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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.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

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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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Finding Sanditon on the Map

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ May 6, 2022

Yes, we all know that Sanditon, Jane Austen’s fictional seaside resort in the novel fragment of the same name, which is currently a smash hit television series, is just that—fictional. Jane invented the location, just as she did her heroine Charlotte Heywood, the developer Tom Parker, wealthy Lady Dedham, and all the people she placed in it.

Yet, knowing that Sanditon is not really real does not stop us looking for its location. We all have a desire to visit Brigadoon and Wonderland. And the fact is that Jane Austen herself did name many solid locations along the English seashore we can locate on a map.

Jane Austen’s Favorite Seashore Locations

When making up her imaginary seaside location, Jane would have called on her considerable experience of seashore holidays along the south coast of England. Jane and the Austen family are believed to have holidayed in as many as 8 or more spa towns during this period of booming sea-bathing resorts. Her favorite is well known to have been Lyme, which features in her beloved novel Persuasion.

Also high on the list as models for Sanditon are Bognor (now Bognor Regis) and Worthing. The wildly popular Brighton did not appeal to her, probably because she disapproved of the Prince Regent who was responsible for Brighton’s popularity.

Jane Austen’s Clues

Jane herself gave us many clues to her location, beginning with the opening sentence of her story: “A Gentleman and a Lady travelling from Tunbridge towards that part of the Sussex Coast which lies between Hastings and E. Bourne…”

 

The travelers are seeking the town of Willingden, (where Mr. Parker hopes to secure a surgeon to set up practice in his nascent spa) but the journey is interrupted when the Parker carriage overturns. Mr. Parker is confused as to his location until his rescuer explains: “There are two Willingdens in this Country. And your advertisements must refer to the other, which is Great Willingden or Willingden Abbots, and lies seven miles off on the other side of Battel - quite down in the Weald.”

Although neither Great Willingden nor Willingden Abbots show up in a map search today, Battle (allowing for the change in spelling) is some 20 miles to the northeast of the Willingden of the Parkers’ mishap. It seems that Tom Parker had apparently gone rather seriously astray in his over-enthusiasm. (And if we are to read “seven miles off on the other side of Battel” to mean a further distance to the east, we have general confusion all around. Apart from the fact, that Austen may have been fictionalizing again.)

 

Jane herself made it clear which popular seashore resorts of the day were not the location for Sanditon. When Charlotte’s father objects to the development of Sanditon as a resort on the grounds that such places are, “Bad things for a Country – sure to raise the price of Provisions…”

Tom Parker replies: eagerly. “Quite the contrary, I assure you. A common idea, but a mistaken one. It may apply to your large, overgrown Places, like Brighton, or Worthing, or East Bourne – but not to a small Village like Sanditon.”

 

Parker locates Sanditon as being “found along the coast of Sussex;” and “The most desirable distance from London! One complete, measured mile nearer than East Bourne.”

Another thing Austen is very specific about is that her fictional resort is located on the Downs. Trafalgar House is located “on the most elevated spot on the Down,”

Lady Denham is entirely confident of Miss Lambe’s comfort at Sanditon. After all, “There is the Sea and the Downs and my Milch-Asses.”

Austen describes the setting in considerable detail: the “real village of Sanditon, which stood at the foot of the Hill they were afterwards to ascend – a Hill, whose side was covered with the Woods and enclosures of Sanditon House and whose Height ended in an open Down where the new Buildings might soon be looked for. A branch only of the Valley, winding more obliquely towards the Sea, gave a passage to an inconsiderable Stream,…”

Being “one measured mile” nearer to London than Eastbourne and on the Downs, leads to the conclusion that Jane Austen’s imaginary location must have been in the area of the village of Meads slightly over a mile to the west of Eastbourne.

 

Film Locations

All this, however, made little difference to the filmmakers who were looking for a setting to give the right photographic feel to the story. Besides a scenic, sandy beach (much of the Sussex coastline is covered with pebbles), a less built-up area than the popular south coast was preferred.

For seaside resort scenes in the television series of “Sanditon” producers chose the west coast of England. The village of Brean offers a wide, pale sand beach that surely would delight the hearts of Tom Parker and his creator, as well as modern TV viewers.

 

For more information on my own search for the “real” Sanditon, visit my blog series “Jane Austen Seashore Tour.”

 

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.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

Read More: Jane Austen Seashore Tour

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Reader Comments:

Such a fun way to revisit beloved haunts. My father-in-law liked us to take him to Eastbourne every visit.
-SheilaDeeth, May 7, 2022

What a fun memory! I always think of one of my long-time friends in England who lives in Easebourne--who always had to warn people that she didn't mean Eastbourne because they sounded so much alike.
-Donna Fletcher Crow, May 7, 2022

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