I have been sharing my obsession with Jane Austen with my friends Dan and Clara. We have made it a point to see all the recent movie releases together. We have shared and reviewed videos, old and new. Clara and I have reread her novels (something which I do anually, anyway).
On an impulse, we decided that a quick tour of England , in search of Jane, would be just the way to begin our summer. We booked our flight, packed our bags, mapped our route and left. Amy asked me to keep a journal. Here it is.
Monday, June 2, 1997
Our first day in England was full of Jane Austen. We spent the morning in Chawton. The "Jane Austen House" , the farm bailiffs cottage provided by Janes Brother Edward for Jane, her sister and mother after death of their father, is now owned and administered by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust. The house does not contain many furnishings, but does have the small writing table at which Jane wrote. There is also a very small pianoforte. The glass fronted cabinets contain first editions of the novels as well as editions of "Lovers Vows" and "Elegant Extracts". The topaz crosses given by Charles Austen to Jane and Cassandra are on display along with other artifacts including one of Jane Austens manuscript music books. There are photocopies of Janes letters and of her will on the walls. In the upstairs corridor, the wall is hung with drawings by Hugh Thompson published in the 1894 edition of Pride and Prejudice. There is little furniture in Jane and Cassandras room, but a patchwork quilt made by Jane, Cassandra and their mother, is displayed on one wall. The visit was very touching and a bit melancholy.
When we left the cottage, we walked down the road to Chawton House, the seat of the estate owned by Edward Knight. The house is not open to the public, but is being restored to house the Centre for the Study of Early English Women's Writing(email@example.com). Fortunately, we had an introduction to Cassie Knight, a direct descendent of Edward, and so a great .great niece of Jane. Cassie is working with an American organization to restore the house and kindly showed us the work they were doing and talked to us about her family and our trip. She gave us the liberty of the estate and we spent some time walking the grounds and talking about what it must have been like 187 years ago.
Our next stop was Winchester. We walked the grounds of the Cathedral College and found the house on College Street where Cassandra took Jane during her last days so that she might be under the care of a doctor. This is the house where Jane Austen died. From there, we went to Winchester Cathedral and visited Jane. There is the stone, placed at Janes burial in the cathedral floor. There is also a brass plaque and a stained glass window given in her memory.
After tea, we drove to Steventon over roads that would not admit two cars. There were spaces along the side of the road so one car could pull over if two should be approaching each other. St. Nicholas Church is in a place that probably discourages much tourist traffic. We were greeted by a very agreeable dog who wanted us to play with him rather than visit the church. The church, itself, was closed, but we wandered the yard and found the graves of Janes brother James and, presumably, his wife as well as various other Knight relatives.
Tuesday, June 3, 1997
We started today at Stonehenge (no pictures - Im sure youve seen it). We were among the first there and thank God for that. It became extremely crowded even as we were leaving. It is an eerie site, surrounded by the burial mounds, barrows and artifacts of earlier, bigger installations.
It was a short drive to Wilton, the estate of the Earl of Pembroke and one that has been used in many movies, as the Earl is, apparently, himself a director. There was a small Jane Austen exhibit which included some extremely tiny costumes from Sense and Sensibility. I was especially struck by how small Kate Winslets dress was, although Emma Thompsons was not much bigger. The London Ball scene in Sense and Sensibility was filmed in the Double Cube room at Wilton. It is a gorgeous room, recently restored, with an incredible ceiling, as have most of the public rooms at Wilton.
Our next stop was to have been Lyme Regis. But the sky was overcast and Lyme was a detour from our ultimate destination. Instead we went to Lacock. It is, of course, very like Meryton, as the only differences are the shop windows, the paved roads and the cars parked everywhere. Although the National Trust owns the entire village, there are tenants in most of the buildings. They are, naturally, parked in front of their homes. The buildings are charming and, some, decrepit. We walked the entire village, which is mostly residential. Im sure the influx of Austen related tourism must be driving the residents bats.
From Lacock to Bath, a place that welcomes tourism with open arms and seems to have done so for centuries. Our first stop was the Roman baths. I had been here on my last trip, but the antiquity of the place and its history never fails to move me. I would have stopped for tea in the Pump Room (which I had done before), but my companions were eager to sight see. We walked to the Circus and Royal Crescent and stopped for a glass of wine on a small side street lined with used book stores.
Our hotel was was only three blocks from Sydney Place, the Austens first home in Bath. We easily found #4 Sydney Place. It has been turned into apartments. The bells have names beside each floor: The sign by the top floor bell read "Amy & Guy". The sign by the second floor bell read "Pride & Badger". For some reason, this tickled me. Im still looking for someone who understands this reaction. We walked through Sydney Gardens, across the street from the house. It is quite lovely. We had our first good meal of the trip in Bath. It was in a little restaurant off High Street called Moon and Sixpence. I immediately thought of Amy when we found it.
Wednesday, June 4, 1997
After breakfast, we walked to the Assembly Rooms, stopping first at some used book stores. I found a Jane Austen Trivia book which I bought for Las Vegas. The Assembly Rooms are lovely. They were bombed during WWII and have been restored to their original condition. The costume museum in the basement has recently been damaged by flood, but the exhibits are still quite wonderful. There are many fine examples of dress from 16th Century to the present. We stopped at the Bath building museum on our return to the hotel.
