The proof that the Chawton housing site is really the “land of Austen”


An interesting article by Jane Hurst from Alton this week on Chawton Park Farm, the possible site for a 1,200 house development, and its connection to Jane Austen and her concern for the farmer there in the early years from the 19th century.

As Ms. Hurst points out: “It shows that Jane Austen knew the area and one wonders what she would have thought of the plans for the land.

“On Sunday November 26, 1815, Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra: ‘Poor farmer Andrews! I feel sorry for him and sincerely wish his recovery.

“Poor farmer [John] Andrews was a member of a family from the nearby village of Medstead who had occupied New Park Farm (also known as Chawton Lower Park Farm or Chawton Park Farm) since the 1750s. At that time, the farm was about 100 years old and consisted of the lower part of the larger of two medieval Chawton hunting grounds which belonged to the Knight family.

“John Andrews was married in 1786 but after the birth of two daughters his young wife died.

“A year later, in 1796, John remarried and a third daughter was born. In October 1809, the family received visitors. Fanny Austen / Knight, daughter of Jane’s brother Edward, wrote in her diary on Tuesday October 22: “Aunts C[assandra] & J[ane] Charles and I walked to New Park Farm.

“Fanny was about 16 and the Andrews daughters were Elizabeth, 18, and Ann, eight. Their older sister, Sarah Andrews, 21, had already married and left home. The walk to Chawton Park Farm would not have been the only time the Austens would have met Farmer Andrews, as John was actively involved in the affairs of the village, serving as church keeper and “overseer of the poor.” .

“On November 26, 1815, John must have been sick, because that’s when Jane wrote her comment on ‘Poor farmer Andrews!

“Aged 54, he was to survive another year, being buried at Medstead on November 6, 1816. Jane Edward’s brother’s estate accounts have been kept by the Trimmers, Alton’s attorneys, and they show that the hire of Chawton Park Farm was held by John’s representatives for another year while his estate was settled.

“As there were no wires to run the business, the buildings were repaired with work done by William Gold (a local bricklayer), James Clinker (the blacksmith who was next to the Austens) and William Jones of Farringdon (a carpenter).

“Farmer Andrews’ widow Mary was paid £ 36 for straw and £ 318 for sanfoin (a perennial legume that grows on chalky soils) left on Chawton Park New Farm” and the farm was rented to James Windibank. Mary moved to Medstead where she died in 1820 at the age of 61.

Jane’s photograph shows Chawton Park Farm later in the 19th century still very peaceful, which will certainly change if the content of the local EHDC plan comes to fruition.

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