Wednesday, 26 June 2019

JANE AUSTEN PARADE FOR LITERACY 23rd June 2019



Caroline Jane Knight , founder of ,"The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation," and Susannah Harker waiting to lead us off on the walk.

On Sunday 23rd June, at noon, a whole crowd of Regency attired people gathered at Jane Austen’s Cottage in the village of Chawton in Hampshire a few miles north of Winchester. We waited next to the famous signpost that points its ,”fingers,” four ways, to the," CAR PARK," to the ."VILLAGE HALL," to ,"Jane Austen’s House," and finally, to "St Nicholas Church and Chawton House," paired on a single finger. A colourful, flamboyant gathering with the sole purpose, to make money.
 It was a year and a week since a smaller group had gathered in the same spot for the first Jane Austen Parade for Literacy. Then we made money to finance, teacher training, e-readers and an electronic library for Suhum School in Ghana. I remember walking along with Ruth Sorby from WORLDREADER and talking about the Suhum project. That day  was a great success.

 "Mr and Mrs Bingley," await their departure in the garden of Jane's cottage.

I met Ruth Sorby again this year. She is the manager of UK development, generating new donor engagement and fundraising.  This time the Jane Austen Foundation is supporting WORLDREADER, to provide mothers and fathers in the Delhi district  with a phone app that accesses reading materials to support their pre-school children with reading. The project sounds simple enough but reading to children at home  is a lost tradition in India and despite significant literacy level improvements, still many parents can’t read themselves.   A   campaign of advertising, education and promotion has been put in place by WORLDREADER. Much research has shown that if parents read to children at home from an early age, those children perfom better at school and are more engaged with learning earlier than children who are not read to at home. Reading and talking to your child, asking questions and answering their questions, is a vital learning process. It is also a  way that parents can build rich relationships and positive bonds with their children. A  research programme involving qualitative and quantitative research has been carried out by WORLDREADER. The quantitative research relates to the numbers of apps accessed by families and the number of families using them and how often. The qualitative research is of more value in interpreting the benefits of this project. By interviewing mothers, observing families and engaging with focus groups WORLDREADER can assess the actual impact of using the reading apps. In a pilot scheme this research shows the undoubted progress children are making. There are many motivating factors to get this project financed and put into action. The sooner the better.

Pond Cottages.
So, there we all were. Most were dressed like the characters depicted on the front of a tin of Quality Street, prepared to put our best foot forward. The numbers of us gathered this year had undoubtedly increased because of Caroline Jane Knight’s hard work, and creative instincts. Many of us bought a ,”sandwich box,” ticket   from the ,”Jane Austen Regency Week,” office in Alton and were looking forward to eating our Regency repast, designed and sourced by Caroline, on the lawns of Chawton House at the end of todays walk. The picnic was an innovation Caroline introduced this year and  helped increase our numbers and in the process fill our coffers with more needed money. Some had also gained sponsorship to  walk, like last year. In the interim twelve months Caroline has been contacting people of fame and renown. Susannah Harker, Jane Bennet in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice, some think the best adaptation ever made, was invited to become a Jane Austen Foundation Ambassador which she readily accepted. Susannah  graced our walk on Sunday and was introduce  by Caroline before we started off.  Caroline and Susannah lead the way beginning at Jane’s Cottage and walking to the Great House, about a ten minutes walk. It was such a pleasant day, our surroundings were  verdant. Plenty of rain and sunshine over recent weeks had ensured England , in the words of William Blake, were indeed “A green and pleasant land.”The poem this is taken from , an addition Blake made to his poem about Milton, would be an apt anthem reflecting the work of the foundation. Of course, "Jerusalem,” would be a metaphor for a society of literate people.Our surroundings were so pleasant, the sun shone and the company so amiable I think we took our time and extended the experience somewhat.

