Last Monday, on a warm August morning, I joined friends from our village Book Group for a visit to Jane Austen`s former home in the quiet North Hampshire village of Chawton. We drove up from the New Forest and through the chalk downland to the east of Winchester. Chawton is a small and pretty village, surrounded by farmland and set back from the main road to Alton.
Jane Austen came to Chawton Cottage in 1809, following the death of her father, and she lived there with her mother and her sister, Cassandra, until the end of her life. She died , aged forty one, in Winchester in 1817. During her time at Chawton, Jane wrote some of her finest novels. Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Persuasion were written there, at her small wooden writing desk in a front parlour overlooking the village street.
Chawton Cottage , built in the late 1700s, was part of the nearby Chawton House Estate, which Jane`s brother Edward had inherited from a distant relation. He ensured that his widowed mother and his sisters were provided with a home for their lifetimes. The Austens were a large and close family, so Jane and Cassandra were favourite aunts to their nieces and nephews. They lived a quiet country life but Jane was a keen observer of the social hierarchies of eighteenth century rural England.
Today, Chawton Cottage is a museum , in which the comfortable but homely interior of Jane Austen`s home has been lovingly recreated. The house itself is charming. There is a feeling that Jane and her family are just in the next room. It still has the atmosphere of a much loved home.
Outside, the garden has been restored and planted to reflect the quiet spaces where Jane would have walked, or may have sat in the shade to read or write.
Billowing herbaceous borders with cosmos, phlox and yellow achillea......
The front door of the cottage is at the side. This is where Jane, Cassandra and Mrs Austen would have returned home after visiting their family at Chawton House, or after a walk in the lanes and green countryside around the village.
The wrought iron gate opens out onto the village`s main street....
...and still, there are roses growing around the door.