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Inquiring readers,

In celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma, frequent contributor, Tony Grant, visited Chawton House to view a special exhibit. Read his post about the exhibit on Jane Austen in Vermont in this link. Tony reserved a slew of photos for this blog and added his commentary. I inserted some observations by Constance Hill and Jane’s grand niece to round out this post. Enjoy!

Chawton is a Hampshire village and civil parish. It lies within the area of the South Downs National Park. The 2000 census shows that 380 people live in Chawton.

Google map

Google map of Chawton, and Chawton Cottage and Chawton House in relation to each other.

Chawton village is first mentioned in 1086 in the Domesday Book which was administered from Winchester, the first capital of England, under William the Conqueror,after 1066. The fact that the village lies on a main route from London to Portsmouth by way of Winchester suggests that because of its important position there must have been a Saxon settlement there before 1066 and possibly going back to Iron Age times. The Normans did instigate the creation of new villages such as at West Meon a few miles south of Chawton but most settlements were continued from previous ages. Its location shows it as perhaps a stopping place on a major route but its prime importance would have been farming.

Farming must have been its main importance right up to and after the second world war. Chawton House and its estate has sheep and horses on it to this day. There are still many farms in the area. However the population today is not what it would have been in the past. In previous centuries there would have been representatives of the whole range of the class system.

The Great House

The great house at Chawton owned by the Knight family, image by Tony Grant

The Knight family owned the great house and estate and most famously from the early nineteenth century, Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother. The middle classes would have been represented by Jane Austen and her family and perhaps the local vicar of the parish of St Nicholas and some minor landowners and farmers. Probably the working class and farm labourer class predominated though. There are plenty of small Victorian cottages, Georgian cottages and cottages dating back to the 16th century and before in Chawton and surrounding areas. These would have been accommodation for farm workers. Nowadays though these cottages surrounded by idealistic country gardens, climbing roses and wisteria, looking picture postcard perfect, are owned by wealthy people who work in the City and use them as weekend homes.

There are examples of large Georgian and Victorian mansions in the village. They can only be owned by company directors or wealthy bankers and other people of that ilk. Looking at estate agent web sites for Chawton, a mansion such as the one you can see at the start of the long driveway that leads to Chawton House, is priced at £2,000,000. The small picture postcard cottages start at about £350,000. The prices of the two properties I have quoted are the top and bottom of the range.

The ordinary, everyday worker is excluded. I am sure there are no farm labourers are living in Chawton these days.This is a shame because local customs are lost. The rich diverse local customs formed over time by families living there for their whole lives, generation after generation, is lost and although Chawton looks lovely today it has lost to a certain extent, its heart. It has lost its soul.

car park

Chawton Car Park, Image Google earth

All is not lost. The other day I walked from the car park, opposite Jane Austen’s cottage next to the Greyfriar pub, along the road to Chawton House Library. On my left, through the trees and across the children’s playground a gentleman was sitting astride a motor mower cutting the grass on the village cricket pitch. I could see that the sight screens were in place for a match and the cricket club flag was flying from the club house flagpole.

Sight screen on the cricket pitch

Sight of village cricket pitch. Image by Tony Grant

As I approached the Great House I passed Chawton Village Junior School on my right. Put in mind that this was midweek, a Wednesday, and the time was 12.30. The school was in the middle of its lunch break and a whole mass of children were playing in the playground on climbing frames and ladders. They were yelling and whooping and having the time of their lives. I always feel heart warmed at the sound of children. I have spent my whole working life as a teacher teaching them after all. So really there are three things.

Chawton has a great pub, The Greyfriars, it has a wonderful vibrant school and the village a cricket team. A new heart has been created perhaps? Yes, not all is lost.

junction

Jane Austen’s Chawton Cottage is straight ahead. To the right is Cassandra’s Cup, a tea house attached to The Greyfriar pub.

Chawton Cottage, a former steward’s cottage, was previously home to local farmers. Between 1781 and 1787, the house was briefly a public house called The New Inn. This pub was the site of two murders. After the second murder, the house was let by Edward Austen Knight to a Bailiff Bridger Seward. (Wikipedia)

Edward then allowed his mother and sisters to move permanently into the residence. Jane lived there with her mother and sister, Cassandra, and long time family friend Martha Lloyd, from 1809 until May 1817, when she moved to Winchester to be near her physician before her death in June of that year. (Wikipedia

Through the window

View of Jane Austen’s writing desk from the cottage window. Image Tony Grant

Later in the 18th century, Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight (who had been adopted by the Knights) succeeded, and in 1809 was able to move his mother and sisters to a cottage in the village. Jane would spend among the most contented, productive years of her life here.

