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Sunday, 15 March 2015

Going To Church

St Nicholas's Church, Chawton.

Sunday was the quietest day of the week in Jane Austen’s England. Church-going played a far more central role in daily life than today's more secular times. Card-playing was frowned upon, and the theatres were closed in towns. 

Most respectable folk attended church, unless they were unwell or the weather was especially inclement. Important local families had their own pew, like the Tilneys in Northanger Abbey, and their family crest would adorn the door or gate at the end of the pew. 

Regency-era pews, St Oswald's church, Malpas, Cheshire.

As Jane's father George was a clergyman, she was brought up in the Anglican church, and she seems to have been happy and secure in her religion - she even composed her own prayers.   
Another Regency-era pew at Malpas, Cheshire.

The more active clergymen gave twice-daily Sunday services, like the ones held at St Nicholas’s church in Chawton, which Jane Austen attended. (Her mother and sister Cassandra are buried there, and there are several Austen and Knight family monuments inside the church). But many small churches held just a morning or evening service.

Cassandra Austen's monument, Chawton.

Young ladies who found a clergyman’s sermons particularly inspiring wrote them down in a pocket-book or stitched some choice phrases into a sampler. In Emma, Miss Nash, a fan of Mr Elton, ‘put down all the texts he has ever preached from since he came to Highbury’.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Jane Austen and Bath V: Walcot

St Swithin's Church tower.
Anne Elliot walks off with Mr Elliot.
Jane Austen fans will know that the novelist, like Persuasion's Anne Elliot, had a very strong 'disinclination for Bath', but the town held very fond memories for her parents.
That's probably why George Austen decided to retire there sometime towards the end of 1800. Over thirty years earlier, George and his wife Cassandra Leigh were married in the medieval church of St Swithin's Church, Walcot on 26 April 1764. 

Jane's aunt and uncle, the Leigh-Perrots, lived in Bath, too. And the town's genteel pleasures were just the ticket for a clergyman's retirement, with its libraries, shops, concerts - and therapeutic spa baths in case of illness.
St Swithin's Church.

George Austen's grave.
But despite the fame of the Bath waters, George was poorly during the last three years of his life. He died on 21 January 1805, and was buried in the crypt of St Swithin's; you can visit his gravestone in the churchyard.

All photos (c) Sue Wilkes.