Almost as familiar to Jane Austen as her own home’ but in every sense larger, Chawton House is a few minutes’ walk from what is now Jane Austen’s House Museum. It is easy to imagine how she would have used her frequent visits to provide details for her novels, for example Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s home. While not on the Pemberley scale, it is still very impressive.
We settled for the gardens, plus the tea room, as it was a very warm day. Even so the reception area with books by Gothic novelists gave an insight on ‘Northanger Abbey,’ but there was nothing of that style about the gardens until we reached the Wilderness, as even the Fernery was rather domesticated.
The Library Terrace, developed a century after Edward Austen’s refashioning of the gardens, is a good place for open air refreshments, discreetly beneath the South Lawn and its ha-ha. This follows the ideas of Capability Brown, whereas the Terrace bears the influence of Lutyens. The sloping site gives various vistas leading towards the serpentine gravel path established in the nineteenth century, or across countryside. It is good to see a garden developing in different styles just as a house would have.
A particular feature is the Walled Garden, actually two areas. One was referred to by Jane Austen as a planned kitchen garden, but was not completed until after her death. An ornamental flower garden was created later with a wall dividing it from the kitchen garden; later still the flower garden became an orchard. It now has four beds and the orchard. In one bed is the Elizabeth Blackwell Herb Garden, featuring medicinal herbs for treating different parts of the body arranged in separate beds. ‘A Curious Herbal,’ Elizabeth Blackwell’s book, sold in sufficient numbers to enable her to procure her husband’s release from debtors’ prison.
In several parts of the gardens are quotations from Jane Austen and a letter written by Elizabeth Montagu in 1762, which is inscribed on a circular bench. Particularly relevant in May was the quotation from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ regarding how picking strawberries brings the drawback of having to bend.
The Wilderness is just the sort of woodland that small children can frighten themselves in without any fear of harm. Coming out of it with a wonderful scent of wild garlic we caught sight of the house again and decided it was time for tea. The old kitchen is the ideal place for it, if you have had enough fresh air.
Leaving the estate, not this time visiting the church as before, we were able to glance back and see it in the agricultural setting where all such houses belong.