“Chawton may be called the second, as well as the last home of Jane Austen: for during the temporary residences… at Bath and Southampton she was only a sojourner in a strange land; but here she found a real home amongst her own people.” Jane Austen’s nephew
As a homebody myself, I have no doubt Jane loved her home at Chawton. After years of moving from one place to another, Jane, Cassandra, Mrs. Austen and Martha Lloyd pooled their resources together and took Edward Knight up on his offer to live free of rent at Chawton. This decision afforded them more money to spend now, and it’s also believed that here in Chawton, Jane was relieved of most of her housekeeping duties in order to focus more on her writing.
With these thoughts in mind, Dung and I were filled with tremendous anticipation to visit this home that Jane loved so very much. Our day began very early with some filming taking place before we even hopped into the car to journey to Chawton. What a glorious ride it was indeed! We were able to take in such glorious pastoral views, imagining how these scenes may have been viewed by Jane while traveling in a carriage with her family all of those years ago.
My mind was in a bit of a muddle; I was wired for filming and planning to soon meet Joana Starnes for the first time ever. Knowing that we were being filmed, I felt somewhat anxious and a bit thrilled too. What would it really be like to tour the rooms at Chawton with Dung and Joana, while having the whole house to explore for ourselves? Would I say anything I’d later regret on film? I certainly hoped not! Could I avoid crying when I met Joana? I tried! What did Chawton House truly hold in store for us today?
If you live in England and you’re able to watch My Friend Jane on July 17, (I will post information for international viewers when I have it) you’ll be able to see our experiences of visiting Chawton. What can I say that hasn’t been said about visiting Jane’s home? The house is restored in a way that allows visitors to imagine what it may have been like for Jane and the others living at Chawton. The rooms and the gardens reflect the way that she lived. Careful attention has been paid to display the various Austen family heirlooms that now call Chawton their home too.
A similar effort was made by Edward Knight when he organized his laborers to prepare the cottage for his family. Mrs. Austen’s future garden was prepared to her liking, a window was closed to provide the ladies with more privacy and another one was with modern Gothic-style arched trim, which provided a view of the garden. Edward spent a considerable amount of money turning Chawton Cottage into a cozy home. (At Home with Jane Austen, Kim Wilson)
In the room believed to be Jane’s and Cassandra’s bedroom, is a bed that serves as a replica of the bed she slept in within this room. This room, like the rest of the house, has a very bright and airy feeling. I loved exploring the room and looking at all of the items related to Jane, but how can one truly describe what it feels like to actually live and breathe in the very space inhabited by Jane and Cassandra during this fruitful writing period in Jane’s life? One can just imagine the secrets shared, the stories enjoyed, and the trials they endured together throughout the many years they spent at Chawton:
When their niece, Anna sent them an installment of her fledgling novel, Jane responded, “I hope you do not depend on having your book back immediately… for it has not been possible yet to have any public reading. I have read it to your Aunt Cassandra however – in our own room at night, while we undressed- and with a great deal of pleasure. We like the first chapter extremely – with only a little doubt whether Ly (Lady) Helena is not almost too foolish.” A letter from Jane Austen date September 28, 1814 (At Home with Jane Austen, Kim Wilson)
Low and behold, visiting Chawton Cottage was everything we had hoped for and more, since we not only were able to spend the morning with Joana and tour the lovely house at Chawton, we also met Jeremy Knight, Edward Austen Knight’s 3rd great grandson, who grew up at Chawton. Jeremy Knight is one of the tour guides at Chawton, where he greets visitors with a warmth and an exuberance that demonstrates the pride and admiration he feels for his Austen heritage. He was very kind in answering our questions and inquiries, while also taking the time to pose with us for these photos below. We also met Terri Fleming, a really kind lady who is about to release her debut JAFF novel, Perception, a sequel that focuses on the lives of Kitty and Mary Bennet.
What a thrill I had meeting Jeremy Knight, this thoughtful gentleman who clearly has a love for connecting with Janeites and sharing with us the unique perspective he has as an Austen/Knight descendant and as a member of the last extended family of Knights to live at Chawton House, aka, “the Great House.” We also discussed his daughter Caroline Jane’s book, Jane & Me, which was recently released for publication, and how proud he is that his daughter is sharing many of the memories they have that are connected with their Austen heritage. When I asked him what he believed Jane would have thought about all of the attention that she and her work receive today, he said he thought that she would love it.
Seeing Jane’s writing desk, along with the family dinnerware really makes visitors feel like part of Jane is still closely tied to this room. Can’t you just imagine her sitting here, quill in hand, crafting the stories we love so much? Behind us to the left is the tea cabinet, which only Jane had the key for since she was in charge of preparing breakfast each day at Chawton.
It’s also known from their letters that the Austen ladies kept a cook when they lived at Chawton, although this wasn’t the kind of cook that Mrs. Bennet would have kept for her dinner parties. Based on the yearly allowance paid to their cook, it’s believed their cook prepared more basic fare for the ladies and that the women also enjoyed some of their own time spent supervising the work in the kitchen and preparing some of the food themselves. JASNA member, Julienne Gehrer, recently spent some time researching the food from Martha Lloyd’s cookbook along with the Knight Family Cookbook to create a historically accurate book that’s part cookbook, part scrapbook; an intimate look at the foods the Austen and Knight families shared, along with the connections that have been made between these foods, their Austen/Knight family heritage, and the characters and scenes shared in Austen’s books that connect food and literature in such memorable ways.
We were also fortunate to stroll through the breathtaking gardens at Chawton. The grounds are beautifully maintained and it’s easy to imagine Jane spending a lot of time enjoying the gardens at Chawton. We even met Marmalade, the resident cat that roams throughout Chawton!
Being able to explore Chawton with two of my dearest friends as a guest of the BBC was simply an experience I can never replicate. Finally being able to see Joana Starnes with my own eyes and hug her with my own arms was just a dream come true. Meeting Jeremy Knight and Terri Fleming made this day even more unforgettable. Dung and I left Chawton with so many things to discuss and such a feeling of tremendous gratitude for this experience.
Thank you to everyone who made this day happen for us!
It’s Giveaway Time!
Today I am sharing another giveaway of items for my Just Jane 1813 readers. The giveaway for this week for one lucky winner includes various items from Chawton, including these Pride and Prejudice gloves, which I own and love, a replica of the wallpaper here at Chawton, assorted Jane Austen stamps, a bookmark describing the topaz crosses Jane and Cassandra received from their brother and this special Chawton Bicentenary Souvenier Guide.
The winner will receive all of the items pictured below. To enter this giveaway, please leave a comment on this post no later than midnight, ET, on July 20, 2017, and the winner will be announced on this blog on July 21, 2017.