Jane Austen at Steventon
Jane Austen was born at Steventon rectory in 1775. Her father, George, had been given the Steventon living by his wealthy cousin, Thomas Knight, in 1761. George Austen moved from Oxford to Steventon in 1764 following his marriage to Cassandra, née Leigh. For four years the family lived in the rectory of neighbouring Deane while repairing and extending the dilapidated Steventon rectory. They had been living in Steventon rectory for some years before Jane was born. Her father took in boarders whom he educated for university. Jane and her sister, Cassandra, were encouraged in their literary pursuits by their educated parents. Juvenile stories, plays for the family gatherings and even a history of England survive today. Jane’s first three novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey were drafted in Steventon, before she moved away in 1801. A contemporary newspaper lists some of the effects to be auctioned including a piano, a quantity of music, 200 books and sets of theatrical scenes.
Jane socialised within north Hampshire society attending balls at Hurstbourne Park. She would visit the Leighs and Knights, meet the Leigh-Perrots in Bath and stay locally with people like the Chutes at the Vyne in Sherborne St John, just outside Basingstoke. She attended dances in the Basingstoke Assembly Rooms.
Jane and Cassandra were encouraged to visit the homes of Steventon villagers. Jane became godmother to one of the Littleworth children. Nanny Littleworth had been wet-nurse to George and Cassandra’s children.
In 1820 the rectory and surrounding cottages were badly flooded leading to the building of a new rectory in 1823 and the relocation of the cottages to a new site. The relocation of cottages had started in Jane’s lifetime but the flood of January 1820 which devastated the rectory as well as the remaining cottages further down the valley caused the final abandonment of the old village site. A new rectory was built and today Jane’s memory is mainly preserved in the church up the lane from the old rectory site where her father, brother and nephew served as rector.