Monthly Archives: January 2014

Jane Austen, the Morlands, and Court Lodge

One of the family anecdotes that I have always known is that one of my Morland ancestors married Jane Austen’s cousin. As a child and a teenager I was quite unimpressed by this, but now that I am beginning to piece together the family history for myself I have found this aspect of my research absolutely fascinating. There are more connections with Jane Austen’s family than I originally thought.

The heroine of Northanger Abbey is called Catherine Morland, so I wondered whether, if one of our female Morland ancestors was known to Jane Austen, she might have been the inspiration for this character?

The family connections with the Austens are all based around the generation of Morlands that are contemporary with Jane Austen (1775-1817). Margaretta Morland (1777-1825) married Jane Austen’s second cousin, Col. Thomas Austen (1775-1859). In order to find out how closely connected the Morland family was to Jane Austen and her family, there are two connections I had to investigate: first, how closely connected were Jane Austen’s branch of her family with Thomas Austen’s branch of the family? And second, how closely connected were the Morlands with Thomas Austen’s branch of the family? But the very first connection to understand is: how exactly was Thomas Austen related to Jane Austen?

Col. Thomas Austen and Jane Austen were second cousins; their grandfathers were brothers. Col. Thomas Austen’s grandfather was old Francis Austen, who was a wealthy man living in Sevenoaks. Jane Austen’s grandfather was William Austen, younger brother to old Francis Austen, who died young, at the age of just 36. My next question was: how close were these two branches of the Austen family? Second cousins may have a lot to do with each other, or not very much. What sort of second cousins were these?

When William Austen died, his son George, Jane Austen’s father, was just six years old. It seems that the wealthy older brother, Francis, stepped in and took on the financial responsibilities for his young nephew, George. He paid to put him through Tonbridge School, and when he graduated from Oxford, Francis found two livings for him. You could say that he acted in loco parentis to George Austen. This makes the two branches of the Austen family really quite close to each other.

Jane Austen and her elder sister Cassandra stayed with old Francis Austen in Sevenoaks when aged 12 and 15 respectively. He was their wealthy great uncle, and it was during this stay that old Francis Austen supposedly commissioned a portrait of Jane Austen.

The portrait, known as the Rice portrait, is supposedly of Jane Austen aged about 12. There is some dispute over whether it really is of Jane Austen, although from my brief  foray into the debate, I would say that consensus if beginning to form on the side that it is of Jane Austen. There is a recent article in the Times Literary Supplement endorsing its authenticity. (Claudia L. Johnson, ‘Jane Austen to the Life?’, Times Literary Supplement, 28 August 2013)

If the story of its provenance is genuine, then it was first owned by old Francis Austen, who commissioned it. It then passed to his son, Francis Motley Austen, and then to his son, Col. Thomas Austen, husband of Margaretta Morland. So the two branches of the Austen family were close enough that Thomas’s family had a portrait of Jane in their house for several generations.

The sixth owner of the portrait was the Revd. John Morland Rice, the fourth son of Elizabeth Austen and Edward Royd Rice. He was given the name ‘Morland’ after his mother’s “dear friend from girlhood,” Margaretta Morland. He received the portrait in 1883. Since his ownership, it has passed down through the Rice family, hence its current name. So here is a link between the Morland family and one of the very few (if authentic) likenesses of Jane Austen in existence.

The next question to ask was: how close were the Morlands to the Austens? Did they know each other at all, or was Margaretta the only connection between the Morlands and the Austens? One question that niggles away at the back of my mind is ‘Could Jane ever have visited Court Lodge?’.

To recap, old Francis Austen was the wealthy great uncle of Jane Austen, who sponsored her father’s education and found him two livings, so was very supportive of Jane’s family. His eldest son was Francis Motley Austen, and his son was Col. Thomas Austen, and it was he who married Margaretta Morland. What I now want to establish is how well the Morlands knew this branch of the Austen family. And my research has thrown up some interesting connections.

Old Francis Austen had three sons. Francis Motley Austen (FMA) was the eldest. I came across a book entitled A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family, by Deirdre Le Faye. This book appears to recount every event for which there is some documentary evidence, that concerns any of the Austen family. Searching this book, I came across the following entry:

1783, May 28, Wednesday. Court Lodge, Lamberhurst, Kent: Francis Motley Austen orders a Thanet-style hat from Messrs. Lock of No. 6 St James’s Street, London.

