Chawton Cottage, in Chawton village near Alton, was Jane Austen’s last home from 1808and it was here that she settled into her writing and became a published author. Jane and her mother and sister had left Bath and set up home in Southampton with brother Frank and his wife, following the death of Mr Austen senior. But by 1808 Frank had moved his family to the Isle of Wight. Now another of Jane’s brothers, Edward Knight, stepped in to help his mother and sisters. Edward, adopted at 16 by wealthy but childless Kent relatives, inherited their estates in Kent and Hampshire. He made his home at Godmersham Park, near Canterbury, but after his wife’s early death in 1808 thought he might spend more time at Chawton Great House in Hampshire, nearer his relatives. Probably with this in mind, he offered the Austen women Chawton Cottage, formerly the home of his estate manager, rent-free for the rest of their lives.
There had been some talk of them moving to Kent, but Chawton was close to friends and relations. Eldest brother James was still at Steventon, a horse-ride away, brother Henry made occasional visits to the branch of his bank in nearby Alton, and Frank when not at sea was not very far away either (he soon moved his wife and family to Alton to be even closer to his mother and sisters). Henry inspected the cottage and reported back that there were six bedrooms, which meant there would be room for their friend Martha to move in with them. The cottage had a large garden, where the women grew fruit and vegetables and took gentle exercise. It was on a busy junction of three roads, with daily coaches passing through. Today the village is bypassed and a lot quieter. Edward had a window on the road side blocked up, giving more privacy. Once settled into Chawton Jane began revising Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, which were written at Steventon. With brother Henry’s help, she succeeded in getting these novels published, in 1811 and 1813. She followed these with Mansfield Park and Emma. Henry managed to buy back Northanger Abbey from a publisher who had not printed it, and it was eventually published after Jane’s death along with Persuasion, the last complete novel.
In 1817, after starting another book, Jane became very ill and moved to Winchester for medical help. She died a few weeks later. Ten years later Jane’s mother died, and the following year Martha married Jane’s brother Frank at the ripe age of 63. Jane’s sister Cassandra continued to live in Chawton Cottage until her death in 1845 She was buried in Chawton churchyard, as was her mother.
There are monuments to both. This church, where Jane and the family worshipped, was rebuilt in 1838 by Edward, whose home Chawton Great House is next door. However, this rebuilt church burnt down and was replaced in 1871 with the present building.
Edward did not use the Great House much, but brother Frank rented it from him from 1814 - 1820, and it was also used at different times by Henry and Charles. It remains in the Knight family, but in 1993, Richard Knight sold a 125 year lease on the building. It is currently a study centre for women’s writing. There are regular tours of the house:
Jane and Cassandra frequently walked into the nearby town of Alton for shopping and entertainment. Brother Henry had a branch of his bank, Austen, Maude and Tilson, here and often visited on business from London. Later, after the bank collapsed, Henry became a clergyman at Chawton.