It’s Regency Week in Alton and it all started today. A while ago, under Mirinda’s instructions, we bought tickets to a harp concert. The concert was tonight. It was taking place at Jane’s house in Chawton. Obviously we had to go.
It’s not just the Jane thing, Mirinda is also rather keen on the harp. This concert, however, had the best of both worlds. It was to be a harp concert of pieces that Jane either owned or would have heard. Clearly this was a cannot miss concert.
We set off for Chawton a bit early, giving us time to go for a bit of a wander down to Chawton House and back. Mirinda gets to go there once a month for her book group but I’m there only rarely so insisted we go and visit.
It always looks lovely, as does the church in the grounds. St Nicholas, Chawton is not the church that Jane went to although it occupies the same spot. Back in 1871, a disastrous fire decimated Jane’s church, leaving behind a smoking ruin. It was then rebuilt. What we see today is a Victorian version of the church.
Of course, Jane’s sister Cassandra and Mrs Austen are still buried in the small graveyard – we’ve sat on their graves previously – and the church looks suitably old so we can pretend Jane went there. And, of course, it looks exceedingly pretty and sits in the landscape delightfully.
Having admired the very English grounds of Chawton House, we made our way back into the village and popped into the Greyfriars for a swift pint and a half of Seafarer’s ale and Suffolk cider. We also had some roast ox flavoured crisps which were quite exceptional.
But time was marching on so we left via the beer garden and headed across the road to Jane’s house.
The concert wasn’t actually in Jane’s house but in a small annex built out the back which is usually an education facility. Tonight it was decked out in rows of plain wooden chairs, stood facing a Regency dressed Mike Parker and two massive harps.
There was no preamble as Mike sat down and started a-strumming. We were all (there was about 50 of us) entranced by a succession of three pieces. It was like we’d been transported to Regency Chawton…well, if you ignore the modern dress, electricity and very uncomfortable chairs.
To be honest, if the concert had been given in the Regency period, we’d have probably been in a couple of rows forming a semi circle around the harpist. This way we’d have seen the player rather than the heads of the people in front of us.
Having finished his first pieces, Mike then started telling us the story of the harps, the music and how they related to Jane and her contemporaries. He is a great speaker and kept us both informed and amused.
My favourite story was about how it was only bad girls who played the harp. The good girls would sit all prim and proper at the piano while harp-girls would remove their gloves and then lift their petticoats in order to access the pedals, flashing a good deal of ankle. GASP!
Overall, the concert was lovely. The music was beautiful and Mike’s harp playing delighted us all. Afterwards, we went up and had a close look at his instruments. They really are things of beauty.
The concert went from 7-9pm so we stopped in Farnham on the way home and had naughty pizza for a late, very European dinner.