The first thing that struck me about Jane Austen’s House Museum was how light and warm it was even on a brisk February day. I could completely understand why Jane Austen had been inspired to complete six of her novels in this pretty spot.
Chawton was top of our list during our stay in Winchester because of its connections to Austen. Jane lived in the village from 1809 to 1817 with her mother, sister Cassandra and close friend, Martha Lloyd. The family moved into the cottage after it was granted to them rent-free by their brother, Edward Knight, who had inherited nearby Chawton House. These days the Museum is run as a private charity and you can freely roam the house and gardens.
The building stands out as soon as you enter the village. There’s a free car park opposite (just beyond the pub parking) as well a children’s playground. You enter via the courtyard and pay in the shop. It’s a pretty hefty £9 per adult and £4 for 6-16s, but this gives you access for a full year.
Rather than check out the outbuildings, we headed straight for the kitchen which turned out to be full of activities for kids. Little M made us all a lavender bag (for a small extra donation) while I tried on a Regency dress and bonnet. Al practised writing with a quill. If you’re visiting with children, this is a great place to occupy them while you spend time in the house (note kids need to be accompanied by an adult).
When we’d had a go at all the activities, we made our way to the drawing room where a volunteer guide greeted us. I was a little concerned that Little M might be bored but a ‘find the portrait’ quiz kept her occupied while we explored the rooms. Despite it being a compact property, there’s a fair amount to see. I recommend reading the 41 Objects page on the official website before you go to get a good overview. My favourite piece (as well as many other people’s I suspect) was Jane’s writing desk, which can be found in the dining parlour. It is absolutely tiny, but it obviously worked well for her! Her father’s bookcase was also a highlight. This is where he stored his small library which encouraged Jane to love books too. Today it contains several first editions of Jane Austen’s novels.
There is a reading room, but this is only a modern addition. Jane never gained the library she dreamed off and instead accessed most of her reading material at Chawton House. If you’re interested in the feminist angle then I would highly recommend factoring in a visit as there’s more of an emphasis on women writers here than at the House Museum.
Visitors have access to five rooms upstairs. The first you come across is the Admiral’s Room which is dedicated to Jane’s brothers Francis and Charles. This was timely for me as I was rereading Mansfield Park at the time and was interested to find out more about where Jane’s interest in the Navy came from. A beautiful quilt made by Jane, Cassandra and Mrs Austen is displayed in the next room together with a small collection precious objects belonging to the family.
There’s also a dressing room, a family room and Jane’s bedroom. The latter was shared by both Jane and Cassandra. Although the bed is a replica, it’s thought to be very similar to the original bed at their childhood home, Steventon. It was very moving to stand in the space and think about how much longer Jane could have enjoyed Chawton if her life hadn’t been cut short by illness.
The Garden and Outbuildings
I would have liked to linger in the house, but Little M finished her quiz (and got the badge) so we decided to tour the garden. It’s not huge, yet big enough for a decent wander and the plants are very similar to those in Jane’s day. We also made friends with a couple of friendly cats. As an extra bonus, outdoor games are available for kids. Again, ideal for keeping everyone entertained if the weather is fine.
To round off our visit, we watched the short film about Jane’s life which plays at the rear of the outbuildings. It’s probably better to do this first, but it worked equally well at the end of the tour. Little M listened to all of it so Jane’s story had clearly captured her imagination! After such an excellent morning, we definitely wanted to buy something in the shop. As expected, it’s a complete treasure trove for Austenites and sells lots of beautiful editions. In the end, we chose a Pride and Prejudice magnet and miniature book for our tiny library.
From a family perspective, our visit to Jane Austen’s House Museum was a really satisfying experience. It was truly special to spend time in Jane Austen’s beloved home and get a feel for the place that had inspired so many classic novels. We also appreciated the work that the charity had done to create a museum that all ages will enjoy. However if you’re looking for more in-depth literary or historical information, I would advise adding Chawton House to your itinerary. The two together form an ideal bookish day out.
- Cost: £9 for adults, £4 for 6-16 year olds, £7 for students, £8 for 65+, £4 job seekers, £4 disabled (carer free), £22 family ticket (2 adults & 3 kids)
- Opening Times: 7 days a week (Feb to May: 10.30-16.30/June to Aug: 10.00-17.00/Sept to Dec: 10:30 to 16:30)
- Equipment: None needed
- Time Taken: 1.5 hours
- Facilities: Toilets on site in the outhouse
- Accessibility: The ground floor, outbuildings and toilet are all accessible.
- Food: We ate a picnic but there are cafes and pubs in the village.
- Nearby Attractions: Chawton House is 10 minutes walk away.
- Accommodation: We stayed at the Winchester Premier Inn in Winchester.
If you’ve enjoyed this guide, then you might like to see our other Literary Travel posts.
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