The Saga of the Steventon Parsonage

[Note:  please see an update to this post at Steventon Parsonage Redux ]

One of the things I love most about old books is what you sometimes find in them, be it bookplates, inscriptions, the odd bookmark or pictures or postcards or notes or newspaper articles, some history of the book or the owners, or something relating to the subject of the book in your hands – alas! I have never found money! [but I did find a check once and I called the person so they could have it re-issued – a corporate check from only a few years before – the  customer was thrilled! ] – so if it looks like something the previous owner might want I send it to them] – but as that is not usually the case, I find the possibilities endless – indeed I have several shoe boxes filled with the stuff, someday to be gone through in my dotage.  But I recently bought a book by R.W. Chapman [to be posted about another time], our esteemed editor and scholar of Jane Austen and in it was the following news article [dated 1931]:

The Estate market:  a link with Jane Austen

   Steventon Rectory, in Hampshire, is for sale with 20 acres of garden and pasture.  The formal notice of the auction, to be held at Basingstoke on September 9, in The Times yesterday, refers to building frontages on adjoining land, and indicates that there will be two lots.  So any admirer of Jane Austen anxious to acquire a house where the great novelist was “without impertinence” called “Jane” needs to bid only for the rectory and grounds.  A short history of Steventon speaks of Edward Knight as patron of the living in 1830.  There, for those who know Jane Austen’s family connexions, is a name that is eloquent of her life at Godmersham, near Canterbury, and Chawton House, near Alton.  Jane Austen was born in the parsonage at Steventon in 1775, her father, the Rev. George Austen, being the rector.  She lived there for 16 years.  The contemplated sale of the Steventon Rectory is by Messrs. Daniel Smith, Oakley and Garrand {Charles-street, St. James’s-square, and Rochester) and Messrs. Clutton [Great College-street, Westminster).  The freehold will be sold in low reserve, and it is worthwhile to add that private offers before the auction will be considered by Sir John Oakley’s firm.

 No date on the news-clipping, but there are a few notices on the reverse side with dates of 1931, so I am assuming this auction took place on September 9, 1931. 

Other real estate noted in this clipping [and pictures of what the houses look like now]:

Caverswall Castle, Staffs. A fortified manor house that has escaped the perils of siege and the sometimes equally defacing hand of the restorer, is for slae by Messrs Hampton and Sons (St. James’s-square).  An Edwardian tenure of the estate by Sir William de Caverswall followed that of his ancestors in the reign of Richard I….  [it is now a luxury wedding and events venue]


Shendish House, with 90 or 525 acres, and the rest of the 1,300 acres of Shendish estate, Kings Langley, will come under the hammer of Messrs. John D. Wood and Co (Berkeley-square) on September 15 in Watford.  There are farms of from 120 to 320 acres, two residences, and 18 cottages.  The land has frontages for development…. [now called Shendish Manor, a hotel and golf course]



Teaninich, Cromarty Firth, is for sale by Messrs. Knight, Frank and Rutley (Hanover-square).  It includes 2,000 acres, Teaninich House, a grouse moor, and salmon and sea trout fishing in the Alness and loch trouting. [picture of an old postcard of  Teaninich House  – is this now called Teaninich Castle?,  a small hotel]


But what of the Steventon Rectory sale and the reference to Austen?  This auction announcement cannot be correct, as we know that the parsonage where Jane was born was demolished by her brother Edward Knight in 1826 [or 1824 – see below] – and I have not seen anything about the house that he built to replace it to serve as the rectory when his son took over the benefice from his uncle, Jane’s brother Henry Austen in 1822. 

All trips to Steventon, and books on the subject, guide you to the lonely pump sitting in a distant field that you can only document with a telephoto-lens camera – this the only remains of the rectory where Jane lived from her birth in 1775 until the move to Bath in 1801.

Old Steventon Parsonage site

[Image from Constance Hill biography]


But I have not seen anything about this second rectory that was built after James and Henry let the original rectory where Jane was born go to seed – that is until recently when it appeared on the market again in October 2009 [ it was on the market for £4.5 million, I can find no listing for it now, so assuming it has sold]  – see this article at Country Life as well as this blog post at Austenonly.] 


