Living in Chawton Cottage
JEAN K. BOWDEN
Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire, UK
Even on a cold, wet, dark day in the depths of winter, the house feels warm and happy, and in summer sunshine, well, it’s really delightful. The sun streams into the dining parlour in the mornings, and I love to think of Mrs. Austen sitting in the window enjoying the sunshine, and watching the world go by. The village was quite busy in those days, being on the main road to Winchester, and there was quite a lot of horse-drawn traffic. I can also see, in my mind’s eye, Jane and her brother Henry standing at that same window, seeing their nephew Charles Knight “passing through Chawton about nine this morning … we had a glimpse of his handsome face looking all health and good humour.” Charles was in a stage coach on his way to a new term at Winchester College.
When Mrs. Austen accepted her son Edward’s offer of Chawton Cottage as a home for herself and her two daughters, he improved it quite a lot for them. He added on some more bedrooms over the kitchen quarters at the back, and he blocked up the window in the drawing room because he felt they lacked privacy, and he opened up an elegant window looking out on to the garden – hence Mrs. Austen’s having to run into the dining parlour whenever she heard a commotion in the village!
The House is L-shaped, and I live in the wing at the back. My downstairs sitting room was once the Austen’s kitchen.
We have just completed a five-year programme of renovation. Every year since I moved in, as soon as the busy summer season ended the builders moved in for the winter! There are, of course, fewer visitors to be disturbed by their activities. All the rooms have been redecorated – after stripping off layer upon layer of wallpaper, the walls have been made good and re-papered, so that when they next need doing there will be only one layer of paper to get off. The house has been re-wired, special low-wattage lights have been installed, and the windows now have ultra-violet filter film on them, to prevent fading. Some of the old floors have had to be replaced – the cottage just wasn’t built for 30,000 pairs of feet tramping round every year. jasna