We made our first Jane Pilgrimage, fittingly enough, to St. Nicholas Church, where Jane's father, and later her brother, was rector, located in the tiny village of Steventon where Jane spent the first 26 years of her life.

JulieW: Arriving at Steventon Church - St Nicholas - and finding it a terribly moving experience. Bursting into tears with Myretta (not for the last time that week)...

Michael Kenning, the current rector, spoke to us briefly about the influence of Steventon in Jane's writings and confided that he knew of a Miss Bates currently residing in the village, but he sincerely hoped there was no Mr. Collins about. We happily wandered around the church and cemetery and admired the 1,000 year old yew tree outside the front door, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

Ann2: The huge old Yew tree that was growing amazingly close to the church at Steventon. When you bowed your head to enter under its wide parasol it was easy to imagine Jane at 5 following her older sister admiring everything Cassandra said or did.

After lunch we went to Chawton House, home of Jane's brother, Edward Knight. The Knight family still owns the house (can you say "entail"?) but it has currently been let to an American entrepreneur on a 125 year lease and is under restoration to be The Centre for the Study of Early English Women's Writing (1600-1830). We were given a private tour by Jane Alderson who will run the center and Adrian Thatcher who is overseeing the restoration of the house and grounds. We viewed the oak paneled room which family legend says was Jane's favorite, toured the fruit tree garden, walked through a prettyish bit of wilderness and admired the cunning ha-ha which separated the house grounds from the grazing sheep.

Kathleen: The detail of information about Chawton House and its renovation was incredible. And being allowed to see actual letters written by JA as well as her music books was a very moving touch.

Then it was down the street to Chawton Cottage where Jane spent the last eight years of her life with her mother and sister Cassandra. Mr. Tom Carpenter, the very enthusiastic Administrator and Curator of Jane Austen's House and Trustee of the Jane Austen Memorial Trust spoke to us for a bit and gleefully allowed us special privileges, which the ordinary visitor would not receive. These included glimpses of several of Jane's actual letters, including the one in which she mentions the receipt of her "own darling child" from London (speaking of P&P) and her music exercise books, painstakingly and lovingly copied out with a very neat hand.
MPEG file of Cheryl playing the piano at Chawton Cottage hear then a pianoforte like hers come to life in the rooms where she once lived and played was wonderful. Thanks, Cheryl!

Cheryl was also invited to play the c. 1790 Muzio Clementi pianoforte in the cottage. While this is not Jane's actual piano and was sorely in need of tuning, she still found it a thrilling experience. There was time enough to wander about the cottage, admiring Jane's needlework, her writing desk, the shelves in the closet, and to relax and soak up the atmosphere in the garden where we took the official Group Photo for the Annual Meeting.

The evening was spent relaxing with good company at OAP where two gathering places naturally developed. The sitting room with its many comfy chairs was the site for quiet conversation and reading, while the terrace with its rustic benches saw the smokers and the more, shall we say, voluble citizens holding forth, though there was of course, much crossover between the sites as suited one's mood.
Speaking of voluble, an adventurous group went for a visit to the village pub where they were a great hit with the locals, but upon returning to OAP found the doors locked and most everyone in bed. They decided to serenade the building in the hopes of luring someone down to unlock the door. As it was a very international collection, the only song they all knew was Silent Night. It was a sight and sound long to be remembered.


- Republic of Pemberley -

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