So More about Jane Austen’s visit to Stoneleigh Abbey and how it influenced her characters

If you are picking this up through ‘twitter’ or ‘Linkedin ‘ to follow this blog by email go to janelark.wordpress.com

When Jane Austen arrived at Stoneliegh with her mother and Cousins Rev. Thomas Leigh and his sister Elizabeth Leigh she must have been full of awe and excitement. They had travelled 30 miles in a rush to reach Stoneleigh as soon as possible to deter any challenge to the estate Rev. Thomas Leigh had inherited and Jane knew her cousin Thomas well so she must have been caught up in his emotion.

When they arrived and faced such a lavish statement of wealth,

Stoneleigh Abbey

Jane’s eyes must have been wide and her heart thumping. Remember she had come from an apartment in the narrow cobbled Trim St, in Bath.

Trim Street in Bath

The area about the house looked very different then. There was a narrow path and lawn and then a farm directly before its entrance as the walled gardens were still in front of the Elizabethan manor behind the silver baroque wing and the river Avon ran further away from the house. Yet a wilderness walk stretched off towards the river.

Jane’s mother wrote of it

I expected to find everything about the place very fine and all that, but I had no idea of its being so beautiful. I had figured to myself long avenues dark rookeries and dismal yew trees, but here are no such melancholy things.

The Avon runs near the house amidst green meadows bounded by large and beautiful woods, full of delightful walks.’

In comparison to the rectories Jane had grown up in and Thomas had lived in during his career Stoneleigh must have seemed a place of pure dreams. When they stepped down from the carriage and Thomas dismounted from his horse you might imagine her hand shaking with the excitement of it. Jane knew her family history and we know she cared about history. She had written about it in her childhood after all. Now she finally faced the house where her ancestors had resided – and her dear cousin was to own it. We know what they experienced on their arrival because both Jane and her mother wrote letters about it including their thoughts and feelings.

The staircase Jane Austen entered via on her arrival

The Steward greeted them at the front stairs and led them into the hall where Thomas apologised because he had to disappear and get the papers signed to claim his inheritance. He told them then to ask the servants for anything they needed and said they may wonder where they wished. Can you imagine how that must have felt in comparison to the dingy distressing life they’d left behind in Bath. For months Jane and her mother had endured poverty and emotional pain counting pennies and eating poorly and now they were faced with the antithesis.

Jane must have been gazing at it all and taking it in and as a writer I am certain she must have been looking about and thinking what wonderful inspiration for books capturing every detail and

The Entrance Hall Stoneleigh Abbey

wondering how it might influence scenes and plots. And she was to have character inspiration almost immediately when Lady Saye & Sele arrived from Broughton Castle near Banbury (another place I’ve visited which is still owned by Lord and Lady Saye & Sele) with her daughter and son-in-law to claim the inheritance in Rev. Thomas Leigh’s stead.

Lady Saye & Sele’s son-in-law was another of Jane’s cousins and that Lady was a domineering pushy aristocrat who thought the money and the property should come to her far more prestigious and deserving family than to a mere Reverend. But Thomas had been selected to inherit from all the cousins of the deceased Mary Leigh as he was the eldest. He refused to concede to Lady Saye & Sele’s arguments.

Now which character do you think may have been if not inspired at least remodelled on Jane’s experiences and observations that day? Of course Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps even Rev. Collins’s excitement over the qualities of Rosings were drawn from her own cousin’s first views of Stoneleigh.

The beginning of the wilderness on the left of the West Wing

In Pride and Prejudice when Lady Catherine de Bourgh arrives to warn Jane off Darcy she says ‘Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of the lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it.’  The wilderness at Stoneleigh was on the right side of the West Wing which faced a lawn strectching towards the river and we know during Jane’s stay both Jane and her mother enjoyed frequent walks through it. Jane’s mother says in a letter, ‘We walk a great deal, for the woods are impenetrable to the sun even in the middle of an August day.Perhaps Lady Saye & Sele commented on it during her visit.