So this little newsprint set me to research what I could find about this house, misnamed in the 1931 announcement as the house Austen grew up in [it also states she lived there for 16 years…],  and of course what one finds is so many varying accounts of the original rectory and nothing of this newer house at all.  I first discovered the discrepancies in dates as to when Edward demolished the house, then further variances in what the house looked like in a number of sources I have.  Then a search on the site led me to the Linda Robinson Walker article in Persuasions On-Line [Winter 2005] – where she has meticulously reviewed all these different depictions of the rectory to understand why Jane Austen was sent from home for so many years of her childhood. 

 The varying history [some sources say the land was given to Rev. Austen by the Knight family, some say the Austen family, some say he rented the land he farmed (called Cheesedown Farm), and some say he sold that land when he moved to Bath], discrepancies in dates [the dates of the sketches, the dates the house was demolished, how long Austen lived there], various pictures [some resources show one front view, some the other, and David Cecil in his A Portrait of Jane Austen [Constable, 1978]  is wrong in identifying the rectory as Chawton Cottage!] – all this conjectural history is dizzying, and one sees the danger of interpreting such flimsy data for a biography!  [though certainly some of these discrepancies can be due to newer data coming to light at various periods…] 

What the Rectory actually looked like is by no means clear – all knowledge is based on the original drawing by Anna LeFroy [James Austen’s daughter – she lived in the house as a child when Jane was there and then later when her father took over as curate in 1801] – and information gleaned from letters and the early memoirs / biographies of the family who actually knew the rectory [i.e. Anna LeFroy, Fanny Knight, Caroline Austen, and James Edward Austen-Leigh, as well as Jane Austen’s own comments in her letters about the house].  Anna made several sketches of the house, front and back view, and a street of cottages in Steventon.  [but see:  Deirdre Le Faye in her Jane Austen: a Family Record [2nd edition, Cambridge 2004] states that for the 1870 Memoir “Anna provided a ‘little drawing of Julia’s [her second daughter] made from my description of the Parsonage: more pretty than true, yet, some thing perhaps might be made of it…’ This joint composition formed the basis for the engraving of Steventon rectory used in the Memoir, and Anna added a note to the drawing in her possession: ‘The Door should have more Glass and less wood work – The Windows were Casements.”  [Le Faye, p. 280, quoting a LeFroy letter and the LeFroy MS]

Steventon Parsonage LeFroy sketch

Steventon Parsonage - LeFroy sketch rear view

Steventon Parsonage - Engraving in Memoir

 As you can see the two drawings of the house from the front do not compute – and Walker concludes that the engraving made from one of the drawings that was put into the 1870 Memoir was just another example of “beefing- up” Austen’s image, just as was done with her portrait – and that the smaller house was actually the rectory and Jane and Cassandra were sent from home to a boarding school to allow room for Rev. Austen’s boarding [and paying] male students.  Walker believes the larger house to be a sketch of Ibthorpe [still standing, privately owned – I was fortunate enough to have tea there during the JASNA AGM in Winchester in 2003!] and a house much visited by all the Austen family.  Walker does a most admirable job of computing all this data, based on family reminiscences, comments in letters as to location of rooms, etc. – but it is likely to be a mystery for all time, or at least a full-time research project to expand on what Walker has done.  But in the end I am inclined to concur with Tom Carpenter’s thoughts that the smaller house view is actually a side view of the rectory [Walker cites Carpenter’s opinion in her note no. 2 on page 20-21].  An aside on this:  I have the 1926 Memoir as edited by Chapman:  the frontispiece of Austen is the Victorianized / “beautified” Austen, and the parsonage is the engraving that Walker refers to.  But I also have the Folio Society edition of 1989, based on Chapman’s edition – the frontispiece is the facing-away sketch of Austen in the blue dress and the rectory is the original drawing by LeFroy of the smaller house.  Why this change in the illustrations?? Are you all sufficiently confused at this point?! It is interesting to note that David Nokes in his 1997 biography of Austen has no illustration at all of the parsonage – perhaps he saw this jumble in the making and opted out?!

