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Gentle Readers, these fantastic images are by Tony Grant from London Calling. The text are quotations from the fabulous Chawton House Library site.  This site is rich with information and history. I am so impressed with the section on chickens, which were rescued and given a chicken-friendly coop for roosting and free ranging. The horses are magnificent as well. Sandy Lerner has done a magnificent job of turning this once ruin of a house into an historic library and museum. As Tony’s images show, this house is a world treasure .

Drive leading to Chawton House. Image @Tony Grant

In April 1551, the land was sold for £180 to John Knight, whose family had been tenant farmers in Chawton since the thirteenth century and who had prospered sufficiently to wish to acquire a large estate.

Front entrance. Image @Tony Grant

The medieval manor house was replaced by John Knight’s grandson, also called John, with the largely Elizabethan house that can be seen today.  – History

Window detail. Image @Tony Grant

Eaves. Image @Tony Grant

Climbing shrub. Image @Tony Grant

Side view with side door. Image @Tony Grant

In 1781, Thomas Knight II inherited, but when he and his wife Catherine showed no sign of having children of their own, they adopted a son of the Reverend George Austen, who was a cousin of Thomas Knight’s.

Edward is introduced to the Knights. Image @Chawton House Library

Edward Austen Knight eventually took over management of the estates at Godmersham and Chawton in 1797, living mostly at Godmersham and letting the Great House at Chawton to gentlemen tenants.

Chawton Cottage, where Jane Austen lived. Image@Tony Grant

In 1809 he offered a house in the village to his mother and two sisters Cassandra and Jane, and it was there that Jane Austen began the most prolific period of her writing life.

Image @Tony Grant

Sandy Lerner. Image @The Telegraph

By 1987, when Richard Knight inherited, parts of the house were derelict, the roof leaked, timbers were rotting and the gardens were overgrown with scrub. The decline was halted in 1993 with the sale of a 125 year lease to a new charity, Chawton House Library, founded by the American entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sandy Lerner, via the charitable foundation established by her and her husband Leonard Bosack, the Leonard X. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Foundation.

Kitchen garden entrance. Image @Tony Grant

The grounds and gardens at Chawton House Library continue to be in the process of restoration although a great deal has already been achieved. The focus of the restoration is the English landscape period of the eighteenth century together with Edward Austen Knight’s early nineteenth-century additions of walled kitchen garden, shrubberies and parkland. – The estate

Kitchen gardens. Image @Tony Grant

The Library Terrace was built between 1896 and 1910 (probably in 1904-05) by Montagu Knight (1844-1914). The terrace was actually an Arts & Crafts addition and almost certainly influenced by Edwin Lutyens.

Going round the back of the house. Image @Tony Grant

View from the gardens. Image @Tony Grant

Gravel paths are not typical of the English Landscape period and were probably introduced by Edward Knight II (1794-1879).

View from one of the gravel paths. Image @Tony Grant

According to Montagu Knight, the brick Upper Terrace was built in 1901. In the early twentieth century this was a broad grass terrace with a central gravel path, recently uncovered.

Image @Chawton House Library

In Jane Austen’s time, the kitchen garden was located to the north of the Rectory (opposite the current entrance to Chawton House). Edward Austen Knight had the idea to build a new walled garden during his sister’s lifetime: in 1813, Jane Austen wrote to her brother Frank:

‘[h]e [Edward Austen Knight] talks of making a new Garden; the present is a bad one & ill situated, near Mr Papillon’s; — he means to have the new, at the top of the Lawn behind his own house’.

However, her brother’s plans did not come to fruition until after her death in 1817. – The estate

The grounds. Image @Tony Grant

The farm buildings. Image @Tony Grant

The fields. One can see the horses. Image @Tony Grant

The Wilderness dates from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and was originally set out geometrically with trees in straight rows, a practice which was later dropped. It survived the English Landscape improvements.

St. Nicholas Church. Image @Tony Grant

Church Copse. This area to the rear of St. Nicholas Church was cleared between 1999 and 2000, revealing the Knight family pet cemetery and the rear lychgate into the churchyard. Of particular interest in this area are the several large, important eighteenth-century lime trees and a yew tree, probably from the same period. – The estate

Image @Tony Grant

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Gentle Readers: Jane Austen Pilgrimage III: Jane Austen House Museum and the Writing Class I Took There is Christ Steward’s third post on her travels to England last summer. The author of the blog, Embarking on a Course of Study, Chris has been closely examining the life and novels of Jane Austen for well over a year.

