Pat and I made our way down to the city centre to join the 53 or so other members of the Group. We were picked up by one of King’s Coaches coaches to visit Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, Hampshire, and then go on to Petworth House in Kent.
Jane Austen lived at Chawton Cottage for the last eight years or so of her life. One of her brothers had been adopted by wealthy relatives who had left him their three estates, one of which was Chawton. He gave the cottage rent-free to his mother as a home for her, her two daughters and their friend, Martha Lloyd. Jane and her sister Cassandra had shared a bedroom when they were children and continued to do so as adults at Chawton.
Although Jane Austen had started writing earlier, she was living at Chawton Cottage when she had her first novel published and was to write most of her works there. The cottage is now owned by a trust, thanks to a benefactor who bought it when it came on to the market in 1947. It is furnished in the style Jane would have known and includes her writing desk (although only the top is original); to modern eyes it looks much too small to write on.
The cottage faces on to the main village road, which was quite busy in those days. To give the women greater privacy Jane’s brother had a window in one of the downstairs rooms bricked up and another made in the side facing the garden.
The cottage is modest in size when you consider it housed four adults. Some of the rooms are quite small. Among the artefacts it now contains I was particularly struck by the “square piano”, which is apparently similar to the one Jane would have played. One of the trust’s volunteers started playing it while we were looking round. It has a very light tone.
Some of the rooms contain reproductions of the original wallpaper. An example found in one of the rooms during restoration revealed that there was a fault in the printing, suggesting the women had bought “seconds” in order to save money.
When we had finished at Chawton we got back on to the coach for the ride to Petworth House. Luckily for us, the only time it rained was during this journey. One of the villages we passed through was Selborne (of “The Natural History of Selborne” fame).
At Petworth we were all impressed by our driver’s ability to get the coach round the 90° bends in one narrow street. He deposited us outside the church, which is right next to the pedestrian entrance to Petworth House.
Petworth House is a late 17th century, Grade I listed country house. For centuries it was the southern home of the Percy family, Earls of NorThe house has been home to the same family for 900 years. It was given to the National Trust on the understanding that family members would still be able to use private apartments there.
It is a very large building but, unusually, the servants’ accommodation, store rooms and kitchens are in a completely separate building running parallel to the main house and about twenty yards from it. Apparently the food would be cooked in the kitchen and then carried by footmen into the main building via a tunnel that linked the two. The volunteer we spoke to commented that the family never expected to eat their food hot!
Petworth House is a late 17th century, Grade I listed country house. For centuries it was the southern home of the Percy family, Earls of NorThe kitchen is huge. The dairy and the room for storing meat are also large. I was taken by the tidy and well-ordered housekepper’s room.
The main building houses the National Trust’s largest art collection, actually built up by the family. The walls of the downstairs rooms are all covered with paintings, as apparently they were when the family owned it. Unfortunately the lighting has to be kept low to protect the artwork. I noticed some well-known paintings that I have seen reproduced in art books and the like. The Beauty Room contains portraits of some of the ladies of Queen Anne’s court and is named in their honour. At one time this was set up as a memorial to the Napoleonic Wars and still contains a portrait of Napoleon and a bust of the Duke of Wellington.
As well as paintings, the North Gallery houses numerous statues, including John Flaxman’s sculpture of St Michael overcoming Satan. I particularly noticed the way the sculptor had shown all the muscles on St Michael’s back.
The Chapel, which is still consecrated, is also worth a visit.
Our thanks, as usual, to Paul and Jan Chaplin for arranging the visit and to Jackie Arnot for helping them to shepherd us.