Friday, 25 July 2014

"We even buy our own milk"

No, not a quote from Jane Austen, but from our curator, Mary Guyatt, summing up in one short phrase the size and simplicity of the organisation behind Jane Austen’s House Museum (JAHM). Not for us the delights of a company catering department, but rather a quick trip by whoever is available and has a car, to the nearest supermarket, and then coffee and tea made over chat in our tiny kitchen.

Welcome back to the blog from Jane Austen's House Museum. It has been a tumultuous time since the blog was last written, mainly due to the exciting celebrations which accompanied the bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice in 2013. The year started with BBC spending the day of publication, 28th January, filming in the House; an early start as the crews arrived at 4.30am to set up in time for broadcast on Breakfast TV. This was the first of many visits by film and TV crew who wanted to see where Jane revised and wrote her masterpieces.

The BBC arriving at 4.30am on 28 January 2013

February brought the launch of some wonderful stamps by Post Office with each of the novels being allocated a different stamp – and some heated debates about which novel should have had the highest value. A new rose was launched in May at Chelsea, by Harkness Roses, in conjunction with JAHM; the scented floribunda was named “Pride and Prejudice” and Ian Hislop, Private Eye editor, was our champion at the launch. We have a number of the roses blooming in the garden, planted by local gardener (and national TV presenter and writer!), Alan Titchmarsh. Harkness are one of the foremost rose breeders and are kindly donating a percentage of sales to the Museum.
Planting the 'Pride and Prejudice' rose in the Museum garden

July saw the arrival of the Governor of the Bank of England at the House to announce that Jane Austen would be on the new £10 note – probably from 2017; we took great delight in showing the Press that this was not the first time one of the family had appeared on a bank note – we have a £10 note from Henry Austen’s bank in our collection which was much photographed that day and appeared on several evening news bulletins. As ever at these events, we paused to consider what Jane and her family would make of the passion and interest her books and their lives evoke today.

Mark Carney during banknote launch

Just as we were breathing a sigh of relief that most of the excitement of the year was over we heard that an export ban was being put on the turquoise ring once owned by Jane and recently purchased by Kelly Clarkson. We had a very limited time to show that we were interested in raising the £150,000+ that was required to purchase the ring, but with help from friends all round the world, and one or two very generous donors the money was produced and the ring is now housed alongside her bracelet and amber cross at the Museum, for all to see. In parallel to all this we said a sad “Goodbye” to Louise West the curator at the Museum and gave a cheery “Hello” to Mary Guyatt, the new curator. She started in one of the busiest years we have experienced, having over 50,000 visitors to the Museum last year. Ann Channon, the shop manager, had the unenviable task of keeping the shop stocked, as sales were constantly high, and other staff were kept on their toes all year with events, school visits and many other happenings. (We plan to introduce you to all the staff here at a later date.)

Who is writing this today? My name is Sue Dell and I am a volunteer at Jane Austen's House Museum. The staff at the Museum have been keen to reinstate the blog and allowed me to write the first one. Together we are planning future blogs and would love to hear from you about anything we have written or should write.

And in case you think we are sitting back on our Pride and Prejudice laurels be assured that we have plenty more plans at the Museum for events, activities and exhibitions. We recognise that our audience is worldwide and while we know that a blog can never be a substitute for a visit to Jane's home, we hope that we will be able to offer a taste of what museum life is like in this small corner of Hampshire, and entice you to visit in the future.

Sue Dell

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Sense & Sensibility Scenes

On Easter Monday the sun was blazing down on Jane Austen’s House Museum, which was perfect weather for our first ever outdoor performances. Ruffled Umbrella are a small theatre company who “create theatre that captivates and surrounds an audience”. They performed two scenes from Sense and Sensibility in the garden. The first, adapted from Chapter 2, in which John Dashwood and his wife Fanny discuss whether to give his sisters any financial support after the death of their father. And the second is the heartfelt scene between Elinor Dashwood and Willoughby in Chapter 44 where he desperately tries to justify his behavior towards Marianne.
The audience gently gathered on the grass as the actors began. Dressed in elegant replica costumes the actors immediately took the garden back to Regency England as Elinor Dashwood paced across the lawn in a long swishing skirt. The performances added a fresh and lively dimension to the atmosphere at the house and really brought it to life. It was wonderful to see these intimate dialogues performed so close to the audience and made us feel as though we’d stumbled across a real conversation.

