On july 2nd 1806, the Austen ladies left Bath for the last time. IN a later letter Ja was to recall that this gave them
Happy feelings of Escape
They and Martha Lloyd went first to Clifton, a spa just outside Bristol. Martha then left them to visit Harrogate in Yorkshire( another spa) and they went on to visit the Reverend Thomas Leigh at Adlestrop, in Gloucestershire who was Mrs Austen's cousin.
This is a picture of the rectory where JA stayed.
This is where JAs "connection" with the famous landscape designer, Humphrey Repton, occurred. The Reverend Leigh had commissioned Humphrey Repton to carry out "improvements " to the estate at Adlestrop, which was owned by Mr Leigh's young cousin.
it was no doubt during this time at Adlestrop that JA discovered his working methods and charges, which she included in Mansfield Park....Im not sure she entirely agreed with his improvements or attitude towards ancient buildings and gardens, however ;-)
While they were staying with Mr Leigh, a mad dash to the grand Stoneleigh Abbey estate in Warwickshire in order to safeguard an inheritance occurred:
The Austens did not, however, stay long at Adlestrop either, for on 5 August they set out, together with Mr Leigh, his sister Elizabeth, his lawyer Mr Joseph Hill and all the house-party, to go to Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire. This sudden journey was the result of some rather peculiar family circumstances, the origin of which dated back twenty years. In 1786 the last Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh had died unmarried, leaving his property to his sister, the Hon. Mary Leigh, for her life, and thereafter, according to the odd wording of his Will, 'unto the first and nearest of his kindred, being male and of his blood and name, that should be alive at the time'. All the Leighs of the Stoneleigh branch had died out, and an heir had therefore to be sought amongst their remote cousins,the Adlestrop Leigh's. In ordinary circumstances the heir would have been James Henry Leigh who was the head of this branch, but by the wording of Lord Leigh's will all those of an older generation who were thus"the first and nearest of his blood and name" appeared to take precedence of the natural heir. Ever since 1786 the Adlestrop Leigh's had been discussing amongst themselves how this strange situation was to be settled and some of the men who descended in the female line had even changed their names to "Leigh" in the hope this would give them a claim.
On 2 July 1806 the Hon, Mary Leigh died in london and as the eldest Leigh at this time was Revd Thomas his lawyer advised that he should take immediate posession to forestall any otehr claimants-hence the hasty trip form Adlestrop to Stoneleigh.The visit and the whole question of the sucessoin to Stoneleigh was of especial interest to the Austens forit seemed likely that Mr Leigh Perrot would have a life interest in the estate after the Revd Thomas Leigh, if he survived him. A Family Record,le Faye, pp155-6
I think Stoneleigh Abbey had a profound effect on JA; it was by far the grandest house of which she had intimate knowledge. It seems to have influenced her in the physical descriptions of Pemberley House and Northanger Abbey.
We are lucky to have Mrs Austen's wonderfully descriptive but sadly incomplete letter to Mary Austen James wife -Mrs J.A. - about the stay at Stoneleigh and I'll quote it here for it is fascinating to see just how the visit affected the party:
Stoneleigh Abbey Wednesday, August 13th 1806
My dear Mary,
The very day after I sent you my last letter Mr Hill wrote his intentions of being at Adlestrop (with Mrs Hill) on Monday the 4th and his wish that Mr Leigh and family would go with them to Stoneleigh the following day as he was hurried for time and there was much business for the Executors awaiting them at the Abbey. All this accordingly took place & here we all found ourselves on Tuesday (that is yesterday se’nnight) eating fish venison and all manner of good things at a late hour, in a noble large parlour hung round with family pictures – everything is very grand & very fine & very large. The house is larger than I could have supposed. We can now find our way about it, I mean the best part; as to the offices (which were the old Abbey) Mr Leigh almost despairs of ever finding his way about them. I have proposed his setting up directing posts at the Angles. I expected to find everything about the place very fine and all that, but I had no idea of its being so beautiful. I had figured to myself long avenues dark rookeries and dismal yew trees, but here are no such melancholy things.
The Avon runs near the house amidst green meadows bounded by large and beautiful woods, full of delightful walks.
