Saturday, 12 June 2021

Wargrave Local History Society

MEMBERS were told about the history of St Peter’s Church in Knowl Hill, and its vicar, at February’s

MEMBERS were told about the history of St Peter’s Church in Knowl Hill, and its vicar, at February’s meeting.

Ann Griffin gave the presentation on the church and Rev James Edward Austen-Leigh.

She became interested in the history of the building after learning it may be the oldest Victorian church in the country.

The church was closely tied to the Austen family. The Rev George Austen, vicar of Steventon in Hampshire, had eight children, including novelist Jane Austen.

Rev Austen’s grandson, James Edward, was born in 1798 and had a close relationship with his aunt, who described him as “large, dark and handsome”.

After Jane’s death in 1817, James Edward attended Exeter College, Oxford. He did not want to follow his father and grandfather into the church and attended many social functions with the gentry.

He met his wife Emma Smith, daughter of Sir Sebastian Smith MP, in Basingstoke and the couple lived at Tring Park, Sir Sebastian’s house, where their first three children were born.

James Edward inherited Scarletts, a home in Kiln Green, near Wargrave, when his great aunt Jane Leigh- Perrot died in 1836. As part of the agreement, he added “Leigh” to his name, becoming James Edward Austen-Leigh.

He later became a reverend, while Emma would give food and medicines to the poor.

The church was built in Knowl Hill and consecrated on August 24, 1841 and James Edward spent much of his own money to have it improved.

Emma’s mother was buried at Knowl Hill and there is a memorial to her created by Queen Victoria’s “favourite” sculptor William Theed. In 1852 James Edward was made the vicar of Bray and rebuilt the church there too.

The family was later forced to move from Scarletts due to the long journey times.

In 1870, James Edward wrote A Memoir of Jane  Austen after publishers sent her books to be pulped due to poor sales.

Mrs Griffin said the book brought Austen’s work to “the nation’s notice”.

The society will next meet on Tuesday, March 8 for its annual meeting, where the programme for the next year will be announced.

Meetings are held in the Old Pavilion at the recreation ground, off Recreation Road, Wargrave, starting at 8pm.

Annual subscriptions cost £9 (£8 for concessions) and £12 for a family. Visitors are welcome at meetings (£3 per time).

For more information, call Peter Delaney on 0118 940 3121 or visit

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