 

trees

A glimpse of the cottage’s garden.

“I remember the garden well,” writes Miss Lefroy [a grand-daughter of the Rev. James Austen]. “A very high thick hedge divided it from the (Winchester) road, and road it was a pleasant shrubbery walk, with a rough bench or two where no doubt Mrs. Austen and Cassandra and Jane spent many a summer afternoon.”

Miss Lefroy recalls her mother’s happy memories with her Aunt Jane, Aunt Cassandra, and grandmother in Chawton.

“As may be supposed a great deal of intercourse was kept up between Steventon and Chawton. Our grandfather was a most attentive son, and one of the pleasures of my mother’s youth was sometimes riding with him to see her grandmother and aunts through the pretty cross roads and rough lanes, inaccessible to wheels, which lay between the two places . . . In her Aunt Jane, who was the object of her most enthusiastic admiration, she found a sympathy and a companionship which was the delight of her girlhood, and of which she always retained the most grateful remembrance . . . But I will copy my mother’s own account.

‘”The two years before my marriage and the three afterwards, during which we lived near Chawton, were the years in which my great intimacy with her was formed; when the original seventeen years between us seemed reduced to seven or none at all. It was my amusement during part of a summer visit to the cottage to procure novels from the circulating library at Alton, and after running them over to narrate and turn into ridicule their stories to Aunt Jane, much to her amusement, as she sat over some needlework which was nearly always for the poor. We both enjoyed the fun, as did Aunt Cassandra in her quiet way though, as one piece of nonsense led to another, she would exclaim at our folly, and beg us not to make her laugh so much.'” – Constance Hill, Jane Austen: her homes & her friends, 1902.

view from chawton cottage

View from Chawton Cottage in the early 19th century painted by Ellen Hill

 

The village of Chawton lies in a specially beautiful part of Hampshire, about five miles from Gilbert White’s own Selborne, and, like it, famed for its hop fields and its graceful ‘hangers.'”

Chawton Cottage stands at the further end of the village, being the last house on the right-hand side of the way just where the Winchester road branches off from that to Gosport, and where a space of grass and a small pond lie in the fork of those roads.”

 

Chawton has a single church, St Nicholas. A church has stood on the site in Chawton since at least 1270 when it was mentioned in a diocesan document. The church suffered a disastrous fire in 1871 which destroyed all but the chancel. The rebuilt church was designed by Sir Arthuer Blomfield and is now listed Grade 2.” – (Wikipedia)

The two Cassandras

The Knight family is buried in the churchyard. Jane Austen’s mother and sister are buried there also.

“The ‘Great House’ and the cottage lie within a few hundred yards of each other, the gates of the park opening upon the Gosport road. The house, a fine old Elizabethan mansion, with its Tudor porch, and its heavy mullioned windows, may be seen by the passer-by, standing on rising ground; while a little below it, in a gentle hollow, lies the old church of Chawton–a small grey stone edifice embowered in trees.”- Constance Hill

chawtoncottage_chawtonhouse

Chawton has only two road exits, one leading to a roundabout connected to the A31 and the A32, and the other to the A339/B3006 Selborne Road.

The village of Chawton lies in a specially beautiful part of Hampshire, about five miles from Gilbert White’s own Selborne, and, like it, famed for its hop field and graceful “hangers”; while within easy reach is the cheerful little town of Alton.” – Hill

 

Selborne Rd

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Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. Inquiring reader: Tony Grant sent me images of Hans Place by way of a personal tour. I am sure he won’t mind my sharing his photos of one of the areas that Jane Austen stayed in when she visited her brother Henry in London. In addition, I have elaborated on other places where Jane Austen lodged when she spent time in London.

Jane visited London as early as 1796. Constance Hill writes in her 1901 book, Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends:

The White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly, by James Pollard

MISS JANE AUSTEN’S acquaintance with London began at an early date, as she frequently passed a few days there when journeying between Hampshire and Kent.

We have mentioned her sleeping at an inn in Cork Street in 1796. Most of the coaches from the south and west of England set down their passengers, it seems, at the “White Horse Cellar” in Piccadilly, which stood near to the entrance of what is now the Burlington Arcade. Jane and her brothers, therefore, probably alighted here and they would find Cork Street, immediately behind the “White Horse Cellar,” a convenient place for their lodging.

