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Jane Austen’s House at Chawton

Today I paid another visit to Jane Austen’s home in Chawton. The village is situated well away from the main road and still has a peaceful old world atmosphere. The road leading to Jane’s cottage has not changed much since her time. This row of thatched cottages defines the length and curve of the road.

It was sunny and in all the gardens plants are stretching out green shoots at a miraculous rate. In Jane’s garden daffodils and violets are in flower and there is the promise of a fine display of bluebells in another month. New since my last visit is the flowerbed of dye plants. It has ten sections, so ten different plants from which to make dyes for brightening up clothes and ribbons.

Close to the outbuildings at the back of the house, is a bed of medicinal plants, including marigolds, comfrey, yarrow among others, such as dandelions. Looking at these, I respect their virtues but feel a slight shiver at a world without modern medicine. There are also herbs such as rosemary and lavender with their many uses, and a very old fig tree.

The various outbuildings served in essential jobs and for storage. The open door leads to the Bakehouse, with its wide chimney and brick oven. It also contains a large copper where clothes and household linen could be washed. The well is right by the door. There is an underground storage room, which would be cool and so provisions like salted pork could be kept there through the winter. [Pork was only eaten when there was an ‘r’ in the month.]

Inside the main kitchen

Coming round the side of the house, here is the entrance to the kitchen, a large and airy room, although perhaps when meat was roasting on a turning spit over the open fire the air in there was smoky and little sputters of hot fat made working difficult.

Kitchen door and [white] door into main house

Inside the main house the rooms are large and the furniture is elegant, although there is only one padded seat – the sofa. The well polished wooden floors are completely bare of carpet, but perhaps there were rugs in use when Jane lived there. The pianoforte is smaller than a modern piano but how essential it was for entertainment. It is easy to imagine the daily life of the family with its household duties. During the evenings as they sat in the drawing room, one of them would read- or play – and the others would sew.

The little table on which Jane is supposed to have written her novels, stands by the window in the dining room. It is battered and shabby, yet it is the most respected item in the house, everyone marvelling at it and then at Jane herself, whose existence was constantly bound up in her large family and the daily duties of domestic life, yet her perception of human nature is so profound that the stories she created are still loved and admired across the world. That is evident from a glance through the Visitors’ Book at Chawton Cottage.

And now, to round off my day, I shall select one of her novels to reread…. which one would you choose?

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