As to when the original rectory was demolished and the new one built, an article in Persuasions by Patricia Jo Kulischeck [Vol. 7, 1985, pp. 39-40 ]– [the full text for this issue is not available, so I will quote from it directly] gives us the following information from land records of the time, Memorandum for a supplementary affidavit respecting Steventon Glebe Apl 1824, docketed in Edward Knight’s handwriting [text is in another hand]:

There is no rectory house in the Parish of Steventon excepting the new one now nearly finished built on a part of the land proposed to be added to the original glebe.  The former house was situated low and subject to be flooded, distant from the greater part of the village and in a dilapidated state.  The present house is placed above the valley in a more healthy spot and nearer the village.  The inhabitants are about 150 persons.  The original glebe consisting of only 3 A. OR. 23P [presumably 3 acres, or 23 parcels of land] in two disunited pieces was quite inefficient for the necessary accommodation of a resident clergyman’s family and as there are besides cottages only farm houses in the Parish and very few resident incumbents in the adjoining Parishes, it is most particularly desirable that the Rector of Steventon should reside there rather than on any other preferment he may eventually have and nothing is so likely to secure that residence as the proposed addition to the glebe which will add so materially to the comforts and in some degree to the respectability of the Rector.  There can be no doubt what ever but very sensible advantages will be felt as well in several of the adjoining Parishes as in that of Steventon by securing the residence of the Rector in that Parish.

 After the Austens moved to Bath in 1801, Rev. Austen retained the Steventon living and its income in his retirement and his son, James Austen, held the curacy, until his father’s death in 1805, when he became the Rector, and was so until his death in December 1819.  As the living was part of the Knight estate that Edward Austen owned, Henry Austen took over the living until Edward’s fourth son William Knight was old enough to take it on in 1822.  [Henry moved on to be curate of Farnham in Surrey.]    William lived here in the new rectory with his wife, Caroline Portal, who had eight children in twelve years [and died in childbirth with the last one, much like her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Knight, Edward’s wife, who died after giving birth to her 12th child]– this from Claire Tomalin’s biography of Austen,  and I find nothing more mentioned about this new rectory… 

 Kulisheck also quotes from an entry in the Victoria County History of Hampshire, printed in 1911:

 St. Nicholas’ Church is on the eastern boundary of the parish.  The rectory standing in very pretty and well-wooded grounds of 53 acres is some distance north of the church…situated about 500 yards from where the old one used to stand.  At present no vestige of it remains, but up to within the last twenty years garden flowers used to bloom every season in the meadow where it formerly stood.” [Kulisheck, p. 40, quoting the History, vol. IV, p. 171.]

 The October 2009 advertisement for this property, now called Steventon House, [see picture above] says it was bought by the Duke of Wellington in 1855, sold to a Harris family in 1877 – the house remained a rectory for the village until 1930 [1931], when it sold and became a private home [and that would be the sale from the auction in the newspaper that started this whole circuitous post…] [this current information from the Austenonly blog and a number of news articles about the sale]

 So this is a very convoluted explanation of the original Steventon Parsonage where Jane Austen spent the first 25 years of her life !- the mystery remains, I feel more confused than ever! – more reading on the agenda… and certainly a required trip to the Hampshire Records Office – how awful that work gets in the way of such adventures!

Sources and further reading: 

-Austen-Leigh, James Edward.  A Memoir of Jane Austen by her Nephew.  With introduction, Notes and Index by R.W. Chapman.  Oxford, 1926. 

 -Austen-Leigh, J.E.  A Memoir of Jane Austen by her Nephew.  Introduction by Fay Weldon; based on the Second Edition of 1871 edited by R.W. Chapman for the Clarendon Press in 1926.  The Folio Society, 1989.

 -Cecil, David.  A Portrait of Jane Austen.  Constable, 1978. 

