Thursday, 12 July 2007

Confirmed! Jane’s and Catherine’s houses are the same!

Well… in the movie, I mean. Last night I stumbled across the awaited info (for BJ and NA lovers) that the ‘Steventon Rectory’ in Becoming Jane was also the house of the Morlands in ITV Northanger Abbey. I’ve talked about the possibility in the earlier post of Steventon Rectory, prompted by Foxygrissy in IMDB message board.

According to the Irish Times, the house was called Higginsbrook, a few miles off Trim, in County Meath, Ireland. Higginsbrook belongs to the Grays who inherited it from Christopher Gray’s great aunt since 1970. The house itself was built circa 1747, thus older than Jane Austen herself. Julian Jarrold &c was interested in the house because of its ‘diminutive grandeur’, for we know that Revd. Austen was not a man of wealth.

From the exterior, Higginsbrook was a five-bay house that seemed to fit Anna Austen Lefroy’s sketch of Steventon Rectory. In fact, Higginsbrook was a house of only one room. Thus, a couple of rooms have to be created, including Mr. Austen’s library (which contained leather-bound books, all in Swedish!). Grime veneers and paints were applied here and there, several ragged furniture were installed, thus the entire house looked shabbier and more appropriate for the Austens. A vegetable garden was created to add to the untouched flowerbeds of the original garden. I’m not sure about Jane’s swing, but I think it is also an addition from the filmmakers. A conservatory was built in place of an old greenhouse, and it stays there now as a legacy of Becoming Jane for the Grays.

The house apparently played its role well, for the ITV producers of Northanger Abbey (2007) rented Higginsbrook after it was used by Becoming Jane in spring 2006. Northanger Abbey ITV was filmed in autumn 2006; Higginsbrook was now the 'distressed rectory' of the Morlands’s (complete with the swing!).

Like Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway), Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) loved swinging, reading Gothic novels, and played cricket and baseball. And it is interesting to return to Radovici’s notion on NA, that NA was actually a hidden semi-autobiography of the early life of Jane Austen, due to similarities between Jane Austen/Catherine Morland and Tom Lefroy/Henry Tilney (Henry was also a clergyman who knew a lot of fashion and novels). And allow me to quote what James Edward Austen-Leigh said about the green terrace at the back of the original Steventon Rectory (Austen-Leigh 1871, p. 23):

‘Along the upper or southern side of this garden, ran a terrace of the finest turf, which must have been in the writer’s [JA] thoughts when she described Catherine Morland’s childish delight in ‘rolling down the green slope at the back of the house.’’

Or perhaps, Jane also rolled down the green slope during her childhood and teenage years! Unfortunately, I can’t find any info whether there is a green slope behind the Higginsbrook. Yet, JEAL also mentioned Jane’s other habit, i.e. wood strolling, or Wood Walk;

‘One, a continuation of the turf terrace, proceeded westward, forming the southern boundary of the home meadows; and was formed into a rustic shrubbery, with occasional seats, entitled ‘The Wood Walk’/…/In strolls along those wood-walks, thick-coming fancies rose in her mind, and gradually assumed the forms in which they came forth to the world.’

Hah. So the young Jane loved walking. Hence, her meeting with Tom Lefroy in Becoming Jane was not too far-fetched, though perhaps it’s a bit too far for them to stroll to Selbourne Wood, which is 15 miles from Steventon!

Check O’Byrne’s article for the complete story; it might be the only article available online talking only about Higginsbrook. The article also mentioned that Jeffrey Lefroy, a direct descendant of Tom Lefroy, was one of the extras. It’s gonna be interesting to know what Jeffry thinks of his grand grandfather’s story with Jane Austen. He did not mind, I bet, for he joined the extra anyway!


Austen-Leigh, J. E. 1871, A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections (2002 Oxford edition), Oxford World's Classics, Oxford.

O'Byrne, R., 2007, How Higginsbrook became Jane's House [Online], The Irish Times, Available: [12 July 2007].

Radovici, N. 1995, A Youthful Love: Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy?, Merlin Books Devon.

Pic 1: Jane (Anne Hathaway), Mr. Austen (James Cromwell) and Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters),

Pic 2: Front view of Steventon Rectory from a Memoir of Jane Austen

Pic 3: Jane swinging,

Pic 4: Screen snapshot of Catherine Morland in front of the house in Northanger Abbey 2007

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