Astoft

 

Steventon,  Hampshire  -  St Nicholas Church
Jane Austen's Church
82 Pictures

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The Parish Church of Steventon lies in isolation from the village, to the south-east. Jane Austen spent the first 25 years of her life in Steventon, where her father was rector. The rectory is now demolished (site). Members of the Austen family were rectors of Steventon from 1759 to 1873.
With nave and chancel and bell-turret, the church is essentially of the early 13th century, i.e. Early English.


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As Pevsner says "... but with a puzzling arrangement at the W end, where the W tower with a W lancet and an early C13 doorway ... is embraced by bays which are not W bays of aisles, because there are no aisles."  The pointed arches of the doorway and of the interior (see below) all have single chamfers.
The doorway was moved at an early stage from the south wall of the nave to the west wall. It was cut into the sill of a splayed lancet (last picture), now blocked and not visible on the outside. The entrance porch is also the ringing chamber for the three bells in the tower above.
The spire was added about in the middle of the 19th century. Thus for Jane Austen's view of the church, mentally remove the spire.


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There is a scratch dial or Mass Clock near the south jamb of the west doorway which would only have been of use when the doorway was on the south side of the church. There are still three scratch dials on the south side, one fairly large and two very minute.
The yew tree is estimated to be over 900 years old.
 


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East end of the 13th century Early English chancel with its 15th century Perpendicular window (stonework largely replaced). North side of chancel and nave with the narrow early 13th century lancets and later two-light Perpendicular windows.


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According to Henshaw (see references below) "the eastern pair (left in the picture) are of 16th Century work whilst those of the west are obvious copies of the former. It is well worth seeing them from the Church Yard and noting the feeble imitation of the former craftsman's art."
The stone used in the doorway, windows and quoins is from Binstead on the Isle of Wight. The exception is the East window where the badly corroded stonework was almost completely replaced in 1975 (with the help of the Jane Austen Society  to mark the bicentenary of her birth).
The rendering of the walls covers rough flintwork set in soft lime mortar. That of the north and south walls of the nave and chancel was renewed in 1977.


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In the nave there is an arcade at either end of three pointed arches with single chamfers, no doubt early 13th century. The arches on either side of the chancel arch are flat reredos niches for lay altars.
The church was largely refurbished in late Victorian times, e.g. font, pews, pulpit, choir stalls, altar, most of the wall painting on the chancel arcade.


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The interior in detail from the west end

In the south-west corner of the nave the "Digweeds' Pew", now used as a vestry. It used to stand to the right of the chancel arch, opposite the pulpit. Dating from the 17th century the box pew has geometrical tracery cut into oak boards. The Digweeds were occupiers of the nearby manor house, and there are many memorials to the family in the church (see below).
Centre picture shows the entrance from the bell tower into the nave.
In the north-west corner of the nave is a Victorian white marble font of 1868. 


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The font has an oak cover which was a Millenium project funded by Wisconsin members of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). It was carved by Jim Smyth, a local Hampshire craftsman.
Also in this corner of the nave: A prayer by Jane Austen, and a Jane Austen family tree (their positions can be seen in the previous row of pictures).


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Roof of the nave

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North and south walls of the nave, from west to east. Between the first two windows on the north wall is the bronze plaque to Jane Austen which can be seen in detail with the other memorials below.
A small piscina can be seen in the nave south wall by the lay altar niche next to the chancel arch (last picture). 


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North-east corner of nave. The Saxon cross-shaft is believed to be late 9th century and to have stood here before the church. Intertwined dragons and other wild interlace. It was discovered built into a wall of the original Tudor manor nearby and donated to the church in 1952.
This shaft inspired the carving on the font cover above.


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The wall decoration on the chancel arch and side arches is believed to be early Victorian.


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A small area of medieval painting may be seen in the right hand niche below the wall light. Some of the painting on the chancel jamb in the left of the picture may also be medieval.


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Victorian painting above the chancel arch

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Memorial to Jane Austen on the north wall of the nave, and Digweed memorials on the north and south walls. Harry Digweed and Jane, his wife, are frequently mentioned in Jane Austen's letters.


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Two Digweed memorial stones in the floor of the nave. The Rev. James Digweed is frequently mentioned in Jane Austen's letters.


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In the north wall of the nave an old fireplace was revealed in 1988. It is now used to display artifacts, such as those shown here, viz. pattens to raise the soles of the shoes in mud, as used by Jane Austen, and a piece of medieval stone carving. The protective firescreen was designed and made by David Hemsley and funded by the Ohio North Coast members of JASNA.


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The Chancel. According to Pevsner "The chancel vault looks early C19. It is of plaster with wooden ribs."  The east window dates from the 15th century but the badly corroded stonework was almost completely replaced in 1975.  The stained glass is from 1883.


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Late 19th century altar

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South, west and east walls of  the chancel.  The small pipe organ is from 1912.  It was overhauled and restored in 1983.


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In the south wall of the chancel a double piscina and niche. Also against the south wall a 19th century choir stall.


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Monuments in the chancel. On the north wall, the Rev. James Austen, eldest brother of Jane Austen. He succeeded his father as rector of Steventon. On the floor near the north wall, the grave of Jane Leigh, Jane Austen's maternal grandmother. She died 7 years before Jane Austen was born.
On the south wall, tablet to Anne Austen, first wife of Rev. James Austen. Also tablets to Rev. William Knight and three of his daughters. He was Jane Austen's nephew, son of her brother Edward Austen Knight.


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Graves of members of the Austen family in the north-east corner of the churchyard. In detail below.


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Top row shows the grave of the Rev. James Austen and his second wife Mary. Second row the grave of the Rev. William Knight. Third row the grave of members of his family.
Jane Austen's grave in Winchester Cathedral 


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The Tudor manor opposite the church was demolished in 1970. The brick mansion built next to it in the late 19th century by Henry Harris has recently been restored.


Short version of Steventon Church on Astoft

Map

Information sources:

Hampshire and the Isle of Wight by Nikolaus Pevsner and David Lloyd (1967) Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

"Historical Notes and Anecdotes" written c.1949 by Henry Henshaw, Agent to Steventon Estate (available in the church).

Church leaflet written by members of the congregation, 2003.

See also Website of the NWSAD History Society 

 
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All photographic images in pages within the domains astoft.co.uk & astoft.com are Copyright the Website owner 2001 or later unless otherwise stated. Email contact above. Full size 3megapixel originals are available for approved purposes.