This week my article about Jane Austen tourism was published in the travel section of the Sunday New York Times. Of course whole books could be written on the subject, and while I haven’t done that, there are a few places I have had the chance to visit that didn’t make it into my NYT article. Today’s stop is Adlestrop.
Adlestrop is an unspoiled Gloucestershire village about three miles from our cottage Kingham. Last summer, when I was training for a marathon, I ran through it almost every day. The place makes Kingham (population 700) look like a metropolis. Off the main road it is quiet and untouched by tourists. So, if you go there, tread lightly; but if you love Jane Austen, go there.
Jane’s maternal cousins, the Leigh family, owned the manor house (Adlestrop Park) and Thomas Leigh was the vicar (for a remarkable fifty-one years) and lived in the rectory. Jane visited her family there at least three times between 1794 and 1806, always staying at the less grand rectory. I was drawn to Adlestrop for a more careful look after buying a fascinating new book, Jane Austen and Adlestrop, by Victoria Huxley. One of the advantages of being an author is that other authors sometimes return your phone calls and Victoria very kindly agreed to take me and my wife, Janice, for a tromp round the village, exploring some of the spots Jane would have known more than two hundred years ago.
Both the rectory (pictured here) and the Park are private homes now, but Victoria took us down the old carriage road (now a bridle path) where we could get views of both the houses and the gardens, including two ornamental lakes that are so well hidden you need a guide to see them. The Park sits atop a hill looking out across a wide valley—at the bottom of the hill is the estate’s own private cricket pitch (added since Jane’s time of course). Standing by the pitch and looking across parkland dotted with sheep and at the Jacobean outline of the house, it was easy to imagine we were standing in 1806.
On the way back up the hill through trees that were gently dropping their leaves on our shoulders, Victoria explained how the layout of the estate may have inspired the fictional estate in Mansfield Park. Back in the main part of the village we paid a visit to the church where there were memorials to many members of the Leigh family. One memorial was to Elizabeth Wentworth, a woman whose story bears a strong similarity to that of Anne Elliot in Persuasion (who falls in love with Frederick Wentworth).
Almost everywhere you turn in England you are walking in the footsteps of someone famous, but our tour round Adlestrop was special not just because I have recently written a novel about Jane Austen, but because one had to do very little imagining to see the sites that she saw two centuries ago. The entire time we were in the village we never saw a car. In fact, Victoria made the point that in 1806, Adlestrop was a more populous and altogether louder place than it is now. With children playing in the streets, servants hanging out wash, and horses everywhere, the eighteenth-century English village was not exactly peaceful.
As we returned to the heart of the village, we passed a small bus shelter covering a Great Western Railway bench. The train station at Adlestrop was closed many years ago, but a plaque on the bench reminds us that Jane Austen is not the only literary connection the village enjoys. On 24 June 1914, the poet Edward Thomas was riding on a train that stopped for a few minutes at Adlestrop Station. His imagining of the village led him to write the poem “Adlestrop,” which is now engraved on the bench that sits in the village. But perhaps my favorite thing about Adlestrop and the Jane Austen connection is that there are no memorials or plaques to Jane in this little village. You could (as I did) run through it every day and not know that your footsteps were following hers. You have to know about Adlestrop, and now you do.