We drove through the Cotswolds and reached Sudbury in mid-afternoon, in time for a tour of the hall. The exterior is lovely and quite imposing, but it was the interior we came to see. Although photography is forbidden inside National Trust sites, Dan managed to sneak a few of the salon (Pemberley music room), the staircase, the portrait gallery and the door to the Queens bedroom (Darcys room).
There was an exhibit from Pride and Prejudice on the upper floors. This included correspondence arranging for the use of the hall, some script pages, publicity shots and candid photos (including one of Jennifer Ehle in costume wearing a huge hair net and smoking a cigarette). Some of the P&P costumes were also on exhibit: Mrs. Hursts orange number, a Mrs. Bennet dress, Mr. Bingleys wedding clothes, Elizabeths muslin gown with the floral print and her wedding dress.
This night, I discovered that there are two Sudburys in England and I had made our hotel reservations in the one in Suffolk (oh!). We backtracked to Lichfield and, fortunately, found a lovely place to spend the night.
Thursday, June 5, 1997
We headed north again after breakfast. The change in landscape as you enter the Peaks District is remarkable. The land quickly becomes craggy and steep and the sides of the road rise to gorges. The roads are incredibly narrow and some of the driving was rather scary. We managed to wend our way to Longnor (quite possibly the first tourists to do so). Longnor (Lambton) seems from another time altogether. The couple in the local store left the store completely unattended to take us around the corner to the Parrot which was used as the Lambton Inn. We came away with fresh baked bread, Stilton (a local product) and some wonderful pictures. We had also managed to amuse the natives with our search for Jane.
On to Pemberley. Lyme Park is wonderful. This was probably the most beautiful place we visited. The park itself is 1700 acres. The house was closed, but we walked the courtyard and the gardens. We walked up what Cheryl calls the "Thighmaster Steps" and I took some pictures for her. We also took pictures on the steps in the courtyard, from the hill in front of the building and, of course, the classic picture across the pond in the back.
The Trust has mapped out "The Pemberley Trail" which covers a lot of territory. The walk begins up the hill to where Darcy arrives on horseback and around a paddock to a tiny path leading to "The Pond".
The grounds are extraordinary. One could spend days exploring. "A low phaeton with a nice little pair of ponies would be the very thing." The formal gardens are not extensive, but very lovely and include an elegant orangerie. The park has more gorgeous rhododendrons than I have ever seen anywhere.
After our hike, we left for Chatsworth. It is rumored, of course, that this is the house on which Jane Austen modeled Pemberley. In its present state, it is a prime example of egregious ostentation. It has been over-improved to a Disney-like state. Some parts were wonderful. The Lupine garden took my breath away, but much of it was greatly overdone. The main house itself could easily have stood as a model for Pemberley, I suppose, but the subsequent additions have done nothing to improve it.
Friday, June 6, 1997
We spent the night in Grantham in an inn built originally for the Knights Templar (it has since been updated). In the morning, we headed for Belton House (Rosings). The house itself did not open until 1:00, so we walked the grounds and took some pictures. This is another lovely home now owned by the National Trust. It was very soothing after the overindulgence of Chatsworth.
We had a picnic on the lawn and then went into the house. I would have loved to have some pictures from inside Belton. The staircase was, itself, worth the trip. However, unlike Sudbury, this one had wardens in every room to prevent such deviant behavior as photography. We saw the blue room, which was Darcys room at Rosings and is, as you all suspected, on the first floor.
We climbed that extraordinary staircase and made the circuit of the second floor. The rooms open here include the one occupied by the Duke of Windsor during his visits to Belton. This room is papered in specially made wall paper. When the paper was delivered, there was not enough to paper the entire room, so they had the room made smaller Another feature of the tour was the suite occupied by the current Prince of Wales during his RAF days.
Downstairs again, we saw the dining room (used as the Rosings drawing room), painted a very dark green and every spare inch of wall covered with huge bird murals. Also open was a smaller anteroom, used as the music room in Rosings. The warden in the room told us, "This is where Liz played the piano, isnt it?"
On the way to our hotel that evening, we followed the signs to Sulgrave Manor on a whim and ended up at the ancestral home of George Washington. This was much less grand than the places we had been seeing and was an interesting counterpoint to the immersion in Britains peerage which we have had this week.
Saturday, June 7, 1997
Blenheim Palace this morning. It is a magnificent building and no disappointment after seeing Hamlet. The interior is also extraordinary. It is hard to conceive of the wealth and longevity of family required to maintain the residences we have seen on this trip. Some have dealt with this, like the Duke of Marlborough, by opening their homes to the public and essentially turning their grounds into theme parks and movie sets. Others have turned them over to the National Trust to be preserved.
After a picnic on the grounds, we went to Oxford, which turned out to be a disappointment. I had Peter Wimseys Oxford in my mind and it certainly was not to be found outside the walls of the colleges. And all the colleges that allowed visitors, were charging admission. We had gone without a real object and, outside of the colleges, Oxford could easily have been Cambridge, Massachusetts (except for its age).
Sunday June 8, 1997
My last day. Our flight did not leave until afternoon, so we found Box Hill and climbed far enough to know we were not going to the top. We drove to Greater Bookham and ended up at the midpoint of the London to Brighton Classic Car Rally. A nice 20th century end to our search for Jane Austen.
I leave you all with some of the images I imagine you most wanted me to bring back from this trip.
Thanks for joining me. The trip was as wonderful as I had hoped and the thought of bringing these memories back to all of you made it even more special.