Quote from Chapter 44
"You are very wrong, Mr. Willoughby; very blamable," said Elinor; while her voice, in spite of herself, betrayed her compassionate emotion; "you ought not to speak in this way, either of Mrs. Willoughby or my sister. You had made your own choice. It was not forced on you.”

For more information on future productions and performances by Ruffled Umbrella visit

Friday, 15 April 2011

Swallows have returned

The swallows are back! The male is busy feathering the nest for his mate. He is darting in and out of the rafters under the alcove. We've been deliberating as to whether this generation of swallows are descendants of Austen swallows. I looked up some information on Wikipedia -
"Migratory species often return to the same breeding area each year, and may select the same nest site if they were previously successful in that location. First-year breeders generally select a nesting site close to where they were born and raised."

Chawton House Library have also recently had their swallows return to the nest. So maybe it is still the case that siblings reside in both homes in Chawton, just like Edward and Jane.

The Return of the Swallows

Each Spring I fear the swallows will not come
and the rafter nest will remain empty
of new life. Flying away last Autumn,
heading southwards to Africa, first he,
then she, winged wildly about my head -
a valediction before facing unknown
skies. Are they tied by invisible thread,
as am I, to this point, this house, this home?

For generations this place has held call
over travellers, swallows and searchers
of calm. Over those seeking out one small
corner, one spot in the world that nurtures.
Each Spring I celebrate when I am wrong -
this is where the swallows, and I, belong.

By Madelaine Smith (our multi talented marketing manager)

Friday, 8 April 2011


Visiting the place where Jane Austen actually sat and wrote her incredible novels is a dream come true for many of our visitors. Often they have read Austen and dreamed of Darcy since they were young and have been waiting for this moment for many years. A unique connection is made when you step inside her house and look out of her bedroom window. You glimpse how she might have lived and worked, and can begin to understand the women behind the novels.

People travel across the globe just to spend a few hours in her home. It has a magnetic pull on anyone who has once imagined themselves as Lizzie Bennet or Marianne Dashwood. Being inside the house lets you share moments with Jane Austen you can literally walk in her footsteps and experience what she may have felt.

Comments flood the visitor book with praise and thanks, and reveals what an emotional experience it is to many people.

"I am so glad I have finally managed to visit this wonderful place after three years of waiting"

"Wow it's so hard not to cry!"

" A wonderful and emotional experience to walk in the steps of Jane Austen for a short time!"

"a dream come true"

"lovely living tribute to someone I wish to get to know better"

It seems that for many people being in her home is part of an ongoing relationship that they develop with her as not only an author of their favourite books but also as a woman. Recently Isabel and I have found a few gifts and offerings to Jane and the house. I found a carefully made fan of hearts hung on a door handle in The Austen Family room. Each heart has a name of a character from Sense and Sensibility and they rotate to align with different people.

Isabel found this letter to Jane yesterday in the bedroom...

Who knows whether Jane receives these letters and offerings, but the staff at the museum love them! And it reminds us how lucky we are to work metres away from where the magic happened.

Friday, 25 March 2011

"Always Acting A Part" Austen Actors' Panel

“Always Acting A Part”

A shameless promotion of an extra special event we're having to kick off the celebrations of our year of Sense and Sensibility. Last year we held a student conference at the British Library and both Blake and Hattie spoke in a informal and fascinating Q&A with the audience. For me it was the highlight of the conference! We're so excited that they've agreed to come to Chawton and know that it will be a lovely and very special evening. More information below...

Austen Actors Pannel Saturday 9th April 7:00pm
Join us for a special evening to celebrate the 200 year anniversary of Sense and Sensibility. A unique chance to meet the actors Blake Ritson (Edmund Bertram in ITV’s Mansfield Park, Mr Elton in the 2010 series of Emma) and Hattie Morahan (Elinor in Sense & Sensibility).

Blake and Hattie will talk about their experiences of acting in Jane Austen television adaptations and will take questions from the audience.
Panel discussion will take place in Chawton Village Hall and commences at 8.00pm. Pre-performance gathering in the Learning Centre at the Museum from 7.00pm

Tickets: £17.50, Concessions £15.00 (to include pre-performance glass of wine). Under 16s £10.00
Places are limited so please book 01420 83262

Monday, 7 March 2011

Lumb Bank

A few weeks ago Madelaine (our marketing manager) and I (education officer) spent a week at Lumb Bank in Hebden Bridge on an Arvon Foundation creative writing week.

