Lottery Cash Lifts Lid On Jane Austen's Life

by Emily Sands | 16 September 2005
Photo shows the outside of Jane Austen's House.

Jane revised Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility while she lived at the house and wrote Emma and Mansfield Park. © Emily Sands/ 24 Hour Museum.

Hoping to meet Mr Darcy, Emily Sands went to Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire, recently awarded a Your Heritage grant to help visitors learn more about the writer’s life.

There is a buzz surrounding the pretty cottage where Jane Austen lived from 1809 to 1817. With yet another film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice released soon, there are lots of tourists eager to see the place where Austen revised the novel.

The grant awarded to the house has come as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund, aiming to help support community-focused heritage projects. Jane West, education officer, explained that the cash was much needed.

“There wasn’t a great deal of structure to the way information about Jane and her family was set out through the house, and things were a bit old-fashioned,” she said.

Photo shows one of the rooms in the house.

The museum houses items connected with Jane and her family and the grant has helped them to be displayed. © Emily Sands/ 24 Hour Museum.

“Although there was lots of interesting information, some of it was difficult to understand, especially for people that didn’t already know a lot about Jane,” she added.

The grant has allowed exhibits to be re-labelled, and clear information panels to be added. The emphasis has been on reader-friendly text, putting Jane’s family belongings into the context of the writer’s life, and highlighting the key players in her family and circle of friends.

Photograph shows the small wooden table where Jane did her writing.

The table that Jane Austen wrote on. © Emily Sands/ 24 Hour Museum.

The house holds some fascinating family memorabilia, including Jane Austen’s will, first editions of her novels, and jewellery. But the object that gives an almost eerie sense of her life is her small writing table.

Visitors can just imagine Jane sitting at it, being warned by the ‘creaking door’ of the dining room to hide her manuscript when someone entered. Austen wrote Emma and Mansfield Park at the house. “Most people come because they love her books,” said Louise, “so it’s important that we include items related to her writing.”

The grant has also meant that cabinets have been added, allowing more delicate items to be on show.

“The thing I wanted to do more than anything was display her manuscript letters,” said Louise. “They were being stored in the safe, but I felt it was very important that people had that real contact with her, so now they are on show in cases with controlled lighting and humidity.”

Photo shows Jane Austen's bedroom.

Jane's bedroom. A copy of Jane's poem called Venta, written three days before her death, is dispalyed here. © Emily Sands/ 24 Hour Museum.

The final addition to come from the grant has just been completed – audio trails for the blind and partially sighted.

Louise is delighted at the new developments. “They have been very well received, and I feel really happy and proud to have worked on something that will help people learn about Jane Austen’s life,” she said.

As for the new film of Pride and Prejudice, Louise is happy at the thought of it inspiring people to find out more about the writer. “Some people might groan about yet another adaptation, but if it brings a new generation of readers, then we’re delighted.”

Shows the Renaissance in the Regions logo.

Emily Sands is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the South Eastern region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

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