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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Window shopping

Even before the coronavirus curtailed recreational travel, the Internet-assisted ogling of Jane Austen-adjacent real estate was one of the cheapest and most satisfying pastimes available to Janeites.

How much the more, then, can we now appreciate the listing of two UK properties with strong Austenian links and price tags that place them solidly in the Lottery Fantasy category of homeownership.

* The Berkshire vicarage where Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh spent the last decades of his life – and where he was living when he wrote his 1870 memoir of his famous aunt -- is on the market for £3.5 million (about $4.5 million).

Berkeleys, in the village of Bray in south-central England, is nominally an eighteenth-century building, but it’s been so thoroughly modernized that few traces of the period remain, at least as far as I can tell from the pictures. Instead, the new owners will have to content themselves with the four thousand square feet of floor space, the six bedrooms, the hardwood floors, the marble kitchen countertops, and the Thames River boat mooring, mere steps from the back door.

Austen-Leigh, who was eighteen when his dear Aunt Jane died, moved to Berkeleys many years later, in the mid-nineteenth century. Still, the house, however altered, is a concrete link to someone who knew her well.

* But if compromise – modernized surroundings, two-steps-removed Austenian links -- are not your thing, you may prefer to consider the Ashe Park estate, the centerpiece of the village whose rectory housed Anne Lefroy, Jane Austen’s older friend and mentor, frequently known as “Madam” Lefroy.

Located just a mile from Austen's home village of Steventon in Hampshire, England, Ashe Park is a place she certainly visited: a letter from January 1801 mentions the discomfort of being "shut up in the drawing-room with Mr. Holder [the Ashe Park tenant] alone for ten minutes" (Letter #33 in Deirdre Le Faye's standard edition of Austen's correspondence). Mr. Holder, one surmises, was the handsy type: Austen tells Cassandra that she kept one hand on the door-lock the whole time. (Alas, the more things change. . .)

However uncouth its one-time occupant, the house, parts of which date to the 1600s, is anything but. Years of seesawing fortunes (additions, refurbishments, land sales, land acquisitions, and a nasty fire, not to mention commercial enterprises that included a polo center and a mineral-water business) have delivered it into the Ogleable Real Estate stratosphere.

Now boasting 13,000 square feet of living space located on 232 acres of land, the estate also includes five freestanding cottages and a “party barn” where you can, say, host dinner for 80, prepared in the on-site catering kitchen. Back at the main house, there are seven bedroom suites, palatial reception spaces, and even a temperature-controlled “wine room” with wooden racks fitted on three walls.

The gardens (herb garden, wildflower garden, lime avenue, etc.) are spectacular, and the grounds are extensive enough to provide “great sporting potential for a family shoot,” real estate company Savills assures prospective buyers in the thirty-two-page, full-color booklet advertising the sale.

It will not surprise you to hear that this property is not to be had for a song, or even an entire hymnal. The price is listed as “on application” – in other words, if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it – but a recent piece in Country Life, that bible of the British upper classes, helpfully pegs it at “over £18 million” (about $23.3 million).

Apparently someone with the requisite cash has already stepped forward: the estate is “under offer,” according to the Country Life listing. We can only hope the new owners are appreciative Janeites.


Oct 8 2020 02:55PM by A. Marie

I fear that in the case of Ashe Park vs. the former Ashe Rectory, there seems to be some confusion. The Lefroys lived at the Rectory, now known as Ashe House, and several of them are buried in the adjacent church. Ashe Park was the grander home of the bachelor Mr. Holder (who caused JA the embarrassing encounter she describes in Letter 33). But I've seen the exterior of the former Rectory and explored its gardens and the church during a JASNA tour, and I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at living there either!

Oct 9 2020 05:36PM by Deborah Yaffe

Oh! You're quite right about Rectory vs. Park -- it's my mistake, not the real estate company's, and I will correct that error immediately! Thank you for catching that!

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