Those of you who follow this blog, may remember a post of mine about a year ago about the connections between the Morland family of Court Lodge and Jane Austen’s family. (If you missed it, it’s here: https://courtlodgeestate.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/jane-austen-the-morlands-and-court-lodge/)
In the year since I wrote that last post, I have been finding out more about these connections, and in particular, about Francis Motley Austen.
To briefly recap, the generation of the Morland family that was contemporary with Jane Austen consisted of seven siblings. The youngest, Margaretta Morland, married Col. Thomas Austen, Jane Austen’s second cousin. Further research showed that, not just one, but five of these seven siblings married someone with some connection to the Austen family. The Morlands and the Austens were far more connected with each other than I had realised.
There was one thread of my investigation that I hadn’t been able to reach the end of, and I desperately wanted to find the missing information. It had become clear that Francis Motley Austen, father of Col. Thomas Austen, and son of Jane Austen’s wealthy great uncle Old Francis Austen, had lived here in Lamberhurst for about 15 years. What I hadn’t been able to find out was where in Lamberhurst he lived. No one seemed to know, not the Kent branch of the Jane Austen Society, nor various Jane Austen scholars that I made contact with.
The evidence that he had lived in Lamberhurst was that 5 of his children were born and christened in the church here between 1781 and 1787, and that another of Jane Austen’s cousins, Phylly Walter, is recorded as having visited him and his family at their house in Lamberhurst. And one tantalising piece of evidence was that in 1783 he ordered a had from a London hat maker from Court Lodge!
When I first read this last piece of evidence I assumed that he must have been visiting Court Lodge, being perhaps friends with the Morlands who lived here at the time. But then it was suggested to me that perhaps he actually lived here. My first reaction was that he couldn’t have lived here, because the Morlands have owned Court Lodge since 1733. But then I had an idea.
During the 1780s the head of the Morland family, Thomas Morland, father of the seven children who were contemporary with Jane Austen, died quite young. He was 50, and his eldest son, William Alexander Morland, was a minor at the time. I remember my great uncle William wondering whether Thomas’s widow, Ann, looked after the house until her son came of age, or whether she went back to Cumbria, where her family were, and left Court Lodge in the hands of a steward. The penny dropped!
My theory took shape. Francis Motley Austen did live here at Court Lodge: he acted as steward, looking after it until William Alexander Morland came of age and wanted to come and take over the reigns. In 1796, when Francis Motley Austen moved to Kippington, William Alexander Morland would have been 29, married, and ready to move back in as squire of Court Lodge, having practised law in London for some years.
To support my theory, you may recall another more recent blog post of mine about hair powder licenses. (https://courtlodgeestate.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/a-license-to-use-powder/) I wrote here about finding some old hair powder licenses, naming all of the women in the Morland family in the 1790s. They are stated as living in Highgate, Kendal.
So, to answer great uncle William’s question: Ann Morland did return to Cumbria with her daughters, and so must have left Court Lodge in the hands of a steward. Next, I needed some evidence that Francis Motley Austen definitely lived here. And it wasn’t hard to find.
I searched on the National Archives, and found an old legal document dating from 1794. One of the parties to this indenture is, and I quote, “Francis Motley Austen of Court Lodge, Lamberhurst in the county of Kent”!
So here is some concrete evidence that Francis Motley Austen lived at Court Lodge!
What makes this particularly interesting is that when Phylly Walter came to visit the Motley Austen cousins at Lamberhurst in 1787, she would have visited them here at Court Lodge.
She went to Tunbridge Wells, and records the daily round of shopping, dancing, theatre-going, horse racing, sightseeing and concerts at the assembly rooms, including a dinner visit to the Motley Austen cousins at Lamberhurst.
She was travelling with Eliza de Feuillide and Mrs Philadelphia Hancock.
If my theory is correct, she would have visited the Motley Austen cousins at Court Lodge.
Although there is no record of Jane Austen visiting Court Lodge, to my knowledge, she is known to have visited her other cousins in Kent. So it is entirely possible that she, like her cousin, Phylly Walter, did visit her Motley Austen cousins, and if so, she would have come here to Court Lodge.
This is so exciting for me, not only because it demonstrates that the link between Jane Austen and Court Lodge is closer than we ever thought before, but also because I seem to have happened upon some genuinely new information. No one knew where in Lamberhurst Francis Motley Austen lived… until now. He lived at Court Lodge.