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Chawton House and Jane Austen


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Dec 14, 2023
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April Harris in the doorway of Chawton House

Chawton House is a beautiful and imposing Elizabethan Manor House in the picturesque village of Chawton in Hampshire. In addition to a fascinating history, it also has a firm connection with one of the Regency period’s most famous authors. The house once belonged to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, and Jane was a frequent visitor. Jane refers to it in her letters and diaries as “the Great House”.

Disclosure: My tour of Chawton House was gifted without obligation. The opinions in this post are my own.

People often wonder why Jane’s brother did not invite her to live with his family in the Great House. Well, not only were Edward and his family not at Chawton House all the time, Jane was very happy at Chawton Cottage, just a few minutes down the road. The large cottage, now known as Jane Austen’s House, is set in beautiful gardens. It made a very comfortable home for Jane, her mother, her sister Cassandra and their friend, Martha Lloyd and also afforded them more privacy than living at Chawton House could.

Edward Austen Knight​

The Austen family had eight children. In 1783, Jane’s older brother Edward Austen was adopted by distant relatives, Thomas and Catherine Knight, who were unable to have children of their own. They met Edward on their honeymoon five years before and were so fond of him that they took him along for the rest of their journey. Following that, they spent a great deal of time with him and loved him as their own. When Edward turned 16, the Knights asked permission of the Austens to adopt him and he became their heir. On their death, Edward Austen Knight inherited estates at Steventon, Chawton and Godmersham.

A reading nook at Chawton

The reading alcove in the Oak Room, believed to be Jane Austen’s favourite place to read at Chawton House

Chawton House – A Beautiful Historic Home​

Chawton House is well worth a visit. The Knight family history is fascinating in itself, notwithstanding any connection to Jane Austen. There has been a house on this estate since 1224, although the current house was built in the 1580’s. The rooms are mostly wood-panelled, large and imposing, but there is a cosy feel to the house that I found very unexpected.

Chawton House has been sensitively restored. Unlike in many stately homes, much of the furniture was actually owned by the family who lived there. Dr Clio O’Sullivan, who very kindly showed me around, said that people often ask to sit at the chairs in the dining room, knowing that Jane Austen actually dined at the table.

The drawing room at Chawton House, Hampshire

The Drawing Room
The Dining Room at Chawton House

The Dining Room
Part of The Library at Chawton House, Hampshire

The Library

The Library at Chawton House​

Perhaps not surprisingly, my favourite room of all at Chawton House is the library. The library is carefully lit to preserve the treasures within, and the blinds are kept shut to protect them from damaging sunlight. A beautiful tapestry hangs on one wall and a richly coloured rug covers part of the polished wooden floor. There is a large desk in the centre of the room, and display cases and bookshelves on the perimeter.

This fascinating room is home to both the over 400 year old collection of the Knight family’s books as well as parts of a book and manuscript collection containing over 4,500 works of literature written exclusively by women during the period 1660 to 1860. This latter collection, some of which is housed in other rooms of the house, “aims to inspire modern-day women writers by raising awareness of this unsung legacy”.

There were hundreds of female writers during this period, however their legacy was often overlooked or overshadowed by the male writers of the time. The team at Chawton House are endeavouring to restore these talented women to their rightful place in literary history. There are also portraits of many of the women authors whose works form part of the collection throughout the house.

The Chawton House Reading Room, where these works can be borrowed and studied or used for research, is open Wednesday to Friday by prior appointment at time of writing.

The Gardens​

Chawton House has extensive gardens, perfect for a stroll on a sunny afternoon. There is a walled garden with a herb garden, a fernery and a shrubbery, where Regency ladies like Jane Austen would take their daily walks. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain for much of the day I visited, so much so that the gardens were shut to prevent them being damaged by too much footfall. I am looking forward to a return visit so I can explore them.

St Nicholas Church at Chawton

St Nicholas Church

St Nicholas Church​

Located within the grounds of Chawton House, St Nicholas Church is still an active parish church, part of the diocese of Winchester. Jane Austen’s mother and her sister, Cassandra, are buried in the graveyard here. Jane herself is buried at Winchester Cathedral, but there is a pretty statue of her in the grounds, which has her looking back over her shoulder towards her beloved home, Chawton Cottage.

Visiting Chawton House​

Chawton House is located on the outskirts of Chawton, near Alton in Hampshire. There is limited parking at the house. (I parked on the road near Jane Austen’s House and walked to Chawton House.) There are trains from London’s Waterloo station to Alton, and you would need to get a taxi from there.

At the time of writing, the house and gardens are open from 10am to 4pm Wednesday to Sunday. Last admission is at 3.30pm.

Information is correct to the best of my knowledge at the time of writing. Be sure to check with Chawton House and other relevant venues for opening times, their full terms and conditions, and for prices, availability and payment terms. Please also check transportation information before you travel.

The post Chawton House and Jane Austen appeared first on April J Harris.
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