocket of English countryside is a Mecca for me. Little remains but what the imagination can provide. I can see the colours of Spring dancing and diving before my eyes, magnetically drawing together to form images lost in time and born of fancy. I can see a rambling, three-storey building, a barn adjoining, a well and an orchard beyond... I can see chickens fussing and cackling in the yard, can visualise the Austen children laughing and giggling as they stumble and run down the slope beyond the orchard... as inside the house Mrs Austen bustles in the parlour while Mr Austen nestles in his study, perusing his theological literature as he quietly plans the next Sunday sermon.

Moments in time, replaced by the bleating of lambs, the scratching of rooks below the New Rectory at our backs, and the imperious strutting of a distant pheasant (there you go, Colorado!).

There are other sites to visit this day, more sights to see. The life of Jane Austen extended beyond Steventon, so we clamber back up the lane, heading for the car, ready and eager to pick up her trail.

Site of the well, where Jane and her family drew their water.

By the year 1800, only the Austen daughters remained at Steventon with their parents, the six sons having dispersed. James had taken holy orders and had followed his father into the church. George, suffering from an unidentified disability, was living with relatives elsewhere in the county. Edward had been adopted by their rich and childless cousins the Knights, who owned estates in Hampshire and Kent. Henry was attempting to pursue a career in banking, and both Charles and Francis had departed to join the Navy. It was at this point, at the turn of the new century, that the Reverend George Austen decided to retire.

The Reverend and Mrs Austen
Apart from a handful of brief spells at boarding school, the twenty-five year old Jane had never lived anywhere but Steventon. Now she found herself packing her clothes, her belongings, her letters and her handwritten manuscripts, and moving with her parents and older sister Cassandra to a place quite removed from the pastoral peace of Hampshire... the bustling, fashionable, cosmopolitan and ancient city of Bath in Somerset.

Jane's life for the next few years became busier. The Austens leased a house in Sydney Street. Their summers were spent in fashionable resorts such as Dawlish, Lyme Regis, Ramsgate, and Sidmouth. Visits were also made to their relatives and friends in Hampshire and Kent. Jane found herself with little time for writing. In 1804, the lease on their home having expired, they moved into Green Park Buildings.

R
4 Sydney Street, the Austens' first address in Bath

Then, in 1805, Reverend Austen fell ill and was dead within days. He was buried in the crypt of St Swithin's Church, Walcot, Bath - the same building in which he and Mrs Austen had been married. The day after her bereavement, Jane wrote to her brother Francis, "We have lost an excellent Father. An illness of only eight and forty hours carried him off yesterday morning between ten and eleven. His tenderness as a father, who can do justice to?"

Gay Street, the Austen's final Bath address

The Austen women subsequently moved to Gay Street, but their income of £600 p.a. was becoming increasingly stretched in a city that was becoming a more expensive place to live. They decamped to Clifton, then to Southampton, but it became clear that they needed a more permanent place of residence. It was Jane's brother Edward who came to the rescue. He had inherited the Knight estates at Godmersham in Kent and Chawton in Hampshire and was, in modern parlance, 'minted'. Consequently, Mrs Austen and her two spinster daughters moved, in 1809, to a cottage in Chawton - only fifteen miles across country from Jane's birthplace in Steventon.

And since Bath, Clifton and Southampton were too distant to be reached during a single daytrip, it was to Chawton that we headed after departing Steventon.

Bath, where Jane lived for six years

We park in Chawton's main car park, just across the road from our destination. Here, we meet with another friend, who has driven down from Reading, and our group cross the road and enter the property where Jane resided for the last eight years of her life.

Chawton Cottage from the rear

Built in the seventeenth century, the cottage was a farmhouse then, in the 1780's, a pub - the New Inn - where two murders took place. Edward Austen-Knight, once he became the owner, leased it to his steward before granting it to his mother, sisters and their companion Martha Lloyd (who, in old age, married Jane's brother Francis).

Cat in the garden, doubtless littering the place with deceased rodents and birds. Are the shades of Chawton to be thus polluted?

The house has a range of memorabilia, varying from furniture and fittings to small, personal belongings such as Jane's topaz ring. This was almost lost to the nation after being sold at auction to American pop star Kelly Clarkson, but the Government issued an order forbidding it to leave the country, and it now resides in a display case here at the House. It was originally a gift from Jane's naval brother Charles, who had purchased it from the proceeds of his reward for capturing a pirate ship.

Chawton Cottage from the garden



The family settled happily at Chawton and here, Jane's literary career took off. Northanger Abbey had already been purchased by a publisher who was 'sitting on' the manuscript rather than publishing it; however, Sense And Sensibility was published in 1811 and was followed two years later by Pride And Prejudice. The novels instantly gained a following, their most conspicuous fan being the Prince Regent.

