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June 2015 reviewed

The story of a weekend

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Booklet

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The story of
 “Jane Austen - The Kintbury Connection”
The link between Jane Austen and Kintbury goes back to the mid 1700s when her father, George Austen, and the son of Kintbury vicar, Thomas Fowle, became friends while studying at Oxford.
  
George went on to become vicar of Steventon in Hampshire, where he opened his home as a school for young men preparing for university. By now, Thomas Fowle was the vicar of Kintbury and had four sons, whom he sent to study at the Vicarage in Steventon. Here the boys got to know George’s family, including Jane and her sister Cassandra. It was to be a lifelong friendship for Jane and her family, who would have visited Kintbury on numerous occasions.

What we did to celebrate the connection
.
A group of parishioners in Kintbury have had an absolutely amazing six months planning and producing a celebration to mark our connection with one of the most popular writers in English literature.

What we found was an intriguing, human story waiting to be told; as gradually the material we found grew into the real story behind Jane and her connection with Kintbury.  “Folklore” memories provided the starting points for our investigations, with a long lasting theory emerging that Jane would have stayed with a granddaughter of Thomas Fowle in Kintbury.

Whilst we were unable to verify this for certain, we searched numerous sources, including church and county archives and Jane’s own letters to her sister Cassandra, exploring this Kintbury connection. We learnt that the Austen family’s friendship with the Fowle family of Kintbury was closer than we had generally realised. Having studied at the Austen family home in Steventon, Fulwar, Tom, Charles and William Fowle remained close friends with the Austen children, with Cassandra Austen becoming engaged to Tom, though sadly his early death prevented their betrothal. The two families stayed in close contact however, with various members mentioned in Jane’s letters as having visited the Fowles, and Jane also keen for news of her Kintbury friends, such as when Fulwar and his wife Eliza were expecting their daughter Elizabeth Caroline in 1798.

It started with a booklet
The investigations led to a booklet being written for publication; going through many updates as fresh information came along.

We negotiated a copyright licence with the National Portrait gallery an etching of Jane (based on the only known picture of Jane, drawn by her sister Cassandra) to be included on the front cover.

Meanwhile, and at the same time there was a weekend of celebrations to organise and deliver!

We had lots of good “ideas” meetings where ingenious plans were made which, as time went on, the group worked on to deliver over the weekend of celebrations. 

We arranged for three eminent Austen expert authors to give talks on various aspects of Jane’s life and times. There was to be a regency-style church service; talks and dramatic readings, a guided walk to explore the places potentially known by Jane and her family; and the church was to be decked in beautiful flower arrangements.

Sponsorship was arranged to cover the costs of printing and other expenses. We wanted to create a place where the celebration could go on to become the success that it eventually it became. 

We were to have many more people from Kintbury who volunteered to help during the celebration weekend and many of them rose to the occasion in regency-style costumes.

Three regency flavoured meals were planned; two sumptuous teas and a local restaurant was to be the setting for a culinary feast with dramatic readings of Jane’s words throughout.

Merchandise, posters, publicity, printing,a website and a Twitter feed

Local artist, Rosemary Trigwell, produced the beautiful artwork which was used as the basis for posters, publicity material, the website and the Twitter feed (@JanesKintbury), creating a constant theme and style to all media produced.

Members of the committee carefully designed and sourced numerous different items of memorabilia for sale at the event and beyond, including beautiful mugs, bookmarks, cards and bags, to name but a few!

Three paintings of the vicarage
Once research was underway, a fascinating discovery was made, in the form of a long forgotten painting, believed to show the original vicarage inhabited by the Fowle family, and where members of the Austen family would have stayed. The artwork was carefully restored and, together with another contemporary painting of this long lost vicarage, were given pride of place on display during our two day event. A third painting, a 20th century study inspired by the other two paintings, was also generously donated by another  local artist, to be sold in a silent auction, which would take place during the weekend.

The date was set and away we went!
The weekend was planned for the 27th and 28th June 2015.
We were under starters orders. Would we have 6 people and their dog or would we be inundated with jumbo jets full of Jane’s followers from across the world?

What happened?
Everything came off as planned and with great success, with no-one more surprised than our organising committee themselves!

We had a full church for the service and talks; over 70 people went on the walk, the teas and the theatrical meal were sell-outs and the Silent Auction raised 320 for the church funds.

Overall we raised 3100 for church funds and, according to the many comments that we’ve received since, the important thing was how the weekend brought the community together in some totally unforeseen ways!

What now?
Having already begun to uncover so much about the Austen connection, and Kintbury’s regency history in general, we are keen to continue our research, looking in particular further into the lives of Jane’s friend Fulwar Craven Fowle and wife Eliza.


This website is to stay and it is planned to update it with more information as it is found.

Will we produce more booklets or have another celebration?
Watch this space!

“Jane Austen - the Kintbury Connection” 2015 weekend was sponsored by

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