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Recently Amanda Grange and I had a lovely day out at Jane Austen’s House Museum – don’t you think we look very much at home? Jane Austen moved to Chawton, a large cottage on her brother Edward’s estate in July 1809. It was possibly a former coaching inn at one time and in Jane’s day was a busier place as coaches rumbled past the windows day and night. One of Jane’s nieces remembered how comforting it was ‘to have the awful stillness of night frequently broken by the sound of many passing carriages, which seemed sometimes even to shake the bed’ – perhaps not a sentiment that would be enjoyed by many today. Jane Austen looked forward to the move. After her father’s death in Bath, their circumstances had been greatly reduced and eventually they had moved to Southampton to live with one of the sailor brothers. An opportunity for a home of their own for the Austen women was not a chance to be passed up, and Jane looked forward to buying a piano again instead of renting one as she had had to do in Bath and Southampton. ‘…as good a one as can be got for thirty guineas, and I will practise country dances, that we may have some amusement for our nephews and nieces, when we have the pleasure of their company.’
Jane’s sister-in-law thought the rector of Chawton, Mr Papillon, might be a suitable marriage prospect for Jane. In a letter Jane joked about it in typical fashion – ‘depend upon it that I will marry Mr Papillon, whatever may be his reluctance or mine.’

Jane and her sister Cassandra became increasingly responsible for running the household. Mrs Austen devoted herself to the garden and needlework. When the sisters were at home it was Jane’s responsibility to make the breakfast and to order tea, sugar and look after the wine stores. When Jane came down in the morning she would start the day with practising on her piano so as not to disturb the others later on. She would then put the kettle on and make the breakfast. Cassandra took care of all the other household chores giving Jane invaluable time to write. It was at Chawton that she started to revise the books she had already written – Elinor and Marianne, which became Sense and Sensibility, and First Impressions, which became Pride and Prejudice. Though callers could see her writing through the window a creaky door gave her warning when anyone was about to enter the room. She would cover her work and was able to keep her writing secret.
The house remains largely unchanged today. It is still possible to wander through the sitting room, dining room and bedrooms where Jane walked and worked, and to see examples of clothing and jewellery that belonged to her. Recently, the kitchen has been renovated, and there is a new bookshop which sells not only a wonderful selection of books, but lots of other momentoes and souvenirs.
Walking through the village gives a sense of going back in time, and a walk to the ‘Great House’ where her brother Edward and his family lived must have very similar views to the ones back then with old cottages lining the road. At the church you can find the graves of Jane’s sister and mother. I always feel it’s rather sad that Jane is buried in Winchester away from them and far from the place that she loved.
We had a lovely day out – it’s a place I never tire of going to see!

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I had such a busy week last week packed full of exciting things. I have to tell you my life is usually a very ordinary one spent writing and looking after my family. But last week was full of magical days and even a larger than life evening or two. It started off when I met Monica Fairview and Victoria Connelly in London before we went off to a dinner given by our wonderful publisher Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks.
I met Monica and Victoria in St. James’s in the afternoon so we could have a wander round, soak up some Regency history, and look at the shops. You can see a photo of Monica and I standing with a statue of Beau Brummel in Jermyn Street at the end of the Piccadilly arcade. Further along is the wonderful Floris perfume shop which is celebrating its 280 year anniversary this year. There were some gorgeous examples of old perfume bottles and packaging displayed in the shop, and the very kind assistant told us that some of the popular perfumes of the day were Jasmine, Stephanotis and Lime, even spraying particular scents so we could get an idea. We wandered down St James’s Street next – home to Colonel Brandon in London, if you remember. This part of London was typically the haunt of gentlemen, housing the famous clubs of White’s, Boodles and Brooks’s (still in existence today) and Jane Austen definitely would not have been seen wandering around here by herself.

Then it was time to go to our Sourcebooks dinner where I must admit I was very starry-eyed to be sitting in such august company as Barbara Erskine, Elizabeth Chadwick, Jill Mansell, Erica James, Freya North and Wendy Holden to name but a few of the authors, as well as lovely friends Monica, Victoria and Amanda Grange . It was a splendid meal in a gorgeous room of the Reform Club in Pall Mall. We did wonder what all the portraits on the walls would say if they could talk as they looked down on a room full of chattering female authors – every portrait was male, and some of them appeared to be highly displeased! In the photo Thackeray looks down on Amanda Grange and I!

The following day I met up with Amanda Grange at Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton. I haven’t been for a while, but I always feel as if I’m visiting old friends, and the feeling that Jane might just walk into the room is always there. The house has a homely feel, and although it has changed in small details over the years it still retains the sense of being a well-loved home. The new shop is gorgeous. Amanda took the opportunity to do some book signings in the shop before we explored the house. I spent far too much money on books, and if you’d like to see what they have on offer you can visit their online shop. The following photos show Amanda and I standing outside the house, then two of Jane’s bedroom where there is a lovely example of a tent bed and this gorgeous dress on display. I didn’t like to take too many photos inside because flash photography is not a good idea where old artefacts might be damaged, but I’ll be posting a few more at a later date. What I love about Jane Austen’s House is the fact that they have personal items that belonged to Jane and her family. You can see Jane’s bead bracelet and the topaz crosses that Jane’s brother Charles bought for his sisters, the red riding coat that belonged to Mrs Austen, and a patchwork quilt made by Jane, Cassandra, and their mother. In glass display cases there are mother of pearl ‘fish’ such as Lydia Bennet won in Pride and Prejudice, little Regency dolls, ivory letters spelling out the words BLUNDER, and DIXON as in Jane’s novel, Emma, and there is even the little needlecase that Jane made for her niece. Christening caps, a bonnet, a lace shawl and replica costumes really give the flavour of the fashion of the time helping to give a sense of the people who lived in the house.
We finished up in the kitchen which has been newly restored – wonder why I felt so at home!








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