Sunday 14 February 2010

Jane's Kingston upon Thames

The River Thames at Kingston.

The atmosphere and activities in Kingston market Place have not changed much since Janes day.

Kingston market place today.

Jane Austen had a soft spot for Kingston upon Thames, or so it seems. She expressed her liking for the route from Chawton to her brother Henry's homes at Sloane Street and Henrietta Street in London, that took in Kingston and Croydon rather than the Clapham and Battersea route. She thought it was the more pleasant journey.
To get to Kingston she would have travelled over the Hogsback, an eleven mile long Surrey Hill, with an ancient road topping it, that would have provided picturesuqe views for many miles around. She would also have visited the beautiful old towns of Guildford and Esher passing the park lands of grand estates such as Painshill and Claremont Park.

Jane writing to Cassandra from the Bull and George Inn at Dartford, on her way to London from Godmersham, on Wednesday October 4th 1798 expresses her preferences thus;

"Our route tomorrow is not determined. We have non of us much inclination for London, and if Mr Nottley will give us leave, I think we shall go to Staines through Croydon and Kingston, which will be much pleasanter than any other way; but he is decidedly for Clapham and Battersea. God bless you all!"

I wonder if that last statement is a prayer resigning herself to someone elses decision about the route they are to take. It could almost be, " God help us all!!" Perhaps I am being too unkind to poor Mr Nottley.

Kingston appears in a few letters over the years. Jane must have known it well.

She uses Kingston in, Emma. Both Mr Knightley and Mr Martin go there on business. These are two people, in the eyes of Emma, poles apart in social standing. Jane hints very strongly at their similarities by sending them to Kingston. Is Jane really saying that they are closer in character than Emma could ever possibly imagine or countenance? Both are decent down to earth men. Both are landowners and farmers.

Going to Kingston could only mean one thing for Mr Knightley and Mr Martin, the farmers market. Kingston had an apple market, a cattle market and the main farmers market. The population in Jane's time was small, a few thousand, and there really were only three possible reasons to go there, the markets, the breweries and the coaching inns. Kingston was a main coaching stop on the way to London. Fishing for salmon in the Thames was an occupation too and the transport of goods by river was also work for the people of town.

One of the funniest scenes in Emma has Mr Knightley shouting in the streets of Highbury about his intended visit to Kingston.He is standing in the road outside Miss Bates home and he knows Emma and Miss Smith are inside listening.

He wants to let Emma and Miss Smith, know where he is going, and is emphatic about it.

He shouts to Miss Bates.

"I am going to Kingston. Can I do anything for you?"

"Oh! dear, Kingston-are you- Mrs. Cole was saying the other day she wanted something from Kingston."

"Mrs Cole has servants to send. Can I do anything for you?"

(Mrs Bates nearly persuades him to come in for five minutes before he departs.
When he discovers that Mrs Weston and Mr Frank Churchill are also there listening, Mr Knightley changes his mind.)

..."No not now I thank you. I could not stay two minutes. I must get onto Kingston as fast as I can."

And so Mr Knightley goes to Kingston.

Earlier in the story Mr Martin goes there regularly too.

Harriet and Emma are walking in Highbury when they come across Mr Martin.It is Emma's first meeting with him.

Afterwards Harriet sounds flustered,

"Only think of our happening to meet him! How very odd! It was quite by chance.............He was so busy the last time he was in Kingston....but he goes again tomorrow."

Kingston market place today.

The entrance to the Griffin. This was one of the main coaching inns in Kingston during Jane's time. The coaches travelled through this passage to the stables at the back, by the Thames River.Anybody riding on top of the coach had to duck their heads.

This staircase is now in Borders Book shop in Kingston Market Place. They were the main stairs of The Castle Inn, which was the largest and most famous of Kingston's coaching inns. Perhaps Jane trod their creaky steps.
The date carved on it says 1537.

The sign of The Druids Head, another Kingston coaching inn .

Another view of Kingston Market Place. The old Town Hall has a golden statue of Queen Anne.

This is the Clattern Bridge. The main route to Kingston Market Place and the coaching inns. It was only eight feet wide in Jane's time. It was built in 1293.

The old town hall in Kingston Market Place.

This is the plaque on Cesar Picton's house. It is at the side of the high street just before you get to the Clattern Bridge and the market place. Jane would have passed it many times. Cesar Picton was a slave from Senegal.He was a contemporary of Jane's. He was given his freedom and became an adopted son of a wealthy Kingston merchant family. The family left him great wealth in their wills and he became a successful merchant too. Is it possible Jane saw him on the streets of Kingston? There would have been other slaves or freed slaves around at that time. Jane only mentions slavery once and that is in Mansfield Park. I wonder what she really thought? In her letters she mentions the prostitutes of Covent garden. In Emma there is a gypsy encampment outside Highbury and Hartfield. All manner of social class are recorded in her stories and letters but nothing is mentioned about her views on slaves. She will have seen them, without a doubt.

Cesar Pictons house in Kingston. It backs on to the Thames. His barges transported coal along the river. He was a wealthy man. Another view of busy Kingston Market Place today. The Castle Inn was next to this spot. A probable stopping place for Jane.

Here's a link to an article about Cesar Picton. He was well known in the Kingston of his day,
and his portrait.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again for these terrific photos and accompanying text.