Wells Cathedral’s Austen Connection

September 15, 2008 at 1:28 pm (places) (, , )

Yesterday, Sunday the 14th of September, our Vermont Chapter of JASNA — the Jane Austen Society of North America — held a lecture in Montpelier by renowned speaker John Turner. You can read his delightful talk here. His comments on Austen’s novels, life and letters are thought-provoking.

The topic of the lecture was AUSTEN’s ENGLAND, and Deb Barnum, our chapter’s Regional co-Coordinator, showed some of her slides, one of which depicted the West front of Wells Cathedral. It was obvious that Deb was quite enamored with this beautiful building, for she pondered, “I included this, but I’ve no idea if Austen ever visited”.

It is more than probable that Jane Austen and her family did visit, especially during the years that they resided in Bath, for Wells is some twenty miles south-west of Bath – and, as a busman’s holiday, surely the Rev. George Austen would have made a special excursion to the Cathedral at least once in his life!

However, without specific evidence, we can only guess. Cyber-visitors, on the other hand, can see a lot of the Cathedral by visiting their informative website.

But Wells Cathedral does have an ‘Austen’ connection that is more tangible and well documented: through Emma Austen-Leigh.

Emma’s parents, Augusta and Charles Smith, were married by the Rev. Richard Beadon – at the time of their marriage, 29 March 1798, the Bishop of Gloucester (since 1789). Rev. Beadon was translated to the bishopric of Wells and Bath in 1802, and Emma’s diaries, which begin in 1815, show a decided preference for family trips to Wells – to visit the Beadons, and to sketch the famous Cathedral:

Here is Emma in November 1815.

Wednesday 15 … We [Mama, Augusta, Emma] arrive at Wells at 4 oclock 

Thursday 16 We drew out of doors

Friday 17 We walked to the Cathedral & went inside it. Mrs Walrond & her 2 sons were at Wells

Saturday 18 The Bishop confirmed the 2 Mr Walronds & me . Mr T. Beadon was present. … Mr Turner Mrs & the 2 Mr Walronds dined there. We were in the evening a party of 22.

Sunday 19 We went to the cathedral morning service then to hear the school children examined & to evening service…

Monday 20 …Mrs T. Beadon called at the palace Augusta & I walked with the Bishop up the Tor. Mr & Mrs T. Beadon & the abbé dined there

Tuesday 21 …Mrs Beadon & Mama joined us to go to an auction to the deanery then to call at Mrs T. Beadon’s house. Augusta & I went over the cathedral

On the 22nd, the Smiths leave.

Note the 15 November: Emma was confirmed, by the bishop, here at Wells Cathedral.

The Smiths would remain fast friends with several generations of Beadons, for years to come.

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