(Deirdre Le Faye, A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family, 1600-2000. Revised Edition. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,  2013) p. 92.)

I was intrigued. I delved further, and here are just some of the things I discovered:

  • Throughout the 1780s and 1790s a succession of children of Francis Motley Austen and his wife Elizabeth were born and christened in Lamberhurst.
  • In 1796 Francis Motley Austen moved from Lamberhurst to Kippington in Sevenoaks.
  • On February 5th 1812 at Kippington, Francis Motley Austen made his will.

Francis Motley Austen, and his growing family, clearly lived in Lamberhurst until 1796, when they moved to Kippington. Where in Lamberhurst they lived, I’ve yet to discover. However, the entry about FMA making his will is most revealing. The date on which he makes his will at Kippington is 16 years after he has moved away from Lamberhurst. In it he leaves legacies to his younger children which are to be held in trust for them. One of the trustees is William Alexander Morland. He also leaves a token legacy of 100 guineas to his “good friend” William Alexander Morland. William Alexander Morland, remember, is the elder brother of Margaretta Morland, who married FMA’s son.

So it seems that Francis Motley Austen lived in Lamberhurst and was good friends with the then head of the Morland family, William Alexander Morland, since at least 1783 when he ordered a hat while at Court Lodge. They also remained good friends until well after he had moved to Kippington.

In 1806, FMA’s eldest son made his will, and William Alexander Morland was one of the witnesses to this will.

There are, intriguingly, many other connections between the Morlands of this generation and the Austens, but I will save those stories for another time.

I think there are good grounds for seeing this as a very close family connection. The well-to-do families of this generation kept very close to one another. Marriages were, if not arranged, then at least orchestrated by the older generations. Marriage was most often not exclusively for love, but also for expedience, as Jane Austen’s novels show us.

I think there are good reasons for thinking that William Alexander, as head of the Morland family, and good friends with Francis Motley Austen, might have encouraged the marriage between his younger sister and Francis Motley Austen’s son.

There remains much more research for me to carry out on the connections between the Austens and the Morlands. I would like to find out where in Lamberhurst Francis Motley Austen and his family lived. It may be that the house he lived in no longer exists, or it may be one of the substantial houses in the village. He was a wealthy man, so it would have been a substantial house.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out for certain whether Jane Austen ever visited Court Lodge. Although the Chequers Inn in Lamberhurst boasts on its website that Jane Austen is known to have visited there. If that’s right then I think it would be extremely likely that she did visit Court Lodge.

I think it is at least plausible to think that Jane Austen did visit Court Lodge. But whether she did or not, this has all been a very exciting discovery for Court Lodge.

The Rice Portrait:  Jane Austen as a young girl?

The Rice Portrait: Jane Austen as a young girl?

Silhouette of Margaretta Morland

Silhouette of Margaretta Morland

The label on the back reads 'Mrs Austen, née Margaretta Morland, Kippington'

The label on the back reads ‘Mrs Austen, née Margaretta Morland, Kippington’

Postscript note:

After seeing the comment below about the plaque to Anna Eleanora Smith (née Morland) in the church at Sydling St. Nicholas I thought I’d post this photo of Anna Eleanora that hangs in Court Lodge:

photo 2


Research at Court Lodge

There are lots of strands of research going on at Court Lodge at the moment which is all very exciting. First of all there is the archive research that I have been carrying out, both in the documents and photos that are in the house, and at the Maidstone archives. The talks that we held at the end of last year were a distillation of all the research that I had done in the year since we arrived here. I’m currently writing them up into illustrated documents.

We also have Mike O’Brien from the Kent Gardens Trust researching the historical significance of the garden at the moment. We got in touch with the Kent Gardens Trust because although we had already begun to discover things about the history and historical significance of the garden, we thought it would be good to bring in some people with more experience of this sort of reseach to help us. We eventually want to apply for grants to restore the garden, so if we had a professional report written about our garden we thought it would really help support our case. Mike has already found out quite a lot about the garden, and spent quite a lot of time here in the garden and looking through our old photographs and documents. We’re very excited about his report, which should be ready in a couple of months.

