Search This Blog

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Down On The Farm

Steventon Rectory
In Jane Austen's day, the dining-tables of well-to-do rural families were supplied with fresh food from their farms and estates: grain, meat and vegetables for the table, and fodder for the horses.  Any surplus farm produce was sold to provide extra income.

The Dairy, Cogges Manor Farm.
At Steventon Rectory, George Austen had a glebe farm (i.e. belonging to his church living), but it was quite small, so he rented nearby Cheesedown Farm to supplement the family’s supplies. Mrs Austen kept an Alderney cow to provide milk and butter. In later life, when living at Southampton and Chawton, the Austen ladies grew fruit like apricots and currants in their kitchen garden.

Butter pats for shaping butter.
Jane’s brother Edward kept pigs. In a letter to Cassandra from Steventon (1 December 1798), Jane wrote, ‘My father is glad to hear so good an account of Edward’s pigs, and desires he may be told…that Lord Bolton is particularly curious in his pigs, [and] has had pigstyes of a most elegant construction built for them, and visits them every morning as soon as he rises’.

An elegant pig in an elegant pigsty.

Rich landowners like Pride & Prejudice’s Mr Darcy had hothouses for growing tender fruits like grapes, nectarines and peaches.  In season, they also enjoyed game from their estates. The Knight family sent game to the Austens from Godmersham. The killing of game by using dogs or a gun was restricted by law to members of the landed gentry, providing they owned estates worth at least £100 p.a., or leased land worth at least £150 p.a. Although the countryside was plentifully stocked with fish and game, a poor man who helped himself to a hare or salmon to feed his family faced jail or transportation.  
Ox Byre, Cogges Manor Farm.

In the towns, households were supplied by farms and market gardens; produce was brought in by waggon or canal boat, or on the hoof.  In London, hundreds of animals were driven to Smithfield market each day. 
Cogges Manor House (17th century).

All photos © Sue Wilkes. These photos were taken at Cogges Manor Farm, Witney, which was used for filming some scenes for Downton Abbey - it was the setting for ‘Yew Tree Farm’.


  1. Dear Sue,
    I was away for a few weeks but saved your post link in my nifty little email box. Now, I can reply with ease. I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Sue, and am really looking forward to purchasing your book (it is on my Christmas list😊). It is amazing how much more self-sufficient people were in the last two centuries. The Austens, like other families, grew some of their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs (not unlike my own parents in Ireland in the 1970's and 1980's). I presume the Austens also made preserves and canned their vegetables. No refrigeration back then! I suppose the wealthier landowners could acquire ice, but, from what I understand, that would have been a luxury. I have a feeling the food tasted a lot better than it does now. Our modern diets include far too much processed foods. Oh for a slice of homemade blackberry pie and a cup of tea made with leaves, not tea bags!
    Warmest regards

  2. Hi Sarah, thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, I think the Austens made their own preserves. I don't think they are likely to have canned their vegetables though - although canning was invented during the Napoleonic Wars, it was quite a specialized process. I think they are more likely to have salted or pickled their vegetables to preserve them. I am sure Jane Austen enjoyed a good cup of tea!