We arrive at the magical day I’d been dreaming of for many years!

The day after my visit to Winchester I woke up in my charming little room at the Alton Grange so happy because I’d slept well but I had the best day of all ahead of me: a visit to the Jane Austen House Museum – Jane’s home – also known as Chawton Cottage.

This is where Jane’s writing life came back to life, after the grief over her father’s death and moving around to several places in Bath, the rectory in Adlestrop and also Stoneleigh Abbey. Finally she had a place that felt like home again—peaceful, beautiful, with a garden she loved. And it was here that she resurrected previous work and wrote new novels that were subsequently published, two posthumously.

It was a gorgeous day!

I thought I could take a taxi to Chawton (the map on the Jane Austen House Museum – JAHM from now on – site wasn’t at all clear about how to walk there, in my opinion. It looks easy, but once you’re standing there with the map and no real street signage, it’s not), but there was some conference in the area that was monopolizing all of them so I took the bus right outside the hotel.

I was told too late about the taxi problem to catch the right bus, so had to wait an hour for the next, fretting, I don’t mind telling you, all the while about how late I would be for the class. It started at 11:00 and the bus didn’t come until 10:50. I really didn’t want to walk in late to the class and miss anything.

But, lucky me, the bus driver was the same gentleman who had dropped me off the night before! I told him where I was going and he said he’d get me as close as he could, which he did. I was dropped off at a roundabout (middle of nowhere it looked like) and told to cross it to the other side and keep going.

To read more about the visit, the class, a charming tearoom, visiting Cassandra’s grave: http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

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Gentle Readers, With this article we once again benefit from Tony Grant’s expertise as a tour guide in England. He has written a lovely post about Steventon Rectory and its influence on Jane Austen’s description of Barton Cottage in Sense and Sensibility.

Does Barton Cottage, the cottage that Mrs Dashwood, Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, retreat to and which is located in Devon, just north of Exeter, owe much to Steventon in Hampshire, Jane’s first home?

Elinor ( Emma Thompson) and Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones) in front of Barton Cottage. Sense and Sensibility, 1995

I recently went to Steventon again, the birthplace of Jane Austen and where she spent her formative years until the age of twenty six. Steventon was where she thought she would spend the rest of her life. As soon as she was born she was sent to live with a family in the village. The mother of the household she was sent to became Jane’s wet nurse. Mrs Austen had nothing to do with her children as babies. This might provide an explanation for Jane’s aversion towards her mother as she grew older but it also explains that her attachment to Steventon was not just through her own family and the rectory but it was linked to the wider community and she had very close ties to some of the villagers.

Row of cottages in Steventon. Image @Tony Grant

Steventon is set in a small Hampshire valley about five miles south west of Basingstoke, the nearest large town. When you visit Steventon today there are a few cottages and houses, not dissimilar in number to Jane’s days and a cross roads that has a cluster of old cottages, some of them terraced, set in a beautiful verdant landscape of fields and trees and gently rising downland.

The Dashwood women see Barton Cottage for the first time. Sense and Sensibility, 2008.

“a view of Barton Valley as they entered it gave them cheerfulness. It was a pleasant fertile spot, well wooded and rich in pasture.”

The site of the Rectory at Steventon. You can see the fence that surrounds the pump in back of the tree. Image @Tony Grant

Take the fork at the cross roads along the valley and within a few hundred yards you come to a lane that branches off to the right, almost hidden by bushes and trees. If you can stop at this corner and look into the field on the right, there are two or three tall mature trees , sycamore and ash, and next to one tree is a rustic wooden fenced area with an old water pump in the centre. This is the site of Steventon Rectory, Jane’s old home. The pump is presumed to be the pump the Austens had in their back yard. This rectory had become derelict, and was demolished by Edward Austen Knight when his son, William Knight, took over as vicar of Steventon.  When George Austen retired, he moved Jane, Cassandra and their mother to Bath. James Austen became the new vicar until his death in 1819, when Henry Austen stepped into the position.

