Close neighbours of Jane Austen's house
This morning we walked to the bus station, near the Guildhall
(City Hall) and the High Street. The Tourist Centre had given us a prepared sheet of instructions for going to Jane Austen’s house in the village of Chawton
. As the bus had relatively few people, we were able to sit up on the second deck right at the front for an unobscured view.
We had hardly left the City centre when a “character” (old drunk, he called himself later) used our accents as a pretext for starting to chat. He was quite funny and was admiring of us to travel “without our husbands”. When conversation flagged, he interrupted a young man across the aisle who was working on a laptop listening to music.
This young man really was interesting: a music student who wrote “mashups” and played in a band called Second Monday that tours Europe for accommodation, food and beer. He was very nice – politely interested in what we were doing, and he put away his electronics for the rest of the time we were on the bus. His name was James; the other fellow was John. John was going to the US embassy in Grosvenor
Pilgrimage for Jane Austen fans worldwide
Square in London to collect his American pension. He said he had lived in the US most of his life, used to be rich but lost all his money, and visited there once a year for a week, staying with his ex-wife!
When we got off the bus at our stop, name “Alton Butts”, a family group of three offered to show us the way to Chawton since they were also going there (for a hike in the woods, as it happened). They helped us cross a very busy road and we tromped at a quick pace along what they told us was part of St Swithun's Way
to Winchester. As we entered Chawton we saw several thatched
homes dating from the mid-sixteenth century – very well cared-for, with lovely flower gardens.
Jane Austen’s home
was at the far end of the village on the corner. At first we wandered in the garden taking pictures. At my suggestion we walked back along the street to take photos and video, because rain was forecast. Only then did we go in the house. The entrance fee was £6.50 and we had a 2 for 1 coupon. At the person at
Gardens of Chawton Cottage
Authentic to the time, a green oasis of gentle walks
the desk was clipping out our coupon, I mentioned we were members of JASNA
. “Oh”, she said, “then you don’t have to pay. Just sign our book”. So we did.
The first room was the drawing room which is now the shop. Then we looked at quite a few artifacts in the dining room. Throughout the house most things belonged to the wealthier members of her family (two brothers, Francis
, were Admirals and another, Edward
, was adopted by wealthy cousins). They were obviously a close family. Several letters were displayed as photocopies and transcriptions. The most substantial Jane Austen artifact was a small, round side table on which she wrote several of her novels. After her early death it was given to a servant and recovered much later. Upstairs were the bedrooms and a display in each room of typical clothing. Most interesting was an explanation by the exhibit’s couturier regarding the many steps she took to make the clothes authentic – including not using couture standards for essentially homemade dresses. The loveliest artifacts were a spider-web-fine large lace collar made by Jane Austen herself, a lace shawl she owned and an intricate quilt made by
St Nicholas Church
Less than five minutes walk from Jane Austen House
her mother, her sister and herself. The whole house was well laid out to give the feel of how she would have lived there on a daily basis. One room was devoted to the history of her five brothers. The hallway was lined with prints of the illustrations in Pride and Prejudice. And the end vestibule was devoted to a description of her death from (theoretically) either Addison's disease
, and letters from that time. Cassandra wrote a particularly heartfelt letter.
Since it was after 2:00, we decided to have lunch before exploring the two out-buildings. The person at the desk suggested we might have to go into Alton, a half hour walk. Across the road was Cassandra’s Tea Room, closed on Monday and Tuesday. The pub close-by was open, however, and the kitchen was still open. After confusion about which sandwich fillings were still available, Deidre had a crab-filled baguette and I had one with three thick slices of tender roast beef.
Fortified we returned to the last part of the display in a couple of out-buildings, some contextual displays on Jane Austen’s time. We were glad that it hadn’t rained yet, but it was chilly and
Jane Austen's mother and sister outlived her by many years
dark. Although not initially part of our plan, we walked to St Nicholas Church
down the road where Jane Austen’s mother and sister are buried. Our surprise was that they both lived long lives, her mother to age 87 and her sister to age 78.
By this time we had to really hustle to catch the bus. Actually, we should have just stayed and looked round the church, because we missed the bus by about 3 minutes. So we stood by the busy road for 57 minutes enduring about 15 minutes of windblown rain. Once on the bus, the route was somewhat different and longer, driving to Winchester
through newer parts of some towns. The bus was full of school kids going home.
So … we were too late to go to Evensong again. However, we were still able to visit the Public Library
. It has been recently refurbished behind its “listed” historical front. There are two floors - part of the second is an art gallery. There was a beautiful, delicate silver mantilla. They let me take a few pictures of the library lay-out and use the internet to contact our B & B in Bath about the possible arrival
Winchester Public Library
Outside a heritage building, inside a modern space
of an envelope for me. And, I asked the librarian about the location of the Wyckham Arms
, a very old pub where we had considered staying.
Our option was to have dinner there instead. It was on Canon Street, outside the walls near the King’s Gate. After a ten minute walk, we entered a corner door into a warm, dark, lively, extremely traditional pub. They showed us through to the restaurant, which was decorated with innumerable pub items from hundreds of years of business. The dinners were quite expensive, so we were self-indulgent in buying two appetizers and two desserts instead of mains – all delicious. Roasted pigeon breast with black pudding, country paté with salad, sticky toffee pudding and “chocolate Nemesis”.
of Jane Austen's Garden.
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