The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


On June 21st seventeen members of the Mothers’ Union met at the Asda car park and set off in four cars for lunch at the Rose and Crown at Upper Farringdon, the food was excellent. We then set off to the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton. First we saw a film on the lives of the Austen family. Jane Austen spent the last eight years of her life at this cottage with her elderly mother and sister. Jane’s brother Edward had inherited the Knights Chawton Estate and offered his widowed mother and his two sisters the use of this cottage for the rest of their lives. In the security of this house and the lovely garden which she walked in every day after lunch with her sister Cassandra and friend Martha Lloyd, this is where her genius flourished.

The first room we stepped into was the Drawing Room, there was a very elegant Regency window which was put in to give the ladies more privacy from the road. Jane would have practised on a piano similar to the one in this room. The Vestibule was a narrow area more like a hallway, it is possible that the front door was where the window is now, the door was moved later to the Dining Parlour. In the display cabinet were manuscript letters written by Jane Austen, it is most rare to see any manuscript material of Jane Austen’s on display. The Dining Parlour: here is a display of very fine china, a Wedgewood dinner service some of which had a monogram, possibly the Knights. Jane and her brother and Fanny her niece chose this at the Wedgewood showrooms in London. On the wall near the door is a calculation of Jane’s earnings, it shows that she earned £808, about £40,000 at today’s value. We now move into a very small room called the Reading Room, its use is not known but has been referred to as the offices. We now continue up a narrow staircase to Jane Austen’s bedroom. The bed is a replica of one that Jane and Cassandra shared at Steventon, a previous home, the wicker chair in the room had belonged to the Austen’s, there was a very small closet for toilet purposes. In the opposite corner was another exit, it was suggested that it led to another small room which Jane used to write her novels. On the wall is a water colour painted by Cassandra, also are some admiring comments about Jane’s novels by Sir Walter Scott and Sir Winston Churchill. We move on again to Mrs Austen’s bedroom, a small room  which had two back to back showcases which contained memorabilia. The first contains books owned by the Austen family including Martha Lloyd’s recipe book written while she was here. In the second case were miniatures of the family and family jewellery, of particular interest are the locks of hair mounted in brooches as mementoes of deceased family members, there in a cupboard devoted to the Austen family pastimes. On the walls as in all the rooms there were accounts of the family.

The Dressing Room: in this small room is an account of the many houses which Jane lived in or had visited including Steventon, Bath, Southampton, Godmersham, Chawton and Winchester; in the cases are several interesting items including items relating to dress.

The Admirals Room: this was the biggest of all the bedrooms and contained the memorabilia of Jane’s two brothers. Francis Austen became Admiral of the Fleet and was knighted by King William IV. On one of the walls are the Letters Patent in 1862 appointing him as High Admiral, this was an honorary appointment given under the Great Seal of England by Queen Victoria. There is the portable bed Francis took with him on all his voyages and in the cupboard is displayed the family silver, in particular the snuff box and salver presented to Charles by his brother officers. There are also examples of wood carvings by Francis. In a small room off the Admirals Room and protected by glass is a bed with a wonderful patchwork coverlet made by Jane, her mother and sister, it was made from materials from their own and nieces cotton dresses. The lovely Caen lace shawl belonged to Fanny Knight, their niece.

Back downstairs to the Kitchen which originally was situated in a wing at the back of the house, a single storey until the end of the 18th century, in the 19th century three rooms were built over it. The kitchen has only been open to the public for the first time to show the inglenook fireplace and the little brick oven.

The Bakehouse is reached by going outside from the cottage, it now houses Jane’s donkey cart, they had two donkeys in a field at the bottom of the garden. One can also see the brick bread oven and the copper washtub.

The Gardens produced most of the vegetables and fruit, we are told they did a lot of preserving. The Herb garden was essential as it was used for medicinal purposes and for flavouring. The mint bed we kept passing had many different types of mint growing and the aroma was lovely.

This is a wonderful place to visit, full of information. On the walls in every room were these wonderful short descriptions full of the family and Jane’s life. It is well worth a visit. We then had afternoon tea in the most delightful old fashioned café across the road. To end our visit we then went by car down the road to The Church of St Nicholas where we said Compline, a lovely way to end such an interesting day.

Jennefer Higginbottom

Summer Edition 2012

Mothers’ Union Outing