The pump. Relic at Steventon Rectory. Illustration by Ellen G. Hill, 1923.

Edward had the new rectory built in the valley in fields on the opposite side of the road.  It still stands today, a fine white house on the sunny side of the valley facing south east.

Steventon House, built by Jane's brother Edward c. 1820-22. Image @Jane Austen Today

Behind the site of the original rectory where Jane lived there is a grassy meadow sloping steeply upwards for a quarter of mile to where her father’s church, St Nicholas, is situated next to a large house where the Digweeds lived. Jane, Cassandra and her brothers often scrambled up the hill behind their rectory to play with the Digweed children.They were some of their childhood friends. There are cultivated fields, meadows and woody areas all around, especially on the top of the hill near the Digweeds home behind the rectory site.

Site of the Steventon Rectory today. The fenced in pump is at left.

“The situation of the house was good. High hills rose immediately behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open downs, the other cultivated and woody.”

The rectory Jane lived in would have been quite spacious because at least seven children lived there, five of her six brothers, herself and her sister Cassandra as well as her mother and father, a couple of servants and for much of the year, sons of some of the local gentry who sent their boys to the Reverend Austen for education and entry to Oxford or Cambridge. Oxford had been the Reverend Austen’s university. Her brother George did not live with the family however because of his disabilities. He was virtually adopted by another family who cared for him. Whether it was for financial gain I am not sure. So the rectory must have been spacious.

“Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind. On each side of the entrance was a sitting room about sixteen feet square; and beyond them were the offices and the stairs. Four bedrooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house.”

Cottage of local stone. Image @Tony Grant

Barton cottage doesn’t resemble the rectory from this description but Jane must have used her knowledge of cottages in the area of Steventon. Jane is very precise about the size of the two sitting rooms, sixteen feet square. The cottage is used in a special way within the novel. She describes it as being , “defective.” This is symbolic of the situation Elinor, Marianne and their mother are in. They are experiencing fractured times and are out of place financially, socially and the cottage they have come to, places them in a different strata of society than they are accustomed to. From the exact dimensions of the sitting rooms Jane Austen gives us, aren’t those rooms too small to socialise in the manner they are used to? It is a,”defective,” place on many levels and it’s not like other cottages.

Cottage without honeysuckle. Image @Tony Grant

Jane would have been very familiar with the traditional country cottage but she makes Barton Cottage different, almost an eye sore, bare of climbing honeysuckle and green painted windows. Mrs Dashwood has plans for it, to change it and develop it. But can these come to fruition? Can the cottage be developed and grow? Can the Dashwood sisters adapt, develop and grow ? Does Barton owe much to Steventon? I would say so. Steventon formed Jane’s knowledge and experience of cottages and she used that knowledge of how cottages are and the meaning in social class and wealth different cottages might portray to incorporate the cottage at Barton into the fabric and meaning of Sense and Sensibility.

Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

Hampshire cottages:
If you ever visit Hampshire and pass through the countryside you will see a variety of types and styles of cottage. Cottages have always been built with local materials readily at hand.

Clay tile roofs. Image @Tony Grant

In the Cotswolds you will find most villages made from Cotswold stone and roofed with tiles sliced from the same stone. This is a creamy yellow colour. Climbing roses, wisteria, lichen and mosses have had plenty of time to insinuate themselves into and on these mellow warm coloured buildings.

Roses round the door. Image @Tony Grant

Hampshire, with its oak, elm and ash forests has many timber frame cottages. Great beams of wood cut from massive oaks have been merely incorporated into the frame and the spaces between the oak beamed framework filled with wattle and daub.

Cottage with wattle and daub. Image @Tony Grant

Wattle and daub being made from woven ash fencing and plastered with a mixture of cow dung, lime and straw. (Click here for a video.)

The oldest building in Winchester is made with wattle and daub. Image @Tony Grant

The roofs are thatched with reeds or wheat stalks. Some have clay tiles where local clay deposits provide the raw material and Hampshire brick works do the work of firing the tiles.

Thatched cottages. Image @Tony Grant

Many buildings are made of flint. Hampshire has large areas of chalk downland. Within the chalk are found nodules of flint.

