Spring Fling in Tring (2014)

September 18, 2015 at 11:53 am (a day in the life, books, diaries, entertainment, estates, history, people, research) (, , , )

Note: This article was published in the most recent JASNA News (Jane Austen Society of North America’s newsletter), in an abbreviated form. The pictures (by Mike in Tring; thanks, Mike) looked GREAT! But the story I wanted to tell was only half-told.

Here is the story of my Spring Fling (last May, 2014) in a place that is THIS YEAR celebrating it’s 700th anniversary (chartered in 1315), Tring in the county of Hertfordshire, England.

Tring Welcomes You

In the Shadow of James Edward Austen

The recipient of the (in)famous “piece of ivory” letter, Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen authored two late-in-life books: Recollections of the Early Days of the Vine Hunt (1865) and A Memoir of Jane Austen (1869; 1871); and served as the subject of a memoir by daughter Mary Augusta Austen Leigh (1911). In concentrating on his wife Emma Smith — one half of my “Two Teens in the Time of Austen” project — it’s easy to overlook the young husband who joined the predominately-female Smith household on 16 December 1828.

Tring church b-w

The wedding ceremony took place in the parish church of Tring; Edward was to serve as curate until the Austens left in November 1833. His stipend: ₤20 per annum. “The place must have a curate,” wrote Emma’s sister Fanny Smith, “as there are three churches to serve”.  With an income of £850 a year (not counting the stipend, earmarked for Edward’s own substitute when he had to be away), the couple had the opportunity to build a nest egg by living with Emma’s large family at Tring Park, a substantial estate once owned by great uncle Sir Drummond Smith. Five sisters and two brothers, under the watchful eye of the widowed Mrs (Augusta) Smith, provided Edward Austen with a bustling household that he came to adore. Edward’s superior, the Rev. Mr. Charles Lacy, was an unmarried man (though with an intended), only three years older than himself, who had held the living for nearly ten years. The Smiths all commented favorably on their vicar’s preaching, conversation, and singing. Edward looked back on the Tring years, during which the Austens welcomed their first three children, with great fondness.

Present-day Tring Park

Present-day Tring Park, altered by late-19th-century additions (by Rothschild).

During the wedding breakfast, the servants had danced in the hall. The day I visited Tring Park (now a performing arts school), the pale light of a rainy English day filtered through the super-sized window on the far side of the stair well, weakly illuminating the hall that echoes still with notes from violins and dance. My tour guide, Mike, was able to show the nooks and crannies thanks to school being out for the week. The soft rain dampened thoughts of tramping the grounds, so we ventured no further than the small church where Edward Austen “did the duty,” to use the phrase Edward used [see uppermost photo]. Vestry Minutes for September 1832 marked a milestone in the church’s history: “The Revd J.E. Austen proposed on the part of the Miss Smith’s [sic] of Tring Park to present the Church with an Organ.” A vote was moved, seconded – and passed! Mr Lacy was tasked with conveying the news to Emma’s sisters. Mike and I had hoped to glimpse the little organ, as it may still exist – but the church of Long Marston was unfortunately closed, except for service.

Wigginton Church b-w

The third church – at Wiggintonwas open to visitors! Described by Mary Austen Leigh as “a scattered village on a picturesque common,” it was in the “damp and cold little church” at Wigginton that chills caught while preaching and teaching affected Edward’s throat to such an extent that his voice grew weak and was never again the same. His diary entry for January 13 (1833) places him in Wigginton, and ends in the remark “I did no more Sunday duty on account of my throat”. His ability to read aloud, his family’s “evening enjoyment” since Edward “could always make the characters, to use his Aunt Jane’s expression, ‘speak as they should do,’” was also affected. During months of inactivity, Edward Austen cut keenly-observed silhouettes, now published as Life in the Country with Quotations by Jane Austen (2008).

Life in the Country

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Book Bindings: the Edwardses of Halifax

September 16, 2015 at 12:49 pm (books, history, research) (, , )


To piggyback on my previous blog post (on the Electronic British Library Journal), I spent last night reading this FASCINATING account of book binding in the (mainly) eighteenth century. I felt a bit at a loss, not SEEING the book bindings and having little idea, for I lack the grasp on the terminology the author assumes, but that makes _me_ want to seek out more information and give it another read. How I’ve love to see their vellum technique, especially. And the book described that was made for Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire sounds exquisite!  I’ll update this post as I find pertinent links to either images or book binding terms. Or: if YOU know of some, let me know!


