Jane Austen Regency Week 2015 boasted of quite a few events and talks as well as two walking tours hosted by the local historian, Jane Hurst. Susan Mason-Milks and I both signed up for Ms. Hurst’s walk of Chawton the first weekend, and were impressed with Ms. Hurst’s knowledge of the local history, as well as the former occupants and owners of many of the cottages in Chawton—even giving us lines from Jane Austen’s letters to illustrate Miss Austen’s opinions or knowledge of the individuals or families she knew.
For those who might be unaware of Jane Austen’s history in Chawton, Jane’s brother, Edward, was heir for the Thomas Knight II and his wife Catherine since they had no children of their own. The Knights, who owned Godmersham in Kent, Chawton House in Hampshire, as well as other properties, selected Edward as their heir, paid for his education, and upon receiving his inheritance in 1797, Edward took on the name Knight to become Edward Austen-Knight.
In 1809, Edward offered the use of a cottage in Chawton to his mother and his sisters, Cassandra and Jane. Jane wrote the final drafts of all of her works in Chawton, publishing four novels during this time and two posthumously.
The tour began on the Alton side of an underpass that connects Chawton and the town of Alton. The underpass would not have been present in Jane Austen’s day, but it’s built along a path that existed in her time. Miss Austen walked frequently between Chawton and Alton for various purposes. On Regency Day, Ms. Hurst informed us that Jane Austen visited the building behind our table to see the local doctor, and it is also known that she collected her post at what is now The Swan, a local inn and restaurant.
Ms. Hurst also explained how the lines separating Alton and Chawton had changed since Jane Austen made those walks back and forth between her home and Alton, giving a better idea of Miss Austen’s surroundings.
After passing through the underpass to where present day Chawton begins, Ms. Hurst enlightened us on the many cottages and homes which would have been present in Jane Austen’s time, often explaining a link to Miss Austen if it existed.
We learned about laborer’s cottages, the old Dower House for the Knight family (now Alphonsus House), some of the local topography, as well as a bit about Jane Austen’s House, a few facts surprising quite a few of us. All of us found it interesting that the main intersection in front of Jane Austen’s house was once a lake, and the murmurs and photos abounded when Ms. Hurst pointed out a façade constructed of a sort of brick tile, placed over the original bricks on one wall of Jane Austen’s house, which indicated there was once a problem with damp inside the home.
Jane Hurst’s walking tour helped me to connect many of the old cottages and locales to Jane Austen in a way I would have missed simply walking around the village–not to mention the information on the owners and how the structures had changed over time.
Chawton is a quaint and beautiful village so steeped in Austen history that anyone who loves Jane Austen can’t help but adore it! It is easy for me, now that I have been to Jane Austen’s old stomping grounds, to see why she was so content in such surroundings. She would have to be happy to write as she did while living in Chawton.
Thanks to Jane Austen Regency Week for use of two of the photos! 🙂 I was so busy taking pictures of the cottages that I didn’t take any of the group!