Jane Austen had two naval brothers, Frank (Francis) and Charles. Frank was born at Steventon in Hampshire in 1774, the sixth Austen child, then came Jane in 1775 and finally Charles in 1779. Both brothers became admirals, but Frank eventually rose to Admiral of the Fleet, the highest rank in the Royal Navy, and he ended up living in Portsdown Lodge.
Being on the north side of Portsdown Hill, Portsdown Lodge was sheltered from the prevailing winds. It had 14 bedrooms, and the estate had farm buildings and several acres of land that extended to the top of the hill, from where Frank could view Portsmouth, its naval base and the Spithead anchorage. Close by was the main route from London to Portsmouth (now the A3). The nearby George Inn, which still survives (shown here), was a coaching inn on this busy route.
We recently stopped at Alton in Hampshire for another visit. This town is 40 miles south-west of the city of London and close to the village of Chawton, where Jane Austen spent her final years (she also used to visit Alton frequently). We had planned to spend an hour or so here, but stayed much longer, because it felt open for business and welcoming.
Decline of communities
Alton is a thriving market town, which is a rarity, because although politicians bailed out banks with taxpayers’ money, they then allowed them to close down a staggering number of branches, thousands of them, leaving some places without a single branch. This has had devastating consequences and forces people to travel much further from their local communities for basic services – which is not great for the environment.
The closure of local newspapers has also led to a failure of accountability, so that local councils have, with near impunity, raised car parking charges and closed down amenities such as public libraries, buses, youth clubs and toilets, exacerbating the spiral of decline.
By contrast, Alton felt vibrant. It was market day, there was glorious sunshine, and we were looking for a few places associated with Jane Austen and her family, in particular her two naval brothers, Frank and Charles. Continue reading
For many years, we created newsletters that were emailed to subscribers and were also posted on Our Newsletters website page, fifty-three in all. They contained our latest news, as well as features on anything that appealed to us. We were able to stray well beyond the confines of our published books, or perhaps expand on something in those books, and we were also able to include photographs and other illustrations.
Regrettably, we have now stopped producing newsletters, because of the imposition by the European Union of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which places an onerous burden on small businesses.
From now on, keep an eye instead on the different pages of our website, and take a look at this blog. We will continue to add any news in our Latest News page of the website, and any forthcoming talks or interviews will be listed on the Events page.
If you enjoy these newsletters and blog, then you will probably also enjoy our books!
If you are now at a loss for something to read, we would (of course) suggest that you try any of our books that you haven’t read. Here’s a cut-out-and-keep summary, though Continue reading
This year, 2017, is the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death in July 1817. It is also the bicentenary of her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which were published posthumously in December 1817 – some 42 years after she was born.
Death at Winchester
Jane Austen was born in the Hampshire village of Steventon on 16th December 1775, and she lived in various places, such as Southampton and Steventon in Hampshire and Bath in Somerset. When she became seriously ill in April 1817, a physician from Winchester in Hampshire was consulted after the local doctor admitted defeat. Continue reading
‘Jack Tar’ remains one of our most popular talks, though until we finish our new book on the Great Siege of Gibraltar, we are not booking any more talks. We are, though, looking forward to giving a ‘Jack Tar’ talk (called ‘All at Sea in the Time of the Austens’) at the January 2017 meeting of the Jane Austen Society South-West (on the 28th). This is a very active branch of the Jane Austen Society, and it holds four conferences a year, each one lasting from 10.30am to 3.30pm, with morning coffee, buffet lunch and two talks. They are held in central Exeter (at Southernhay Hall, Dix’s Field, EX1 1QA). This gives you plenty of time to join – for further details, see their website page here (you do not have to be a member of the main Jane Austen Society to join).
