We visited Chawton House to take a look at the official home to early women’s writing, and see whether there was anything here to inspire and educate families within Hampshire. Other than some stunning Lemon Cake in the cafe of course..
Chawton House is known as “The Great House” in Jane Austen’s letters, and was actually the house owned by her wealthy brother, Edward. She is thought to have visited on many occasions, and there is a special seat within the house with a great view of the gardens that was thought to inspire her literary creations.
We have, as always, taken a look at Chawton House to see how a family visit would be – we’ve come up with a few ideas to inspire the kids, but first let’s find out a little bit about the house first.
Though the house was owned by the Knight family originally, because it was meant to pass through the male family, and the Knights seemed to struggle with heirs, it has passed to different families over the years by decree of the crown. Edward Austen became a ward of the Knight family when he was 12, and Jane was a regular visitor here. It seems as though Jane, and his wife weren’t on the best terms, as after his wife died, Jane seemed to visit the house much more. She was also provided with more wealth after his death from the Knight family coffers.
It isn’t know what happened between his wife and his sister – but historians feel that a feud was likely between wife, and sister, so upon her death, Edward felt more able to support her and the rest of his family.
What is Chawton House’s link to women’s early literature?
Chawton House has the largest collection of women’s early literature, to rival the Bodleian in Oxford. Sandy Learner, the founder of Cisco, bought and restore the house to keep the collection for academics and others to study. There are books from 1600-1830 written by women writers, and available for viewing within the library by booking in advance.
Younger children won’t be interested in this – but those keen on history and literature at school, would definitely be. It is a joy to see some of the inspiration children’s books about women in history in the shop too, perfect for inspiring the younger generation of writers and change-makers:
- Great Women Who Changed the World,
- Fantastically Great Women who made History,
- Fantastically Great Women Scientists and their Stories,
- Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet,
- Fantastically Great Women who worked Wonders, and
- Fantastically Great Women: True Stories of Ambition, Adventure and Bravery.
Some of these from Bloomsbury are available as a Great Women Box Set: a fabulous way to introduce our kids to the women than changed the world.
There is also something for the adults in the library too – well hidden from prying eyes…..
A drinks cabinet hidden by some rather clever false book fronts!
Jane Austen is a power house of women’s literature, but she isn’t the only one to inspire the children in the house. There are other displays that help to show kids how important women’s literature has been through the ages; both inside and outside the house.
Six things to do to inspire your kids at Chawton House
The house and garden’s here at Chawton have a strong literary connection, so we thought it would be appropriate to offer a few ideas to visitors about how the visit to the house can inspire your kids creativity too. Ideas for giving your kids some creative activities while you explore the house and garden include:
1. People watching from the window: Sitting on the window seat that Jane Austen used to people watch and think about what you might be inspired to write and you look out onto the gardens.
2. Writing spooky stories: Review the fantastic Mary Shelley collection within the house and write your own horror story. Mary Shelley is a classic written, and her Frankenstein book has been translated into many different languages, and reproduced many times, as you can see from the exhibition with the house. We visited the house at Halloween, and they definitely got into the spirit of Mary Shelley with a fabulous spooky walk in the gardens.
3. Drawing your own botanical collection: the botanical collection within the house is beautiful. Some of the books displayed have gorgeous images of flowers within them. Why not take a look, and the kids can draw their own? Alternatively, take some photographs in the garden depending on the season you visit, and use these to inspire either a drawing or a story when you get home, or back to the classroom.
4. Exploring the gardens including the gothic trail: we visited at Halloween, as you can tell from the fantastic Gothic Trail that was available while we were there, created by the staff at the house. However, the gardens, and staff always have trials to explore, so take a look at what is available and get the kids to guide you through the gardens
5. Designing a Regency dress: the furniture and the rooms within the house are presented in strong Elizabethan style. In one of the upstairs bedrooms there is a replica Regency dress which the staff have created. Use this to inspire more fashion creations. It is a beautiful dress – but what do your kids like / dislike about it? And can they imagine what wearing it might have been like too?
6. Play spy the graffiti on the Mellichamp and design your own: If you take a look at this picture, you can spot the Graffiti on it from a 12 year old niece of Jane Austen’s. Why not get your own kids to design some graffiti? They can pick where they would theoretically create it, and then design it!
Have you thought of anything else? Do let us know so that you can help other visitors to the site.
We hope you like these ideas, and enjoy your time at Chawton House.
If you want to see other articles on UK locations and ideas, then check these out:
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It has been a pleasure having you, and we hope to see you on the site again soon.