Welcome to Stanford Cottage, situated in the heart of Worthing’s conservation area. Saved from demolition by the Worthing Society and now used as a restaurant, the building bears a blue plaque to commemorate Jane Austen’s stay here during the autumn months of 1805. Only recently (1990) were the details of Jane’s stay found recorded in the diary of her 12-year-old niece, Fanny.
A newly developing seaside resort
Jane Austen was 29 when she set off for Worthing with her sister Cassandra and older brother Edward, from his home at Godmersham Park, Kent. Edward’s wife Elizabeth, their daughter Fanny and governess Ann Sharp, made up the rest of the party. Jane’s mother and a family friend, Martha Lloyd, were already settled in the town happily awaiting their arrival. Worthing, a newly fashionable bathing place, had been propelled into the first division of health resorts following the highly successful, six-month visit in 1798 of Princess Amelia, youngest daughter of King George III.
It is important to appreciate the context of the Austen family visit. Earlier that same year, on 21st January, Jane’s beloved father, Rev. George Austen had died unexpectedly. Shortly afterwards, the lease on their property in Bath expired and they left the city to visit friends and family members before taking up residence in Worthing.
Doubtless, Stanford Cottage was carefully chosen both for its ample accommodation on three floors and its unrivalled position close to all the resort’s amenities. Particularly convenient was the ‘twitten’ (an ancient passageway) which still runs along the east side of the house, and which in Jane’s time led through pleasant open land to the smart circulating library on the seafront, a building which also acted as Worthing’s post office. Today, a bus company’s ticket office is all that remains of the original 4-storey Stafford‘s Marine Library. One may easily picture Jane Austen walking eagerly along the short cut towards the seafront to call in at the library, to peruse the books or to post a letter and it was probably here that, as Fanny records, they attended an evening raffle where ‘Aunt Jane won, and it amounted to 17s ‘ (shillings).
On Sundays the Austen ladies, like other residents and visitors, had to make the mile-long journey to Broadwater in order to attend divine worship at St Mary’s, in Jane’s time the parish church of Worthing.
According to the celebrated Austen scholar, Dr Deirdre le Faye, it was probably while in Worthing that Jane Austen made a fair copy of her epistolary novel, ‘Lady Susan’, and added the ‘Conclusion’. Even more importantly, it was Jane Austen’s detailed observation of Worthing in 1805, vibrant with enterprise, industry and optimism, which inspired the novelist’s final, unfinished work, ‘Sanditon’, the story of an up-and-coming seaside resort in Sussex.
Fortunately a number of Worthing’s important buildings that were familiar to Jane Austen have been preserved, making it possible today to walk in her very footsteps and to picture the little Georgian resort she knew so well.
Worthing, now the largest town in West Sussex, is a thriving business centre and seaside resort which continues to develop and flourish into the 21st century. With its magnificent coastline backed by the gentle hills of the South Downs, Worthing is ideally situated between Regency Brighton and the cathedral city of Chichester, yet only 56 miles from London.
So why not pay us a visit, enjoy a ‘delicious dip’ in the sea as Jane and Fanny did, or indulge yourself in a warm bath like Cassandra, but this time at Worthing’s new multi-million pound ‘Splashpoint’ swimming pool and fitness centre on the seafront?
We look forward to seeing you!
– Janet Clarke
This article forms part of Worthing Heritage Trails, Town Trail 1 – The Old Village and Regency Town
For information on visiting Worthing, please visit the VisitWorthing website