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You are in: Berkshire > History > Local History > Berkshire's Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Berkshire's Jane Austen

Jane Austen and her family have firm foundations in Berkshire, from Jane's own schooling to a family residence in Wargrave. Find out more from local historian and Austen fan Jane Walton.

Austen Weekends at Basildon Park

07.06.08 - 08.06.08 and 14.06.08 - 15.06.08

11am - 5pm

Basildon Park

Lower Basildon


Tel: 01189 843 040

Normal admission charges apply.

Find out more about life in Jane Austen's time. Themes including flowers, food, music and costume will be explored through exhibitions, live music and living history displays.

Eighteenth century social customs will also be featured on the first weekend (7/8 June) and live 18th century music will be featured on the second weekend (14/15 June).

It's a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen was Hampshire born and bred. But delve further into her history and you'll find that Berkshire also played a large part in the Austen family's life.

Jane, her sister Cassandra and her cousin, also called Jane, were educated in Reading following unsuccessful stints at schools in Oxford and Southampton.

The Reading Ladies Boarding School, also known as the Abbey School, which overlooked the Forbury Gardens, taught the girls the usual 18th century accomplishments such as sewing, dancing, spelling, French and music.

"She did three years there," says local historian Jane Walton, from Sonning, "and it was probably the school that she used to get the ideas for the Mrs Goddard School in Emma - the old-fashioned boarding school where accomplishment was sought."

Here's an extract from Emma: 'A real old-fashioned Boarding School where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price and girls might be out of the way and scramble themselves into a little education without any danger of coming back prodigies'.

The girls stayed there until 1786 before returning home to Hampshire.

In the film world, Basildon Park in Berkshire's Lower Basildon, as Austen fans know, was used to portray Netherfield Hall in the big screen version of Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley.

But that's not where the Basildon connection to the Austen family ends.

Basildon Park

Basildon Park

"It's not known whether Jane Austen ever visited Basildon Park," says Jane, "but the stately home is actually associated with her father and her father's sister."

She explains: "Her father's sister was called Philadelphia. They were orphaned, and when you were orphaned in the 18th century it was hard because you hadn't got the contacts through your parents. But she, at the age of 21, was granted permission to go out to India to find herself a husband."

Philadelphia married a doctor called Tysoe Saul Hancock, who was a friend of Warren Hastings - a rising star within the East India Company. Hastings had lost both his wife and daughter due to some illness out in India and sent his son George home to England into the care of Francis Sykes, owner of Basildon Park.

"He didn't really know what to do with him," says Jane of Sykes, "so he put him in the care of George Austen - a vicar - to educate him, and he was Jane Austen's father."

Jane adds that George also educated people across the Kintbury area.

Another Berkshire connection is that Jane Austen's aunt and uncle lived just near the A4 in a mansion called Scarletts, built on farmland at Hare Hatch, Wargrave.

Her uncle was called James Leigh-Perrot and is buried in Wargrave churchyard.

In the years after Jane Austen's death in 1871 her eldest brother James's widow Mary, who hailed from Enborne, returned to that area with her daughter Caroline and son Edward.

And thus the Austen family Berkshire connection was kept alive.

last updated: 14/08/2008 at 09:35
created: 03/06/2008

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