Chawton House was built in 1580 by John Knight and passed down through the Knight family until Sir Richard Knight, who died without male heirs. The house was then passed to Richard Martin, who then took the name Knight. The home then was inherited by Thomas Brodnax May, at which time, he changed his name as well. It was the son of Thomas Knight who was also childless and left his estate to Edward Austen, the elder brother of Jane Austen. Of course, Edward Austen added Knight to his name. This was how he had the cottage in Chawton for Jane, her sister Cassandra, and her mother to live in after Rev. George Austen’s death.
In 1987, Richard Knight inherited the property, which had gone into disrepair, and sold a 125 year lease to Sandy Lerner and Leonard Bosack, who restored the property and started Chawton House Library, focussing on early women’s writing from 1600-1830.
Now, when you go to the library, your admission and ticket is good for a year, so if there is any reason you might return, don’t lose your ticket! (I say that knocking on wood that mine is still in my purse!) The ladies at the entry were lovely and helpful and one even showed us into the Great Room and a few of its features. Her only faux pas was that she referred to my daughter as my son, which incensed my daughter. “I mean, what boy carries a pink purse, Mom!” I know it’s terrible, but I couldn’t help but giggle. After all, she would’ve been the prettiest boy I’d ever seen! The ladies were so kind that I couldn’t hold it against the one–even if my daughter did 🙂
Anyway, don’t forget to look for the “witchmarks” to the side of the fireplace. These scratches in the wood date back to the 16th century and were meant to ward off evil spirits.
The tour takes you through a good bit of the home, has some of Edward Austen Knight’s clothing, and a great many portraits of the Knight family. The stained glass windows on the upper floor were fascinating as it seems new panes were added by each heir as they inherited the home.
I do recommend visiting Chawton House in nice weather as it is a lot of fun to walk from the Jane Austen House Museum to Chawton House and around the grounds. How often could Jane Austen herself taken the exact same walk? That is one of the things that pops in your head as you walk through Alton, Chawton, and the gardens at Chawton House.
I loved looking at the views outside of the different windows and my daughter and I took a pretty walk through the gardens. We even learned that dandelions help ripen fruit from a sign in the orchard. Chawton House is definitely a do not miss if you’re a Jane Austen Fan, but it also holds a lot for those who may not be. A great Elizabethan house, beautiful gardens and Hampshire countryside surround the home, not to mention the library!
The last stop before we explored the gardens was the library, which was a single room, but stacked floor to ceiling with old books. It is also available for research purposes to those who require it. I would be afraid to touch some of the old books for fear they would fall apart!