Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Dicken's Rooms

Tessa Hadley talks about rooms and reallity and uses a description of a room in Dicken's novel, Little Dorrit, in this BBC radio series of writers essays.

This is very good!!!!!


Sunday, 18 December 2011

Remains of Jane's Steventon home.

During November this year some archaeologists and a few volunteers obtained a grant of £10,000 from The Heritage Lottery Fund to excavate the site of Jane Austen's first home and birthplace at Steventon, just south of Basingstoke in Hampshire.

It was demolished by her brother Edward Knight in 1823 when his son William Knight became the incumbent vicar of the parish. It needed a lot of repairs and it's location, at the bottom of the hill which leads up to St Nicholas Parish church, was a site prone to dampness and the occasional flooding. Edward had a new rectory built, not far away, on the opposite side of the road higher up on the side of the valley.

The site of the original rectory, where Jane started writing some of her most famous novels, can viewed from the junction of the main road leading through Steventon and the road leading up to St Nicholas's. It is a meadow with a couple of large oak trees situated near the main road. The remains of the pump that stood in the backyard of the original rectory can still be seen.

The archaeologists have found a considerable number of artefacts that tell us about life in the rectory. Many clay pipes have been found. Smoking must have been an important past time amongst the male members of the family.The Museum of London have a database of all the 18th century clay pipe makers in London. On the base of each pipe bowl where the tobacco was placed is usually found a stamp with the makers initials or emblem on. The archaeologists at Steventon should probably be able to find where Jane's brothers and father bought their clay pipes from. Jane may have smoked herself.Clay pipe smoking was popular amongst women in the 17th and 18th centurys.They got their tobacco from Virginia. I am sure snuff would have been inhaled on more formal occasions.(http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/claypipes/index.asp)

Wine bottle necks were unearthed too. They obviously liked more than a glass of wine. Shards of earthenware pottery have been found.The pottery discovered might refer to certain types of food stored and eaten.As with the pipes,local makers might be identified.

Parts of the foundations of the rectory have been uncovered. This will give us a better insite into the construction methods, style of the house, ground plan and materials used in its construction. Until now we have only had two sketches of the house, which contradict each other.

Here is a link to an article about the excavation.


Friday, 16 December 2011


The village of of Selborne seen from Selborne Hangar.
Hampshire countryside.
James Austen's grave at Steventon Church.
Steventon crossroads.
Cottage at Steventon.
Steventon Church where Jane Austen was baptised.

Today, the 16th December, is the anniversary of the birth of Jane Austen, at Steventon Rectory, in Hampshire. On the day Jane was born,about fifteen miles away from Steventon, , and about five miles from Chawton, in the village of Selborne, the naturalist Gilbert White wrote, "Trees begin to be naked."

(A link to an article about the death of Jane Austen.)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath


Ted Hughes has been commemorated recently by having a plaque placed in, Poets Corner, in the southern transept of Westminster Abbey.

Here is a radio documentary about Ted Hughes. What I found interesting is that it includes an interview, about 28 minutes into the programme, with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. I've never heard Sylvia Plath's voice before. I found it quite exciting and thrilling to actually hear her speak.

I saw Ted Hughes when I was student, training to be a teacher. I heard him perform some of his most famous poems such as Hawk Roosting, Pike, and The Thought Fox.

The Thought-Fox by Ted Hughes
I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock's loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox's nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Tea, just like Jane.

Strand Shop Christmas

Having a nice cup of tea in Twinings on The Strand.

Between Saturday the 5th March 1814 and Tuesday the 8th March 1814, Jane Austen was worrying about tea.

She was staying at her brother Henry's house at number 10 Henrietta Street next to Covent Garden.

Writing to Cassandra she says,

" I am sorry to hear that there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining till later in the day, when we may order a fresh supply."

From number 10 Henrietta Street turn right out of the front door , walk along the southern perimeter of Covent Garden Market towards Drury Lane. Turn right down the slightly sloping hill with Drury Lane Theatre on your left and the pub, Nell of Old Drury, an old 18th century prostitutes den, on your right and carry on until you reach The Strand. Cross the road and and turn left along The Strand for about 600 yards until you are almost opposite the Law Courts. You will be at the entrance to Twinings shop, number 216. This is the original shop that Thomas Twining opened in The Strand in 1706. By the time Jane Austen was making her way through the streets of London to the premises on The Strand it was well established.
(Here is a link to an article I wrote about Tea in jane Austen's time. A Cup Of Tea With Austen )

There are more than one reason for taking this journey. First to follow in Jane's footsteps but also to be able to drink and buy tea . There are over 100 Twinings blends to choose from. All Twinings shops have a tasting service. At the back of the shop on The Strand is a tea bar, kettles and percolators , cups and saucers and samples of the Twinings tea range. It's FREE! A rest from the hustle and bustle of London traffic and crowded pavements and a nice refreshing cup of tea to recharge your batteries is a wonderful way to pause and contemplate your London visit so far. You can make the tea yourself or you can ask one of the assistants to help. The assistants in the shop are knowledgeable about all the Twinings blends. They can also give you a lesson in ,"brewing up a nice pot."

So next time you are in London enjoy a cup of tea at Twinings.

Here is a link to tea at Twinings.