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Electronic British Library Journal

September 15, 2015 at 3:58 pm (research) (, )

In seeking information on a new book just coming out from the University of Toronto Press – The Edwardses of Halifax: The making and selling of beautiful books in London and Halifax, 1749-1826, by G.E. Bentley, Jr. – I stumbled upon this very apropos article in the British Library Journal. That find opened up an entire WORLD of journal articles, from 1975 to today!


“The eBLJ is the journal of scholarly research into the contents and history of the British Library and its collections. It is the successor to the British Library Journal, which appeared in twenty-five volumes between 1975 and 1999. Its purpose is to advance knowledge of the British Library’s collections by demonstrating their wealth and the ways in which they are used by researchers. It is available free to all users of our website.”

As you might guess, eBLJ is wide-ranging in topic as well as time-period. You can search by year or author; pity there is no subject or “search” capability. So much information, given the amount of publishing they’ve done! You can, however, put the journal title AND a search term (I used ‘austen’) into a search engine and see what comes up. (After all, that was how I found the Edwards article in the first place!) This won’t necessarily give you an article on (for instance) Austen, but finds all instances of your search term(s) within articles. The first on the list for ‘austen’ was a 2006 article entitled LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD (by Morna Daniels), which “hit” because of a mention of Northanger Abbey and “Gothic romances”.

A second “hit” was an article (from 2014) by Christina Duffy (THE DISCOVERY OF A WATERMARK ON THE ST CUTHBERT GOSPEL…), which cites Jane Austen’s letters in the Morgan Library as being a large deposit which has recorded watermarks.

Another “hit” – which was a mistake (for the publication location AUSTIN, cited within the article) – was Miles Johnson and A.D. Harvey’s POLITICAL VERSE IN LATE GEORGIAN BRITAIN: POEMS REFERRING TO WILLIAM PITT THE YOUNGER (1759-1806) [2004].

Goes to show, though that a “search” is possible and the plethora of material covered in the journal articles. Happy hunting!


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Leigh Letters @ The Huntington

September 13, 2015 at 12:45 pm (diaries, history, jane austen, news, people, research) (, , , , )

Several weeks ago (I always have GOOD intentions about posting *News*… then don’t do it!) I came across Geri Meftah‘s blog post from FEBRUARY 2015, mentioning the purchase of a letter book by the Huntington Library in California. I visit Geri’s delightful JANE AUSTEN blog (kleurrijkjaneausten) with some regularity, but am not (and never will be) one “on top of” new news….

Better late than never, right?

But one thing about being half a year behind the time: The Huntington has had time to DIGITIZE the collection!

kleurrijkjaneausten @ blogspot will fill you in on the background of the purchase – and has a link to The Guardian‘s article about it. The letter book was at the time described as “52 unpublished letters, poems and other material from six generations of the Leigh family”.

As you might imagine, I held my breath: Anything from the family in the nineteenth century? Indeed: YES! and two letters (though late for my research) from James Edward Austen Leigh!

edward austen letter snippet huntington

I see that the catalogue will be off-line on September 16th (2015), but before or after, do look through the images. The Huntington has made it exceptionally easy to read the LEIGH LETTERS online, or download images. [use search term: leigh family papers]

The above “snippet” is from the first Edward Austen Leigh letter, and is a DELIGHTFUL snippet of memories of his aunt, Jane Austen, and Stoneleigh Abbey.

The Huntington describes the small collection as “letters, poems and other manuscripts written by various members of the Leigh family and other people in their circle. The letters are mainly concerned with the intimate, mundane, playful and tragic aspects of family life from the early modern period until the middle of the 19th century”. They would be a wonderful addition to anyone reading Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s Family: Through Five Generations.

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Make mine a LANDAU

September 1, 2015 at 10:24 pm (carriages & transport, entertainment, places) (, , , )

Susan Bennett, who’s researching the diaries of Georgiana Henderson (née Keate), has spotted my GOSLINGS once or twice. I suspect they are “Old Mrs. Gosling“, William Gosling’s mother (my Mary’s grandmother, who died in the summer of 1811), for she seems to have been the one to introduce Miss Norford to Eliza Gosling (William’s first wife; Mary’s mother). Susan IDs Miss Norford as “Annabella” – so terrific to have a FIRST NAME! Now she’s a bit less anonymous…

Two others of interest have turned up as well: Mr & Mrs Gregg — who (in company with Mrs Gosling) can only be William’s sister, Maria, and her husband Mr Henry Gregg of the Middle Temple. SUCH a thrill to catch these little glimpses of them in the early years of the 1800s.


