As the Chawton estate is covered in snow, Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece and the last Austen descendent to grow up on the ancestral estate where Jane herself lived and wrote, remembers the excitement of snowfall when Chawton House was her family’s home.
"I have such strong memories of Chawton in the snow, it was so exciting! My father, Jeremy Knight (Edward Austen’s 3rd great grandson) was always first up in the morning so was usually the first to know. “You might want to look out of the window”, he would say around my bedroom door soon after sunrise. I excitedly climbed down the ladder from the mezzanine in my bedroom, where I slept, and ran through our kitchen (originally the billiard room), along the oak panelled hall and into our sitting room (originally the grand dining room of Chawton House). From the window seat I could see across the front of the house, the bottom of the lawns, the church and the front paddocks and nothing thrilled me more than looking out over a thick covering of snow. The thicker the better - if the snow was deep enough, we would be cut off for the first day – Dad couldn’t get to work and local schools would be closed.
Dad would spend the morning around the house and grounds clearing drains, checking pipes and spreading grain in the woods to help the estate pheasants and wildlife survive.
But in the afternoon, the long, wide lawns to the southwest provided the perfect gradient and safe landing for a toboggan, tray or even an empty feed bag. I loved the rush of wind on my face as my father and I hurtled down the lawn, but as I didn’t want to crash into the bushes at the bottom, I often leapt off the back of the toboggan before we reached them. It was impossible not to be in fits of giggles as I rolled in the soft snow.
One year we had close family friends, Jake and Amber, staying for Christmas before departing for a skiing holiday. They had their own boots and skis and had great fun, with my older brother Paul, skiing right from the rose garden at the top of the lawns, all the way down to the yew trees on the edge of the church yard. There was no ski lift, of course, and it was a long walk back up to the top, but no one minded at all! I was too young, my feet far too small for the ski boots, and Dad tobogganed so I could join in the fun.
After an hour or two Dad would walk around the house and grounds once more, no doubt worried about how the roof and pipes would bear up when the snow thawed. Maintaining the old manor, with extremely limited funds, was a constant challenge for my father but I was not burdened with such things and thought of the snow as nothing but wonderful.
Our neighbours, Andrew and Jonathan, would often come and join in the fun and we would build a snowman, complete with stones for eyes, a twig for a nose and a woolly hat and scarf.
Caroline Jane Knight
© Caroline Jane Knight
Credit: Chawton House in the snow article header photo courtesy chawtonhouselibraryreadinggroup.blogspot
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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