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In 2006 I was privileged to see this suit, shown below  in its restored state, just before it went to be stabilised and restored, while I was on a visit to Chawton House Library. It is now the subject of an appeal, for it needs a special display case in order that the public can have access to it, to view it in all its restored glory

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

Chawton House was, of course,  known to Jane Austen as The Great House in Chawton village and  it was once owned by Edward Knight, her brother, shown below in his Grand Tour portrait, which is now also on show at the Library.

Edward inherited the Godmersham estate in Kent and the Chawton estate in Hampshire from Thomas Knight. He was a relative of George Austen, Edward and Jane’s father. Thomas and his wife were childless and had “adopted ” Edward, and made him their heir. This grand inheritance enabled him to provide a productive and happy home for Jane Austen her sister, Cassandra, their mother, Mrs Austen and their friend Martha Lloyd from 1809, at what is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum in the village.

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

This silk suit- a suit of two pieces, frock coat and breeches- has been in the Knight family since the 1790s.

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

It is said to have belonged to Edward, and the suit is now on loan to Chawton House Library by kind permission of Richard Knight, Edward’s descendant. Since I saw it the suit has been restored. Louise  Squire, the textile conservator, prepared a report on it in 2009 and commented:

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

“The matching silk frock coat and breeches are dated to approximately 1789. The coat is fully lined with a yellow silk taffeta fabric,with the sleeves being lined in a white plain weave linen fabric. The olive green breeches are constructed in ribbed silk and feature a wide waistband, loose fitting seat and finish below the knee with narrow cuffs. The coat and breeches are a good example of the fashion of the day, with Edward’s penchant for oversize buttons!”

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

The Library has had a bespoke mannequin made for the suit, which you can see here, below, displaying the restored olive green silk breeches.

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

The suit is very small by modern standards, hence the need for the bespoke mannequin, and it is a fascinating object in its own right, without the added interest of its Austen family connections. For the suit to be put on display and for all us all to be able to enjoy it, it now needs a special conservation-grade display case, not only to display it but to protect it. This will cost around £5000, and the Library  has raised nearly half the sun required for it. But just over half of the sum still needs to be raised, hence their current appeal for funds.

So, if you think you might be able to help the library with financial contributions towards the cost of displaying this very interesting Austen relic,  you can contact Eleanor Marsden, the Development Director, on telephone number 01420-541010 or you can e-mail her on Elanor.marsden@chawton.net, for  she would be delighted to hear from you with any offers of help you can afford to give.

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