I’m a long time fan of Jane Austen so when I had a free day while visiting family in England, I ventured off on a daytrip to visit the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, near Alton, Hampshire, where she spent the last 8 years of her life and where she wrote or revised most of her novels.
When I arrived mid morning the small car park was already full, so I parked in the Greyfriar Pub car park instead and to justify this told myself that I would have lunch at the Pub later. Then it occurred to me that I did actually need to use the toilet, so without thinking about what time it was, I walked through the Beer Garden and straight into the back door of the Pub. The barman was cleaning behind the bar and all the chairs were up on tables and someone was vacuuming, so I suddenly came to the realization that the Pub wasn’t even open yet – duh! Thankfully the barman was easygoing, we laughed it off and he pointed me in the direction of their toilets, on my way out I promised that I would be back for lunch to make up for barging in on them.
I crossed over the road and at the ticket office paid my £8 of enter the house museum. They directed me to the outbuildings behind the house first where part of it is converted to a small theatre, and I watched a nice introductory film on Jane Austen’s life.
I then went over to the house and firstly went into the kitchen which is not connected to the rest of the house via an internal door, so you have to enter/exit through the one external door. This was where Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother helped out with the cooking. As well as period kitchenware on display, there was also a selection of Austen era men’s and women’s hats to try on – and of course I couldn’t resist trying out a bonnet to see how I looked.
Because it was the 200th Anniversary of the year that Jane Austen died, there was a special exhibit at the house called ‘Jane Austen in 41 Objects’. She was 41 when she died, and there were 41 objects throughout the house that each explored a different aspect of Jane’s life and work.
As well as this exhibit there was also some family pieces of furniture and memorabilia in each room most with explanation of what it is. Highlights for me downstairs were a copy of the first Illustrated version of Pride and Prejudice from 1894, and of course the actual tiny desk that Jane would sit at in the mornings to write.
Included in the 41 Objects exhibit were Jane Austen’s gold ring set with Turquoise, and two Topaz crosses that were given to Jane and Cassandra by their brother Charles in 1801.
Upstairs I found it quite poignant to be in the bedroom that Jane and Cassandra shared, which was not terribly large and very simply furnished. The window looked out the back of the house onto the small courtyard and outbuildings.
After enjoying all the rooms, reading lots of the information and taking in some of the lovely artifacts, such as a delicate handkerchief that Jane had carefully hand embroidered for her sister Cassandra, I ventured back out into the garden. I explored here also, and tried to imagine Jane and her sister taking a turn around the garden, arm in arm, over 200 years ago.
Of course I had to finish my visit in the gift shop that had a nice selection of items and I treated myself to a “I love Darcy” canvas bag. The sales lady asked it I would like a limited edition £2 Jane Austen coin as part of my change – they weren’t due to be released until the next week but they had been given some early, so I didn’t hesitate in accepting and then tucked it away safely so that I didn’t accidentally spend it!
I would have liked to have walked along the road to Chawton House, the home that Jane’s brother Edward inherited and which gave him the means to let his female family members live rent free in the cottage in the village of Chawton. But unfortunately I was getting tight on time, so that would have to wait for another day.
Instead I kept my promise to the friendly barman at the Greyfriar Pub across the street and went to get a late lunch. Sure enough he remembered me and I ordered a simple Ham and mustard sandwich (which was indeed simple but very good) and a drink at the bar and went out to sit in the beer garden. While I sat enjoying the sunshine as I ate, I contemplated how times have changed in the 200 years since Jane died and how interesting it is that lady who lived so simply but wrote so well is still being remembered and is still so popular all these years later. After enjoying her stories, it had been a really nice experience to see somewhere that she had actually lived and created her works.
Date of visit; August 2017