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Performance    


Learning    

JANE AUSTEN'S HOUSE MUSEUM

Condition Survey, Repairs Schedule

and Feasibility Study for Development

2018+


Society    


Home    

Early C19th British novelist Jane Austen's former home at Chawton Cottage, Hampshire was founded as a Museum dedicated to her life and works in 1949, and is now acknowledged to be 'The Most Treasured Austen Site in the World', with over 40,000 visitors each year. www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk


Following our work since March 2018 to produce a Condition Survey and Repairs Schedule for the Grade I listed Museum site, we were appointed in April 2019 by the Trustees to undertake a Feasibility Study examining how to improve the visitor experience.


The Trustees’ brief outlined the following aims and suggested how these could be achieved:


AIMS:

- Increased public access to the historic house and outbuildings;

- Increased capacity for visitors;

- Increased revenue with a sustainable business model;

- Improved quality of daily experience for staff and volunteer community.


HOW TO ACHIEVE THESE AIMS:

- A greater understanding of the history and significance of the building;

- Access for all to the first floor of the main house;

- Amendments to the house to improve visitor flow;

- Less doubling-up of functions, ie designated spaces for different activities;

- Staff offices removed from the historic buildings;

- Facilities to prepare and serve refreshments;

- More pleasant welcome area;

- Larger and more efficient shop.


Following completion of our Feasibility Study in summer 2019, the

Trustees are consulting with stakeholders and potential funders to take the ideas forward.

Early 1800s

Jane Austen's period of occupation as family home


1700s

Estate Bailiff's home and briefly an inn.

Early - mid 1900s

Three tenements and a Club Room

GROUND FLOOR

FIRST FLOOR

SITE PLAN AS EXISTING

Jane Austen's House Museum,

Chawton, Hampshire.

Based on survey carried out by

Hampshire County Council Architects

Copy of a watercolour of Chawton Cottage, circa 1809. JAHM Collection

Front facade of Chawton Cottage, circa 1947.

Photo extracted from newspaper cutting in the JAHM Collection

Contemporary photograph (from Google Streetview) showing a neighboring thatched cottage with timber frame and brick infill which may be similar to Chawton Cottage until the late C18th or so when it was altered and enlarged.



SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SITE


As the former home of Jane Austen from 1809-17, the place where she wrote the majority of her work, the site is of international significance.  The main house is listed grade I and the outbuildings grade II.  As such,  the development of any proposals to change the site will need to be developed alongside a Conservation Management Plan, with clear evidence and justification for any proposals.


FEASIBILITY STUDY


The study begins with a brief analysis of the existing building, charting its development through time based on evidence in historic maps.  We then collate all other forms of desk-based evidence we have consulted, and show a series of conjectural diagrams we developed suggesting how the main house may have changed since the 1700s up to now (sample of which are below).


We then look at the present situation, how visitors flow around the

site and raise some of the problems and opportunities for improvement.


Using existing survey drawings from 2007 (right),

we constructed a 3D CAD model of the existing,

which we use to illustrate potential changes to the

interior of the main house, and provide preliminary

justification for doing so.


We then look at the rest of the site, and show how it may be possible to meet the Museum’s brief by sensitively providing additional space, so the main house can be opened up more fully to the public and perhaps returned to more like it may have been when Jane Austen lived there.


We then take a tour round the new proposals, with a series of photographs and photo-collages, before a review of costs, programme and procurement.  We finish with a brief look at our alternative proposals for the site, and a summary of some other museums who have recently carried out similar works.  The study is not available for publication at this stage.


HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT


The diagrams below show our preliminary conjectural ideas on the historic development of the building over time. According to Peter Davies, Head of Historic Buildings for Hampshire County Council in 2007, the origins of the building are likely to be late C15th or early c16th, the remnants of the timber frame of which are still contained within the existing structure.  He suggests that the building would have been a farmhouse, rather than a manor house or merchant’s house.  Records indicate use as a farmhouse up until it was briefly and inn and brewhouse in the mid C18th, until 1791 when the site was returned to residential use.



 


There are likely to have been a number of modifications

made to the house through the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s which

we record in the drawings below.  One focus for us in this task is

to understand which parts of the building were likely to have been

present in Jane Austen’s period of occupation (1809-17), and which

have been changed later.  This will have clear impact upon a Statement of Significance and any consequent design proposals. 


We try to link what we know about the way the building was used - learning from the work of local historians - with the way the interiors may have been amended to suit, guided where possible by traces in the building fabric visible on site.  Much of this remains guesswork at this stage, to be qualified by focussed opening-up works on site during a later phase of work. Until this site study has been concluded, these diagrams remain strictly conjectural.