forthcoming publication 2014 by Deborah Charlton
Archaeology Greets  Jane Austen

Although the location of Steventon Rectory is "universally" known its disappearance from the landscape has been long lamented. Instead it is left to the visitors' mind's eye, with the aid of sketch drawings, to conjure up an imaginary structure within the empty scenic meadow. The Rectory was home to the Austen family for approximately 54 years but very little is known about the building or their time there....

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Steventon Rectory Project



The Austen family moved into Steventon Rectory in 1768.  Jane Austen was born there on 16th December 1775.  It was to be her home for the next 25 years, and it was there that she penned the drafts of Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility and Northanger Abbey.  What we know about the Rectory building is drawn from historical documents and from memoirs of family descendants. Jane’s brother, James, and his family took over the Rectory in 1801 and, subsequently, her brother Henry for a short time before the house was demolished to the ground possibly during late 1822 or early 1823. Only the modern fenced Well position remains in the meadow where the Rectory once stood at the ‘T’ junction of ‘Church Walk’ and Frog Lane.

The archaeological project excavated individual objects of discarded and broken ceramic, metal, glass, animal bone, slate, shell and ceramic building materials. The final object recording and catalogueing is complete and the 'jig-saw pieces' total 10,864.

Reconstruction works have been undertaken for some of the ceramic tableware and storage objects. The majority of the tableware sherds are from bowls and plates of underglaze blue transfer print, commonly known as ‘Willow’ pattern, from the Staffordshire potteries dating from about 1783.  One reconstructed ‘Willow’ pattern object informs us that soft boiled eggs must have been a ‘breakfast’ choice of the Austen family. Yellow ware, produced from 1800 onwards, is presumed to be from the time of James Austen and his family. The largest food storage bowls have a diameter of 36cm and height of 20cm and would have been heavy to lift objects.

   

Blue Transfer Print
'Willow'
 

 
 
 

Storage Bowl
(internal glaze)

One of the most vulnerable objects discovered on archaeological sites are of metal.  Often they are found in an advanced corroded state.  It is not always possible to recognise what the object originally was, therefore x-rays of some of the metal objects has been carried out allowing the discovery of one half of a pair of scissor candle snuffers.

 

 

 

 


Please note that the Rectory location is private land with no public access.
Anyone entering without Landowner permission will be trespassing and breaking UK law.

The archaeological excavation of Steventon Rectory reached completion at the end of February 2012 and the area has returned to meadow. Those who have been involved, so far, are Archaeo Briton; Group Geophysics Leader (2007) University of Reading; Honorary Secretary of Jane Austen Society of the UK; Specialist GPR Surveyor, Arrow Geophysics; Archaeological Consultant, Minas Tirith Ltd (ArcServ); Archaeological Photography, Aerial-cam; Heritage Building & Landscapes Ltd; Marquee provider, Site & Sound Windsor; Catering supplies, Vansittart Arms Windsor; archaeology societies members of Basingstoke (BAHS), Winchester (WARG), Farnborough (NEHHAS); archaeology students from University of Winchester, Reading, Leicester and UCL London; Chairman of the historical society of North Waltham, Steventon, Ashe and Dean (NWSAD); Hampshire County Council Museum Service; Willis Museum Basingstoke; Landowner, local Farmers’ and Steventon community; family and friends. Ground Penetrating Radar survey funding was awarded from English Heritage (2008) and assistance from Hampshire & Isle of Wight Community Foundation with receiving Heritage Lottery Fund award (2011).


Jane Austen Society of the UK Minas Tirith Ltd (ArcServ) Heritage Lottery Fund Basingstoke Archaeological & Historical Society
Arrow Geophysics Aerial Cam Willis Museum BBC Online BBC South Today (Nov 2011) interview