Susan also sent me a newspaper “clipping” from 1805 – though the “Mrs Gosling” listed currently remains an unknown. Eliza Gosling had died in December 1803; and William doesn’t remarry until 1806 – so it’s not his wife. And there is always the possibility that any given Gosling is from the branch of the family attached to Francis Gosling (William’s cousin and partner in the banking firm Goslings and Sharpe).

But it’s less about the PEOPLE mentioned than the THINGS: carriages to be exact!

The news comes out of MARGATE (The Morning Post, dated 25 Sept 1805), and concerns the Dandelion Royal Fete. How enchanting to read of the “persons of exalted character” as well as the “sultry heat being tempered by the sea breezes”. Then arrive “the fashionables from Ramsgate”!! And the article’s writer is only too ready to tell you (the audience) which “fashionable” arrived in which equipage; it’s simply TOO DELICIOUS.

My currently-anonymous “Mrs. Gosling” appeared in her chariot

Mrs Gosling 1805

Others (as you can see) came in landaus and curricles (guess none in phaetons or barouches were “prominent” enough to be mentioned!), though some “in full regimentals” came on horseback.

Now, if anyone has a diary or some letters from 1805 which pinpoints which Mrs. Gosling was in Margate and Ramsgate in September… come find me!

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“Funny Business” at the Huntington Library

August 28, 2015 at 6:35 pm (entertainment, travel) (, , )


For those lucky enough to be within striking distance of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California: Funny Business: Humor in British Drawings from Hogarth to Rowlandson. The exhibition opened on August 15 and runs until 30 November 2015.

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Jane Austen Pillow @ NPG

August 26, 2015 at 12:02 pm (jane austen) (, )

The things you find when you aren’t LOOKING! Today, among the gifts at London’s National Portrait Gallery, it is this little JANE AUSTEN CUSHION.


The “portrait” is that which appeared in Edward Austen’s book on his aunt, written late in life (c1870). Measuring 45cm (approximately 17-inches square), it’s described as being of a “super soft faux suede” that’s machine washable. A bit pricey for those paying with dollars: £35. Comes with “cushion pad” which I assume is the pillow insert.

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Blogs, Books, & Pamphlets

August 19, 2015 at 12:05 pm (books, entertainment, europe, history, jane austen, news, people, research) (, , , , , , )

In yesterday’s mail the terrific-looking new book by Jenny Uglow (I have her humongous biography of Gaskell), “In These Times”: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815.


Nothing can be more up my alley! It’s about the Napoleonic era without being all about battles, and strategies, and War-War-War (to quote Scarlett O’Hara). I need information of the 1790s through 1810s, but I want to learn from it, not be BORED by it. (Yeah, war bores me. Though when I worked at a local college [uni-aged students for those of you in the UK], the POPULAR courses in history were Black Death and World War II. Still, I am what I am: more interested in social history and women’s history.)

I recognize a few names – for Uglow uses personal accounts to paint a full picture. There’s the Heber family (I adore the book Dear Miss Heber…); Lady Lyttleton (née Sarah Spencer); Jane Austen’s “sailor brothers”, Frank (Sir Francis Austen later in life) and Charles Austen; Betsey Fremantle (I’m still waiting from more from her current biographer, Elaine Chalus; though I have the complete set of three volumes published in the 1940s); Mary Hardy, the Norfolk diaristabout whom I have blogged before, at RegencyReads.

Can’t tell you much about the book, as I’m only in chapter 1 – but I’m enjoying it so far! Just the right amount of detail, and well-written. It opens with an idea VERY dear to my heart – for my own book (tentatively entitled The Brilliant Vortex, about my Two Teens during the Regency era, and all those London seasons, from 1814 to 1821.) discusses the same thing: the dissemination of news. Uglow, of course, looks at newspapers. I know, for instance, that Richard Seymour, in the 1830s, borrowed newspapers. So I already knew that some people had subscriptions, some people got papers passed on to them. And I LOVE Uglow’s descriptions of particular coffee houses:

“Visiting Glasgow in 1802, Dorothy Wordsworth found ‘the largest coffee room I ever saw’, in the piazza of the Exchange. ‘Perhaps there might be thirty gentlemen sitting on the circular bench of the window, reach reading a newspaper’ …. The linen-mill owner John Marshall also admired the room, brilliantly lit with candles, and rarely with fewer than a hundred people in it. ‘There are 1100 Subscribers to the Coffee Room at 28/- a year’.”

