Sketching Stoneleigh


Stoneleigh Abbey, a historic great house once owned by Jane Austen’s cousins, will be featured in an art contest designed to draw attention to the house.

Founded by Cistercian monks in the 12th century, the abbey was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1536 and bought by the first Lord Leigh, then Lord Mayor of London.

King Charles I stayed at the abbey in 1642 when the gates of Coventry were closed to him and the baroque West Wing was built between 1720 and 1726 by the third Lord Leigh, who commissioned Warwick architect Francis Smith after seeing Italian villas on a grand tour of Europe.

In 1806, the house passed to the Rev Thomas Leigh, a relative of Jane Austen, who is believed to have based descriptions in Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park on the house and its grounds.

Queen Victoria stayed at the house, and the room in which she slept has been restored to its condition at the time she visited.

To which we can only add:

The Tilneys, they, by whom, above all, she desired to be favourably thought of, outstripped even her wishes in the flattering measures by which their intimacy was to be continued. She was to be their chosen visitor, she was to be for weeks under the same roof with the person whose society she mostly prized — and, in addition to all the rest, this roof was to be the roof of an abbey! — Her passion for ancient edifices was next in degree to her passion for Henry Tilney — and castles and abbeys made usually the charm of those reveries which his image did not fill. To see and explore either the ramparts and keep of the one, or the cloisters of the other, had been for many weeks a darling wish, though to be more than the visitor of an hour had seemed too nearly impossible for desire. And yet, this was to happen. With all the chances against her of house, hall, place, park, court, and cottage, Northanger turned up an abbey, and she was to be its inhabitant. Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel, were to be within her daily reach, and she could not entirely subdue the hope of some traditional legends, some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun.

It was wonderful that her friends should seem so little elated by the possession of such a home, that the consciousness of it should be so meekly borne. The power of early habit only could account for it. A distinction to which they had been born gave no pride. Their superiority of abode was no more to them than their superiority of person.

But back to the contest! Entrants will draw or paint either the house’s west wing or the gatehouse. The winning entries will be featured on postcards sold at the house. Entry is free; the contest closes September 29 and winners will be announced on October 10. We do hope that those who enter have enjoyed Tilney on the Picturesque.

They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing — nothing of taste:– and she listened to them with an attention which brought her little profit, for they talked in phrases which conveyed scarcely any idea to her. The little which she could understand, however, appeared to contradict the very few notions she had entertained on the matter before. It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer a proof of a fine day.

Okay, we’re pretty quoted out now. Good luck to any of our Gentle Readers who enter the contest (and do let us know how you get on).

2 thoughts on “Sketching Stoneleigh

  1. LeSpinster

    I still draw houses the way I did in kindergarten — square bottom, triangle top — so I don’t think I’ll be entering the contest. But good luck to all who do!

    Incidentally …

    “With all the chances against her of house, hall, place, park, court, and cottage, Northanger turned up an abbey, and she was to be its inhabitant.”

    … this is my favorite sentence in one of my favorite passages in NA. That Jane Austen could be just so compactly clever.


Comments are closed.