I wanted to start this by referencing Claire Tomalin's wonderful biography of Jane ('Jane Austen: A Life') which I truly adore. Any of you that have not read it should definitely put it on your christmas list!
All of the photos in this post were taken by me on my trip to Hampshire.
The 16th of December was the day of Jane Austen's birth. The month's delay in her arrival inspired her father to a small joke about how he and his wife had "in old age grown such bad reckoners"; he was forty-four. The child came in the evening, he said, without much warning. There was no need for a doctor; it was rare to call one for something as routine as childbirth, and the nearest, in Basingstoke, was seven miles away over bad roads. In any case, "everything was soon happily over." They were pleased to have a second daughter, "a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion. She is to be Jenny." George Austen's letter went on to talk of the prospects of a ploughing match in which he was interested, Kent against Hants for a rump of beef, weather permitting. A village rector in a remote country parish was as much a real farmer as a shepherd of souls.
Inside the parsonage, Mrs. Austen lay upstairs in the four-poster, warmly bundled under her feather-beds, the baby in her cradle beside her, while someone else-very likely her sister-in-law Philadelphia Hancock-supervised the household, all the cleaning and cooking necessary where there were many small children, together with the extra washing for the newly delivered mother. The maids stoked the fires and boiled coppers, and when she could the washerwoman made her way from the village and toiled for a day, although laundry froze before it dried and the house was full of airing sheets and baby things. Mr. Austen might read to the children after their three o'clock dinner, but boys like to run and slide up and down stairs, and there were no carpets to dull the noise. Mrs. Austen would not be expected to set foot on the floor for two weeks at least.
Pic 1: Steventon Rectory. Taken by myself, Rachel Kingston