I remember back in the 1980s & 90s when VIDEO stores started out with yearly membership SUBSCRIPTIONS. Of course, the next store would open, offering LOWER rates – until ultimately the “membership” was free.

(And now every GROCERY store sports a RedBox!)

But I-M-A-G-I-N-E: 1100 subscribers at 28 shillings a year each! Sounds like it was a little goldmine! Marshall went on (and Uglow follows suit) with what the coffee house carried: “‘They take London & Edinburgh papers & journals, country papers & 9 copies of the Sun, Star & Courier & all the monthly publications.'”

Dissemination, of course, comes from MANY sources – including correspondence (my diarists’ chief avenue), and we all have heard of the dreaded PAMPHLET and the satirical CARTOON. No one reading about the French Revolution can get away from the ideas of salacious pamphlets against Queen Marie Antoinette; and no one reading about the Regency can escape the cartoons of Rowlandson (for just one example) skewering the Prince Regent.

I have a friend whose research has turned up a COUPLE different narratives. The conundrum: WHICH pamphlet is more truthful than the other?? That made me think of this conundrum from the writer’s point of view – and that made me think of James Boswell. For he put quite a lot into print (anonymous as well as with his name) during his lifetime. I’ve blogged a LOT about Boswell’s diaries and books about the Boswell Papers.

Then it HIT ME:

Pamphlets, in the 18th & 19th century, were to the likes of Boswell what BLOGS are to the likes of me TODAY! Those with a point-of-view, or even just “something to say”, stick it out there for anyone and everyone to see. Only, today, I don’t have to locate a printer and a bookseller – I just needed to stumble upon WordPress and have an internet connection!

boswellCan you IMAGINE: Boswell as Blogger?!?

(I sure can…)

My point to my friend was: Veracity wasn’t always on the minds of the pamphlet writer; so I find it wholly understandable that two versions of the same incident could exist. It’s like Twitter today: how many times do we hear about someone apologizing for BLASTING on social media, only to regret it later. Hard to do with a penny publication: not like you can go back and find everyone who bought your pamphlet – though a retraction, or even another pamphlet pointing out the errors (and thought to be by a DIFFERENT writer!) are not impossibilities to contemplate.

It’s that old adage back again: “Plus ςa change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they STAY THE SAME!

* * *

Since I’m talking BOOKS here, I’ll make brief mention: Readers interested in obtaining a FREE copy of Hazel Jones’s Jane Austen’s Journeys – please take a look at the giveway I’m running on RegencyReads. I’m taking names for a lengthy period: till the end of this month (August 2015). I had an extra copy, so it IS a book I’m keeping on my own shelves.

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Where Mamma was: August 1803

August 17, 2015 at 11:33 am (diaries, history, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , )

Yesterday, long after I posted about the *FINDS* now online at the National Trust Collections, the pleasing thought came:

“I now have seen a Flower painting that Mamma worked on and finished at Suttons in August 1803!”


Augmenting my jollity came the recollection:  “I have Mamma’s diary for 1803!! she was expecting Fanny (born in October), she was worried about Eliza Gosling (whose illness took her in December)” – then BOOM! came the immediate realization: “The diary pages from end of April onward have been CUT OUT; there are no entries for August…”

How well I remember the day I began transcribing this diary. I never read ahead; the unfolding drama of the written words always encourages my tired little fingers to keep on flying away. Then, suddenly, an image where there was PRINTED material on the right-hand side. I didn’t think about it and went to the next image.

There is always printed material at the beginning and end of the journals they used. Typically, they were the series published yearly, THE DAILY JOURNAL, or, GENTLEMAN’S, MERCHANT’S, AND TRADESMAN’S COMPLETE ANNUAL ACCOMPT-BOOK.

Confused, I flipped back an image: April 1803.

I flipped forward an image.

Only then, flipping back again, did the jagged edges filling the gutter of the diary register: the REST of the year had been cut out; only the yearly summation existed.

There was no information about her pregnancy and the birth of Fanny Smith.

There was no information about the last illness of young Mary’s mother, Eliza Gosling.

It was just GONE!

Why?” is the one word question I constantly ask when coming across “mutilation” of this sort. What was there that needed “destroying”? What was there that needed to be kept separately? Surely, easier to keep – or destroy – the entire diary. And then the question, “WHO did this?” Was it the diarist? was it a child? was it someone even further down the timeline?

