At Stoneleigh Abbey you can walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen and see the portraits of some of her ancestors. We will tell you who was the inspiration for the story of Anne Elliot in Persuasion, and you can see Sotherton Court as it is described in Mansfield Park
For 400 years Stoneleigh Abbey was the country seat of Jane Austen’s relatives, the Leighs. In August 1806 Jane, with her mother and sister, travelled to Stoneleigh Abbey in the company of her mother’s cousin, Reverend Thomas Leigh, to secure his inheritance of the estate. During her stay she was so inspired by the house, by its parkland and by its family intrigues that she wove descriptions of the interiors, views of the grounds and cameos of the family into her novels. Stoneleigh Abbey has changed little since 1806, the rooms and much of the furniture are still as Jane Austen would have known them.
Austen’s fascination with Stoneleigh is revealed during the Jane Austen Tour using original letters and readings from her works. Tours take place every Sunday at 1:00pm and every Wednesday at 12 midday with guides in period costume.
In Mansfield Park: During the Bertrams’ visit to Sotherton Court Fanny Price notices the ‘crimson velvet cushions on the ledge of the family gallery in the chapel’. Those velvet cushions can still be found in the chapel at Stoneleigh. Later in the novel, under the guidance of Mrs Rushworth, the party are given a tour of Sotherton Court whose rooms are described as ‘all lofty and many large, amply furnished in the taste of fifty years back, with shining floors, solid mahogany, rich damask, marble gilding and carving’ all reminiscent of Stoneleigh.
In Sotherton Court: the view from the west front ‘looked across a lawn to the beginning of the avenue’ exactly as it does at Stoneleigh. Then there are all those windows that Henry Crawford was looking grave and shaking his head over ‘more…than could be supposed to be of any use than to contribute to the window tax’ on the Abbey’s west front there are forty-five windows.
In Persuasion: In the Blue Parlour at Stoneleigh visitors see the painting of Elizabeth Lord, known to the family as Aunt Betty, whose romantic story of a secret marriage, separation, family disapproval and final reconciliation are mirrored in the story of Anne Elliot. During the tour visitors enter the Library, once the best bedchamber. This contains perhaps the most complete colection of paintings of Jane Austen’s ancestors, or as Jane herself described the collection: “of pictures there were abundance, and some few good, but the larger part were family portraits”.
guides in costume
The guides taking the Jane Austen Tours are dressed in period costume. The Abbey workied with local designer dressmaker, Julie Dutton, to create costumes to show the fashions of the early 1800s. On display in the Chapel is a replica of a muslin wedding dress worn by Sophie Newman in 1819 when she became The Hon Mrs William Cust. This has been kindly loaned to the Abbey by Julie, whose work is on display here
Julie also worked with the Abbey and a group of ladies from NADFAS West Midlands to create two new Regency period costumes for display this season.