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Locked In: Regency Prisons, Gaols and Hulks

Edward & I had a delightful morng for our drive there [Canterbury], I enjoyed it thoroughly, but the Day turned off before we were ready, &  we came home in some rain & the apprehension of a great deal. It has not done us any harm, however.–He went to inspect the Goal, as a visiting Magistrate, & took me with him.–I was gratified–& went through all the feelings which People must go through, I think in visiting such a building. Jane Austen to Cassandra Godmersham Park Wednesday, November 3, 1813 Prison, during the late Georgian and Regency eras was a grim prospect. In an age when it was possible to be imprisoned and even executed for stealing an article worth a shilling, prison was likely to be a very uncomfortable place, indeed. Jane Austen, it seems, was familiar with the prisons of her age, visiting Canterbury Gaol in 1813 with her Magistrate brother. A closer opportunity for incarceration had arisen 1799, when she faced the prospect of keeping her aunt, Jane Leigh-Perrot company while she awaited trial for the theft of some lace. Mrs. Leigh-Perrot claimed innocence of the theft, feeling she was the victim of a blackmail attempt, and remained in custody (in the jailor’s home, however, as a courtesy to her…and her husband’s deep pockets) until her trial where she faced the threat of the gallows or transportation if convicted.  Jane’s services were not required, however, and her aunt was cleared of wrongdoing, but it was a narrow (more…)
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The Life and Crimes of Jane Leigh-Perrot

“Bath is a charming place, sir; there are so many good shops here. We are sadly off in the country. . . . Now, here one can step out of doors, and get a thing in five minutes.” Northanger Abbey Jane Austen’s first entrance into Bath was facilitated by a visit to her Uncle and Aunt, James and Jane Leigh-Perrot. Wealthy and childless, Uncle James was the older brother of Cassandra Leigh Austen, Jane Austen’s mother. In a turn of events, not unlike what would later happen to Austen’s own brother, Uncle James inherited a fortune from another childless relative. Upon inheriting the Northleigh Estate (which was promptly demolished and sold) James added the surname of his late Uncle Perrot to his last name, becoming James Leigh-Perrot. He then went on to build a new home in Berkshire, which he named “Scarlets”. For many years the Leigh-Perrots were quite happy spending their summers at Scarlets and their winters in Bath. From their home at Number One, the Paragon, they were able to enjoy society, take the waters, and offer their nieces from Steventon a chance at seeing something of the world. Surely young Catherine Morland’s visit to Bath in Northanger Abbey is taken from Jane Austen’s own first visit there in 1797. Soon after that visit, an incident took place which would cast a pall over the Leigh-Perrots stay in the City and bring Aunt Jane into the annals of history. In August, 1799, Mrs Leigh-Perrot had stopped in at (more…)