Three elegant ladies on their way to The Great House.
I was very pleased to meet people I have known for years as a blogger and frequent reader and commentator on Austen blogs and Facebook pages, people I have had lengthy conversations online. Meeting them for the first time in the flesh was quite an experience. You feel you know somebody well but all of a sudden you are meeting them for the first time. This happened to me meeting Rita Watts from Boston. Rita has been very supportive of my blog and what I write about the world of Jane Austen. Then all of a sudden Anna Bhawan introduced herself to me.It feels as though Anna and I have known each other for years but we have never met before.  It was great meeting Jacqui, the manager of the Literacy Mentors, over from Melbourne and also Emile Belinde the editor of ,”Pride and Possibilities ,” who I have messaged back and forth on a number of occasions. Odette Snell and Karin Quint both asked me my surname when they heard me called Tony. I replied, “ I am Tony Grant.” They both lit up. They knew me. Wow! How surprising is that?  Many others who were attending on the day I had met the previous year and it was great to meet everybody again.

Climbing roses in an English Country garden.

Our walk the previous year started  at Janes Cottage and followed the route Jane, her family and Chawton villagers would have taken north west to Alton , about a two mile walk. This time the route was from the cottage again  but passed south east through the village to The Great House which Jane’s brother, Edward Knight, had inherited from his adoptive family the Knights. It is a strange and thrilling experience  following the footsteps of Jane Austen. We walked through the physical space she would have passed through and trod the very ground Jane would have trod. Jane often walked to the great house to sometimes stay overnight and certainly to eat at her brother’s house. We also passed many of the cottages that people Jane knew lived in. Jane’s cottage is at a road junction. In her time one road lead to Winchester and the one passing the driveway to The Great house lead on to Gosport on the coast near Portsmouth. A modern bypass avoids the village nowadays. 

There was a pond, in Jane’s time at this junction near the cottages, beside a house called Chawton Lodge. A family called the Hintons lived here. Jane’s niece Fanny Austen, one of Edward’s daughters, mentions a Miss Hinton calling at The Great House. Just round the corner on The Winchester Road, in a rundown labourers cottage,  poor Miss Benn lived. She was the unwitting  first audience to Pride and Prejudice read to her by Jane and Cassandra. Jane worried about Miss Benn a lot and mentions her in her letters more than any other villager in Chawton.

Jeremy Knight, Caroline's father, escorting two ladies.
We walked on past Pond Cottages, where William Littleworth who was manservant to the Austens lived. We passed Park View Cottages where William Carter and Thomas Appleford, whose wife Mary gave birth to ten children, resided. There was trouble of various sorts with the inhabitatnts of these cottages. The Adams were another family living here.
On October 21st1813, Jane Wrote
““We are all very glad to hear that the Adams are gone…”
I wonder what could have gone amiss?
Orchard Cottages came next in our walk where Abraham Knight and William Carter and their respective families had lived. The next set of cottages, Malthouse Cottages, are  extremely picturesque. In front of each is a quintessential English Country Garden. Climbing roses trail and wind around the doors, and numerous tall spikes of hollyhocks, vibrant with various colours are massed in front of the cottages . 

We turned left into the long elegant driveway leading up to the Great House. I could see a long line of top hatted gentlemen and bonneted ladies stretching down the gravel drive in front of me. We arrived in the churchyard of St Nicholas Church,  and gathered round the statue of Jane positioned in front of the church door. We had plenty of time for a photoshoot. There were  quite a few visitors standing and looking at us. I asked a bearded  gentleman in a pink shirt to take some pictures with my camera, which he duly did.

Gathered beside Jane's statue outside St Nicholas Church.

From the churchyard we walked up to the lawn next to The Great House. I talked to Odette Snel and Karin Quint , both from  the Netherlands. Karen has just published a book entitled “ Jane Austen’s England, A Travel Guide.” I wondered at the amount of research Karen must have done. Jane had many aunts and uncles and cousins  and she, her sister and mother seemed forever travelling around the country visiting them all. Karen knows the family tree and locations of every Austen family member and relation. Quite some feat. I noticed Karen had her right arm in a wrist brace. She told me that she had inflamed tendons from handwriting. Astounding!