At nine in the morning we meet and say our prayers in a handsome chapel, the pulpit &c now hung with black. Then follows breakfast, consisting of chocolate coffee and tea, plumb cake, pound cake, hot rolls cold rolls, bread and butter and dry toast for me. The House-Steward (a fine large respectable looking man) orders all these matters. Mr Leigh & Mr Hill are busy great part of the mornings. We walk a great deal, for the woods are impenetrable to the sun even in the middle of an August day. I do not fail to spend some time every day in the kitchen garden where the quantities of small fruits exceed anything you can form an idea of. This large family with the assistance of a great many blackbirds and thrushes cannot prevent its rotting on the trees. The garden contains 5 acres and a half. The ponds supply excellent fish, the park excellent venison; there is also great plenty of pigeons, rabbits, & all sort of poultry, a delightful dairy where is made butter, good Warwickshire cheese & cream ditto. One man servant is called the baker, he does nothing but brew & bake. The quantity of casks in the strong beer cellar is beyond imagination: Those in the small beer cellar bear no proportion, tho’ by the bye the small beer may be called ale without a misnomer.
This is an odd sort of letter. I write just as things come into my head. I will now give you some idea of the inside of this vast house, first premising that there are 45 windows in front (which is quite strait with a flat roof) 15 in a row. You go up a considerable flight of steps (some offices are under the house) into a large hall: on the right hand the dining parlour, within [i.e. beyond] that the breakfast room, where we generally sit, and reason good ’tis the only room (except the chapel) that looks towards the river. On the left hand of the hall is the best drawing room, within that a smaller; these rooms are rather gloomy brown wainscoat and dark crimson furniture; so we never use them but to walk thro’ them to the old picture gallery. Behind the smaller drawing room is the state bed chamber, with a high dark crimson velvet bed: an alarming apartment just fit for a heroine; the old gallery opens into it; behind the hall & parlours is a passage all across the house containing 3 staircases & two small back parlours. There are 25 bed chambers in the new part of the house & a great many (some very good ones) in the old. There is also another gallery fitted with modern prints on a buff paper & a large billiard-room: every part of the house and offices kept so perfectly nice, that were you to cut your finger I do not think you could find a cobweb to wrap it up in. I need not have written this long detail, for I have presentiment that if these good people live till next year you will see it all with your own eyes. Our visit has been a most pleasant one. We all seem in a good humour disposed to be pleased, endeavour to be agreeable and I hope succeed. Poor Lady Saye & Sele to be sure is rather tormenting, tho’ sometimes amusing, and affords Jane many a good laugh—but she fatigues me sadly on the whole. Tomorrow we depart, Hamstall is 38 miles from hence. We have seen the remains of Kenilworth Castle which afforded us much entertainment. I expect still more from the sight of Warwick Castle which we are going to see today. The Hills are gone and my cousin George Cooke is come. A Mr Holt Leigh was here yesterday and gave us all franks. He is member for and lives near Wigan in Lancaster, a great friend of young Mr Leigh’s, and I believe a very distant relation, a single man, the wrong side of forty; chatty and well bred, and has a large estate.
There are so many legacies to pay, some heavy fines and so many other demands, that I do not think Mr Leigh will have more money than he knows what to do with this year, whatever he may the next. The funeral expenses, proving the will, and putting the servants at both houses into mourning must have come to no inconsiderable sum. There were 18 men servants at....
After visiting Kenilworth, they went on to visit Edward Cooper and his family at Hamstall Ridware in Staffordshire.
This is Edward Cooper's parish church of St Michael's and All Angels.
When we visited Chatsworth House in 2006 on the ROP trip to England they were at pains to tell us that JA would have ridden through the park at Chatsworth to get to the vicarage at Hamstall Ridware: on looking at the maps of Warwickshire and Staffordshire I afraid to say that is just not true.
The most likely route would not take them near or through Derbyshire ;-)
This point in Staffordshire is the most northerly that JA is documented as visiting ;-)
I cant help but feel that this summer of 1806 seared itself on JAs mind: she lapped up the experience of living in a grand house, with grand surroundings etc etc...talk about food for thought ;-)