The aim of the week was to develop our creative writing techniques and learn new writing exercises which we could use as part of our education programme. We were lucky enough to be funded by the Museums Libraries and Archives organisation as part of our collaboration with the British Library. Other literary houses and collections were represented including the Bronte Parsonage, Dickens House, Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage, John Rylands Library and the British Library.

Ted Hughes owned the house for a while and his poem Wind was written about the house and perfectly depicts its remote and beautiful location. Here is an extract...


This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Ted Hughes

It was a fantastic week with no T.V. radio, internet connection or mobile phone reception which made a wonderful change from my usual noise filled lifestyle. In the mornings we wrote on a huge wooden table which could sit 18 people. We had two 1hr 30mins workshops led by our course tutors (Anne Sansom and Steve Voake). The afternoons were free for people to do as they wished and in the evenings we shared a meal around the giant table again.

Mid week we had a poetry reading from Patience Agbabi who had recently complete a residency at Chatham Dockyard. She spoke about her work and read a coronet of 7 sonnets which she’d written in response to her residency. They were beautifully written and she is an extremely skilled writer.
The week was brilliant and I thoroughly recommend going on a course if you need a boost in your writing or just some time to yourself. It’s such a beautiful part of the world, I can understand why Ted wanted to live there.

Hopefully there will be a second instalment to this as Madelaine will upload her account of our week and some of our writing.

Friday, 25 February 2011

A Creative Evening

Last week saw the second of our teacher CPD evenings – run with support from NAWE (National Association for Writers in Education) the MLA and the British Library.
The events have included talks, object handling and have focused on using creative writing to engage with museum collections.
Our recent writer in residence, Rebecca Smith, came prepared with many creative writing exercises for the teachers to try out as they explored the house. The theme of the night was “Decisions and Destiny in Austen and Hardy” so all the exercises linked the objects to this idea.

Pippa Brindly from Dorset County Museum (who display Hardy’s study and have the majority o his collection) came laden with objects to examine, including a man-trap and a horn lantern. She also had lots of photos of Dorset life in the early 1900s which depicted some great characters very suitable for inspiring stories.

Louise (curator at Jane Austen’s) showed some items from the collection that are not usually on display. The teachers were able to look at and handle these special objects: a white silk shawl that Jane embroidered, lovely miniatures and an amazing Grand Tour sketchbook which contains beautifully detailed drawings and paintings.
The evening received great feedback with people commenting on how evocative it is to wonder around the house in the evening. A few of the teachers sent me some of their writing so I’ve copied it in below.

Cassandra: memory of a sister

We found it there among her things,
a muddle of mourning rings and brooches
of a life where death was never far away.
A fold of yellowing paper which we almost cast out
before by chance we read the faint familiar hand:
“My father’s hair.
A fine white spray scattered from my fingers,
Releasing from this latest death
a shared beginning.

David Cave from Churchers College wrote this after seeing the lock of Mr Austen’s hair in the Austen Family Room.

The three poems below were done by Susan Greenhalgh from Alton College, and here is what she says about them.
The first poem, Whose Feet? Whose Fate? is in response to the idea given by Rebecca about the three Austen women: Mrs Austen's concerns about her future as a relatively penniless widow; Cassandra's preoccupations with her dead fiancé; and, finally, Jane's frustrations at not being able to dedicate her days to writing. Rebecca's idea of 'under the floorboards' has been translated to the floorboards themselves.

The second, very short piece, Scrap, is inspired by the original scrap of wallpaper and is deliberately rather imagist/haiku-esque in style!

Finally, I wrote the poem Looking Back about the mirror in Jane's room in my little book at the last CPD event.

Whose Feet? Whose Fate?
No money, no status
Here with my daughters
Awaiting a decision
To comfort my last years
I wait…

My loss is heavy; my heart is sore.
What pain and fear did he suffer
In that far-off land?
I was not there; he does not know
The wide and frightful space
Of my grief.

The house is full of noise;
Domestic chores demand too much of me.
I long to create and spill
The thoughts, active in my mind,
Into words!

The wooden treads
Bear witness.
They yearn and grieve and fuss.
Two hundred years of passing feet
Still share their fate with us.


Torn, faded relic
Vestige of a simple life
Backdrop to genius

Looking Back

Now mottled with time and use
A frame with tilt, and loose
Filling the space with sense
Of what and who were once here.
Out of sight, the private place
Where two sisters shared
Their love, their secrets and their pain.
Here another face
Contemplates the open way:
Different lives on full display.