Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.
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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History
A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ August 16, 2019
“Home is the sailor, home from sea”. Well, okay, we haven’t really been sailing—just contemplating the sea from the shore and sometimes thinking of Jane Austen’s sailor brothers. But we are concluding our journey today where Jane concluded her later seashore journeys—at her home in Chawton.
As every Austen fan the world over knows, Chawton Cottage is the home Jane’s brother Edward...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ August 7, 2019
Margate is just five miles north, across the Isle of Thanet, from Ramsgate which we visited last week. Margate was one of the first of England’s fishing villages to develop as a seaside resort. It has maintained its position as a favorite with Londoners for 250 years, primarily because of its easy access. Its level, fine sandy beaches extend for several miles on both sides of the harbor.
We have no evidence of Jane Austen visiting Margate, but her letters make reference to receiving visitors from there, including “Aunt Fielding from Margate.”
Another was Lady Fagg and her 5 daughters and Miss Chapman from Margate, about whom Austen comments, “I never saw so plain a family, five sisters so very plain!” Presumably Margate was not to...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ August 1, 2019
Ramsgate, like last week’s Brighton, is another of the fashionable seaside resorts that was apparently on Jane Austen’s Least Favourite list, in spite of its being one of the great English resorts and naval ports in the nineteenth century. As early as 1788 the noted artist Benjamin West painted his “Bathing Place at Ramsgate.” The bathing machines West depicts poised to go into a rough sea sport ‘Tilts’ or ‘Modesty Hoods’ invented by the Quaker Benjamin Bale. From the lack of bathing attire the hoods were apparently much needed.
Ramsgate has one of the largest marinas on the south coast and is the only one in the UK to have the distinction of being a Royal Harbour. King George IV, formerly the Prince Regent, bestowed this title on Ramsgate in 1821 to repay the town for their outpouring of hospitality to him when he used the harbor for his Royal Yacht Squadron. Of course, considering Austen’s opinion of Prinney, as we discussed last week at Brighton, that might not have been much of a recommendation to...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ July 24, 2019
It’s one of those ironies of history that even though Jane Austen apparently did not like Brighton—she never went there as far as we know, and only bad things happened to her characters who did go there—her writings have enhanced the fame and popularity of this seaside resort.
In 1799 Jane wrote to her sister, “I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Brighton as much as you do, but I am not without hopes that something may happen to prevent it.” (This quotation from the memoir by William Austen Leigh, who suggests Brighton had been recommended to her brother Edward as an alternate to Bath. It should be noted that Deidre Le Faye translates the town as...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ July 11, 2019
Jane Austen’s connection with Worthing was completely unknown until late in the 20th century when Fanny Austen’s diaries came to light and Austen scholar Deidre Le Faye began studying them. Before then, all that was known were the references in Jane’s letters regarding plans to visit Worthing. There was no confirmation, however, that the trip had actually come about, rather, considerable doubt was cast on the likelihood:
24 August 1805 Jane, who was at Godmersham, wrote to Cassandra about their 10-year-old nephew Edward who was ill and not recovering well. It looked unlikely he would be able to return to school in Winchester with his brothers when term started that autumn, “& he will...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ July 5, 2019
Unlike Lyme Regis, for whom its royal ascription was ancient but had simply fallen out of use in Jane Austen’s day, Bognor was just Bognor until King George V went to nearby Aldwick on the advice of his physician in 1929. Queen Mary accompanied him and shopped in Bognor. The monarch found his lodging uncomfortable and did not enjoy his time there. He did, however, recover from his lung infection, and so granted the town permission to append Regis, meaning “of the king,” to its name.
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ June 27, 2019
In my series following in the footsteps of Jane Austen at the seashore I have presented the resorts as they are situated geographically from west to east. Actually, though, I started my adventure right in the middle, at Portsmouth. That’s appropriate because Portsmouth comes rather in the middle of Jane’s own story since she lived in nearby Southampton before moving to Chawton, and her novel Mansfield Park, with its centerpiece visit to Portsmouth, is near the middle of her literary output.
