Do you have a Jane Austen connection?

This was the title of an article in the July edition of Family Tree magazine www.family-tree.co.uk and I was pretty certain that the answer for me was a resounding “no!”.

I’ve been enjoying the Jane Austen 200 events:  We went to a very interesting exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre and made pilgrimage to the house in Winchester where she died in July 1817.  The exhibition included the five known portraits of the author as well as her silk pelisse coat and purse.  It made us realise how tiny she was!

Then a week ago we attended ‘An Afternoon of Music, Dance and Song for Jane Austen’,  given by The Madding Crowd at the Basingstoke Discovery Centre.  This was most enjoyable and included music from Jane Austen’s own music collection, so it was lovely to hear music she would have been familiar with.  (This concert is to be repeated in Southampton at the end of September http://janeausten200.co.uk/event/stinking-fish-southampton-madding-crowd-singing-and-music-workshop-1 ).

Madding Crowd
Madding Crowd

A walk around Steventon, Jane Austen’s birthplace, has also been devised and can be found at www.destinationbasingstoke.co.uk .  We enjoyed this six mile circular walk last Sunday.  Starting from Steventon Church itself, it passes the field where the Rectory once stood (the site of the well is about all that remains) and you could imagine Jane walking up the lane to church and seeing the yew tree which (currently estimated to be 600 years old) would have been old then.  Apparently her father kept the church key hidden in its hollow trunk!

Steventon Church
Steventon Church

The walk also takes in Deane, where Jane’s parents lived before Steventon, and Ashe where Jane’s friends the Lefroys lived.

But a family connection to Jane Austen?  I don’t think so!  Charlotte Soares, writing in Family Tree, found her connection was the hill near Godmersham Park in Kent, home of Jane Austen’s brother Edward, whom she frequently visited.  She mentions in her article some of the surnames connected with the Austen family and imagines the ordinary people Jane might have met and known, from the servants in her brother’s house, to the villagers of Steventon and Chawton.

However, it was the mention of the surname Knatchbull-Hugessen which brought me up sharp.  I’ve seen that surname before!  Charlotte says that Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen was the son of Jane Austen’s niece Fanny Knight.

Well I have in my possession a Bible presented to my grandmother Emily Mitchell in 1904 by V Knatchbull-Hugessen.  So what’s the connection?

www.thepeerage.com gave me the answer:  Edward, First Baron Brabourne and Liberal politician, was the eldest son of Sir Edward Knatchbull and his second wife Fanny Knight.  The second son was Reginald Bridges who became Rector of the Parish of West Grinstead, where my grandmother lived.  Revd R B Knatchbull-Hugessen’s second daughter was Violet, born in 1869.   It was almost certainly she, the 35 year old unmarried Rector’s daughter, who presented the Bible to my Granny.

So there is my (somewhat tenuous) connection!  I have a Bible given to my Granny by the granddaughter of Fanny Knight – Jane Austen’s niece.  Voila!

Bookbench
Bookbench at Steventon
Granny’s Bible
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Upton cum Chalvey

A weekend away in Buckinghamshire was an excellent opportunity to stop off in Slough, that must-see tourist destination just off the M4 motorway.

Well, to clarify, it wasn’t really Slough as such that was the attraction but a couple of places now within the Slough connurbation which pre-existed its development and where I have ancestral connections.

Upton and Chalvey (sometimes known as Upton cum Chalvey in the records) lie to the south of the present town and, from small farming hamlets, grew hugely in the nineteenth century particularly after the coming of the railway.  My connection with the area is principally through the Mayne family.

Edith Mayne (who I wrote about a little while ago – the one who trained as a teacher and moved to Staffordshire) was born in Chalvey, as was her father Thomas, her grandfather, James, and probably her great grandfather, Thomas, a blacksmith who was born around 1769.  Edith’s aunt Elizabeth (my great grandmother) was also born in Chalvey but married David George in Croydon, where they were both working at the time. Shortly afterwards they moved to Chalvey Grove and it was there that my own grandfather, Alfred James George, was born in 1878 along with his twin sister Alice.  It was therefore to Chalvey Grove that I headed first.

By all reports Grandad was born in a wooden house!  Well I don’t think there are any of those remaining in Chalvey Grove these days!  The area will have changed out of all recognition since 1878:  today it is very multicutural and I passed the Hindu temple on the way.  I spotted one house with the date 1900, but I don’t think any would have been in existence when Grandad lived there.

From Chalvey Grove I found my way round to St Peter’s Church, Chalvey, which was opened in 1860.  The exterior looked pretty unloved, unfortunately.  The church was locked, but inside I could hear that someone was practising the organ.

St Peters Chalvey
St Peters Chalvey

Later on, I drove over to Upton where I parked outside St Laurence’s Church.  This was the orginal church for the area and is where my Grandad was baptised and where many of the Mayne family were buried.  Prominent notices warned visitors not to stray off the paths in the churchyard, due to the danger of subsidence!  This was a shame as I couldn’t properly examine names on graves.  Again the church was all locked up.  Across the roundabout from the church is the Sixteenth century Red Cow Inn.

St Laurence Upton
St Laurence Upton

In between, I paid a visit to The Curve in the town centre.  This is basically the library building – a very nice, new, modern facility – where local history information is also kept.  If I had had more time I could have browsed the local history books, but I did enjoy looking at the ‘pods’ where different aspects of the area’s history was displayed.  The maps were particularly interesting as they helped me to understand the urban spread and visualise how things would have been in the days of my ancestors.

An 1879 publication by Mortimer Collins, ‘Pen Sketches by a Vanished Hand’, describes Chalvey very unflatteringly as “a very dusty and unhappy looking village” but where the brook had a reputation for producing “excellent eye-water”.  At that time there were apparently no more than 50 houses in Chalvey, but the area grew rapidly, assisted by railway communications and various local industries.  Being just across the Thames from Eton, the residents of Chalvey had regularly found employment there, and my Mayne family was no exception.  After their marriage Elizabeth worked as a laundress there and David as a gardener.

Perhaps the employment and housing prospects were better in the Croydon area as by 1881 David and Elizabeth George were settled back there with a second set of twins arriving in 1882.

I enjoyed my time looking around Upton cum Chalvey and trying to imagine how the area might have looked at the end of the nineteenth century.  How times have changed!

Borough of Slough 1880 – 1900, photographed at The Curve, Slough