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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


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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.

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A Seaside Tour with Jane Austen

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 fun, and an accompanying development of sea-bathing resorts—which Jane Austen parodied in her last, sadly unfinished, novel Sanditon. For the peripatetic Austen family, with two eligible daughters to introduce into society and two sons in the navy, such resorts were a natural choice.

And Jane apparently thoroughly enjoyed her visits, both for the social life, including a flirtation that might have become serious, and the activities which included visiting the libraries, theatres and assemblies required of all Regency resorts, as well as sea-bathing and walking.


  • Teignmouth

I began my explorations at Teignmouth, on the south western corner of our map. I was delighted to find the elegant assembly rooms still standing (doing duty as tea room, cinema and church).

St. Michael’s Church, although much changed from the Saxon church Jane would have known, is still the parish church.

The elegant promenade still offers wonderful sea views.


  • Dawlish

Dawlish, which Jane Austen mentions twice in her letters, is a few miles eastward. In 1800 there was a plan afoot in the Austen family to visit Dawlish the following year. We can infer that the plan succeeded, because later, Jane’s niece Anna asked Aunt Jane for advice about Dawlish for a story she was writing.

Dawlish was one of the chain of small villages along the south coast from Teignmouth to Margate that set about developing themselves into resorts at the end of the 18th century. In 1807 a young man named John Ede Manning saw the potential in Dawlish. He bought a strip of marshy land which he drained, then straightened the stream into a canal and landscaped The Lawn, which remains the centre of the town’s attraction.


  • Sidmouth

In 1801 Jane wrote to her sister, “Sidmouth is now talked of as our Summer abode; get all the information therefore about it that you can…” They must have, indeed, gone there, because it is Austen family tradition that it was in Sidmouth that Jane fell in love with a young clergyman. She was looking forward to meeting him again, but, sadly, he died.

Sidmouth’s promenade, stunning views and elegant accommodations still attract visitors.

  • Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis is, of course, the centerpiece of a visit to Jane Austen’s seashore. Louisa Musgrove’s fall from the Cobb is one of the high points of Persuasion, my favourite Austen novel.

I was able to stay in No. 1 Pyne Place, the house the Austens are believed to have rented.

Jane enjoyed two of her favourite pastimes there: sea-bathing and walking. She wrote, “The bathing was so delightful this morning…that I believe I stayed in rather too long.” 

Austen once described herself as a “desperate walker,” and she enjoyed a pleasant ramble over the cliff walk to neighboring Charmouth.

Unfortunately, a landslip has made that no longer possible—although I did try.


  • Portsmouth

Portsmouth, where Jane Austen’s brothers Francis and Charles were educated at the Royal Naval Academy, was actually the first stop in my tour. I had the great pleasure of being on a panel for Mysteryfest there and enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones.

In Mansfield Park Fanny and the Price family, accompanied by Henry Crawford, attended the garrison church.

They then walked on the ramparts on a day of “balmy air and sparkling sea,” more like April than March with its “mild air and brisk soft wind.”

This was not my experience as I walked the Nelson Trail in a rain so driving that I was unable to take notes because my notebook was soaked. The tunnel through the fortifications provided a welcome respite from the rain and fodder for a mystery writer’s imagination.


  • Southampton

Southampton is just under 30 miles north of Portsmouth, up the Southampton Water. Jane and her sister Cassandra attended school there for a short time when Jane was only 7 years old. Jane became dangerously ill and almost died before her mother learned of the danger and took her daughters home.

In 1806 the Austen women moved from Bath to take lodgings in Southampton with Francis and his new wife Mary. Their house was in Castle Square on the site where the Juniper Berry put now stands.

The garden backed on the city wall. Jane reported that, “We hear that we are envied our House by many people, & that the Garden is the best in Town.” It certainly must have been after their gardener planted roses and a syringe at Jane’s special direction. They also had currant, gooseberry and raspberry bushes and a laburnum.

Jane enjoyed attending balls at the Dolphin Hotel.

But she didn’t think much of the Theatre Royal. She wrote to her sister that they would attend a play when their brother visited, because “Martha ought to see the inside of the theatre once while she lives in Southampton, and I think she will hardly wish to take a second view.” Or perhaps Jane didn’t rate their housemate’s appreciation of the theatre very highly.


