This village near Basingstoke is where Jane Austen was born and where she lived until she was 25, writing her first drafts of Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility.
Jane was the seventh of eight children, the second daughter, born to the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra. Before Jane’s birth, the family lived in the parsonage at nearby Deane, as the villages formed a joint parish.
St Nicholas Church, Steventon, which Jane attended regularly with the rest of the family to listen to her father preach, is actually outside the village centre. It is a small, simple building, dating from the 12th century and retaining some fragments of medieval wall painting. A spire has been added since Austen’s lifetime, bearing a wind vane in the shape of a pen in her honour .
Services are currently held fortnightly, though the church is open daily to visitors. There are three bells, restored by the Jane Austen Society of North America. Outside is a yew tree, thought to be more than 900 years old, and measuring more
than 20 feet round, which would have been impressive enough in Jane Austen’s time.
Inside the church are many interesting objects associated with the Austen family. In an alcove near the pulpit are relics found on the site of the rectory where Jane Austen lived. A brass plaque to Jane was put up in 1936 by her great-grand-niece Emma Austen-Leigh and on the same wall is a card displaying a prayer written by Jane Austen.
There are monuments in the chancel to James, Jane’s eldest brother, who succeeded his father as rector at Steventon, and to his two wives, Anne who died in 1795 and Mary who survived him and is buried with him in the churchyard. Further memorials remember various Knight family members who were related to the Austens.
The Steventon rectory no longer stands (it was demolished by Jane’s brother Edward who built a new house for his son, William Knight, who later took over the parish). The site of the old rectory can be seen on the corner of the lane leading from the church where it meets the road going to the village. On foot, it is possible to see some fencing around an old pump which would have been in the rectory backyard. The house had fields at the back where the Austens farmed and grew potatoes - still a novelty at that time. There were also formal gardens and there was a barn.
It was in the rectory that Jane Austen wrote the first drafts of her novels which were to become Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey.
When the Rev Austen decided to retire, he chose to move to Bath, taking his wife and two daughters. All the family’s furniture and effects - even the cows and Jane’s piano - were auctioned off on the premises in May, 1801. Jane’s eldest brother James moved into the rectory with his family, taking over the parish, so Jane was still able to visit Steventon and keep up old friendships.
After James’ death, brother Henry was briefly rector of Steventon, succeeded by his nephew William.
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Inside St Nicholas Church, Steventon
DIRECTIONS: Turn off the B3400, between Basingstoke and Overton, at the Deane Gate Inn to Steventon. Turn left by the green, signposted to the church and North Waltham. Take the lane on the right to the church.
Jane Austen at Steventon map
JANE Austen lived for most of her life in Hampshire, apart from an eight-year period in Bath. She was born into a large family in 1775 and died in the cathedral city Winchester 41 years later.