I just don’t get it…

So, while I’m ecstatic to see a work Mamma completed in the (presumably) balmy summer days of August 1803 (she often recorded extremes of weather), its execution – if indeed she mentioned it – remains one of the unknowns; like her comments on the imminent arrival of little Fanny, and the hectic days of travelling back and forth to London to see and hear about the health of her beloved friend and Portland Place next-door-neighbor, Eliza Gosling.

Why? – Who did this? – What happened to the missing pages?

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Spending Time at The Vyne

August 16, 2015 at 11:42 am (entertainment, estates, history, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , )

Why is it: the Best FINDS are found around midnight or 2 AM?

Last night I found that the National Trust has been BUSY photographing artwork and posting them on their National Trust Collections site. FINALLY! we can see some flower paintings of Eliza Chute, Augusta Smith (her sister), and their teacher Miss Meen (Margaret Meen).

Alas! isn’t there ALWAYS confusion when more than one person has similar or exactly the SAME NAME?!?

The Vyne is uncertain, for instance, who painted one “scene” picture – Eliza Chute, or the wife of William Wiggett (who later took the name Wiggett Chute in order to inherit); their daughter was also an Eliza Chute (1843-1913). Her pictures of The Vyne are simply charming.

There IS one “scene” picture that they DO attribute to Eliza Chute (Mrs. William Chute), called A Roadside Halt. Emma’s “Aunt Chute” WAS known as an adept painter, and did practice by copying “old masters”, for example in the art collection of neighbor the Duke of Wellington.

But it is the Floral Paintings that I am most excited to see, for instance this undated work inscribed (pencil) “Eliz. Smith Chute” = which, without seeing it up close, could be in Eliza’s hand, or could be a later hand (not that I doubt it was painted by her, just that she may not have signed it herself).

Eliza Chute_red flowersWatercolor on Vellum

I suspect, between the fact that the Smith Sisters of Erle Stoke Park (Maria, Eliza, Augusta, and Emma [later: Lady Northampton, Aunt Chute, Mamma, and Aunt Emma]), were busy in the 1790s, around the time of Eliza’s marriage, producing various Flower Paintings while in the company of Miss Meen, and the fact that it’s ID’ed as “Smith Chute”, that it probably dates from early in this period. It’s unusual for Eliza to use both her maiden and married names.

  • compare Eliza’s flower paintings at The Vyne with those at The Royal Horticultural Society (afraid you have to work for this one: use the SEARCH function and type in Elizabeth Chute or Elizabeth Smith).
  • See other “artwork done by” (more links), on this blog.

Some Flowers are very in the style of Miss Meen – for instance the Asclepia Giganticus Pentandria Digynia, signed “El. S. 1785”. But others seem their own sweet style – like the Amaryllis, which has to date before September 1793 [when she married William Chute] if it is signed “El. S.”

Born in 1768, Eliza was still in her teens in 1785!

There is even one, called Log and Red Berries, worked by BOTH Eliza Chute AND Margaret Meen.

Problems arise with the works of Augusta Smith — is it the daughter Augusta (whom they ID by her married name, Augusta Wilder), or is the artist Mamma?

augusta smith_pink flowersWatercolor on Vellum

This is – judged from afar (though I am NO expert on artist identifications) – said to date from 1820-1836. The cut-off is obvious: Augusta Wilder, Emma’s eldest sister, died in the summer of 1836. The back merely says “Augusta Smith” (which of course she would NOT have been after 1829, when she married! so the dating is still erroneous.)

Other Botanicals are a much easier call, and are clearly misattributed – little Augusta was not painting florals at the age of 4 or 5, and there are works identified (for instance) as “Suttons, 1803”. Even worse: “Turnera Ulmifolio Pentandria Trigynia by Augusta Smith, Mrs Henry Wilder (1799-1836). (in ink). AS 1787.” So prodigious a child was little Augusta, that she painted TWELVE YEARS before she was even born!?! Don’t think so…

Emma, by the way, began lessons with Miss Meen in February 1815, aged 13.

The images at the Royal Horticultural Society must be searched for, but all the Four Sisters of Erle Stoke Park (and their instructress, Margaret Meen) are represented. Emma Smith (“Aunt Emma”) is actually represented by an online “gallery” of work. Twenty nine images (currently) come up if you search for the term Joshua Smith — because the girls are ID’ed as his daughters! You can toggle the image display so the instructive text comes up beside each image, which is highly useful.

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