I was initially surprised to find out about Jane Austen’s House Museum located in Chawton, Hampshire because I had thought that the house in Bath was the only Jane austen centre in the UK. Austen did spend some time in Bath after her father retired but Austen, her mother and her sister moved to this house in Chawton after her father died. If you’re wondering what the difference is between the two museums, Jane Austen’s House Museum seems to distinguish itself by stating that this is the place where Austin wrote all her books. Personally after visiting both, I much prefer Jane Austen’s House Museum compared to the one in Bath mainly because the interpretation of this place is more about Austen and her life in general rather than her life in Bath specifically. In this review I’ll take you through the museum and point out things that made me like this place over the one in Bath.
As you enter through a small gate, you’ll first need to purchase tickets at the gift shop which also acts as the entrance to the museum. I would suggest going into the learning centre if it’s not occupied by school groups, there is a short video about Jane Austen’s life that provides a good introduction on what you’re about to see in the house itself. There is also the bakehouse which you can visit and see ongoing restoration works. This museum is run by trustees who are all Jane Austen enthusiasts and much of the restoration work has been funded by Austen enthusiasts all over the world, it’s remarkable how so many people are connected through Austen’s works. Since I made my visit in the winter there wasn’t much to see in the garden, but if you do visit during the other seasons it is a nice place to have a picnic and enjoy the outdoors.
Before you enter into the main house, don’t forget to visit the kitchen at the side. I love that you can practice writing with a quill and leave your notes and messages on the community board. Since it was Christmas there was a little clove pomander that you could make and take home, I love this little crafts as these are the little things that makes the experience memorable.
In the house itself there are several rooms to explore. If you brought your kids along there is a little treasure hunt they can do to receive a sticker for if they complete and pass it to a room attendant (pass it to them before you exit the house itself). This and other kid friendly activities can be picked up in the little room that you enter as you exit the gift shop to go to the garden. The house contains several authentic pieces either from the time or belonging to Austen and her family. You’ll read about Austen’s time in the house living with her mother and sister on the provision of her wealthy brother who lived nearby in Chawton house, you’ll learn about her siblings, what family life would have looked like and also her writing.
I enjoyed that the museum also displayed items donated by enthusiasts or items related to Jane Austen as it shows how much impact Austen had on the world.
In my opinion there’s just enough on display to satisfy visitors who want to learn more about Austen and not overtire visitors with too much information. There isn’t much furniture but that’s alright with me especially since there isn’t much space to begin with and the museum can get crowded during peak seasons. I think there’s enough space for everyone to enjoy the house properly but still give you the sense of what it might have looked like when Austen lived in it.
Overall, my takeaway is that the Jane Austen House museum is a must go for Austen enthusiasts. The museum does an excellent job of telling the tale of Jane’s personal life in the context of the house and as a visitor I felt connected to this beloved author. I would budget at least 90 minutes if you really want to go through all the text and the entire house thoroughly. The museum doesn’t have a café but there is a pub right across the museum if you needed to get some lunch. The gift shop has many Jane Austen related merchandise and it was a great struggle to refrain myself from buying everything. If you plan to visit, the house is a bit out of the way as it’s not a touristy area but if you’re on the way to Bath this would be a priority stop over.
Museum website: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/
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Amanda is a postgraduate Masters in Care of Collections student at Cardiff University. She has travelled all the way from Malaysia to pursue her passion in museums and hopes to work as a preventive conservator in the future. She has a myriad of interests outside of museums too and blogs about it at https://mylittlechateau.wordpress.com/