An Introduction to Chawton House Library

  In an age distinguished by producing extraordinary women, I hardly dare to tell you where my opinion would place you amongst them."  
Letter from Edmund Burke to Frances Burney on the publication of Cecilia in 1782

Chawton House, the grade ll* listed Elizabethan manor house that once belonged to Jane Austen's brother and 275 acres of land, has been restored as part of a major international project to establish the new Centre for the Study of Early English Women's Writing, 1600 - 1830. It houses a magnificent collection of over 9,000 volumes, together with some related manuscripts, allowing visitors to see the relationship between the library, the house, the estate and a working farm of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. For those who want to explore the many facets of the project - past and present, literature and history, women and society, house and estate, Chawton House opens up new horizons. Our understanding of women's texts can be transformed by studying these women's relationships with the houses and landscapes, which some of them knew and by which all of them were affected. The centre will play a leading role in the rediscovery of neglected women writers of earlier centuries, and the rewriting of literary and cultural history.

Chawton House Library is a UK registered charity, no. 1026921 and a company limited by guarantee, no. 2851718. There is a board of seven trustees and a group of distinguished patrons.

Chawton House aims to:

  • Promote the study of women writing in English before 1830.
  • Establish a study centre and reference library relating to these writers in Chawton House.
  • Restore and preserve the 'Great House' and the surrounding land.
  • Advance the education of the public by creating and maintaining a working farm of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

So far most of the funding has come from the American Leonard X.Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Foundation, including the establishment of the Charity in 1993, the initial purchase of the lease and the cost of the restoration work to date. There is a major fund raising initiative seeking both capital and operating funds. While continuing to benefit from major grants from the foundation, Chawton House now needs to broaden its base of support to achieve its goals. There is also a Friends association of interested persons who can contribute to the project in such diverse ways as helping to restore the walled garden. Chawton House Library has established academic links with Southampton University. Professor Cora Kaplan, an internationally recognized scholar in the field of late 18th century women's writing, joins with trustee Professor Isobel Grundy in providing overall strategic, mentoring, and intellectual guidance to the project. In addition, the University has appointed a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Jennie Batchelor, who, funded by the Charity and acting under Professor Kaplan's guidance, coordinates related academic offerings on-site at Chawton House Library and on the University's Southampton campus. The 'Chawton Postdoctoral Fellow' will also work to promote the Library through her own related research as well as through regular communication with interested scholars worldwide. The focus of this three-year post is:

  • Development of Chawton-related courses and seminars, colloquia, and other academic events.
  • Development of an international network of scholars whose work is Chawton-related.
  • Collaboration with other institutions of Higher Education on Chawton-related activities.
  • Dissemination of the benefits of Chawton's resources by publication and other means to the international community.
  • Attraction of outside academic funding (eg., AHRB Resource Enhancement awards) to permit this.
  • Connection with other international research libraries.

There are an increasing number of exciting developments, which are becoming available as we move towards the opening date of July 2003.

  • Direct access to over 9,000 rare volumes, which will provide new opportunities for groundbreaking research into women's writing, through our international study centre.
  • An ambitious Novels On-Line programme which provides access to some of these long forgotten and now rediscovered works by women writers.
  • Outreach programmes, which bring in enthusiasts from every walk of life within our local community and beyond it. The valuable contributions of volunteers have already helped to refine our gravel paths, by-ways and walled garden.
  • Live arts, literary tours, cultural events and educational initiatives, incorporating every stage of learning from primary school project to independent academic research.
  • Courses involving restoration, conservation, traditions of farming and husbandry.
  • Meeting and conference rooms available for all corporate needs.

The library operates as a reference library and is accessible to all, on an appointments basis. There is no charge to use the library.

In addition, access to Chawton House and grounds is available by appointment for organised groups, for which a small charge is made.

Please refer to the relevant areas of the website for more detailed information.

  History     Restoration