A bedroom at Chawton
Dining table


George Austen's cabinet

One of Chawton's most evocative exhibits is a small, circular desk. Jane wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion while living here, and this was her writing desk. I tentatively reach out, feel its surface, its grain... feel the weight of its history. My fingers lightly brush the walnut surface where the words in Jane's head poured onto the page, where her canonical novels emerged into the world, to later irrevocably embed themselves in the English psyche. As well as mine. The shivers that run down my spine are born from awe as well as pleasure. Anne Elliot, Fanny Price and Emma Woodhouse came to life on this same cool, quiet surface. I could not have felt more ecstatic if I had been holding Shakespeare's quill.

Jane's writing desk

Even in the outbuildings, small and personal touches abound. A bakehouse that produced the bread which the family would have eaten. A donkey cart which would have carried them around the neighbourhood. Many of Austen's comedy characters use forms of transport as a way of measuring the wealth and prestige of their contemporaries (Lord and Lady Weakchin arrived at the ball in a chaise and four!), and I had to speculate if Jane was thinking of her own, more modest form of transport when she scribbled down these sort of observations.

Outbuildings at Chawton

The bakehouse



The Regency equivalent of a Nissan Micra

By the time we step out of Chawton Cottage we are feeling a bit peckish. There is a pub across the road, the Greyfriars, and a tearoom with the amusing monicker of Cassandra's Cup. Both are tempting, but we decide to soldier on to the last stage of our literary quest, and the last stage of Jane's story. We bundle into our vehicles and drive sixteen miles southwest, to the venerable city of Winchester.

The Romans built it and named it Venta Belgarum. The West Saxons called it Wintoncaester and made it their capital. It is one of the most historic cities in England, and one of my firm favourites.

Prior's Gate, Winchester



Pilgrim's House, Winchester

We circle the Cathedral, pass colossal Perpendicular architecture, pass the Pilgrim's House of 1308 and through the fifteenth century Prior's Gate. We follow the high walls of the Cathedral Close along College Street until we come across a monument on a stretch of open grass, presumably created for the Austen bicentenary.

Bicentenary memorial, College Street

A wall of ivy, surrounding a quote from Sense And Sensibility: 'Know your own happiness. Call it hope.'

Why here? Why has this modern monument been placed here, up against the medieval wall surrounding the Cathedral Close? Why here in College Street?

Because of the mustard-coloured building on the opposite side of the road.

8 College Street, with Team Vulpine 

Working from Chawton, Jane saw Mansfield Park published in 1814 and Emma at the end of 1815. She completed and prepared Persuasion in 1816, but by now was beginning to suffer ill-health. Although her illness has not been definitively identified, it is believed to have been Addison's Disease or Hodgkin's Lymphona. Although Jane originally made light of her health problems, as the year progressed it became clear that her condition was becoming progressively worse. By 1817 she had begun a new novel, Sanditon, but abandoned it after twelve chapters as she was simply too weak to continue. She described herself as being 'every wrong colour' and remaining 'chiefly on the sofa'.

With Cassandra accompanying her, Jane removed herself to Winchester to seek a last-ditch cure. It didn't work. At about 4 o' clock in the morning of 18th July 1817, cradled in her sister's arms, Jane Austen passed away at the age of 41 in a room at 8 College Street.

The house opposite the new memorial.

The plaque at 8 College Street

We adjourn to Winchester's main thoroughfare and dine at The Royal Oak, a pub standing on the site of a medieval Royal dwelling. Replete with 4 x Fish & Chips and 1 x Macaroni Cheese, we head for our final site visit of the day... Winchester's magnificent Cathedral, resting place of Saxon kings and Queens, a couple of Danish monarchs and William II. Here, in the north aisle of the longest nave in Europe, we stand above the vault containing the woman whose life we have spent the day exploring.

Winchester Cathedral


Following the loss of his sister, Henry bought back the unpublished manuscript of Northanger Abbey and had it released as a double-bill with Persuasion. It would be another half-century before a later generation of the family published Jane's juvenile works, plus the novellas The Watsons, Lady Susan and the unfinished Sanditon.

Jane's grave

Mission accomplished. We have, over the course of a busy but rewarding afternoon, traced the shadow of Jane Austen from her quiet, provincial birthplace to her urban vault of eternal slumber. Her epitaph, composed by her brother James, lists her personal virtues yet omits her literary accomplishments... not a bad thing, as we read a panegyric on Jane the woman, the beloved daughter and sister, rather than the more abstract Jane that created  Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. After today, Jane feels more an old friend than an etched portrait on a forthcoming banknote.

Home we head, northeast up the M3, surrounded by rolling fields where the cattle low and the pheasants rasp.

Farewell, old friend.



Jane Austen, portrait by Cassandra Austen