For those who like a bit of Sense and Sensability
Jane Austen's House Museum (Hampshire)
Member Name: Essexgirl2006
Jane Austen's House Museum (Hampshire)
Advantages: A Lovely homage to the great author
Disadvantages: Little appeal if you have no interest in Austen or the Regency period.
Jane Austen's house in the Hampshire village of Chawton is one she lived in for a number of years prior to her death. After her father died whilst they were living in Bath, the female members of the family fell on hard times. Jane, her mother and her sister Cassandra were forced to move to an insalubrious Bath address with their friend Martha Lloyd. Fortunately her brother Edward had been left some money by a wealthy family who had adopted him, and this bequest included the Chawton estate. He allowed his mother, sisters and Martha to live in a cottage here free of charge. Jane lived here from 1809 for eight years until she became ill and moved to Winchester to be near her doctor, where she died. Whilst she was here she wrote Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. The house has been a private museum since 1947.
The house is easily signposted as you approach through the Hampshire countryside. It is less than an hour by car from Winchester, and I do believe there are buses that come this way, stopping at Alton which is 10-15 mins walk away. Certainly having your own transport would be easier. There did not seem to be an official car park, if there was we missed it, parking on the street, just up the road from the house, and walking back. You enter through some wooden gates and the Admission desk and shop is on your right. It is £7 per adult (reduced prices for OAPs, students, children and groups) and we also bought a 'Short Guide' to the house for an additional £1. The guide is concertinaed card, printed in colour and about A3 in size unfolded, it contained enough info for us. The Gift Shop contains a lot of books, not just Austen's novels, but biographies, reading companions and other books associated with Jane and the Regency period plus themed gifts, greeting cards etc. The stock was generally tasteful.
They show a small film in the Learning Centre. It is a modern building around the back, but designed to keep to the period. There are a few interactive games for kids, but they are not really Jane Austen related. The toilet block is also near here, although I didn't use the facilities, they seemed to be in another modern block and suitable for disabled visitors.
Outside of the shop there is the Bakehouse which was an outhouse containing a bread oven, washtub and a donkey carriage which I believed were all used by Jane and her family. When you go to the house, you will first come to the kitchen which has been decorated in the style of a typical country kitchen of the area. There has been additions in the form of a new storey above the kitchen, but the layout of the kitchen itself, is I believe, authentic. When you come out of the kitchen you go back outside and turn left into the main part of the house, there isn't a direct doorway, I don't know if that was always the case. The room you enter into is the Drawing Room, in here is a piano similar to one owned by the family and an authentic Austen owned bureau style writing desk. There are lots of pictures on the walls, both here and throughout the house, of family members (Jane had lots of brothers) and a family tree. There are also items of correspondence and a calculation of Jane's worth (£800 - quite a bit in those days). The room leads to a vestibule, which may have been the original entrance hall (the door may have been moved) and in here you will see some items and letters that were owned or written by Jane. The vestibule leads into the Dining Room, a good sized room and we learn here that Jane was in charge of preparing breakfast and held the key for the cupboard containing the tea and coffee which would have been quite expensive. At the back of the house is a reading room, I'm not sure as to its original purpose but it contains Austen's novels in various languages and other related reference books for visitors to browse.
Upstairs you see Jane and Cassandra's bedroom (they always shared) containing a replica of the bed they probably used when younger and living in nearby Steventon. The other upstairs rooms contain Austen family heirlooms and memorabilia. Two of Jane's brothers were Naval officers and some of their possessions are here too, there are also dresses used in film adaptations and other info on the family. Furniture is usually reproduction, but there is a bedspread made by the ladies on display in one of the rooms and various other personal items.
Overall we spent about an hour here, the gardens are pretty and well maintained and there is lots for Jane Austen fans to learn about her. Certainly this house will appeal to her many fans, or those interested in the Regency period and I do recommend a visit. The garden area, toilets and downstairs part of the house are accessible to disabled visitors. There is no cafe here, but there is a tea shop across the road.
Summary: Jane Austen's former home, now museum.