Sunday 24 January 2010

Highbury and Hartfield, perhaps.

Mr Elliot, bachelor to begin with,  lived here, next to the church.
Mr Weston's House, Randalls.

Emma and Mr Woodhouse lived here.

The Martins family lived here.

Mrs Goddard's school

Part of Abbey Mill farm.

The mill.

Highbury church. So who got married here?

Shopping in Highbury.

The new BBC version of EMMA has been uppermost in a lot of Janeites minds just lately.

We all accept that Highbury is a fictitious place although Jane has it anchored geographically amongst some very real places, seven miles from Box Hill, sixteen miles from London, twelve miles from Richmond upon Thames and nine miles from Kingston upon Thames. A place called, Cobham, sends news of scarlet fever prevalent in it's town. Mr Knightley and Mr Martin are dispatched off to Kingston, Mr Churchill resides in far off Richmond while making visits to Highbury and they all go on an outing to Box Hill. By it's closeness to real places and its inhabitants going backwards and forewards between real places and Highbury, it is given a "reallity,"of it's own. It is the quintisential English town of the late 18th century, early 19th century.It has everything of that period, the great house down to the humble farm and cottage,and all the classes and types of people that populated an English town of that time with all their various roles.

Jane Austen used her experiences of  real places to help her create Highbury. Other places that she could draw on were Basingstoke, Alton, a town near Chawton that she knew intimately, Great Bookham, Leatherhead, Winchester, Southampton and Bath too.

If you visit those places today it easy to fall into the trap of picking existing buildings and sites that could have been an influence. As for the characters, human nature doesn't change much and there are always people to be found that can fit the mould.

I like to think that one place Jane knew and visited, often travelling through it and mentioned as an aside in Emma itself, as well as in her letters,could be a fitting model for Highbury .Cobham, is where they had," scarlet fever," so nobody was encouraged to visit.

Here are some pictures of Cobham today.
I haven't got pictures to fit every character's home but just outside of Cobham, tantalisingly about a mile distance froim the centre,  is Painshill Park and house, an 18th century landscaped garden with many, "follies,"in the grounds including a ruined abbey. Could these grounds and this house be Mr Knightly's home? Well, maybe not. After all, this whole message is about me, fantasising.
All the best,

PS Here's a link to Painshill Park. It's worth looking at. An 18th century dream.


  1. I would love to live in a town like Highbury! I enjoyed looking at these photos, thanks for letting me know they were here. My favorite is the shops of Highbury and Randalls (I wouldn't mind calling that home!)

  2. Thanks Meredith.England still has some beautiful villages and countryside, although at times, especially in towns and cities we do feel slightly overcrowded these days. One day you might get your Tudor, timber framed house in leafy Surrey or Hampshire, Jane country.

    All the best,

  3. Highbury" in Emma it was not in fact an imaginary town. The town is described as being 16 miles from London, 9 miles from Richmond, and 7 miles from Box Hill. There is one town which corresponds exactly to this, which is Leatherhead. The confusion has arisen because the distances between the places were measured by the distance by road. At the time the novel was written the present zig zag road up Box Hill did not exist and the only way from Leatherhead to Box Hill was via Headley, a distance of 7 miles. Many places in the novel correspond exactly with places in Leatherhead. For instance, Hartfield is Thorncroft Manor and Donwell Abbey is Mickleham Priory.
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