Winchester College Shield erected on a wall made with flint building material. Click on photo for a larger image. Image @Tony Grant

Nobody is quite sure how flint is formed in the chalk but it is a very hard crystalline rock, glassy in substance. It has been one of the most versatile materials ever.

More thatched cottages. Image @Tony Grant

Stone age man used it for axes, arrow heads, scrapers and knives. It has been used and is still used to build strong walls. Flint lock muskets used tiny bits of flint fixed into their firing mechanism to create a spark which ignited the gunpowder to propel the musket ball down the barrel. Flint can be struck against flint or metal to create a spark to light a fire.

Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

More on the topic:

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Dancing With Mr. Darcy is a fabulous book. A book reviewer isn’t supposed to reveal an opinion right away, but I have many reasons for liking this compilation, which began as a short story competition in 2009 sponsored by Chawton House Library to celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s arrival in the Hampshire village of Chawton. This was a momentous occasion in Jane’s life, for she would enjoy her most productive years there.

Dancing with Mr. Darcy is great for bed time reading.

When my head hits the pillow, I can stay awake for 20 minutes at the most. That’s just the right amount of time to savor one of these stories, which is between 2,000-2,500 words in length, reflect upon it, and turn off the light. The book will remain on your bedstand for at least 20 nights if you stick to this schedule. But here’s the kicker: It’s hard to put down.

The stories are truly original.

The inspiration for these stories was taken from any theme in Jane Austen’s novels, like a character or single sentence. Authors could also draw upon Chawton House, an Elizabethan mansion, as their muse. Whatever they decided, they were encouraged to get their creative juices flowing. And were they ever!

The book opens with a story inspired by Chawton and a dead Jane Austen crossing the River Styx . She is accused in a Higher Court by the older female characters she created for wilfully portraying them as manipulative harpies and scolds. I wondered how author Victoria Owen would resolve this curious plot, but it ended beautifully and logically. Another story that drew my attention was Felicity Cowie’s ‘One Character in Search of Her Love Story Role‘, in which the central charcter, Hannah Peel, a contemporary heroine, finds her voice by interacting with classic literary heroines, including Jane Bennet and Jane Eyre.

Fresh voices are given an opportunity to shine.

Unknown authors do not often get to compete in a public forum for an opportunity to have their work published with the backing of a prestigious institution. I read the short biographies at the end of the book, and while many of the authors took creative writing or majored in English, some are still students, one lives on a farm, another is a book reviewer, several are scholars, another is a math and science teacher, and yet another was educated to be a lady. With such a variety of backgrounds, it is no wonder that the stories are not clichéd.

Many of the tales had contemporary settings, and there were times that I had to puzzle out just what their connection was to Jane Austen or Chawton house. Like all compilations, I preferred some stories over others, such as Kelly Brendel’s Somewhere, inspired by a passage in Mansfield Park, and Eight Years Later, which is Elaine Grotefeld’s take of love lost and found again in the mode of Persuasion.

Jane Austen would have approved.

The variety of the stories, and their excellence and fresh approach to the Austenesque genre makes this book stand out from the pack. Jane Austen would have approved of their original plots, their intelligent writing, and the variety of ideas that sprang from the original impetus. These twenty stories were selected from 300 submissions, and one can only imagine how many good stories barely missed the cut.

Sarah Waters at Chawton House, July 2009. Image @Chawton House

In a different way, I found this compilation equally as thrilling as A Truth Universally Acknowledged, edited by Susannah Carson, a book of critical insights by famous authors about Jane Austen that I adored and reviewed late last year. Stories that are judged, weighted, or juried tend to have an edginess and contemporary bite that attract me.

In this instance, the stories were judged by a Chair judge, Sarah Waters, the author of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, and a panel of judges: BBC journalist Lindsay Ashford; author Mary Hammond; Rebecca Smith (five-times great niece of Jane Austen, descended through her brother Frances); and freelance editor Janet Thomas.

The book is available today at your local or online bookseller. Run, don’t walk to obtain your own copy. I give it three out of three Regency fans and then some.

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Inquiring Reader, This post is the second part of solving the mystery of Cassandra Austen’s age in the 1841 census, which reader Craig Piercey brought to my attention. A number of people became involved in the mystery of Cassandra’s age, which was 68 at the time the census was taken, but was listed as 65. To review the situation, click on this link and read the emails sent to explain the anomaly.

