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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
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.
This silk suit- a suit of two pieces, frock coat and breeches- has been in the Knight family since the 1790s.
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:
“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!”
The Library has had a bespoke mannequin made for the suit, which you can see here, below, displaying the restored olive green silk breeches.
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.firstname.lastname@example.org, for she would be delighted to hear from you with any offers of help you can afford to give.
We know that Edward Knight, the Austen brother whom fortune favoured, went on a grand tour. He kept journals of his four-year jaunt abroad, and they make fascinating reading, not the least because they indicate that an inability to spell-Edward like Jane never appeared to master the “i before e ” rule,- was an Austen family trait…;)
Indeed, you can read extracts from his journals of the tours in a wonderfully intriguing book edited by Jon Spence called Jane Austen’s Brother Abroad and I highly recommend it to you.
It was of course while in Rome at the end of his tour that Edward’s elegant portrait was painted, and this has recently returned to his old home at Chawton House in Hampshire.
It is just possible that the young Fitzwilliam Darcy may have been able to go on one of these educational tours along the lines of Edward Austen’s route, accompanied by an appropriate retinue of tutors and companions, provided we take him to have been 28 at the time of the composition of First impressions and not as 28 at the time of publication of Pride and Prejudice in 1813. The problems attendant in travelling around war torn Europe curtailed the popularity of The Grand Tour as a method of providing polish and education to England’s aristocratic youth.
There are some fabulous books available to read about The Grand Tour, and I;ll be reviewing my favourite soon, but, however, if you would like to learn a little bit more about The Grand Tour on line, then the National Gallery in London has come to your aid. It has produced a beautifully illustrated micro website on the subject of the Grand Tour to provide some background to its current mouth-wateringly beautiful exhibition, Venice :Canaletto and his Rivals, which I was recently lucky enough to see.
Go here to see page one for a general introduction on the Grand Tour . Go here for details of the less than moral antics of some of the Grand Tour visitors. Go here for a simple explanation of the artistic education the tour offered and here to see some of the wonderful portraits painted by the Italian artist, Pompeo Batomi, of the English milords who visited Rome, including this one of the magically named, Sir Gregory Page Turner…
…..if only he’d written some books.
Today’s episode of Professor Amanda Vickery’s Voices from the Old Bailey can be accessed here. The second of four episodes it deals with Wicked Women ( or some women who weren’t very wicked at all, just rather unlucky in life.) Fascinating radio. It was recorded at one of my favourite places, the Denis Severs House Museum, 18 Folgate Street, in Spitalfields. As Amanda notes-if only these walls could talk. Professor Peter King- one of my favourite writers on 18th century crime EVER!-is on today’s programme, giving his usual clear explanation of the workings of the 18th century criminal justice system. Discover the 1790s equivalent of today’s chat-up line, “Do you come here often” and listen to songs from The Beggar’s Opera…..how can you resist it?
And today’s edition of Cash in the Attic on BBC1 has some lovely scenes of Lyme Regis and a surprise link to Jane Austen. One of the items the family sold was a legal deed, and one of the parties to the deed was Catheine Knight, kindly adoptive mother of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward. The deed dated from 1799. (The important part is approximately 20 minutes into the programme). It eventually went to auction and was sold for £160 – normally, in my experience, these deeds are commonplace and sell for betwwen£10-30 each, so the Austen effect was well in evidence here. Sadly, this is not available to view to overseas visitors to this site, but is available for another 6 days on the I-Player here.
Chawton House has just issued news of a new exhibition.
For three days only – October 7th 8th and 9th 2010- there will be an opportunity to visit Godmersham House in Kent the home of Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother, to view a case of books which were formerly part of Edward Knight’s library and which now are in the possession of Chawton House Library. The hand written catalogue of the library dating from 1818 will also be on show.
The tickets are priced at £5 each and include admission to the exhibition and a catalogue.
On Saturday the 9th October between o’clock and 12 noon and then between 2pm and 4pm Gilliam Dow of Southampton University, Jennie Batchelor of the University of Kent,and Katie Halsey of the University of Stirling will be giving a short series of talks on Jane Austen and the Library at Godmersham, The Austens and their Pocket Books,and Jane Austen’s Readers.
Futher details can be had from Godmersham Park Heritage Centre, telephone 01227 732 272 or by emailing them on
replacing the words with the usual punctuation.
I feel a trip to Kent coming on…….