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
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
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
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
Two lots of 200 years
The year 2014 saw the 200th anniversary of the ending of the long wars with Napoleon. Like VE Day in 1945, the celebrations in 1814 were especially joyful after more than a decade of war. As we mentioned in our newsletter for Newsletter 39 (under ‘The Start of the Hundred Days’), Napoleon escaped from exile and returned to France in early 1815, only to be defeated once and for all at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium in June 1815, giving us yet another 200th anniversary.
The French dead and wounded amounted to around 30,000, while the British suffered around 17,000 casualties and their Prussian allies about 7,000 – a total of approximately 54,000 dead and wounded. Major Harry Smith of the 95th Rifles wrote: ‘I had been over many a field of battle, but Continue reading
TWO CENTURIES AGO
The striking circumstance about Christmas two centuries ago is what was missing – no Christmas trees, no decorations apart from some holly and ivy, no Christmas cards, no Christmas cake, no Christmas crackers, no Christmas pudding – apart from plum pudding. This was mainly a time for giving charitable gifts. Jane Austen and her contemporaries would not recognise today’s huge commercial Christmas. But if we try to imagine her being teleported into today’s world, then after recovering from the shock, surely she would approve of books being given as gifts? Books were then very expensive – Emma was originally published in three volumes costing one pound and one shilling (£1 1s), about a month’s wage for an agricultural labourer or servant. Today, Emma can be purchased for the price of a cup of coffee.
WHAT TO BUY?
What Jane Austen would find totally unbelievable is that not only are her own books available to buy some two centuries later, but also numerous books about her and her era. By now, you would imagine Continue reading
STOREHOUSES OF HISTORY
There are so many churches in Britain that their role as storehouses of history is often overlooked. Many date back to the early medieval period, and some were built before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Frequently altered, repaired and enlarged, the very fabric of these buildings is a record of constant use over the last millennium. Within and outside every church, various monuments also have their own history, and objects with no other obvious home are frequently stored in the local church or placed there for protection, so that some churches are like small museums. Most churches have at least one interesting story to tell, but the ruined Holy Rood Church in Southampton, Hampshire, probably has more than most.
THE AUSTENS IN SOUTHAMPTON
Medieval Southampton was completely enclosed by fortified town walls, large parts of which survive today. For a brief period Jane Austen was at school in Southampton, then a small port at the head of Southampton Water, and although she nearly died of typhus there, this did not deter her Continue reading
We’ve never liked using obscure jargon, preferring an uncomplicated, accessible style. There is an art to writing in plain English. It might be plain, but it needs to flow and allow the reader to concentrate on the story, rather than stumble over ungainly sentences. It was therefore pleasing to receive two reviews in the same week that were from opposite ends of the earth but conveyed an almost identical message. The first one was a review of our most recent book, Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England (Jane Austen’s England in the US) that appeared in the Australian blog ‘Reviews on all things Austen’. The reviewer included the comment: ‘I found this book fascinating. It was easy to read (none of that academic jargon)’. The other review was for our previous book, Jack Tar, and it was written by Tony Gerard on the American blog ‘HMS Acasta’ that belongs to a wonderful re-enactment group of the British Royal Navy. ‘Were I an officer,’ he writes [he plays the role of a surgeon’s mate], ‘I’d make it required reading for all Acastas … it’s written in a nonacademic style that’s easy to read.’ We hope he gets promotion soon!
Our latest book is now available in paperback in the United States and Canada. It is published there by Penguin, ISBN 978-0143125723, and the jacket design is much the same as that of the hardback, using the wonderful embroidery by Sarah Cline. This time, though, even the Penguin motif has been embroidered!
The hardback in the US was called simply Jane Austen’s England, but the paperback has the added subtitle ‘Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods’. The hardback can still be purchased (ISBN 978-0670785841), and it is also available in all e-book formats.
In the UK, the identical book is called Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England (ISBN 978-0349138602), and it recently received a generous review in Jane Austen’s Regency World (no. 70, July/August 2014). This is the official magazine of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath and is distributed to subscribers worldwide. The review starts off: ‘A marvellously entertaining catalogue of early 19th-century English life, Roy and Lesley Adkins’s bestseller is now out in paperback – and deserves a place on any Austen aficionado’s bookshelf.’ The review ends: ‘It’s a rich brew – I challenge anyone to pick it up and not still be reading an hour later, delighted by such a vivid and entertaining portrait of an era.’ Do pass the word on to any Austen aficionados who you know!