William, Mary and Thomas Lobb left their family home in Norfolk and moved to The Vyne in Hampshire when their father inherited the estate from a distant Chute grandmother.
In order to comply with the conditions of the inheritance, the family changed their name from Lobb to Chute.
Set in 1500 acres of gardens and woodland in the parish of Sherborne St John, the Vyne is a beautiful Tudor house. It was built by William Sandys, Knight of the Garter and Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain. It was sold by the Sandy family to Chaloner Chute in 1653, a Parliamentarian and Speaker of the House of Commons.
The Chute children were of similar ages to the Austens, and it was a family that Jane knew well. Although the distance between Jane’s home at Steventon to The Vyne took more than an hour by carriage, they visited often.
Jane’s friendship with the Chute’s was through her eldest brother James. The boys often went hunting with the Chute brothers, and William and James became life long friends. The youngest son Tom was ‘full of wit and fun‘, and you can imagine the children racing around the gardens and charging through the house on their visits.
Dancing at The Vyne
Guests were greeted by a wonderful staircase, and Jane would have climbed these stairs to the dining rooms on the first floor.
Dancing at The Vyne usually followed dinner parties, and the carpet would have been rolled up and the furniture pushed back. In the letters Jane wrote from Steventon, she says that dancing at The Vyne was usually more of an intimate affair,
‘The ball on Thursday was a very small one indeed … There were but seven couples, and only twenty-seven people in the room’.
A few years later, a ball at The Vyne seemed a more lively affair,
‘I danced nine dances out of ten, five with Stephen Terry, T. Chute & James Digweed & four with Catherine. There was commonly a couple of ladies standing up together, but not often any so amiable as ourselves.’
A single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife
As the eldest son, William inherited the estate when his father died. Aged 19, he went to Harrow, then Cambridge and became an MP for Hampshire in Parliament. When his sister Mary married, he effectively lost his housekeeper.
Aged 33 and single, he needed a wife. There was great speculation and gossip amongst the Hampshire ladies as to who he would choose. As Jane was only 14 years old at the time, she was seen as too young.
On a visit to London, William met Elizabeth who was the daughter of the Devizes MP Joshua Smith. Known as Eliza, they married in 1793, and the Austen family were one of the first to meet her at a ball held at the Assembly Rooms in Basingstoke.
Eliza kept diaries and wrote that she was sometimes lonely, as William was usually out hunting or in London. They were childless for ten years before adopting three-year-old Caroline Wiggett in 1803. Her father was a Norfolk clergyman and her mother had died in childbirth. She played in the impressive Gallery on the ground floor which was used as her playroom.
A Wiggett to a Workman
Caroline had always called William and Eliza her Uncle and Aunt Chute. Around ten years later when Jane wrote Mansfield Park, it was said that Caroline was the inspiration for Fanny Price. She later married Dr Thomas Workman.
Friends for Life
When James took his father’s role as the vicar of Deane from 1791-1819, he dined at The Vyne almost every week and often brought his son James Edward with him. They would eat roast beef, plum pudding and gooseberry pies. Edward met the Chute’s niece, Emma Smith during these visits, and they later married in 1828.
Edward was Jane’s favourite nephew, and she writes in one of her letters,
“his Aunts… love him better & better, as they see the sweet temper and warm affections of the Boy confirmed in the young Man.”
Eliza referred to the family as ‘the James Austens‘, and wrote of these visits in her diaries that survive today.
Tom Chute, the youngest brother was a bachelor and never married. He was an avid reader, which may be why there are over 2,500 books in the Library. Some with centuries-old doodles in the margins!
Preserving The Vyne
The Chute family continued to live at The Vyne, and for brief periods part of the house was used for a girls school and occupied by evacuees in the Second World War.
The safe keeping of The Vyne was passed by Charles Chute to the National Trust in 1956.