I know what you’re going say about the photograph below.
“That is not the birthplace of Jane Austen, Wordlander. That…is a field.”
And yes it is indeed a field. Because unfortunately, the original rectory of Steventon where Jane Austen was born was pulled down in 1824. A small fenced off square in an apparently inaccessible field is all that remains following excavations in 2011 to confirm that yes, this was indeed the spot.
It’s a shame, as this was Jane’s home from her birth in 1775 until 1801. It was here that her incisive and forthright personality developed and where she began shaping “Sense and Sensibility”, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Northanger Abbey”. And when she was living here, she met Tom Lefroy, the only substantial romance of hers we know about.
The village of Steventon itself is small and quiet, possibly even more so than in Jane’s time. There’s no school, pub or any shops and it’s tricky to get to without a car – plenty of narrow country lanes to contend with. Some of the houses in the surrounding area would have been visited by Jane and her family, so you could have a mini Austen tour – although you wouldn’t be able to nose inside any of them now!
The consolation for any Austen fan who does make the pilgrimage here is the local church. Dating from the 13th century it’s where Jane’s father and subsequently her brother, James, were vicars. You can find plenty of connections to Jane and the Austen family both inside and out.
There are a number of graves and memorials for the Digweed family, who rented the Steventon Manor just opposite the church from the Knight family. Jane’s brother James, who became rector of the parish after his fathers death, is buried in the churchyard along with his first and second wives, Anne and Mary.
Inside, the church is small but filled with many more memorials to the Austens, Digweeds and Knights (Jane’s father received his living from Thomas Knight, the husband of his second cousin).
And there are more connections to Jane, such as a prayer she wrote, her family tree and a plaque erected in her memory her great-grandniece Emma Austen in 1930.
Lastly, tucked away to the right of the door is a lovely reminder of the worldwide fame Jane Austen has achieved. A plaque commemorating the refurbishment of the church bells, made possible through donations from the Jane Austen Society of North America.
What do you think? Have you visited Steventon before? Please share in the comments.