-Hill, Constance.  Jane Austen:  Her Houses and Haunts.  John Lane, 1901, rep. 1923 [available online at A Celebration of Women Writers here.] 

-Kulisheck, Patricia Jo. “Steventon Parsonage”  Persuasions, Vol. 7, 1985, pp. 39-40.

 -Le Faye, Deirdre.  Jane Austen:  a Family Record.  2nd ed.  Cambridge, 2004.

 -Todd, Janet, ed.  Jane Austen in Context.  Cambridge, 2007.

 -Tomalin, Claire.  Jane Austen:  a Life.  Viking, 1997. 

Walker, Linda Robinson Walker, “Why Was Jane Austen Sent Away to School at Seven? An Empirical Look at a Vexing Question.”  Persuasions On-Line, V.26, No. 1 [Winter 2005]

-Wilkes, Brian.  Jane Austen.  Hamlyn, 1978.

The Basingstoke and Deane Conservation Area Appraisal for Steventon, shows numerous homes in the area, including Steventon House.

Austenonly Blog on the Steventon Rectory

Jane Austen’s World Blog on the Steventon Rectory

Steventon, Jane Austen’s Home at Hantsweb

 [Posted by Deb]

7 thoughts on “The Saga of the Steventon Parsonage

    • Thanks Vic! – I opened a can of worms I think! – no definite answers about any of it really, but it does get one to thinking about her home, now gone, and what it really was like. We are spoiled having so much information about Chawton..
      Thanks for stopping by,


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  2. It’s all so simple. I live in North Waltham, the neighbouring village, and have published my findings in a trail guide called ‘Steventon – Jane Austen’s Birthplace’ in 2009, available from me for £6 incl p&p in UK.

    I don’t know what or where the smaller house is but it’s definitely NOT the enlarged rectory into which George Austen and his (growing) family moved in 1768. It’s far too small and doesn’t match either the maps of the time or the sketch from the rear. Though used in many earlier books, it’s now being discarded even by such an authority as Deirdre Le Faye, with whom I’m in touch.

    Along with the rest of the village in the valley, the old rectory was demolished after James Austen died. The valley was subject to winter floods which, around the time of JA’s departure, made the ground floor uninhabitable. If it did this to a brick house, imagine what devastation was wreaked in the tumbledown workers’ cottages!

    Edward Austen, now the rich heir of Thomas Knight, built a fine rectory on the hill opposite for his son William to live in. That’s the new rectory in the photograph with 20 acres of the original 60 acre glebe. William lived there for almost 50 years till he died in 1873.

    Four other rectors lived there until Steventon parish was combined with North Waltham in 1930. Vera Hutton-Croft moved in from Steventon Manor when that mansion was requisitioned in WWII, staying till her death in the 1969.

    Check our local history website, buy the book and, better still, come and visit – I’m happy to show you round and even provide home-made cream teas for groups.


    • Hello Mr. Tanner,

      Thank you for your comments! – I am in the process of doing yet another post on Steventon to answer my own questions!- have read several more articles and Julie at the Austenonly blog sent me the Deirdre Le Faye book she wrote on Steventon for the JAS in 2008 – it clears up alot of the questions about the sketches, which I think has been the crux of the errors over the years… There was confusion for me about the Manor House – I know that the original rectory was torn down in the 1820s and the new built for William Knight in 1826 and he was there for years – and this rectory became a private home when North Waltham and Steventon combined parishes. I would love to get your book, but alas am in the US and have no UK account – is there a way I could purchase this through PayPal or some other way?? I have been to Steventon two times and have pictures of the pump, etc… but didn’t know about this new rectory and its part in the saga… this all started from a 1930s real estate ad that was patently wrong about Austen living in that house….! – will be posting my hopefully final update soon. Would like to add your booklet as part of the bibliography, so please email me the exact title, etc and I will put it in there.

      Thank you for clearing this all up – and my next trip to Austen country I will certainly take you up on your offer to show me around – and the cream teas too! – I have looked at the Waltham site, but will again and cite that as well.

      Many thanks,


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