Monday, 15 July 2013

Jane Austen's house at Chawton - 2nd posting - long!

Continuing on from the last posting, here are some more photos of the house at Chawton.

I'd like to quote, where possible, from "My Aunt Jane Austen. A Memoir by Caroline Austen" (daughter of James, Jane's brother, born in 1805)   Quotes have grey background.

In the time of my childhood, it was a cheerful house; my uncles one or another, frequently coming for a few days; and they were all pleasant in their own family. I have thought since, after having seen more of other households, wonderfully, as the family talk had much of spirit and vivacity, and it was never troubled by disagreements as it was not their habit to argue with each other. There always was perfect harmony amongst the brothers and sisters, and over my Grandmother's door might have been inscribed the text, "Behold how good and joyful a thing is is, brethren, to dwell together in unity"

Jane's donkey carriage
The first thing you see on your tour of the house are the outbuildings behind the house.  In one of these is housed the restored donkey cart Jane used for shopping and especiallywhen she became ill towards the end of her life.

I believe Aunt Jane's health began to fail some time before we knew she was really ill - but she bacame avowedly less equal to exercise.  In a letter to me she says:

" I have taken one ride on the donkey and I like it very much, and you must try to get me quiet mild days that I may be able to go out pretty constantly - a great deal of wind does not suit me, as I have still a tendency to rheumatism.  In short, I am but a poor Honey at present - I will be better when you can come and see us"

A donkey carriage had been set up for my Grandmother's accommodation (Jane's mother) - but I think she seldom used it, and Aunt Jane found it a help to herself in getting to Alton - where, for a time, Capt. Austen had a house.

Jane was a desperate walker but her mother's Donkey Carriage would have been used for shopping trips and other slightly longer journeys.  Unlike a coach the carriage offered no protection again bad weather.

"Mary Jane and I have been wet through once already today, we set off in the Dokey Carriage for Farringdon...but were obliged to turn back before we got there, but not soon enough to avoid a pelter all the way home" Letter to James Edward 9th July 1816

At the end of her life Jane made more frequent use of the Donkey Carriage, though in order to be more independent and less "troublesome" by not always using the carriage, Jane took to riding one of their donkeys.

I have a scheme however for accomplishing more, as the weather grows more springlike. I mean to take up riding the donkey...I shall be able to go about wiht Cassandra in her walks to Alton and Wyards Letter to Fanny Knight 13th March 1817

The Sofa

In my later visits to Chawton Cottage, I remember Aunt Jane used often to lie down after dinner - My Grandmother herself was frequently on the sofa, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes in the evening, at no fixed period of the day. She had not bad health for her age and she worked often for hours in the garden, and naturally wanted rest afterwards. There was only one sofa in the room - and Aunt Jane laid upon 3 chairs which she arranged for herself - I think she had a pillow, but it never looked comfortable. She called it her sofa, and even when the other was unoccupied, she never took it. It seemed understood that she preferred the chairs.     I wondered and wondered - for the real sofa was frequently vacant, and still she laid in this comfortless manner. I often asked her how she could like the chairs best - and I suppose I worried her into telling me the reason of her choice - which was, that if she ever used the sofa, Grandmama would be leaving it for her, and would not lie down, as she did now, whenever she felt inclined.

Left is the kitchen area. The families meals would have been prepared here, but not breakfast! (See dining parlour, below)

At 9 oclock she made breakfast - that was her part of the household work. The tea and sugar stores were under her charge and the wine. Aunt Cassandra did all the rest - for my Grandmother had suffered herself to be superseded by her daughters before I can remember.

The Drawing Room

You walk into this room from a very small hallway at the side of the house. It's the largest room, and is where the 3 ladies would have sat and entertained, sewed, painted, etc.

I don't believe Aunt Jane observed any particular method in parcelling out er day but I think she generally sat in the drawing room till luncheon: when visitors were there, chiefly at work. She was fond of work and she was a great adept at overcast and satin stitch - the peculiar delight of that day. General handiness and neatness were amongst her characteristics.

There is a piano in the corner of this room - an 1810 Clementi square piano - not the actual one Jane practised on, but a similar one of the period. You can play the piano if you wish, and I was lucky enough to hear it - it sounds rather lovely tinkling away as you walk around the room.

Aunt Jane began her day with music, for which I conclude she had a natural taste; as she thus kept it up-though she had no one to teach; was never induced (as I have heard) to play in company: and none of her family cared much for it.  I suppose, that she might not trouble them, she chose her practising time before breakfast when she could have the room to herself.  She practised regularly every morning. She played very pretty tunes I thought, and I liked to stand by her and listen to them, but the music, (for I knew the books well in after years) would now be though disgracefully easy. Much that she played from was manuscript, copied out by herself - and so neatly and correctly, that it was as easy to read as print.

The Writing Table

The famous table is in the Dining Parlour. It's a 12 sided piece of walnut on a single tripod.  It's near the little-used front door . She wrote letters as well as her manuscripts here....Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion.  She also owned a writing slope which is in the British Library.

It's quite hard to write with a quill (you can have a go in the "kitchen" and it's difficult to write in the small way necessary - so as not to waste paper and be neat.

Her handwriting remains to bear testimony to it's own excellence; and every note and letter of hers, was finished off handsomely. There was an art then in folding and sealing. No adhesive envelopes made all easy. Some people's letters looked always loose and untidy, but her paper was sure to take the right folds, and her sealing wax to drop in the proper place.


My Aunt must have spent much time in writing. Her desk lived in the drawing room. I often saw her writing letters on it, and I believe she wrote much of her Novels in the same way, sitting with her family, when they were quite alone; but I never saw any manuscript of that sort in progress. She wrote very fully to her brothers when they were at sea, and she corresponded with many others of her family.

