Jeremy Knight (Edward Austen's third great grandson), shares his memories of over forty years living at Chawton House on the ancestral estate where Jane Austen herself lived and wrote, with the month of March.
"Spring at last - so cheering after the long cold winter at the manor. The days became noticeably longer, brighter and warmer. Some years we still got snowfall in March, sometimes lots of sunshine.
The snowdrops were still plentiful and the daffodils were fully out, with great swathes of about five different types carpeting from the lower front lawn, down across from the church along the ha-ha and into the wilderness. One type is known as ‘scrambled egg’ because of its double petals. We picked some for the house which added to our cheer.
As the month passed, the snowdrops gradually died away. The woods still needed checking and wood cut, but I also began to do a bit of digging in the walled garden, preparing beds for planting later when the ground was warmer. One of the first crops to go in was garlic which we had to cover with nets to stop the birds plucking them out - they seemed to enjoy the game!
The old glasshouses in the walled garden had fallen into disrepair but I had a smaller greenhouse I had built on to a large outbuilding at the back of the house so I could plant up seeds ready to be planted out later in the year. The long brick outbuilding included a room I used as a workshop, a huge area filled with wood, an open fronted section once used for a coach or cart, and the apple store. Any apples left in store would be well past their best by now so composted, and the store room cleaned out ready for use again in the Autumn.
I checked the tractor and mower to see if they were working and did any necessary repairs so they were ready for use. The tractor was used to clear fallen trees and other heavy work. The ride-on mower was the only practical way we could mow the expansive lawns.
Wildlife would be very much in evidence, looking for mates. Rabbits on the lawn, deer in the avenue, rooks in the trees, and cock pheasants strutting about. I had put nest boxes in the aviary some weeks before and the budgerigars were making their nests.
At the end of every March we had a group of friends round for dinner for my wife Carol’s birthday, with the table set with all the best glasses and silver cutlery. We dined in the same room that Edward entertained his dinner guests. 'We four sweet Brothers & Sisters dine today at the Gt House. Is not that quite natural?’ Jane wrote to Caroline Austen in March 1815.
For very special occasions like this, we used the china that had been commissioned on a visit Jane Austen made to the Wedgwood showroom in London with her brother Edward (my third great grandfather) and his daughter Fanny. '…we then went to Wedgwood, where my brother and Fanny chose a dinner set….the pattern is a small lozenge in purple, between lines of marrow gold…and it is to have the crest', Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra on 16th September 1813. My father, Edward Knight, had given the dinner service to Carol and me as a wedding present.
We might have had pheasant but there wouldn’t have been any of our own home grown vegetables or fruit available. Despite the work involved, we enjoyed cooking and producing something special for our guests and we always had a really good evening. When the children were very young they looked forward to some leftovers the next day, so we always kept something special for them – a slice of pheasant pie perhaps, or the last of the dessert.
© 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. JANE & ME: MY AUSTEN HERITAGE, is 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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