We also have two wonderful volunteers who are going to help research the history of Court Lodge, and also help me archive all of the letters, photos and documents that we have in boxes and suitcases in the house. Julia Cruse and Geoffrey Forster both have good local knowledge and lots of research experience. They are also both passionate about uncovering the history of Court Lodge with me. Both of them have spent time working at Scotney Castle, and of course the history of both estates are very intertwined, so they already have a good base of knowledge about Court Lodge. I had a meeting with them today to talk about how this research is going to progress. We plan to focus to start with on putting together the history of Court Lodge as far back as we can trace it. Then we’ll focus on the history of Court Lodge since the Morland family acquired it. I’m particularly interested to know the circumstances in which my ancestors bought Court Lodge, and how they made their money. Finally we will fill in the details of the history with all of the documents, letters and photographs, archiving and cataloguing them as we go. Quite a job! It will just be one of those ongoing jobs that never really gets finished, but progress will always be made.

While Ian and Mark Truman were clearing out the cellar a couple of months ago, they came across some really interesting architectural features there. These features suggested to Ian that there are remnants of an older house beneath the existing one. There is, for example, a stone mullioned window in a coal bunker that has been bricked up, but there is no room or even space behind it as far as we can tell. There are also remnants of a timber floor half way between the ground floor and basement level, with what looks like painted skirting. In two of the larger rooms in the cellar there are what look like semi-circular bay window details to the south elevation that have been partially filled in. It’s all fascinating but, as with the garden, we don’t really have the expertise to take this any further.

I had originally thought of contacting an Archaeology Department at a nearby University to see if they would be interested in looking into this for us, perhaps as a student research project, but during my meeting with Julia and Geoffrey today, Julia suggested the Kent Archaelogical Society as a first point of contact. She showed me a copy of their publication, in which some researchers had carried out an archaeological survey of Scotney Castle. It was very in-depth and detailed, and looked like exactly the sort of thing we would ultimately like for Court Lodge. The writers of the report were affiliated with Archaeology South-East, so I decided to send them an email explaining our situation.

Within a couple of hours I had a phonecall from Archaeology South-East! They sounded very interested, but thought that the work required would be too specialised for students. We could commission them to do an initial survey and report, which would be useful for things like supporting our applications for listed building consent, and would also give us a good starting point for more detailed research directions in the future. It would cost money, which we are sorely lacking at the moment, but it might be worth it. We will have to think about it. All very exciting!!

Restoration of the library begins

We have Mark Truman here with us again this week, so we decided to crack on with sprucing up the library, which will eventually (hopefully) be the room that we get licensed for weddings. Thirty years ago or so it was full to bursting with beautiful old leather bound books, but my great uncle William had a big house sale before he moved away from Court Lodge, and sadly all the books in the library were sold as a job lot in this sale. Even more sadly, they were sold for just 800 pounds!! Anyhow, when we moved to Court Lodge when I was 12, there were no books, so my parents took most of the shelves out and stored them in the strong room. They gradually acquired books to fill the shelves, but also hung pictures in the spaces which used to have shelves.

A couple of months ago a good friend (thanks Vicky!) donated all the books from her late father’s flat to us to help us begin to restore the contents of the library. Today we decided to make a start on putting the shelves back up and filling them with these books. Like many jobs at Court Lodge, it turned out to be more complicated than we had anticipated.

The shelves are beautifully made, with leather scallopped trim on the edges, but in most cases this had deteriorated quite badly with age. The fixings were made of brass, but far from being mass produced items, each identical to the next, they turned out to be individually hand-made. Beautiful craftsmanship, but an absolute nightmare to put together, as each fixing would only fit into one casing. Add to this the fact that all the shelves were slightly different sizes, so that each shelf would only fit in one bookcase, and you had the makings of a really complex jigsaw puzzle worthy of a mensa exam! It certainly kept Ian and Mark busy all day.

The end result though looks fantastic! We haven’t filled all the spaces for books, but thanks to Vicky’s donations of books from her parents (many of which are in Swedish!!), the libary is beginning to look more like a library again.

On the subject of restoring the library, Ian came across a bookplate on ebay a while ago that originated from a book in our library from the days of my great great grandfather William Courtenay Morland. It had his signature on it! We were happy to be able to tell the seller of this item that it was being restored to the library that it originally came from.

The next stage in the renovation is to paint the walls, and I picked up some test pots of heritage paints today, so we’ll see how they look tomorrow. One of them is called Swedish White, which I thought was apt given the swedish books that now adorn the library! Before long the library will be given the boost that it needs. Watch this space for more pictures.

bookplate IMG_2726 IMG_2725 IMG_2724 IMG_2723 IMG_2722 IMG_2721