 The dining parlour, with Jane Austen's writing table on the right just by the window.

Whilst most of the meals would have been cooked in the kitchen, the breakfast would have been prepared over the small range-like cooker in the fireplace in this room.

On the table is part of the dining service belonging to Edward (brother)

"We then went to Wedgwoods where my Brother and Fanny chose a dinner set. I believe the pattern is a small Lozenge in purple, between lines of narrow gold, and it is to have the crest" (letter to Cassandra 16th Sept 1813)

Jane's Bedroom and some of the contents of the cases

Below is a copy of Lovers Vows. The play features in Mansfield Park and is the cause of much flirtation and dissension amongst those involved.  It was unwisely chosen as it was thought "exceedingly unfit for private representation" (by Edmund) but in the end, he took a part too. It was bought to an abrupt halt by the return of Sir Thomas Bertram (father) from the West Indies. It plays a large part in the plot and our discovery of the dispositions/traits of the characters.

Jane stayed for a while in Bath after her father's retirement and until just after his death. In 1799 she tells Cassandra athat "The play on Saturday is I hope to conclude our Gaieties here" The Bath Herald and Register for that date shows that the play showing was Blue Beard, preceded by Kotzebue's "The Birth-day". He was a German author known for the immoratlity of his plays. It was another of his plays, "Natural Son" which was published in England as Lovers' Vows (translated by a Mrs Inchbald and toned down a bit for English audiences).

As the label says - cutlery from Jane's household.

Below, the topaz crosses.  Such a cross features in Mansfield Park. It was given by Fanny's brother (at sea) and is worn at her first ball with a chain given by Edmund.

As you will see, two topaz crosses were given to Jane and Cassandra by Charles, also in the Navy.  I'm tempted to think of Edmund as rather like Charles!

"The Endymion came into Portsmouth on Sunday, and I have sent Charles a short letter by this day's post. He has received £30 for his share of the privateer and expects £10 more - but of what avail is it to take prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his sisters. He has been buying Gold chains and Topaze Crosses for us; he must be well scolded....I shall write again by this post to thank and reproach him.  We shall be unbearably fine."  Letter to Cassandra 27 May 1801

If you want to compare the value of a £30 0s 0d in 1801 there are three choices. In 2012 the relative values are below.  (nb a vast difference in values depending on your comparison, and I'm not sure which I'd choose, but as Jane thinks it is a lot, and her family were reasonably well off, - at least not poor - then it would more likely be the higher values)

real price of that commodity is £1,783.00
labour value of that commodity is £28,910.00
income value of that commodity is £27,180.00

Jane's bedroom

Jane and Cassandra shared a room. It's at the back of the house and overlooks the outhouses although you can see part of the garden from the window (see posting 1 - a few days ago)

The museum explain that the house underwent alterations after Cassandra's death and they can't be sure which was Jane's bedroom.

The bed is a recreation from the details known of the beds the Revd Austen had made for his daughters in 1794. The room held 2 beds like this.

This closet is in the corner of the room and contains a chamber pot and washbowl.  The upper shelf is cutaway so you have headroom.

Warm water was bought up to the bedroom by a maid from the kitchen.

Quote from "My Aunt Jane Austen, A Memoir. by Caroline Austen." on seeing Jane in her room towards the end of Jane's life.

....Aunt Jane became too ill to have me in the house, and so I went instead to my sister, Mrs Lefroy at Wyards. The next day we walked over to Chawton to make enquiries after our Aunt. She was keeping her room but said she would see us, and we went up to her. She was in her dressing gown and was sitting quite like an invalide in an arm chair, but she got up, and kindly greeted us, and then pointing to seats which had been arranged for us by the fires, she said "There's a chair for the married lady, and a little stool for you Caroline". It is strange, but those trifling words are the last of her's that I can remembr, for I retain no recollection at all of what was said by any one in the conversation that of course ensued. .... and ...she was not eual to the exertion of talking to us and our visit to the sick room was a very short one, Aunt Cassandra soon taking us away.  I do not suppose we stayed a quarter of an hour; and I never saw Aunt Jane again.

A chair by the fire.

Left - a reproduction of Jane's bed.

Apologies for the poor photo and reflections in the glass, but I was struck at what a fine needlewoman Jane Austen must have been. This lace collar was made by her.

The Austen Family Room

It's thought that Jane's mother had this rather large room at the front of the house. Today it contains memorabilia belonging to the family, including a broach with a lock of Jane's hair.

Cup and Ball.

A traditional toy believed to have belonged to Jane. Apparently, she was very good at it!

"She could throw the spilikens for us, better than anyone else, and she was wonderfully successful at cup and ball. She found a resource sometimes in that simple game, when she suffered from weak eyes and could not work or read for long together." (Caroline Austen)

The Dressing Room

This is a small room perhaps used as a dressing room or visitors bedroom.  It houses lots of bits and pieces of Jane's and also some photos of the houses she visited or lived in during her life - including Steventon, Bath, Southampton, Godmersham, Chawton and Winchester.

On this shelf is a little needlecase (the upright "card" in the middle of the top shelf)  She made this and it's here with the handmade wrapper bearing the words "With Aunt Jane's love". She made it as a present for her neice Louisa.

The case also displays items found under the floorboards of the house - penknife, nibs, cutlerly, a wooden plain and a small toy cannon.

Right at the bottom of one case is a handkerchief made by Jane with Cassandra's initials.  Incredibly delicately worked and perfect satin stitching.   Sadly, my photo didn't come out (no flash photography allowed and I only had my phone)

The Bedroom Tableau, contains various items including the quilt Jane, Cassandra and their mother made.  The photo and details are on the 1st posting. (scroll down slightly)

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