The first letter came from Laurel Ann of Austenprose, who had left a comment on the first post.

Vic,  I have come across many discrepancies on census enumerations. The process is part of the problem. Families were asked to fill out their own sheets and then they gave them to the enumerator who transcribed them onto the sheets of record. The original family sheets do not survive. There is always the possibility of illegible handwriting, transcription error, the family did not understand the directions or people lied about their age! It is not considered a primary source document by the government or family historians. Cassandra’s christening record would serve as a legal record of her birth. Since her father filled this out, we can be pretty certain that it is correct. It is also confirmed in family letters. By her death in 1845 it was required to report deaths to the new Registrar and would have included a doctor’s verification. That is the best explanation I can offer. The government was primarily interested in  numbers. They used the data for general ranges like the number of children under 10 or men of military age etc. The fact that exact ages are listed from 1851 onward is a bonus to family historians now, but not so much for the government then. Census records are not an exact science. I am glad you had so much interest in this puzzle. The discrepancy does appear odd to one who has not done family research.  I hope this is helpful. LA

St. Nicholas Church at Chawton, taken by @sneakymagpie

Laurel Ann was not the first person to point out that the Census taker would use a general number that could be divided by five. Before I received her answer, I had written to Ray Moseley, Fundraising Administrator of Chawton House. He replied promptly:

Dear Vic,

Sarah Parry our education officer at Chawton House has replied as below. I do hope that this helps. If we can of any further help please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Ray

Cassandra and Cassandra Austen grave

Hi Ray

I think that the following might be an explanation.

This is the web page for the 1841 census on the National Archive website: http://search.ancestry.co.uk/iexec/Default.aspx?htx=List&dbid=8978&ti=5538&r=5538&o_xid=24149&o_lid=24149&offerid=0%3a21318%3a0 It makes the point about how ages were recorded on this census and notes if over 15, the ages “were usually rounded down to the nearest 5 years”.

I also had a look at Deirdre le Faye’s A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family (Cambridge University Press 2006). The entry referring to the 1841 census reads:

“June 6, Sunday
National census this year shows CEA [Cassandra Elizabeth Austen] living at Chawton Cottage, with three maids – Mary Butter, Emily Kemp, Jane Tidman – and one manservant, William Sharp. HTA [Henry Thomas Austen] and Eleanor Jackson are also there on census night.”

Cassandra was born on 9 January 1773 and would have been 68 on the night of the census so it would have been correct, by the format of the 1841 census, to show her age as 65.

Henry would have celebrated his 70th birthday in 1841. He was born on 8 June 1771. The 1841 census was taken on 6 June – just two days before his 70th birthday. So the figures are correct as Henry would have been 69 on the night of the census so again, by the format of how to record ages in the 1841, census it would therefore have been quite correct to show his age as 65. Henry’s surname isn’t shown on the census because the mark below the “Austen” of Cassandra’s name and alongside Henry’s Christian name is the equivalent of ditto marks.

Hope this helps.

Best
Sarah

Chawton Cottage

Sarah’s explanation dovetails in with other speculations, but because she works for Chawton House as an education officer, I will take hers as the last word on the subject.

Tony Grant, London Calling, wrote Louise West at the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton about the same time that I wrote Chawton House, and her reply, while supportive, did not include additional information.

Hi Vic,
I just received this today from Louise West at Chawton Cottage. Remember our exciting foray into working out Cassandra’s age? … Here you are. – Tony

Dear Tony

Many thanks for sharing with me this interesting correspondence.  I really admire all the effort that has gone into trying to solve the mystery and wish I could offer anything more illuminating but I’m afraid I’m as much in the dark as you are.  If you uncover anything definite I would be very interested to hear.

Best wishes

Louise West
Collections and Education Manager
Jane Austen’s House Museum
Chawton
Alton

So, gentle reader. This is the end of our research into this topic. I hope others have found this journey into uncovering a mystery as interesting as I have. Thank you for stopping by, and thanks to all who have answered our emails and helped, especially Laurel Ann, whose initial comments and follow-up email unlocked the mystery first.

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