On Monday we paid a long overdue visit to Jane’s house; Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire. I had always imagined the little cottage under siege by coach loads of tourists, timed tickets and queues. Perhaps a Monday school day, arriving soon after opening time, made it a simple and civilised visit that Jane would appreciate.
We parked in the free car park as instructed on the website; all was quiet, rain threatened, but never happened. The wet winter has left the gentle Hampshire countryside lush and green.
Jane’s friends were cheerful and welcoming, the tulips and primroses in the pretty gardens were at their best. It was a bit early to call on the Misses Austen so we roamed the gardens, looked around the bakehouse, enjoyed a moving picture of family life and admired the beautiful quilt given to Jane for her anniversary last year. Everything was seemly, nothing tawdry presented to visitors.
We felt immediately at home when we stepped inside the red brick cottage. The Austen ladies do not own this house, but I would never let on that I knew this. What does that matter when Jane feels so at home here, at peace to write while Cassandra and their aptly named friend Martha take care of the housekeeping. Left an orphan, with just a little money I gather Martha Lloyd became part of the family long ago, not in a position to be independent or find a husband.
The Drawing Room is newly papered in a pretty yellow pattern, Chawton Vine. It was here we met a relative of Jane’s brother Edward, Jeremy Knight, who invited us up to the Great House, as Jane calls it, for lunch later. Who could have foreseen when the Austens sent their son to be adopted by the Knight family that he would be instrumental in making sure his sister’s novels were published.
Upstairs the floorboards creaked and Jane will not have the creaky door fixed as it is a warning of someone coming so she may hide her writing. Mrs. Austen’s room is the largest and is newly decorated with a pretty ribbon trellis pattern wallpaper. The ladies have stitched a beautiful patchwork coverlet. Every window sill had a pretty cup with a posy of spring flowers, testament to how beautifully the ladies keep the cottage.
We didn’t stay too long, Jane’s health has not been good and like all authors she probably can’t wait for visitors to leave so she can return to her writing.
Back outside the rain still held off and we walked up the road in Jane’s footsteps to Chawton House, the merry sound of the local children at playtime ringing in our ears as we passed their school. With fields all around one can see why Jane and Cassandra enjoy two hour walks every afternoon. Up the long driveway to the house it was very quiet, we rang the doorbell and it was quickly answered; we were welcomed inside and shown into the cosy kitchen. We only had time for a scone and tea, as we had another appointment, but promised to come again when we return to see Jane.