A picnic on the lawn.
When we all arrived on the lawn at the side of the Great House a queue had begun to form stretching behind the house to the kitchen area  where  the sandwich boxes were handed out. I was given a pink sticker to show I had exchanged my voucher for a sandwich box.  Anna Bhawan and I had walked along together talking and setting the world to rights. We have been commenting on each others blogs for  nine years.I  remember Anna telling me about the births of her two children.They are both at school now.The eldest is seven years old. Anna's blog is called, "Austenised." She writes excellent articles, with photographs, about her adventures visiting places that were part of Jane Austen's life.   We sat with Mira Magdo on her ample sized rug and ate our sandwiches. Caroline Jane Knight  sourced the food to represent what might have been eaten in the 18th century, perhaps at the infamous Box Hill picnic  in Jane Austen’s Emma. There was a pork and quail egg pie, a wholemeal roll with cheese and ham and a sweet custard tart on a pastry base decorated with strawberries. To help it all go down a cup of home made lemonade was provided.

While we sat and ate this repast we were entertained by ,”The Pineapple Appreciation Society.” 

Playing, "The Graces," with a form of badminton and skittles going on in the background.
Sophie Andrews introduced us to a series of 18th century sports, young ladies would have participated in such as skittles, a form of badminton and a skillful game, designed to improve a young ladies balance and grace of  movement called, “The Graces.” Afterwards another member of the society sang beautifully a few songs that had featured in various Jane Austen film adaptations. This was followed by Alison Larkin reading the opening chapter of Caroline’s Knights autobiography, “Jane Austen and Me My Austen Heritage.”

Alison Larkin reading from ,"Jane and Me."
She began, “ Christmas Eve was my favourite night of the year at Chawton House and Christmas 1986 was no exception.” Alison is a very good actress and she imbued the words with an inner sense and meaning through her expression and tone. The feelings Caroline must have experienced herself. Two very good readers each read extracts from Sophie Andrews new book, “Be More Jane. Bring out your inner Austen to meet life’s challenges.” Good advice gleaned from the characters in Jane’s novels. The illustrations, by Jane Odiwe in Sophie’s book are excellent. Susannah Harker and her sister Nelly read some of their new two person play “The Austen Sisters,” featuring Jane and Cassandra,to the great delight of the picnickers gathered.

Anna Bhawan and myself with Susannah  Harker.
The afternoon was coming to an end and it was time to say my goodbyes before returning to South London. I had had a most enjoyable day and much money had been collected to help support the five public day care centers in Delhi called Anganwadi, that encourage, teach and support parents to interact with their children. I had a final chat with Amanda Mortensen, Caroline’s friend and co-founder of the foundation. We briefly talked about how well the day had gone and I assured Amanda that I would be back next year. Personally I am looking forward to reading more children’s writing and giving them positive feedback. Having been a teacher for forty years, being a Literacy Mentor for the foundation is something I know how to do and I hope, in this way, I can make a useful contribution to the great work Caroline has begun.

Appendix:
“Jane and Me . My Austen Heritage,” by Caroline Jane Knight ( Jane Austen’s fifth great niece.)
“Be More Jane. Bring out your inner Austen to meet life’s challenges.” By Sophie Andrews
“Jane Austen’s England, A travel Guide.” By Karen Quint
Milton ( And did those feet in Ancient Time) by William Blake
“Jane Austen’s Letters,” Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye
"Jane Austen and Chawton," by Jane Hurst ( A walk around Jane Austen’s Chawton.)
"AUSTENISED" a blog written by Anna Bhawan  https://austenised.blogspot.com


6 comments:

  1. Thank you for allowing me to relive that lovely day! It was great to meet you again and thank you for portraying me and Keith as the Bingleys in their dotage! See you next year!?

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    1. It was great to meet the two of you also. I’ll be back next year Hazel.

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  2. Trying to comment again! Was lovely meeting you and I enjoyed your detailed post and great pictures, too.

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    1. Thanks Anna. It was great meeting you too.

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  3. Tony, thank you for the day out--I feel as if I had been there! Your writing always draws people right into the scene. Susannah's production was indeed my own favorite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

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    1. Thank you Jean. The weather was great too. We have been having a warm, blue skied summer so far. I was thinking about you when we were eating our picnic. I wonder if you would like to explore 18th century food? Pork and quails egg pie is delicious by the way. All the best, Tony

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