How lucky am I to have made my fifth visit to the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton! With my friend Di, on her second visit, it turned out to be a very special day. Our guide was the warm, knowledgeable Jeremy Knight (a direct descendant of Jane’s brother, Edward Knight) who volunteers there on a regular basis. We had a delightful chat about the house and his daughter Caroline Knight, who has started the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation to improve education outcomes.
In 2014 Jeremy and his wife came to Australia to visit his daughter in Melbourne and then his wife’s relatives in South Australia. He mentioned that they had intended to come to a meeting of the Jane Austen Society in Adelaide but confusion over the date led them to miss the meeting. Jeremy said that his wife Carole had been emailing ‘someone’ in Adelaide before they came. When the realization hit me, and I explained that the ‘someone’ was me, we were both delighted.
After a delicious lunch at the Greyfriars Hotel across the road, Di and I went to the Chawton Great house, as I still think of it. Jeremy met us in the lobby and our personal tour began. We were particularly impressed by the ‘Emma’ exhibition and the beautiful Library room, and hearing that there are four more air-controlled rooms in the basement for the storage of more books. Jeremy told us stories of his childhood in the house, and his children’s favourite activities. He and his family were the last descendants to live in the house until 1988, before his older brother Richard Knight negotiated the lease to Sandy Lerner when it became the Chawton House Library.
Over afternoon tea we met Jeremy’s wife Carole who kindly drove us back to the station for our train to Waterloo. We felt very lucky to be given such an insight into both houses.