Visiting Jane Austen’s House

If you follow me on social media at all, you may have noticed that I’m a big fan of Jane Austen! Recently, on a short break to Hampshire, I got to tick another Austen experience off my bucket list, and visit the house she lived in in the village of Chawton. The Chawton house was where Austen spent most of the last years of her life, after her father passed away and her brother gave a house in Chawton to her, her sister, mother, and friend.

Chawton is just a gorgeous setting for a day out. The houses are beautiful, and the village features a lot of cottages and colourful gardens. Over the road from Austen’s house is a cafe, named after her sister Cassandra. Cassandra’s Cup is a great stop for any visitors to the Austen house, offering a wide variety of drinks and light meals. I loved the decor in the cafe, but I enjoyed sitting with a drink in the garden area looking over on Austen’s house even more.

The Austen house still has COVID security measures in place, which I was pleased to see. There are signs up to announce how many people can be in each room at a time, and these signs are even Austen-themed! We picked up our tickets in the shop with no fuss, and were directed through to the garden area. In the garden area is also a little outbuilding that would likely have been used for washing clothes back in the time Austen lived there, which was the first display that we saw.

The gardens of the house themselves are stunning and, while they aren’t as they were when the Austen family lived there, the gardeners have recreated the feeling that the garden would have had. Honestly, I could have spent quite a lot of time sat in the garden area, enjoying the plants and the view of the house, but there was lots more to see inside…

Inside, not only have the rooms been furnished inkeeping with the regency style, but they have also gone to extra lengths to ensure it was as the Austens would have had it: fragments of wallpaper were found and recreated, and extracts from Austen’s letters mentioning particular items or foods have been used as inspiration for extra detail. One of the downstairs rooms also boasts Austen’s writing desk, a tiny, 12-sided desk. Austen, apparently, did not like to show off that she wrote, so her desk was unassuming, and she would apparently put away her writing if guests arrived.

Upstairs features the bedrooms, recreated from information found in writings about the house. There are also some small exhibits of jewellry, medals, toys etc that I really enjoyed having the chance to read about. The highlight of these upstairs rooms for me was getting to see the amber crosses that one of Austen’s brothers bought for her and Cassandra. These crosses are thought to be the inspiration behind the cross that Fanny Price receives in Mansfield Park.

One of the last rooms we went into, at the far end of the corridor, featured a lot of information on Austen’s passing. The true cause of her death is somewhat of a mystery because, at the time, whatever illness she was suffering from was undiagnosed. Towards the end of her life, she ceased writing (the novel she was working on at the time, Sanditon, was published unfinished), and left Chawton to seek medical assistance. This was the last time she left the house, but the other women in the family remained. In 1845, after Cassandra’s death, the house was returned to the Chawton Estate, and divided into multiple dwellings.

Today, we have thanks to give to Dorothy Darnell, who founded the Jane Austen Society, and Mr. T. E. Carpenter, who purchased the house in order to memorialise his son, and set up the Jane Austen Memorial Trust to restore and run the house as a museum. The first museum guests visited in 1949, and over the last 70 years, the generosity of visitors and donors has allowed the house to be restored to as it was in Jane Austen’s lifetime, and assists in its continued preservation.

The visitor experience at the house is amazing, and visiting also helps to contribute to the house’s continued restoration. If you’re going to be in the local area, I would highly recommend that you visit, as it is known as one of the most important literary sites in the world, and I think people with even a passing interest in Austen herself would enjoy the visit. Even if your interest lies mostly in the historical period in which the Austens lived there rather than the family themselves, it is still a great visit. The staff were all welcoming, friendly, and knowledgable, and the shop was well-stocked with a range of items from local creators as well as Jane Austen memorabilia.

Have you ever visited a literary site like this? Are there any on your bucketlist? Let me know!

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