HISTORIANS will be delving deeper into the life of novelist Jane Austin and will look at her stay in Charmouth in the summer of 1803 at a talk in the village.

Austin stayed at the Coach and Horses, now converted into flats, before going on to Lyme Regis in the autumn of that year. She also made another visit there during the subsequent year.

Neil Mattingly has identified a census for the village which coincides with her stay and lists the villagers and their occupations. He has researched a number of records to find out what he could about them and where they lived. With this information, Mr Mattingly has used relevant illustrations and created an imaginary walk Austin could have taken through the village from the Mill to Old Lyme Hill and the beach.

The year she arrived, 1803, was a time of prosperity for the village, for it was at the height of the Napoleonic wars with France, although there had been a temporary peace the year before. Nelson had taken command of HMS Victory and was made commander of the Mediterranean fleet. Victory and the other ships in the British Navy created a huge demand for Sailcloth. As a result, Charmouth with its neighbouring villages surrounding Bridport were to be the main producers of the material.

Austin would have seen many of the fields growing Flax, which was the staple that was used with Hemp. She would have also passed three busy workshops along the Street. There was Burnards, by the Mill, Kitts in the centre and Webber’s at the top of the village.

With its closeness to Lyme Regis it was also able to benefit from the boom in visitors taking the waters for their health and had its own bathing machines, which were very popular as a way of bathing in the sea without being seen.

John Feltham published his first authoritative book on the subject with his ‘Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places’ in 1803. It was produced annually until 1825 and would have been used by Austin and her family before visiting here.

She would have been able to admire some of the villas that were just beginning to be built along The Street which were attracting the higher echelon of society who are described as Gentleman in the Census of that time.

Whereas Lyme had the Assembly Rooms for visitors, Charmouth would have had the ‘Coach and Horses’, which was destroyed in a fire in 1882, then called ‘The Three Crowns’ and later ‘The Mail Coach Inn’. Austin would have no doubt stayed at this popular staging post for those travelling by coach between London and the West Country. The “Great Western Road” linking these two centres passed directly through the village.

Although photography would not have existed in her time, Charmouth is fortunate that a number of early images were taken from 1860 until 1870 which are very detailed and supply a glimpse of how many of the buildings she would have seen would have looked. The majority were then roofed in thatched and it would have resembled nearby Chideock in many ways.

Austin was very descriptive of Charmouth in her book ‘Persuasion’ which she summed up in Chapter 11 as follows: “Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation”.

The talk, ‘Jane Austin in Charmouth’, will be given by Phil Tritton and Neil Mattingly for the Charmouth Local History Society.

It will take place on Friday, May 3 at 7pm in Charmouth Village Hall in Wesley Close.

Entry will be free for members or £3 for non-members, which will include refreshments.