Jane Austen’s links with Devon are to be celebrated in June in Upton Pyne; thought to have been the inspiration for the setting of Sense and Sensibility.
The first Upton Pyne Jane Austen Day took place last year and proved such a success, with demand for tickets outstripping available places, the organisers decided to make it an annual event. All proceeds go to the maintenance of the lovely Grade 1-listed village church which, as Barton Church, is the setting for the marriage of Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars at the end of Jane Austen’s tale of opposing temperaments.
Sense and Sensibility is set largely in Devon, in and around the fictional Barton Park, which is ‘four miles northward of Exeter’ in the ‘Barton Valley’. Author Anne-Marie Edwards says, in her book In the steps of Jane Austen, that she feels sure Barton Park is Pynes, a Grade II*-listed William and Mary stately home set in a 37-acre park, which has always been linked locally with the novel. The imagined hillside village of Barton matches nearby Upton Pyne and Woodrow Barton farmhouse is believed to be the inspiration for Barton Cottage, home of the Dashwood family.
A highlight of the day will be the Jane Austen Walk, a guided stroll of a mile and a half along country lanes and footpaths around the village, taking in visits to both Woodrow Barton and Pynes. The walk includes a grassy slope above the farmhouse, thought to be the setting for Marianne Dashwood’s fateful meeting with the dashing John Willoughby, who carries her home after a fall.
Anyone not wishing to join the walk can drive to Woodrow Barton to rendezvous with the rest of the group for a picnic lunch and an introduction to the history of the house by June Nicks who has farmed there with her husband Alan for 45 years.
“The former farmhouse, to which Jane Austen might have referred, is, we think, still inside the present house. It was partly formed by the thick cob wall running from south to north, in what is now our living room and kitchen,” said June. “This is confirmed by looking at the existing windows on the east side of the house, which are much older than those on the front, and which we think formed part of the old frontage.”
Woodrow Barton is part of the Pynes estate, enjoying countryside described by Jane Austen as ‘a pleasant, fertile spot, well-wooded and rich in pasture’. From the farmhouse it is a short walk, or drive, to Pynes and thence back to the centre of the village.
The bells of Upton Pyne church will be ringing to mark Jane Austen Day which begins, on Sunday 22 June, with morning coffee and Regency delicacies in the village hall.
This year’s speakers will consider various aspects of Mansfield Park published, three years after Sense and Sensibility, exactly 200 years ago in 1814. A brief introduction to the novel will be given by Veronica Clarke, a former English teacher at The Maynard School in Exeter. Dr. Robert Clark will talk about ‘Locations of Mansfield Park, Physical, Political and Moral.’ Dr. Clark is a founding editor of The Literary Encyclopedia and a senior fellow at the University of East Anglia.
At Pynes, Lily Neal, well known locally as a musician, raconteur and proprietor of The Topsham Bookshop, will perform readings from Mansfield Park. The Rev.Preb. Douglas Dettmer will look at the role and life of the curate in Regency times. There will also be a display of historical documents and details of a rare letter written by Jane Austen herself.
Back in Upton Pyne, a Regency-style celebration of Evensong will be held in the village church to the accompaniment of authentic musical instruments and a costumed choir (TBC). The afternoon service will be led by Rev. Douglas Dettmer, who is priest-in-charge of the Netherexe Parishes.
Garden flowers will decorate both the church and the village hall where an elegant cream tea with delicious home-made cakes will be served on hand-embroidered table-cloths at the end of the afternoon. Books about Jane Austen will be on display and for sale.
Linda Findlay, of Friends of Upton Pyne, the group organising the event, said:
“We hope to give people a sense of village life in Regency times and the chance to see some Devon places that Jane Austen may have known and loved. People will also have the opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere in our lovely church during an authentic Regency service.”
The present Church of Our Lady, built from local volcanic rock, was consecrated by Bishop Grandisson on 26 September 1328. There is evidence that a church existed in Upton Pyne long before this date but it is not certain exactly where this was located. The bell tower, built around 1380, has niches at the corners containing beautifully carved figures of the four evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and a figure of Christ in Benediction on its west face.
This year’s Upton Pyne Jane Austen Day takes place on Sunday 22 June. Day tickets cost £22.50 and are available from Linda Findlay, tel: 01392 841402 or friendsofuptonpyne.co.uk. Places are limited and early booking is advised.