Helen maintains Jane Austen link

Helen Lefroy
Helen Lefroy

Abbotts Barton in Winchester has enabled a 95-year-old resident to keep alive her family’s strong ancestral connections with Jane Austen.

Helen Lefroy is a descendant of Jane’s friend Anne Lefroy, whose nephew Tom was reputedly a romantic suitor of the novelist.

Anne’s son Benjamin also married Jane’s niece Anna and the families remained in close contact when Jane’s brother Edward was bequeathed Chawton House by distant relatives the Knight family.

Helen recalls visiting Chawton House as a girl from her own family home at nearby Farnham in the 1920s and 30s.

With help from the Abbotts Barton team, she has been able to participate in events marking the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death.

Staff at the home involved Helen on minibus strips to the summer Sitting With Jane public art trail featuring 24 ‘book benches’ in and around Basingstoke.

Along with fellow residents, she also visited the Jane Austen exhibition at Winchester library and a special service in memory of the novelist at Winchester Cathedral.

The home’s ‘Austen season’ culminated in a Regency afternoon with staff and residents, including Helen, all dressing up in period costumes.

Helen Lefroy, left, at Abbotts Barton's Regency afternoon in honour of the Jane Austen anniversary. Peter Russell, volunteer team member, is dressed as the famous Austen character Mr Darcy.

Helen Lefroy, left, at Abbotts Barton’s Regency afternoon in honour of the Jane Austen anniversary. Peter Russell, volunteer team member, is dressed as the famous Austen character Mr Darcy.

Reflecting on her ancestry, Helen said: “We know that Anne Lefroy was a very able lady, interesting and confident, and she and Jane had a friendship with long literary discussions, even though there was quite an age gap between them. In my own lifetime, I particularly remember the design of the house at Chawton. Rather than go through a number of rooms to get from one side to the other, there was a corridor that ran right across, which I thought was strange. I also remember playing tennis in the gardens, but they became unkempt and made it difficult to play.”

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