Classic Literature Jane Austen

Visiting the Gardens at Stoneleigh Abbey

On a visit to see my relatives in Warwick, England, last month, I stopped at Stoneleigh Abbey. It was late in the day and the house tours had concluded, so I purchased a garden ticket and stepped through the wide, low door from the Gatehouse into the garden. Once inside, I followed a small path, lined on one side with tall flowers and a wooden fence. As the imposing front face of Stoneleigh came into view, I stopped and stared. In person, Stoneleigh Abbey is absolutely stunning.

Jane Austen went to Stoneleigh Abbey in 1806 with her mother and Cassandra during a visit to Mrs. Austen’s first cousin, Reverend Thomas Leigh. The Austen women stayed at Leigh’s Adlestrop estate. During their visit, they also went with him to Stoneleigh Abbey, which he had just inherited. It’s believed that Austen drew inspiration from that trip for the Sotherton outing in Mansfield Park.

During the Regency period, the trend in landscape gardening aimed to make the gardens and surrounding land of grand estates look more natural and inviting. Enclosure walls were taken down, streams were redirected, long avenues of trees were chopped down, and new trees were planted in natural clumps. The orderly borders and rows of previous generations gave way to open spaces, grazing sheep or cattle, Grecian urns, and playful fountains.

In Jane Austen and the English Landscape, Mavis Batey closely chronicles the landscape changes made to Adlestrop and Stoneleigh during Thomas Leigh’s day as well as the Red Book design plans proposed by Humphrey Repton. Austen was familiar with Repton’s Red Books, in which Repton presented clients with detailed drawings and paintings of his proposed changes.

During her visit to Adlestrop, Austen had access to Repton’s book, Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. It features examples of his “before and after” overlays, including his design plans for Adlestrop. “Jane Austen’s first real acquaintance with Repton’s work was at Adlestrop in Gloucestershire, where her cousin the Revd Thomas Leigh had consulted him in 1799” (Batey 81). By the time Austen visited Adlestrop in 1806, the improvements were complete.

When Austen saw Stoneleigh, no alterations had been made. Her brother, James, visited Stoneleigh in 1809, just after Repton had completed the Red Book for Stoneleigh (89). It’s likely that James provided the Austen women with updates on the progress there…

To keep reading the rest of my article and see more of the beautiful photos I took on my visit, click here.

Works Cited:

Batey, Mavis. Jane Austen and the English Landscape. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1996.

Greayer, Rochelle. “Before & After: Humphry Repton.” Pith + Vigor, 8 May 2013, http://www.pithandvigor.com/garden/before-after/before-after-humphry-repton.

Nicholson, Nigel. The World of Jane Austen. London: Orion Publishing Group, 1991.

Photo Gallery of Stoneleigh Abbey:

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