As Jane Austen famously put it in Emma, “there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort”. Now the roof on the novelist’s own home is set to be restored, after funds were raised to save it through public donations and a grant from the government.
Austen lived in Chawton, Hampshire, for the last eight years of her life, writing novels including Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma there – “Nobody can be more devoted to home than I am,” continues the attention-seeking Mrs Elton in the latter. The roof of the cottage was last refurbished in 1948, before it opened to the public as Jane Austen’s House Museum, and major repairs are now needed, according to staff, who have been working to raise money to restore it since last year.
More than 30,000 handmade clay roof tiles are needed to restore the roof of the Grade I-listed property, with contractors also required to ensure the works do not disturb the rare bats that share the site. A public fundraising appeal to sponsor a roof tile has so far raised over £64,000, while a grant from Hampshire County Council has brought a further £85,000.
A third tranche of £85,597, from Historic England and the Historic Houses Foundation from the second round of the Heritage Stimulus Fund, means work has now begun. The museum will be closed to visitors during the week while work is taking place, but will remain open on weekends and during the festive season.
“It is truly excellent news that Jane Austen’s House has been awarded this grant,” said director Lizzie Dunford of the Historic England grant. “Thanks to this support, alongside that of Hampshire County Council and the thousands of people across the globe who have donated to our fundraising campaign, we can now restore the roof which sheltered Austen as she created some of the greatest masterpieces of English Literature and protect her treasured belongings and inspirational home for future generations.”