Jane visited Town on numerous occasions and stayed with her favorite brother, Henry, and his wife Eliza. Henry not only actively supported his sister’s writing career, but served as her agent, negotiating on her behalf with publishers and printers. When a book required editing and proofing, Jane would visit Henry to accomplish these ordinary, rather time-consuming tasks, Kathryn Sutherland’s opinions notwithstanding.

This post details her visits through Henry’s many moves as he experiences successes and tribulations in his professional and married life. In his varied career Henry served as a soldier in the Oxfordshire militia (1793-1801), a London banker (1801?-1816), and as a curate at Chawton from 1816.

Jane’s visit to Sloane Street, 1811

Greenwood's Map, 1827, of Lower Sloane St, Sloane Terrace, and Sloane Square

When Jane Austen visited her brother Henry in 1811, he lived in Sloane Street (today behind Harrods in Knightsbridge). At the time, the street was a wide thoroughfare that connected Knightsbridge with the west part of Pimlico and the east end of Chelsea. The area was still quite rural, for there was no development at the east side of Sloane Street before 1790.  In the late 18th century, the approach to London from this side was still regarded as a dangerous, for the area was rural and dimly lit. Chelsea, in fact, had just recently begun to be engulfed by a burgeoning London, but during Jane Austen’s day, the area was still quite bucolic and rural, as these images attest.

Cheyene Walk, London, late 18th c., early 19th century, People strolling by the banks of the River Thames, in the distance is Chelsea Old Church

In 1796, the Old Dairy was erected, for cows still grazed nearby. The community was filled with gardens, in particular the Physic Garden founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries. Throughout these spacious grounds, apprentices learned to identify plants.

Chelsea, Old Physick Garden

Ranelagh Gardens opened to the public in 1742 as a premier pleasure garden, popular with the wealthy and anyone who could afford a ticket.

Rotunda, Ranelagh Gardens

King’s Road, so named in the day of  King Charles IIs, was actually a private road that dated back to 1703. It connected Westminster to Fulham Palace, where he took a boat to Hampton Court.  King Charles also used the road to visit his mistress Nell Gwyn. At this time, the royal palace was at Hampton Court and Chelsea was known as the Hyde Park on Thames.

The White House at Chelsea, 1800, Thomas Girtin

By the time Henry Austen moved to Sloane Street the neighborhood had changed enough for Jane to experience pleasant society, although ten years after Jane’s death, Greenwood’s Map (1827) still showed many empty lots and gardens in the vicinity. (See map above.)

While living in Sloane Street, Henry was a successful man:

Henry and two associates had founded a banking institution in London sometime between 1804 and 1806. Austen, Maunde and Tilson of Covent Garden flourished and enabled Henry and Eliza to move from Brompton (where Jane Austen had found the quarters cramped during a visit in 1808) to a more fashionable address and larger house at 64 Sloane Street. Jane’s visits here in 1811 and 1813 were happy events, filled with parties, theatre-going, and the business of publishing Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. – Henry Austen: Jane Austen’s “Perpetual Sunshine” by J. David Grey

When visiting her brother, Jane would venture into Town to shop and visit the theatre (Read Tony Grant’s article about Jane Austen and the Theatre).  Henry and Eliza were a fun-loving  and popular couple, and from Jane’s description in a letter below,  they knew how to throw a party:

Old Chelsea, 1750. Clock House, Moravian Chapel, White Horse Inn Image from @BritishHistoryOnline

“Our party went off extremely well. The rooms were dressed up with flowers, &c., and looked very pretty. . . . At half-past seven arrived the musicians in two hackney coaches and by eight the lordly company began to appear. Among the earliest were George and Mary Cooke, and I spent the greatest part of the evening very pleasantly with them. The drawing-room being soon hotter than we liked, we placed ourselves in the connecting, passage, which was comparatively cool, and gave us all the advantage of the music at a pleasant distance, as well as that of the first view of every new comer. I was quite surrounded by acquaintance, especially gentlemen.”

She went on to describe the music as extremely good and “included the glees of ‘Rosabelle,’ ‘The Red Cross Knight,’ and ‘Poor Insect.’ Wiepart played the harp and Miss Davis, all dressed in blue, sang with a very fine voice.”

