Travels with Ron Dunning ~ Jane Austen’s Horsmonden from on High

Gentle Readers: I welcome today Ron Dunning, author of the Jane Austen’s Family Website. Ron had written here before on Horsmonden in “Jane Austen and the Huguenots” – but today he tells of a hot air balloon ride he and his wife Helena took in 2008 where he took these wonderful pictures of Kent and the surrounding countryside – enjoy the ride!

*******

17 Sheep

Sheep

Horsmonden from on High

by Ron Dunning

For my birthday in the spring of 2008 Helena, my wife, bought me a ticket for a hot-air balloon flight. I preferred to share the pleasure, so I waited till her birthday a few months later, and bought one for her.  The weather that summer was very wet, and it wasn’t possible to book a flight until early October. We chose a launch site in Wadhurst, on the Sussex border with Kent, an area that we know and love, on what turned out to be a golden Indian summer’s afternoon.

The direction of a balloon’s flight is entirely dependent on the wind. I had given no prior thought to the fact that the Austens’ ancestral heartland of Goudhurst and Horsmonden lay only some ten miles away, but the wind took us, at 12 mph, precisely in that direction. I only realised that this was our on our route as we passed over St Margaret of Antioch in Pisidia – Horsmonden’s parish church, with its collection of Austen graves and memorial brasses.

Till then I had simply been enjoying the wonderfully calm experience. (Even though a balloon flies a few thousand feet above ground level its passengers aren’t troubled by wind, since it is blown along at the same speed as the air.) Now I began to scan the horizon for Broadford, and possibly even Grovehurst, the Austen houses. I couldn’t find Broadford. It may have been possible to see it, but I wouldn’t have recognised it from the south, the direction from which we were travelling, since I’d only ever seen the front, which faces north.

Grovehurst lies at least a mile further beyond the village, in wooded country. The wind, and our so ground speed, had dropped. I spent the next fifteen minutes straining my eyes for a glimpse of the house, to no avail. Then, just as we were descending in search of a landing site in a friendly farmer’s field, and as the pilot was announcing a Gypsy site to the left, and as I had quite given up on spotting it, there was Grovehurst on the right. The pilot turned the balloon through 360 degrees (I don’t know how he managed that!) for everyone to see, and marked the Austen’s ancestral home on his map to show future passengers.

I don’t believe that there is any record of Jane Austen’s visiting Horsmonden, where her grandfather William Austen was born. His heroic mother, Elizabeth Weller, had to take a housekeeping job at Sevenoaks School in 1708 to keep her family together, and that broke the Austens’ relationship with the village. It would not be an anachronism to imagine Jane, if she had visited, seeing her ancestral home by air – on 19 September 1783 Pilatre De Rozier, a scientist, launched the first hot air balloon called ‘Aerostat Reveillon.’ The first manned flight came two months later on November 21, with a balloon made by two French brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier.

At that time, when the fastest land transport proceeded at the rate of a trotting horse, ascending in a balloon and flying with the wind would have struck most people as terrifying and mad. As it happens my wife, who is normally fearless, asked me if I too had been worried. I confess that my imagination is generally vividly aware of consequences – and there we were at 2000 feet, with no parachutes, in a wicker laundry basket! But I was so absorbed in reconnaissance that I had forgotten to give the danger any thought.

Arrival

Arrival

Still a Blank Slate

Still a Blank Slate

Taking Shape

Taking Shape I

Taking Shape

Taking Shape II

Inflation

Inflation

Inflation II

Inflation II

Firing up

Firing up

Rising Up

Rising Up

Rising Up II

Rising Up II

Lifting Off

Lifting Off

Aloft

Aloft

Neighbour

Neighbour!

Bayham Abbey Ruins

Bayham Abbey Ruins

Lamberhurst

Lamberhurst

Bewl Water

Bewl Water

St Margaret of Antioch in Pisidia

St Margaret of Antioch in Pisidia

Horsmonden

Horsmonden

Grovehurst

Grovehurst

Kent

Kent

Groundlings

Groundlings

Pursuit Vehicle

Pursuit Vehicle

Landing Strip

Landing Strip

Skid Marks

Skid Marks

Packing Up

Packing Up

Stowing Away

Stowing Away

**********

Thank you Ron for this beautiful travelogue of Kent from the air!

