Ambitious plans to transform the English literary landscape were announced today in the historic Hampshire village of Chawton, where Jane Austen wrote her most famous novels. 


Chawton House, the Elizabethan mansion that once belonged to Jane’s brother, Edward, is to be restored as part of a major international project to establish a new centre for the study of early English women’s writing.  It will house a magnificent collection of over 6,200 books from the period 1600 – 1830, together with some related manuscripts, now located in the USA.  The centre will play a leading role in the rediscovery of forgotten women writers of earlier centuries, and the rewriting of Britain’s literary and cultural history.


The project is being run by a British charity, Chawton House Library, which is chaired by Sandy Lerner, the American businesswoman and driving force behind the acquisition of the house and its 280 acre estate.  Addressing the launch of today’s appeal for £3 million to complete the restoration of the house, Sandy Lerner said: 


I’ve been asked to speak at many Jane Austen meetings around the world about my commitment to this amazing adventure.  The global interest in the project is very gratifying and assures me that we can find the funds that we need to complete the work on the house.  I am eager to move forward with great speed.


Chawton House Library’s educational outreach will extend beyond universities and colleges to schools and institutions of continuing education.  Local schools will be encouraged to participate in the investigation of the estate’s ecology, for example, while interpretation of the whole project on-line will make the activities and publishing programmes of the Centre accessible to people throughout the world. 


The first of the Centre’s ‘Novels On-Line’ – Rachel Hunter’s The Unexpected Legacy (1804) – is now on the Chawton House Library website,


The costs associated with the early stages of the Chawton House Library project, including the acquisition of the collection, ran into many millions of pounds, and were covered by generous grants from the Leonard X. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Charitable Foundation in America.   The project now needs a further £3 million to complete the work on the house.  


Ms Lerner announced today that every sum donated towards the restoration work would be matched by the Bosack-Kruger Foundation in the form of  endowment funding to cover the future running costs of the library. 


She added:


We must begin the work this year if we are to meet the goal of welcoming our first readers in July 2003.  We are now seeking sponsorship and donations from companies, trusts and individuals.  We are very keen to talk to donors who might wish to be associated with specific aspects of the project, such as the costs of restoring different parts of the house and grounds. 


Trustee Graeme Cottam said:


British donors can see that this project reverses the usual flow of their national heritage across the Atlantic, and will wish to reciprocate the generosity of the American foundation.  Overseas donors recognise that the project will provide unique international educational and research opportunities for people from their own countries who wish to study at Chawton.


For further information please contact either of the Directors:    

Jane Alderson, Director of Chawton Estate ([email protected]) and Professor Michael Wheeler, Director of Chawton House Library ([email protected]), both at Chawton House Library, Chawton, Alton, GU34 1SJ, tel 01420 541010, fax 01420 542680