We were recently alerted to a well-crafted and generous review of Jack Tar by author and historian Jonathan North. He posted the review on his interesting website that focuses on the French Revolution and Napoleonic history Continue reading
The 2016 summer in Britain has been somewhat indifferent – very few scorching hot days, much cloud and below-average temperatures. Exactly two centuries ago, the weather was far worse. As Jane Austen died in July 1817, her very last full summer in 1816 was a wretched one, and she refers to the rain and the cold in a few of her surviving letters. ‘I begin to think it will never be fine again,’ she lamented in early July. On 1st September 1816 William Holland, the vicar of Over Stowey in Somerset, wrote in his diary: ‘The weather has continued in the same uncertain state that it has done for sometime past. Indeed properly speaking we have had no summer, for we scarce have been a week without [a] fire throughout, I have now this very day a fire in the parlour.’ For much of the year his diary had been a litany of bad weather and dashed hopes. In his rural community, he was keenly aware of the effects of the weather on the crops. The constant rain had delayed the hay harvest considerably, and two weeks earlier he had written: ‘Rainy, windy weather confined William [his son] & I within doors – nay we had a fire tho’ in the midst of August. What will become of the corn I know not, for it does not ripen.’
Flooded and frozen
This exceptional weather was not confined to south-west England, but was felt right across the northern hemisphere. Continue reading
A tale of two villages
When talking of Georgian town architecture in Britain, places like Bath, Cheltenham, Buxton and even parts of London spring readily to mind. Melcombe Regis in Dorset is very little mentioned, not even as part of the port of Weymouth, yet King George III often spent his summers here. Weymouth is actually made up of two smaller ports, originally villages, that sit on either side of the mouth of the River Wey – with Weymouth on the south bank and Melcombe Regis on the north. Both were medieval settlements that competed as ports until 1571, when they were legally joined under a charter of Queen Elizabeth I and took the overall name of Weymouth. The first bridge linking the two parts was not built until 1597.
A statue of George III (who died in 1820) close to the seafront of Melcombe Regis (Weymouth), Dorset. It is now part of a traffic island
Regis derives from the Latin ‘rex’ meaning ‘king’. ‘Regis’ means ‘of the king’, and many places in England have that name, such as Lyme Regis. Melcombe Regis did not acquire this name because of George III staying there Continue reading
St Valentine’s competition
In our last newsletter, we had a competition ending on St Valentine’s Day that asked for the surname of the character Emma in Jane Austen’s romantic comedy Emma. The answer was Woodhouse. Congratulations to the two winners, who have been sent a hardback copy of our book Jane Austen’s England (the American version of Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England ).
200 or 201 years?
Emma has caused problems with anniversary celebrations. It is 200 years old, but should the bicentenary celebrations have taken place all through 2015 or in 2016? Continue reading
On Wednesday 18th May 2016, we are giving an illustrated talk on ‘Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy’ at the library in Denmark Street, Wokingham, Berkshire, RG40 2BB, at 2.30pm. A large car park is close by. Tickets cost only £3, available from the library. You can phone and book a place, tel. 0118 978 1368. The library is open daily from 9.30am, except Sunday, and on Wednesday it closes at 1pm, reopening for events like ours in the afternoon. Alternatively, you can turn up on the day, but you may not get in!
The year before last, we gave a talk at this same library on ‘Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England’, and it was packed out. Wokingham Borough Libraries do all sorts of events for their community, and we really like the library at Wokingham itself. Our talk on ‘Jack Tar’ will describe what life was like at sea during Jane Austen’s lifetime, something she was very familiar with as two of her brothers joined the Royal Navy. Our book Jack Tar has the subtitle ‘Life in Nelson’s Navy’ for the hardback, but it was changed to ‘The extraordinary lives of ordinary seamen in Nelson’s navy’ for the paperback.
We should have added a note to say that Jack Tar is available in paperback, published by Abacus. You can find it in some bookstores, order it from bookstores or buy it from online retailers . The ISBN is 978 0 349 12034 8. It was not published in the US, but is sold there by our UK publisher. To our frustration, it seems to be unavailable on most US retail websites at present. It is available as an e-book in various forms. If you have a good public library, they will have copies for you to borrow! Click here to the ‘Jack Tar’ page on our website.
The popularity of historical fiction is riding high – novels as well as television, radio and cinema adaptations. As historians, it is difficult to switch off, because we need to know what is true and what is invention, but some readers treat fiction as a way of getting inside historical periods. This can be hazardous, since the priority of a novelist is to produce a convincing story with an authentic atmosphere, even if it means subverting facts. One of the joys of writing history books Continue reading