A year in Chawton - February

In the second part of 'A Year in Chawton' by Jeremy Knight, Jane Austen’s fourth great nephew who lived at Chawton House for over forty years, shares his memories of February.

“February could be very miserable.  By now we were all fed up with the winter damp and darkness, but with the days getting lighter I could at least get out for a short walk each day after work. My usual walk was up the lawn, to the walled garden then through the woods, the wilderness and back to the house via the back entrance.  In the walled garden I started to think about the coming year’s vegetable gardening, planning where the crops might go, and reminding myself to get more compost and manure.  

The snowdrops were looking their best and already the daffodils were shooting, with some of the shorter early ones in bud.  

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On frosty days I made sure to break the ice on any water so the birds and small wild creatures could have a drink. I took more grain and apples from the store, choosing the ones which weren't keeping well, and spread these around the sheltered spots to feed the wildlife.

Pheasant shooting finishes at the end of January and after this, the pheasants are bolder, as though flaunting themselves now they are safe.  The cock pheasant struts about showing off his lovely colourful plumage whilst the hen is more modest with her tones of brown.

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And of course at weekends there was still the gathering of wood for the hungry fires.  Living in a village with above ground electricity supplies we were quite vulnerable to high winds and always kept a good supply of candles to hand.  On these occasions we would huddle close to the open fire and by candlelight play board games.  One year was particularly bad and we were without electricity for about a week.  The novelty soon wore off, with us all longing for TV, hot water and normality.  Luckily this was unusual and most times it would be just a day or two. 

Valentines Day came and went without much notice in the house.  My wife and I privately exchanged cards and gifts, of course, but my parent’s, Edward and Elizabeth Knight, didn’t pay any attention to it at all.

During February the catkins appear.  These grow on willow and hazel trees and are clusters of downy yellow hanging spikes which get pollinated by the wind. 

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Most of the trees are bare all winter and we eagerly watched out for the changes that herald spring and relief from 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.

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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