Henrietta Street today

Henrietta Street, 1813

In 1813, Henry, who was four years older than Jane, lost his wife after a painful and debilitating illness. In contrast, his Uncle Leigh Perrot and brother Edward helped to secure his appointment as Receiver-General for Oxfordshire,  a most definite honor. Soon after Eliza’s death, Henry moved to rooms over Tilson’s bank on Henrietta Street in Covent Garden, a location more centrally located in London.

Both Jane and Fanny Knight, their niece, visited him there in the spring of 1814, when Mansfield Park was with the publisher.

Henrietta Street Covent Garden 1827

As was the custom, Jane brought lists of items to purchase  in Town for those who had remained behind in the countryside. In her biography, Constance Hill writes about Jane’s shopping experience:

“I hope,” she writes to her sister, “that I shall find some poplin at Layton and Shear’s that will tempt me to buy it. If I do it shall be sent to Chawton, as half will be for you; for I depend upon your being so kind as to accept it . . . It will be a great pleasure to me. Don’t say a word. I only wish you could choose it too. I shall send twenty yards.” Layton and Shear’s shop, we find, was at 11, Henrietta Street, Covent Garden.

Hans Place, 1814

In 1814, Henry moved from his rooms above his bank to a house he purchased in Hans Place in Knightsbridge. The area was situated near his old quarters on Sloane Street, where he and his wife had spent such a pleasurable time together.

Hans Place, The Pavillion, 1812. Image @British History Online

Today, the area, developed by Henry Holland, looks much different than when Jane and Henry knew it (see the image below), but the gardens are not much changed.

How Henry Austen's house must have looked. Image @TonyGrant

#23 Hans Place is on the corner. The location today.

Jane found #23 Hans Place delightful and Henry’s new house more than answered her expectations. She also admired the garden greatly. In the early part of the 19th century, Sloane Square was an open space enclosed with wooden posts, connected by iron chains. (British History Online)

Hans Place garden

In Hans Place, Jane had the use of a downstairs room that opened onto the garden, and she describes her pattern of working indoors, then taking a break in the garden: “I go & refresh myself every now & then, and then come back to Solitary Coolness.” I like Claire Tomalin’s comment in her biography of Jane Austen (1997) that this is “very much what someone settling down to write does, getting up, pacing, thinking, returning to the page she is working on.” – My Long Jumble, Sarah Emsley

Door to #23 Hans Place today. Image @TonyGrant

Jane visited Henry in Hans place twice, once in 1814, and for a more extended period from October to December in 1815, when she was preparing Emma for publication. During this visit, Henry became seriously ill and Jane nursed him back to health. She also famously visited the Prince Regent’s library at Carlton House during Henry’s recuperation.

London plane trees in Hans Place, image @TonyGrant

Constance Hill writes in her biography: “… we are also told “that Hans Place” was then “nearly surrounded by fields…We hear of a small evening party to be given in Hans Place whilst Fanny is staying there with her aunt. After describing the morning engagements, Jane writes: “Then came the dinner and Mr. Haden [the apothecary who was instrumental in arranging Jane’s invitation to Carlton House] , who brought good manners and clever conversation. From seven to eight the harp; at eight Mrs. L. and Miss E. arrived, and for the rest of the evening the drawing-room was thus arranged: on the sofa the two ladies, Henry and myself, making the best of it; on the opposite side Fanny and Mr. Haden, in two chairs (I believe, at least, they had two chairs), talking together uninterruptedly. Fancy the scene! And what is to be fancied next? Why that Mr. H. dines here again to-morrow. . . Mr. H. is reading ‘Mansfield Park’ for the first time, and prefers it to P. and P.”

Corner of #23 Hans Place. Image @TonyGrant

Since Henry lived in #23, Hans Place has been redeveloped. Only numbers 15, 33 and 34 still survive as they once were, but the garden that Jane liked so much remains largely intact in its arrangement. The original railings, however, no longer survive, having been molten down for their iron in World War II.
Only months after Henry recovered from his illness, his bank crashed, bankrupting him and placing a number of his Austen siblings in financial distress. Henry soon became a curate at Chawton. After this period, no more visits by Jane to London are recorded. Today, two of Henry’s residences, the one on Henrietta Street and #23 Hans Place, are  still easy for visitors to tour during a short London excursion.
More on the topic:

Houses in Hans Place drawn by Ellen G. Hill, 1901

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