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Thursday, 1 November 2018

Thomas Harrison

Harrison's Propylea Gate, Chester.
Please gallop over to All Things Georgian, the fabulous blog belonging to my fellow Pen & Sword authors Sarah Murden and Joanne Major. Today they've kindly hosted my guest post on Thomas Harrison, who changed the face of Chester during Regency times.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

More On The Way!

A Visitor's Guide to Jane Austen's England has now sold out! But the good news is that it will be re-released at the end of November. You can pre-order here from Pen and Sword, or in the meantime, order one of the last few print copies here at Amazon, or order a Kindle copy.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Exciting News About Sanditon!

Andrew Davies, the screenwriter behind the famous 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, is to create a new version of Jane Austen's last, unfinished novel Sanditon for ITV and PBS Masterpiece.
This will be very interesting to watch as Davies will be able to make up his own ending! Filming is expected to begin some time next year.
Even though Jane was writing Sanditon when she was extremely poorly, there are some wonderful touches of humour in her novel set in the seaside. We can only imagine what the final novel would have looked like - what an immense loss. You can see facsimiles of Jane Austen's original manuscript of Sanditon here.
Illustration courtesy the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Regency Cheshire on Kindle!

Eaton Hall, Cheshire.
I'm very pleased to announce that my book Regency Cheshire is now available here on Amazon Kindle!

My book explores the scandals, sports and pastimes of the great county families such as the Grosvenors of Eaton Hall. Their glittering lifestyle is contrasted with conditions for humble farmers and factory workers. The gentry and mill owners created elegant new villas and beautiful gardens while workers huddled together in slums with inadequate sanitation. The Prince Regent and his cronies danced and feasted while cotton and silk workers starved.

In Regency Cheshire, I explore the county’s transport system and main industries: silk, cotton, salt and cheese. Stage coaches rattled through the streets, and packet boats and barges sailed down the canals.

Reform and revolution threatened the old social order. Blood was spilt on city streets during election fever and in the struggle for democracy. Balls and bear-baiting; highwaymen and hangings; riots and reform: Regency Cheshire tells the story of everyday life during the age of Beau Brummell, Walter Scott and Jane Austen.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Jane Austen's Landscapes

This year is the bicentenary of Humphry Repton's death, and several events are planned: visit

My latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World magazine (Mar/April issue) is on the way Austen uses landscapes in her novels. 

Jane Austen grew up during the great age of the ‘improvers’ like Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphry Repton. Austen loved William Cowper's poetry. In his poem The Task, Cowper deplores the rage for 'improvement' which swept away the past:

Capability Brown
Improvement too, the idol of the age,
Is fed with many a victim.  Lo! he comes—
The omnipotent magician, Brown, appears.
Down falls the venerable pile, the abode
Of our forefathers, a grave whiskered race,
But tasteless…
He speaks.  The lake in front becomes a lawn,
Woods vanish, hills subside, and valleys rise,
And streams, as if created for his use,
Pursue the track of his directed wand
Sinuous or straight, now rapid and now slow,
Now murmuring soft, now roaring in cascades,
Even as he bids.  The enraptured owner smiles.
’Tis finished.

This tension between the old and new is explored by Jane Austen in her last, unfinished novel, Sanditon. The enthusiastic Mr Parker has built a new home at the seaside: ‘Trafalgar House, on the most elevated spot on the down’. It is a 'light, elegant building, standing in a small lawn with a very young plantation round it’ 

He pours scorn on his wife's fondness for their old home, in a ‘little contracted nook, without air or view’. 

Mrs Parker, more practical, reminds him 'It was always a very comfortable house'. Parker ripostes that ‘We have all the grandeur of the storm’ at Trafalgar House.  His wife still longs for their old garden, however: ‘a nice place for the children to run about in. So shady in summer!' 

Images from the author's collection:
Wooburn (Woburn) in Surrey, the seat of Philip Southcote. He designed it as a ‘ferme ornee’ (ornamental farm garden). The Universal Magazine c.1770. 
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore & Legend, Walter Scott, 1889

Monday, 8 January 2018

A Visit to William Cowper's House, Olney

Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney.
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had a good Christmas.
Summer seems a long time away, so I thought it would be nice to look back at my visit to the Cowper and Newton Museum at Olney last year.
Cowper House rear view, showing the two buildings' junction.
Jane Austen loved William Cowper's poems - his work is often quoted in her letters and novels.

In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price mourns the potential loss of the trees at Sotherton, and quotes from Cowper's poem The Task: “Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’”

The museum is a real gateway into the past - as you explore the Georgian house and garden, you can really imagine what everyday life was like in Jane Austen's England. The museum is actually two buildings joined together; you enter through the original kitchen, then move on through Cowper's hall, parlour, bedroom and so on.

Cowper's summerhouse, Olney.
Cowper's personal life was rather sad; he suffered from poor mental health for many years, but he found great comfort in nature, and the changing seasons.

William was a very keen gardener. The gardens are very beautiful, and Cowper spent many hours in the summerhouse composing his work in peace and quiet.

He famously kept three tame hares called Puss, Tiney and Bess

Cowper was greatly affected by the poverty endured by the local lace-making families, and there's a lace-making gallery at the museum.

There's also a room devoted to John Newton, Cowper's friend and fellow hymn-writer.

The gardens.

The museum re-opens in February 2018; you can find out how to become a Friend of the museum here.

All photos copyright Sue Wilkes.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Christmas Theatricals at Steventon

Jane Austen loved the theatre!

She was about seven years old when family theatricals first began at Steventon Rectory, circa December 1782. Dr Thomas Francklin’s Matilda was seemingly the first play performed, probably in the dining-room. Jane’s big brother James penned some additional verses to accompany the performance.

George Austen taught fee-paying scholars at home, so the plays only took place during the summer and Christmas holidays, when his pupils were away. At some point some stage scenery was painted to accompany the Austens’ theatricals, which must have added to the fun.

In 1787, Jane’s cousin Phila Walter wrote in a letter that Eliza de Feuillide (another cousin of Jane and Cassandra’s) was planning to visit Steventon at Christmas and that the family 'mean to act a play, Which is the Man? and Bon Ton. My uncle's barn is fitting up quite like a theatre, and all the young folks are to take their part. The Countess is Lady Bob Lardoon [sic] in the former and Miss Tittup in the latter. They wish me much of the party and offer to carry me, but I do not think of it. I should like to be a spectator, but am sure I should not have courage to act a part, nor do I wish to attain it.' (Phila sounds amazingly like Fanny Price in this letter!)

Eliza wrote to Phila to ‘assure you we shall have a most brilliant party and a great deal of amusement, the house full of company, frequent balls. You cannot possibly resist so many temptations, especially when I tell you your old friend James is returned from France and is to be of the acting party’.

But Phila was not keen, so Eliza wrote to her again, begging her to come for a fortnight to Steventon, provided she could bring herself to act, 'for my Aunt Austen declares "she has not room for any idle young people'.

Jane’s recollections of these family theatricals clearly influenced the Bertrams’ performances in Mansfield Park – but surely none of the Austen brothers acted like that ‘ranting young man’ Yates, who was ‘almost hallooing’ as he rehearsed his part?

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all Janeites everywhere!

 ‘ Hints to managers, actors and authors / G.M. Woodward, del.1790, courtesy Library of Congress. 

Hugh Thomson illustrations for Mansfield Park.