I have just heard from a friend of mine, Chris Sandrawich, membership secretary of the Jane Austen Society Midlands Branch, and his concern about the threat to the “Library Passage” in Worthing. This path is termed a “twitten” – an old Sussex dialect word said to be a corruption of “betwixt and between.” Jane Austen stayed in Worthing in the fall of 1805 after the death of her father, and there met Edward Ogle, Worthing’s leading citizen. Austen was there with her mother, friend Martha Lloyd, and sister Cassandra [and why we have no letters!], and they would have used this “twitten” as a short-cut by-way to both the sea-front and the Library.
[You can read more about Austen’s connection with Worthing and Mr. Ogle in this October 2011 article in Sussex Life. [[and note that the full-text of this article is in the JAS Report for 2010, “Edward Ogle of Worthing and Jane Austen’s Sanditon.”]
The importance of Austen’s stay in Worthing and her meeting Mr. Ogle? – the town is very likely the model for Sanditon, and Mr. Ogle the inspiration for Tom Parker.
The former Library is now a bus station and the bus company wants to close this passage off for what they say are safety reasons – this connection to Jane Austen is at risk of disappearing. The house in Warwick Street where Jane Austen stayed was called Stanford’s Cottage – it is now a Pizza Express, but proudly displays a plaque on the wall commemorating Austen’s stay.
Mr. Sandrawich visited Worthing last year on a tour with his Midlands group – he has written an essay on this tour which will be published in their journal Transactions this year – and I append here, with his permission, an extract from his article on this twitten: [and I append a map here in the event you haven’t a clue where Worthing actually is…]
So, what of Worthing the place? It is clear that the town is struggling through the doldrums given the number of estate agents’ signs over empty shop fronts, but it is pleasant enough to stroll through, and you can always find something of interest. For example, the history of English is varied and fascinating and along with so many new words we have some that are very old, and still in use. Worthing has an interesting old Sussex dialect word, twitten , said to be a corruption of ‘betwixt and between’ although the on-line Oxford Dictionary suggests it is an early 19th Century word (unbelievably!) perhaps related to Low German twiete ‘alley, lane’, used for a path or an alleyway. It is still in common use in both East and West Sussex, and oddly enough in Hampstead Garden Suburb. As tussen, steggen or steeg in the Netherlands has a similar meaning it would be all too easy to assume that source as the derivation. Such pathways between buildings have other names around the world, but elsewhere in England twittens are called variously, twitchells (north-west Essex, east Hertfordshire and Nottingham), chares (north-east England, especially Newcastle), ginnels – which can also be spelt jennels or gennels – (Manchester, Oldham, Sheffield and south Yorkshire), opes (Plymouth), jiggers or entry (Liverpool), gitties or jitty (Derbyshire and Leicestershire), snickleways or snicket (York), shuts (Shropshire) and are called vennels in Scotland; but it is not known what our Jane called them, but it is very likely she may have called the “Library Passage” shown on the right a twitten as Jane used it with her family to get from Stanford Cottage to Stafford’s Library, as well as the sea front. This fine example of a Worthing twitten is just off Warwick Street, and only a lady’s baseball (see Northanger Abbey) throw from Stanford Cottage. Janet Clarke informed me that this twitten is currently under threat from a bus company, Stagecoach, who owns the land and wish to “stop it up” permanently. This twitten now runs from Warwick Street into the bus depot. Of course, anything being an ancient historic “right of way” for the ordinary people of England and Wales does not put off Companies from making such proposals whenever it suits the moment. Look at it again, while you have the chance, and if this twitten through your half-closed eyes and with some imagination resembles a footpath through dense woodland; then, there you have it.
Mr. Sandrawich is looking to muster support from all of us who have an interest in Jane Austen, asking us to voice our concern for the loss of this pathway, so What can we do?
Here is the text of the letter that the Midlands Branch has sent to Janet Clarke of Worthing, who is spearheading this effort to halt the closure:
The Jane Austen Society Midlands
A Worthing twitten, and right-of-way, known as “Library Passage”
We understand that you are seeking support to prevent the present owners of the land including the ‘Library Passage’ from permanently stopping it up and at one stroke preventing future use as a short-cut and right of way, and also removing an historical connection between Worthing and Jane Austen.
As you know, in 1805, at the time of the Trafalgar and Nelson’s famous victory Jane Austen and her family stayed at Stanford’s Cottage, adjacent to this twitten, and would certainly have used this short-cut known as the ‘Library Passage’ to gain direct access to both the sea-front and the library. The library in those days was the focal point of social gatherings to meet, discuss and converse as well as to see and be seen and take refreshments whilst perhaps reading papers, magazines and books. In their months staying in Worthing Jane Austen and her family probably used this route on a daily basis.
This very library has changed its use and now forms part of the administrative buildings for the bus depot, where the twitten ends.
Sir Walter Scott is famous for his fulsome praise of Jane Austen but Anthony Trollope also praised her work and wrote, “Miss Austen was surely a great novelist. What she did, she did perfectly. Her work, as far as it goes, is faultless.” and many other examples in praise of her genius can be found placing Jane Austen at the forefront of great British novelists.
The connection between Worthing and Jane Austen has only comparatively recently come to light and our Society visited Worthing in October last year, and we were very interested to see the twitten known as the ‘Library Passage’ and to understand its connection with Jane Austen’s stay. We feel sure that our Society’s visit to Worthing will be only one of many, as other Societies all around the world learn of this Austen connection, and any Jane Austen fan would be very pleased to see the twitten, she must certainly have used, remain open and unaltered and would be equally dismayed to see it lost forever.
We, the Committee of The Jane Austen Society Midlands, fully support the view that the twitten known as ‘Library Passage’ should remain open and its connection with Jane Austen made more widely known.
Chris Sandrawich, Membership Secretary
and Jennifer Walton, Chairman
Written submissions have to be in before March 28th and the actual hearing is on April 25th at the Chatsworth Hotel in Worthing. If you would like to have a voice in this, please comment here and I will let you know who and where to send your letter of support.
Thank you all! – this is your chance to be proactive and do something to save this important connection to Jane Austen’s life and her writing of Sanditon.