My first attempt to attend MysteryFest, a new addition to Portsmouth’s long-standing BookFest celebration every February and March, was cancelled last year when “The Beast from the East” struck with a vengeance. So I was delighted to be...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ June 14, 2019
Southampton was more than a seaside resort to Jane Austen. It was home to her for almost 3 years and her letters from there provide some of the most sparkling examples of her wit, as does as a reference in her early writing.
Although Jane seems to have been happy during her abode in Southampton, in spite of the fact that she was apparently too occupied with family matters and comings and goings to write anything but letters there, Southampton does not fare well in her Juvenile novel Love and Freindship, written in 1790.
In this cautionary epistolary tale, Laura writes to warn the younger Marianne of the dangers encountered by the girl’s worldy-wise mother: “Isabel had seen the World. She had passed 2 Years at one of the first Boarding-schools in London; had spent a fortnight in Bath...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ June 7, 2019
Because Lyme Regis was such a favorite seaside location for Jane Austen and because it offers such a pivotal location for her beloved novel Persuasion, our visit there extends over two blog posts. Last week’s part 1 covered: Lyme Regis as a model for Sanditon, my time in Pyne House where the Austens likely stayed and their move to less desirable lodgings, a visit to the Cobb, the filming of “Ammonite” about Mary Anning, and Jane dancing at the assembly.
Today we pick up our tour on our way to the beach with Jane: Now the seafront around the curving beach between Lyme and the smaller Cobb Hamlet is a paved promenade called Marine Parade, much of it lined with colorful cabanas. In Jane’s day it was...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ May 29, 2019
Of all the sites on our Jane-Austen-led itinerary, Lyme Regis is the one I have most looked forward to visiting. Probably because Persuasion is my favourite Austen novel and Lyme is the site of the book’s pivotal scene. (Although the town received its first royal charter, allowing it to use the title Regis, in the 13th century, it was simply called Lyme in Jane’s day.)
Lyme was part of the general seashore development along the south coast of England in the late 18th century in response to the craze for healthful sea-bathing. Lyme, like all the fashionable resorts springing up, had her visionary developer. Thomas Hollis, whose home was near Lyme, bought up run-down property which he demolished and rebuilt with improved views of the sea. His vision included a promenade and Assembly Rooms—which weren’t completed until after his death. Did Jane perhaps have Thomas Hollis in mind when she chose the name...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ May 22, 2019
A lovely bus journey continues our Jane-Austen-led seashore tour to Sidmouth. Of course, Jane would have been in a carriage, but the views through the pleasant, rolling countryside must have been similar. And when rain splattered the windows I was glad for the comfort of my modern conveyance.
Tree branches bursting with spring buds scraped the windows as well. I never cease to be amazed how English bus drivers maneuver their mammoth buses along such narrow roads. One field is full of sheep, the next hosts gorgeous fat pheasants. Then we break out into a view of the sea with chalk cliffs running right to the water’s edge. Then a field of black...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ May 17, 2019
Young (and experienced) writers are always advised to seek outside help for their work—join a writers’ group, find a good editor, acquire beta readers. But can you imagine a budding novelist being able to receive advice personally from Jane Austen?
That was the enviable experience of young Anna Austen Lefroy who...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ May 7, 2019
The explosion of popularity that gripped Georgian seashore resorts was perfectly timed for Teignmouth, whose fishing industry was declining. The first stirring of elegance came in 1787 when a tea house opened “amongst the local fishermen’s drying nets”. Tea rooms, which are not as thick on the ground today as they once were in England, continue to feature in Teignmouth.
Teignmouth, the western-most point on our itinerary, was listed as a “fashionable watering place” as early as 1803, a year after the Austens are believed to have spent several weeks there. When the Napoleonic wars hindered travel to France and the continent, tourists looked closer to home for their pleasures. Teignmouth...
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ April 30, 2019
Literary tours led by authors are something of a travel industry standard and can bring great new insights to a trip. But have you ever been offered a literary tour led by an author who’s been dead for more than 200 years?
That’s what I undertook on my most recent research trip, and I invite you to come along as Jane Austen takes us to her favorite (and sometimes not-so-favorite) seaside resorts across the breadth of England.
The Regency period saw an explosion of seaside tourism for health and for...