If you doubt Jane’s inspiration in Lady Saye & Sele Jane’s mother gives us an insight into Jane’s personality and their thoughts on their aristocratic companion.

Poor Lady Saye & Sele to be sure is rather tormenting, tho’ sometimes amusing, and affords Jane many a good laugh—but she fatigues me sadly on the whole.’

More stories of Stoneleigh next week.

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stoneleigh Abbey and Jane Austen’s family connections

Stoneleigh Abbey

Well I’ve had a wonderful day discovering loads more real life facts which Jane Austen mingled into her fiction. So many things I think this may well be another four blog saga. I certainly can’t fit it all in a day. Follow my blog on janelark.wordpress.com, if you don’t want to miss any.

Let me begin by explaining Jane Austen’s connection and why she visited Stoneleigh Abbey in August 1806. It must have been a bit dreamlike for her, as I am sure it would be for us. She’d previously endured the worst period of her life, living in Bath for two years watching her father’s health decline. He died on 21st January 1805, and afterwards Jane, Cassandra and their mother moved to a cheaper tenancy in Gay Street in Bath for six months, then moved again into Trim Street, a cheap area of Bath. Jane must have been concerned through this period, wondering how they would cope without her father. She did not write any fiction in this period because she lost all inspiration, her imagination simply died.

But then her mother decided to remove from Bath and do what unmarried dependent female relatives did in that day. Visit their relatives for extended stays.

I have spoken of Stoneleigh in earlier blogs but this time I took a pen and paper so I can ensure I share all the juicy facts.

Jane and Mrs Austen’s first visit was to be to a cousin of Jane’s mother they had never actually met, who resided at Hamstall Ridware. They called in at Addlethorpe near Morton-on-the-Marsh on the way – this is where Mrs Austen had grown up – and called on a cousin they were very close to, the Rector Thomas Leigh.  At the time of their visit the Rector Thomas Leigh received some brilliant and wonderfully shocking news. He had inherited Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire, along with the fortune of that side of the Leigh family who’d passed away with no issue. He was advised by Mr Hill, the steward and executor of the will, to come quickly to ensure he claimed his inheritance as the will was likely to be disputed. There were many distant relatives. He immediately asked if he might bring his Cousin Mrs Austen and her daughter, Jane. So Jane and her mother began an exciting hurried journey up the fosse way from Cirencester (very near where I live and the way we travelled today to go to Stoneleigh Abbey too). In the chaise with them was also Thomas Leigh’s sister, Elizabeth Leigh. The men rode beside the carriage.

They approached Stoneleigh Abbey from the village of Stoneliegh and saw initially the Elizabethan red stone face, an old wing which was by then mainly used for service. They then came past the Jacobean wing, with a crescent shaped red stone staircase (which was replaced by the porch front in the picture below after Jane’s visit) leading to a first floor entrance facing a bowling green but they did no alight there.

Jacobean Entrance to Stoneleigh Abbey

They came about the corner and faced the west wing built in a silver coloured stone in baroque style. We do not have to simply imagine how impressed Jane was, we can read it in her letters and her books.

Stoneleigh Abbey West Wing

She would have carried the manuscript of Pride and Prejudice with her at the time and when the Gardiners reach Lambton you begin hearing things she might have adapted in the Manuscript. She mentions Warwick and Kenilworth, which are places she visited while staying at Stoneleigh Abbey.

Certainly visiting Stoneleigh Abbey reawakened Jane’s imagination and when she wrote Mansfield Park in 1811-1814 you hear constant reflections on Stoneleigh Abbey, for instance Fanny Price joins an outing to visit Sotherton Court and Jane’s descriptions begin as they near the house. ‘Those are the almshouses built by some of the family’.

Almshouses Stoneleigh Village

My guess is that Jane described her own feelings ‘Her eye was eagerly taking in everything within her reach; and after being at some pains to a get a view of the house.’

Next week, I’ll tell you more of what Jane Austen found there.

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

This slideshow requires JavaScript.