After writing about the Austen Family’s Bread Pudding Recipe not so long ago, I thought it would be fun to continue the adventure by visiting the museum that provided said recipe. And which museum would that be? That would be one of the many Jane Austen museum’s out there. Luckily, it was the one closest to me – Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire.
It’s a good year to visit the Chawton house, because 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice and what better way to mark the occasion than by visiting the place where it was completed? Actually, the last few years have been Big Ones for Chawton, recently they have celebrated:
- 200 years since Jane Austen and family came to live in the house in 2009
- 200 years since the publication of Sense and Sensibility in 2011
And coming up…
- 200 years since the publication of Mansfield Park in 2014
- 200 years since the publication of Emma in 2016
- 200 years since Jane Austen died in 2017
- 200 years since the publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in 2018
How comes so many anniversaries in such a short space of time? Jane Austen’s career as a published writer only happened after her move to Chawton, which unfortunately, was near the end of her life.
Enough with the scene setting, on with the adventure!
This large cottage could come straight from the pages of one of Jane’s novels -you could almost imagine the Bennets rushing around the place- but in its pre-Austen life it had many roles such as farm house, an Ale House called the New Inn and finally in 1949, the house opened as a museum.
The museum offers some really interesting insights into the daily life of the Austen family (did you know that Jane held the key to the tea cabinet?) Poignantly, you can see Jane’s writing desk by the window. The quill sits unused in its inkwell, you can almost feel it longing to be used once again to write charmingly satirical stories perfectly suited to costume drama adaptation.
In the house’s former kitchen, there’s a chance to unleash your inner writer…
Writing with a quill pen? It’s harder than it seems.
Along with everyday objects you would expect to find; family portraits, desks, daily ephemera and the like, there are quite a few that struck me as a bit different. In one case there’s a collection of “Things found under the floor boards” but slightly odder is yet to come.
Squirreled away in a draw which warns you to ‘Open carefully’ there is this:
Yes, you read that caption correctly. As you explore the house, there seems to be quite a bit of hair on display… Lot’s of unusual artefacts, that’s what I like to see! (I would have liked to have seen some manuscripts, but I suppose you can’t have everything)
On our way out of the museum, we hear a “Oh hello, where about’s did you come from today?” Turning around we find a member of museum staff.
“Brighton,” we reply, continuing the conversation. Yes, we did have a great time today, charming place, yes studied Austen a bit at uni… Well, I did… “I studied Graphic Design” said the Other Half.
“Have you seen the wallpaper?” replied the lady with an enthusiastic gesture to the wall. We look around the room, and then spot what she was gesturing to. In a frame, easy to overlook in it’s shady corner, was a fragment of the original wallpaper.”We found this sample hidden behind the shutters,” the lady explained.
This conversation was great, it was a way to explore Austen through a different lens, and I’m sure the staff enjoyed talking about a different aspect of Jane’s life.
(You might be wondering if I found the recipe with the Bread Pudding Recipe in it, but alas, I did not).