Things to see and do in Chawton
PUBLISHED: 11:03 04 April 2017 | UPDATED: 11:03 04 April 2017
Chawton House Library
This pocket of Hampshire is a cultural hot house. There’s much to inspire budding writers, potters and naturalists at Chawton and near neighbour Selborne. Emma Caulton takes a wander
You’ve probably seen the films, possibly read the books, but have you visited the house? I’m talking Jane Austen, one of our greatest and most influential writers. As we report on other pages, this year is the bicentenary of her death and Chawton, where she lived for the last eight years of her life (1809-1817) and wrote or revised her books, is a must-visit.
The village is quintessential Hampshire with a chocolate box selection of timber-framed and thatched cottages and patterned brick and colour-washed country houses in a parkland setting. Despite regular coachloads of visitors, it has managed to remain largely unspoiled. It is not difficult to visualise Jane walking to and fro between what is now Jane Austen’s House Museum and her brother’s grand home, now Chawton House Library.
The Museum reopened last month (March) following work for the bicentenary commemorations. A programme of events includes ‘41 Objects’ – an exhibition telling the story of Jane’s life, writings, family and legacy through 41 objects (one for each year of Jane’s life) displayed in the Museum and online, with a different item selected each week.
In addition, as an important first step towards reinterpreting the interior as it was in Jane Austen’s day, two stunning wallpapers have been recreated from fragments of Regency papers found in corners of the house; check out the Drawing Room and Family Room. And here’s one for the diary: the day Jane left Chawton, 24 May, will be marked by a special Open Day.
Don’t miss Chawton House Library, the Elizabethan manor house owned by Jane’s brother Edward after he was chosen as heir to wealthy childless relatives, Thomas and Catherine Knight. This was why Jane ended up in Chawton, as he offered his mother and two sisters the bailiff’s cottage on his estate.
More recently Chawton House Library was restored by American philanthropist Sandy Lerner as a location for a collection of work by early women writers. It is now an internationally acclaimed research centre.
Visitors can discover the reading alcove in the Oak Room where, according to Knight family legend, Jane liked to sit. Or explore the walled garden, built by Edward. Chawton House Library is a delight, and some believe it was the inspiration for Mr Knightley’s Donwell Abbey in Emma. House and grounds are open Monday to Friday 12noon to 4.30pm and Sunday and Bank Holiday 11am to 5pm (March to October).
While you’re in Selborne, fans of The Great Pottery Throw Down may appreciate Selborne Pottery – tucked down a cobbled courtyard where you can see pieces being thrown or decorated.
People tend to visit Selborne for The Wakes, Gilbert White’s home. The pioneering naturalist influenced the development of the science of natural history and even Darwin claimed he stood on White’s shoulders. White is best known for his work Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne which has been continuously in print since 1789.
The gardens are spectacular – 30 acres of parkland, kitchen garden, wide vistas and hidden corners. Whatever publicity Chawton is enjoying this year, Selborne will probably grab next with its own regeneration project opening in early 2018.
Finally, make sure you pack a pair of boots. This is walking country. You should tackle the Zig-Zag path up to Selborne Common. White and his brother cut the path into the hillside in 1753. It is worth the climb for the view.
The obvious eateries are opposite Jane Austen House Museum: Cassandra’s Cup (named after Jane’s sister) and The Greyfriar. The former is a popular tea room with decorative teacups hanging from ceiling beams, spotty tablecloths, terrace, and a menu that includes muffins, sandwiches, cream teas and knickerbocker glories. The latter is a 16th century country inn with open fires in winter, suntrap beer garden in summer and good pub grub using local produce such as baked Tunworth cheese (made just up the road past Alton).
For more options head to neighbouring Selborne, a village of stone, brick and thatch cottages, in the lee of Selborne Hanger. Here are more lunchtime gems. The Selborne Tea Room is small, but a favourite for light lunches, such as cheese and watercress scones with onion chutney, a good choice of cakes and a highly recommended cuppa. Or there’s the Tea Parlour in Gilbert White’s House with homemade treats using fruit, vegetables and herbs from the garden.
Evening & overnight
Selborne Arms at the foot of the Zig-Zag path is a proper country pub, dating from the 17th century and popular with locals and hikers. It’s cosy with fires and beams and has a menu that focuses on local produce and traditional dishes such as pork sausages with mash washed down with local ale.
For a quirky sleepover, heading back to Chawton, turn off Selborne Road to West Worldham, for Manor Farm, birthplace of the Feather Down Farm glamping experience. Snuggle down in safari-style tents in an orchard, each with comfy beds, fluffy duvets and campfire, plus a choice of hot tub. If you prefer, there’s a log cabin for two. Stay includes fresh eggs straight from the chicken coop.
My Chawton - Anne & Tim Butler, Lavender Fields, Hartley Park Farm, Selborne Road, Alton
As a local farming family, we have farmed at Hartley Park Farm, close to Alton, for four generations. We introduced English lavender to the farm 15 years ago and our fields have now become a local landmark. We grow lavender with a mixture of vibrant wild flowers and, weather permitting, we are often a blaze of colour from mid-June to the end of August. We use our high quality essential lavender and rosemary oils in our own range of light, delicately perfumed hand, body and home fragrance products which we sell in our shop together with a variety of plants and gifts year round. We also have a tour and cream tea season, running from late June to the end of July, including two public open day weekends the first two weekends in July.
We are lucky to be surrounded by lovely countryside in such a picturesque part of Hampshire and situated between two wonderful villages, Chawton and Selborne, both steeped in history. Chawton is an attractive village with a well-known history. The playground in its parkland setting is perfect for letting yourself imagine the village in Jane Austen’s time. In the opposite direction is Selborne, famed for Gilbert White’s house and the walks up the hangers. Visitors to this part of Hampshire can also take a trip back in time with a ride on a steam locomotive from Alton to Alresford.