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Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility in Upton Pyne

Could it be that Jane Austen was so enchanted by our corner of ‘Devonshire’ that when the Dashwood women, the heroines of her first published novel, needed a new and nurturing home she chose Upton Pyne?

Deprived of their inheritance and made most unwelcome at Norland their home of 20 years the Dashwoods mother and daughters are invited to move into Barton Cottage, a meagre cottage. They were invited first to stay with their benefactor Sir John Middleton at his own residence Barton Park. This village of Barton is to be found ‘within four miles northward of Exeter’. As Mrs Dashwood is pleased to explain ‘It is but a cottage, but I hope to see many of my friends in it. A room or two can easily be added; and if my friends find no difficulty in travelling so far to see me, I am sure I will find none in accommodating them’ A simple home was thus established at Barton Cottage with the support of just three servants.

‘The view of Barton Valley as they entered it gave them cheerfulness. It was a pleasant, fertile spot, well wooded, and rich in pasture. After winding along it for more than a mile, they reached their own house. A small green court was the whole of its demesne in front; and a neat wicker gate admitted them into it.

‘As a house , Barton Cottage, thought small was comfortable; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered in honey-suckles. A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind. On each side of the entrance was a sitting-room, about sixteen feet square; and beyond them were the offices and stairs. Four bedrooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house.

‘The situation of the house was good. High hills rose immediately behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open downs, the others cultivated and woody. The village of Barton was chiefly on one of these hills, and formed a pleasant view from the cottage windows. The prospect in front was more extensive; it commanded the whole of the valley, and reached into the country beyond. The hills which surrounded the cottage terminated the valley in that direction; under another name, and in another course, it branched out again between two of the steepest of them.’

Barton Park was about half a mile from the cottage. The ladies had passed near it on their way along the valley, but it was screened from their view at home by the projection of an hill. The house was large and handsome; and the Middletons lived in a style of equal hospitality and elegance.

The steep side of the hill which led immediately to the garden gate of Barton Cottage is called ‘High-church Downs’ – a name which strongly suggests that the church is to be found at the top of the hill.

Edward calls it ‘very fine country – the hills are steep, the woods seem full of fine timber, and the valley looks comfortable and snug– with rich meadows and several neat farm-houses scattered here and there.’

Remind you of anywhere?

We know that Jane Austen holidayed with her family in Devon on more than one occasion, and she always wrote about places that she knew. Could it be that Barton Park, the large and handsome home of the Middletons is Pynes House? The details of the location and local legend suggest that this may well be the case. The situation of the village of Barton set upon a hillside with its church high upon the downs sounds much like Upton Pyne. And Barton Cottage? Not so easy to identify but the farm at Woodrow Barton seems to be a likely candidate; the location and views from here seem to fit the bill and the steep downhill track would be just right for Marianne Dashwood to slip and twist her ankle.