Taking pride in Austen locations

AUSTEN addicts huddle up: I have a secret to share. Bonnets, breeches and Mr Bingley are far closer than you may think – just around the corner, in fact. For I have it on good authority that Miss Austen had Hertfordshire in mind when she wrote Pride and Prejudice.

Helen Wilkinson, co-founder of Regency getaway company P & P Tours, has been researching all things Bennet for years and is the bee’s knees when it comes to Georgian location, location, location.

When Jane was busy writing Pride and Prejudice in the 1790s, Herts was a hotspot for London gentry and the Bennets themselves lived there. Indeed, Austen placed their home town of Meryton ‘four and twenty miles’ from Gracechurch Street in London – perfect distance for Harpenden. And what’s more, Longbourn (the family home), was two miles away from town, which points straight to Redbourn.

Helen, who also places Mr Wickham’s estate slap bang in the middle of Kimpton, offers exclusive behind-the-scenes tours of all the BBC Pride and Prejudice film locations including Longbourn which (shock horror!) I have never visited. How could I possibly resist?

So dressed head-to-toe in regency costume (my younger, but taller, sister Elise made a fabulous Georgian man and chaperone), our party of three – mum was the chauffeur – drove for two-or-so hours into the hidden depths of Wiltshire, where the beautiful Luckington Court sits amidst 150 acres of rolling countryside.

Not even the abysmal weather (my petticoat was six inches deep in mud, I’m absolutely certain) dampened our spirits.

We met Helen and her business partner/daughter Maddy outside Luckington Court Church, the teeny tiny venue of Lizzy and Mr Darcy’s wedding. Super fan that I am, I felt star-struck as soon as we stepped inside and I loved listening to Maddy’s top P&P facts whilst sitting in the pews. Did you know that each Pride and Prejudice episode cost a whopping �1 million to make? Now not even Downton Abbey can beat that.

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A short stroll around the church – the same route we see the Bennets take on episode one – set us up for a spot of afternoon tea, which we enjoyed in the conservatory. Dainty triangular sandwiches, strawberries and cream, a giant coffee and walnut cake and an even bigger fruit loaf made me thankful for forgiving Georgian waistlines and we were forced to take a turn about the room to settle our stomachs.

A tour of Luckington Court’s interior rounded our trip off and I was very pleased to see that nothing much had changed from the days of filming. I sat in the same chair that Alison Steadman (aka Mrs Bennet) commandeered, gazed out the same cloudy window that Kitty and Lydia did and even stoked the same fire that Mr Bennet stood over. What a treat.

I was loath to leave the beautiful confines of Longbourn, but the world outside Wiltshire beckoned me back to the harsh realities of 21st-Century life. Yes, I’m sure I’d soon grow tired of embroidery and piano practice every night but what I wouldn’t give to live just one day as a real-life Elizabeth Bennet!