I have to add that I have won a raffle only one time in my life, and that was for a hot-air balloon ride – it was quite the adventure, a totally unique experience of floating above the world without the usual noisy airplane sounds, so quiet and peaceful that I never wanted it to end – but we had a sudden wind pick-up and took off away from the tracer car [and my family who were following – my son, 7 years old at the time thought I had disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again; my nearly teenaged daughter was hoping beyond hope that was true!] and had a quite dramatic crash landing at a reservoir, all diving out of the basket to keep the balloon from falling into the water – but alas! my pictures, though quite lovely of the Connecticut countryside, are all on slides and do not, believe it or not, have anything to do with Jane Austen…

Anyone want to comment on Ron’s journey and photographs? or add any of your own ballooning adventures [whether Jane Austen-related or not!]?

Text and images copyright by Ronald Dunning, with thanks!

c 2014 Jane Austen in Vermont

Jane Austen and the Huguenots ~ Guest Post by Ron Dunning

Dear Readers: I welcome today Ron Dunning, who wrote here last year about his Akin to Jane” website – today he shares with us an article he wrote for the Huguenots of Spitalfields newsletter “Strangers” – here expanded somewhat and with pictures – and see how Jane Austen connects to various families and traditions of Spitalfields life in London.

*******************

Christ Church Spitalfields

[View looking down Brushfield Street toward Christ Church, Spitalfields – image from HofS facebook page, from Bishopsgate Institute]

Jane Austen’s Family and the Huguenots

To have lived in London for the past 40 years has been an immense pleasure. Now I’ve discovered a new one, and that is to be retired in London. I’ve always loved to explore, but was only able to appreciate the various parts of town for their ambience. Now there’s time to appreciate them more deeply, to learn about their associations with history, about interesting residents. Many have passed out of fashion and been built over – in which case there’s only the odd surviving building to stimulate the imagination – but in other areas, where the faded charm is obvious and where their economic value has not been great enough to attract the redevelopers, new residents have moved in to restore houses and revive the life of the community.

Spitalfields rooftops cRon Dunning

[Rooftops of Spitalfields, formerly the workrooms of the silk weavers and now gentrified – c Jeremy Freedman]

One such area that I’ve come to know much better is Spitalfields, just to the east of London’s old city walls. Its development by speculative builders was begun in the early 1700s, as a new suburb. Huguenot refugees from France and the Low Countries soon settled there, particularly those involved in the silk fabric trade. They brought their skills and their contacts from the continent and quickly restored their prosperity. Some 150 years later the mechanising of weaving, relaxation of tariffs on imports from France, and robust trade with China destroyed the Spitalfields silk trade.

silkweaving-spitalfields

 [Image from the Huguenots of Spitalfields Facebook page]

The houses had aged by the mid-19th century too, and to some extent Spitalfields became a slum, housing successive waves of immigrants – who each moved on once they became prosperous. By the 1970s, when the latest wave of new arrivals to the poorer streets was Bengali, city redevelopment was threatening to overtake it. Just in the nick of time young artists discovered the antique charm of the weavers’ houses, which could be bought for a pittance. They are now worth over £1,000,000.

jane-austen-frontispiece-1870I’ve been researching the Austen pedigree for long enough that it’s possible to link her family with almost anyone.  Though the worlds of the Huguenots and of Jane Austen would seem almost to inhabit separate universes, a surprising number of Huguenot families had close connections with hers. I’ve made a list of the most notable.

Anyone who has read Jon Spence’s book, Becoming Jane Austen (or seen the film Becoming Jane), will recognise the name of Lefroy. Antoine Loffroy, a native of Cambray, took refuge in England from religious persecution in the Low Countries in about 1587, and settled at Canterbury, where he and his family engaged in the business of silk dyeing. His descendant Tom Lefroy was the one young man with whom Jane was said to be truly in love. Tom at that point didn’t have an income with which to support a wife, and was quickly bundled off by his elders and betters. He rose eventually to become the Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Ireland and, at the end of his life, remembered Jane with great affection. Ben Lefroy, from a later generation, did marry an Austen – one of Jane’s favourite nieces, Jane Anna Elizabeth.

The Portals were an ancient and noble Protestant family of Toulouse who stood firmly by the faith of their fathers, and several of them suffered death rather than recant it. They were among the Huguenots who introduced the art of fine paper making to England – Henry Portal established a mill at Laverstoke, on the River Itchen in Hampshire. He achieved such a reputation that the Bank of England awarded him the contract to produce bank notes. Living in Hampshire, the Portals had extensive social contacts with the Austens. Adela Portal married Jane’s nephew Edward Knight, while her sister Caroline married Edward’s brother William.

