A year in Chawton - January

Jeremy Knight, Edward Austen’s 3rd great grandson, lived at Chawton House for over 40 years, while it was still the ancestral home of the Austen Knight family.  In this article, Jeremy shares his memories of January in Chawton.

"We always saw in the New Year with friends, often with a dinner party at Chawton House. The house had been decorated with decorations for Christmas, which we would take down by Twelfth Night, the 6th January.

 My wife, Carol, with our children, Paul and Caroline, in the Great Hall - 1971

My wife, Carol, with our children, Paul and Caroline, in the Great Hall - 1971

The days are short in January, so I would leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark. At the weekends we caught up with any outside jobs on the estate, such as chopping wood to keep the large fireplaces going. Out would come the small tractor and trailer and, dressed warmly, we all went into the woods to see if any trees or branches had come down and these would be sawn into the right size logs, then back to the house to fill the log cupboards. 

If the weather was particularly wet, we hoped the gutters would not block. One year in a bad storm I had to go up 3 stories on a ladder to unblock a gutter - the first trip to see what had happened, the second trip to take up the right implements and a third trip to finish the job. When my feet touched the ground at the end of all this, in the pouring rain, I couldn’t move and have not liked heights since. 

We don’t get much snow or hard frost in Hampshire but when we did there was the concern about pipes freezing – if they did, they could split and leak when the freeze thawed out.  We also enjoyed walking in the crisp frost and snow, up the lawn to the woods, and taking grain to feed the pheasants. 

 In my winter coat with a bag of grain, off to feed the pheasants

In my winter coat with a bag of grain, off to feed the pheasants

The bare trees looked hauntingly ghostly with frost or snow on them. If there was a good snowfall we made snowmen, had snowball fights and tobogganed down the lawn at some speed.  I did this as a child with my brothers and sisters, often on the front lawn of Chawton House, and again with my own children, great family fun.  I always enjoyed the fresh chill on my face, but it is surprising how hot you can get chasing around in the snow. 

 My daughter Caroline (on the right), building a snowman with neighbours

My daughter Caroline (on the right), building a snowman with neighbours

We socialised quite a lot in January, meals with friends at our respective homes. We had small informal shooting parties and stocked up the freezer with pheasants.  About the middle of the month were the first snowdrop buds and by the end of the month there was a carpet of delicate white flowers all through the woods and wilderness - beautiful after the bleak mid winter.

Jeremy Knight

© Jeremy Knight

You can read more about the Austen Knight family of Chawton in Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage, by Jeremy's daughter, Caroline Jane Knight.

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Caroline is Jane Austen's fifth great-niece and the last Austen to grow up at Chawton House on the ancestral estate where Jane herself lived and wrote. You can read about Caroline's extraordinary childhood in JANE & ME: MY AUSTEN HERITAGE, available in PAPERBACK, HARDBACK, E-BOOK and AUDIOBOOK at all good online retailers. 15% of any profits made are donated to the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation 

 

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