Steventon - Jane Austen's home
The village of Steventon lies nestled in a quiet spot between two main routes from Basingstoke: the Andover road at Deane to the north, where stage coaches to and from London halted twice a day, and the Winchester road to the south near Dummer, which was known as Popham Lane. Like Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, Jane was a keen walker and often walked to Popham Lane, where the family collected their letters at what is now known as the Wheatsheaf Inn.
The late 17th century house, repaired in the 1760s for the Austens' occupation, had seven bedrooms. Its flat facade was broken up by evenly placed windows, and a trellised porch almost more suited to a cottage formed a centrepiece.
Outside there were fields where Mr Austen farmed and his wife grew potatoes (at that time quite an innovation), formal gardens with a turf walk, sundial, strawberry beds, and a grassy bank down which the young Jane, possibly enjoyed rolling as a child, like Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. There was also a carriage sweep, and a barn used for private theatricals except in winter, when the dining room had to suffice. Later, a double hedgerow with mixed shrubs and wild flowers was added, for use as a private footpath to the church. At the side of the Rectory were chestnut, fir and elm trees. The elms met with a violent end on 8 November 1800, when one of the "great winds" that recurred throughout the 18th century blew down all but one under Jane's very eyes:
"I was sitting alone in the dining room, [she wrote to Cassandra, her elder sister, who was away from home] when an odd kind of crash startled me - in a moment afterwards it was repeated; I then went to the window, which I reached just in time to see the last of our two highly-valued Elms descend into the Sweep!!!!! The other ... sunk amongst our screen of chestnuts and firs, knocking down one spruce fir, beating off the head of another, & stripping the two corner chestnuts of several branches, in its fall. - This is not all. - One large Elm out of two on the left hand side, as you enter what I call the Elm walk, was likewise blown down, the Maypole bearing the weathercock was broke in two, and ... all the three Elms which grew in Hall's meadow and gave such ornament to it, are gone."
Jane's very full social life at Steventon provided her with much of the material for her novels, and most of her life-long friendships were cemented during her time at Steventon. Here she wrote Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice, although there were not published at that time. Her father offered Pride & Prejudice to a publisher in 1797 who turned it down without reading it.
Jane attended social gatherings in Basingstoke at the Assembly Rooms. Barclays Bank in the Market Place in Basingstoke stands were the Assembly Rooms used to be. A plaque on the wall of the bank commemorates Jane. She liked shopping, and is known to have gone shopping in Andover, Alton, Alresford, Basingstoke, Whitchurch and Overton during the years she lived at Steventon.
She spent the first 25 years of her life in Steventon, before the family moved to Bath because her father wanted to retire there. Unfortunately the rectory where she lived was demolished soon after her death. If you visit Steventon, however, you can still see the railings around an iron pump in a field which replaced the wooden pump which served the Austens' house.