The Chenevixes were another distinguished family of Protestants, this time from Lorraine, who fled after the 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. One branch settled in Ireland, and were much attracted to the military and clerical professions. Melesina Chenevix, the poet and diarist, and granddaughter of Richard Chenevix, the Anglican Bishop of Waterford and of Lismore, was the ancestor of a number of people linked to the Austen pedigree. Melesina had married Richard Trench – the de la Tranches were yet another family who had taken refuge in England shortly after the massacre of St. Bartholomew – and their descendants assumed the double-barrelled surname of Chenevix-Trench. Their granddaughter Melesina Mary Chenevix-Trench married Chomley Austen-Leigh, Jane’s great nephew. Melesina Mary’s sister Helen Emily married Arthur Blundell George Sandys Hill, another great nephew. Their brother Charles married Emily Mary Lefroy, a cousin of Tom Lefroy. Their cousin Melesina Gladys, as well as being the mother of the famous editor of the Daily Telegraph, Bill Deedes, was the grandmother of FitzWalter Plumptre, the Baron FitzWalter – who can also trace his pedigree to the family of Eleanor Bridges, the wife of Jane’s brother Edward.  Lord FitzWalter still lives at Goodnestone, the seat of the Bridges family, where Edward and Eleanor lived before they could move into Godmersham.

David Papillon, the first of his family to settle in England, had been sent with his mother and siblings by his father, to escape persecution. They were shipwrecked while crossing the English Channel, and his mother drowned. The story of the mingling of genes between David’s descendants and the Austens, through the Brodnaxes, is a bit too obscure to tell here, but one of them featured in Jane’s life – the Rev John Rawstorne Papillon. The living of Chawton parish was offered to him; should he decline, it was then to pass to Jane’s brother Henry. John did take it and became the rector of the village in which Jane lived during her final years. There is a neat bracketing of Huguenot suitors for her hand, from the beginning and the end of her adult life – Mrs Knight, the widow of Thomas Brodnax and elderly benefactor of both the Austens and the Papillons, suggested that the Rev John, a life-long bachelor, would make a suitable husband. With characteristic irony Jane remarked in a note to her sister: ‘I am very much obliged to Mrs Knight for such a proof of the interest she takes in me – & she may depend upon it, that I will marry Mr Papillon, whatever may be his reluctance or my own – I owe her much more than such a trifling sacrifice.’

I could end this essay here, but want to mention another resonance between the Huguenots and the Austens, and to return Spitalfields to the fore. Jane’s paternal ancestors, going back three generations and further, were clothiers of Kent – staunchly Protestant, fiercely independent, wool and woollen fabric merchants. The organisation of their business was very similar to that of the silk merchants in London. I was struck, while gazing up to the roofs of Spitalfields, by a parallel.  In both industries labour was organised by narrowly demarcated skills, and in both the weavers’ workplace was accommodated on the top floor of merchant’s houses. I was seized by a vivid impression of crabbed men and no doubt women, in both London and Kent, toiling for 14 hours a day in those garrets for a pittance!

Grovehurst House c Ron Dunning

Grovehurst House c Ron Dunning

[Grovehurst House:  one of the Austen houses at Horsmonden in Kent, which dates in parts from the 14th century –  I was struck by the resonance between Spitalfields and the Kentish Austens – they were clothiers, and their industry in wool was structured much like silk weaving in London.  My understanding is that the weavers worked in the loft of this house.]

Grovehurst4-initials

[Initials of John (Iohannes, presumably) Austen, over the middle window upstairs, cRon Dunning]

 Horsmondenhouse

 [Another Austen house (Broadford) at Horsmonden, Kent where the weavers laboured on the top floor]

*******************

A brief history of the Huguenots

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 was a targeted group of assassinations, followed by a wave of Roman Catholic mob violence, directed against the French Calvinist Protestants (known as Huguenots) during France’s Wars of Religion. The Edict of Nantes, issued on 13 April 1598 by King Henry IV of France, granted them substantial rights in the interest of civil unity. In October 1685 Louis XIV, Henry IV’s grandson, revoked the Edict of Nantes with the Edict of Fontainebleau, and declared Protestantism illegal. As many as 400,000 Protestants chose to leave France, moving to Great Britain, Prussia, the Dutch Republic, Switzerland, South Africa, and the new French colonies in North America. This exodus deprived France of many of its most skilled and industrious individuals.

*********************

bigweaveposter

The Big Weave c Jeremy Freedman

The Big Weave c Jeremy Freedman

Spitalfieldsrowhouses

Spitalfields, c Jeremy Freedman

Links and attributions, with thanks to all!

c2013 Jane Austen in Vermont