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 ).
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!
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!