  • Bognor Regis

Bognor (without the Regis in Austen’s day) holds claims to being the resort most likely to have been Jane’s model for her fictional newly developing, fiercely promoted Sanditon. Its developer Sir Richard Hotham, certainly seems an excellent model for the enterprising Mr. Parker.

In spite of a nice sea front, however, Bognor today shows little sign of being the elegant Regency resort either Sir Richard or Mr. Parker would have envisioned.


  • Worthing

Nearby Worthing now seems a much stronger contender for the title “the Real Sanditon;” and its developer Edward Ogle, a prime model for Mr. Parker, especially as he hosted Princess Charlotte at his home Warwick House.

The cottage the Austens rented is now a Pizza Express. The charm of the original architecture is discernible and their historic heritage is commemorated with clever Austenesque art.

The Colonnade, which Edward Ogle built and where the Austens likely shopped. is still doing business, although, sadly, his Warwick House, which  once stood across the street and was a likely model for Mr. Parker's Trafalgar House, is long gone

The sea views, however, are still lovely.


  • Brighton

Brighton would definitely be high on Jane Austen’s list of least-favourite resorts. Although the Prince Regent’s Royal Pavilion would not be complete until 5 years after Austen’s death, it was already the most fashionable seaside resort in Europe.

Austen’s dislike was, undoubtedly due to its popularity with Prinney and his raffish set. It was no accident that Brighton was the place of Lydia’s downfall in Pride and Prejudice and the honeymoon location of the shallow, mismatched Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth in Mansfield Park.

In Sanditon Mr. Parker is quick to assure Mr. Heywood that he did not propose that his development become “one of those large, overgrown places like Brighton…”

Notwithstanding the picturesque walks available, sturdy dippers ready to assist sea-bathers, and the assembly rooms at the Old Ship Hotel,

Jane wrote in 1799: “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.”


  • Ramsgate

In spite of its lovely sea views and elegant Georgian crescent,

Jane Austen was apparently less than enchanted with Ramsgate, even though her brother Francis became engaged to his first wife while stationed there with the Royal Navy. In one of her letters, Jane referred to someone showing “bad taste” in choosing Ramsgate for a holiday. In Pride and Prejudice George Wickham attempted to elope with Georgiana Darcy from Ramsgate; and in Mansfield Park Tom Bertram met his friend Sneyd on the pier there.


  • Chawton

Although nearly 70 miles from the sea, no Austen-themed tour would be complete without a visit to Chawton and the home where Jane’s writing flourished into full bloom.

Just a short walk from the Austen women’s cottage was the home of Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight, always referred to in her letters as “the Great House.”

Today it is the Chawton House Library, specializing in works by women writers of the 18th and 19th century. Although I’m not quite that old, I was honoured to have my two Austen books accepted for inclusion in the Chawton House Library collection.

So, there is our overview. Consider it a brochure for our tour. During the up-coming weeks we will explore each of these in depth. Please return as we attempt to recreate Jane Austen’s Regency seaside experience in: Teignmouth, Dawlish, Sidmouth, Lyme Regis, Southampton, Portsmouth, Bognor Regis, Worthing, Brighton, Ramsgate, Margate, and inland to Chawton.

These will provide background for my next Elizabeth and Richard literary suspense novel as another in the series that includes A Jane Austen Encounter,  which takes readers to Jane Austen's homes, and A Most Singular Venture,an adventure in Jane Austen's London.


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.

Read More: Jane Austen Seashore Tour

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Reader Comments:

I hope you've enjoyed this first post in my new series. Please check in next week when we'll take an in-depth look at Teignmouth
-Donna Fletcher Crow, May 4, 2019

Your tour was delightful, and I look forward to the coming weeks.
-rimbay, May 6, 2019

Thank you so much, Rimbay! I hopeto have the next one up tomorrow. I'm really enjoying re-living it all.
-Donna Fletcher Crow, May 6, 2019

What a superb tour, Donna. Mystery Fest (and I) were honoured to be your first stop on your tour and can only apologise for Portsmouth giving you such a wet and windy welcome. At least it was better than 2018 when the Beast from the East was in full fury. Maybe next year the weather will be beautiful - fingers crossed for that.
-Carol Westron , May 7, 2019

I was the one that was honoured, Carol! I am already looking forward to next year. If the weather improves every year we'll be in for a real treat.
-Donna Fletcher Crow, May 7, 2019

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