No, not a quote from Jane Austen, but from our curator, Mary Guyatt, summing up in one short phrase the size and simplicity of the organisation behind Jane Austen’s House Museum (JAHM). Not for us the delights of a company catering department, but rather a quick trip by whoever is available and has a car, to the nearest supermarket, and then coffee and tea made over chat in our tiny kitchen.
Welcome back to the blog from Jane Austen's House Museum. It has been a tumultuous time since the blog was last written, mainly due to the exciting celebrations which accompanied the bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice in 2013. The year started with BBC spending the day of publication, 28th January, filming in the House; an early start as the crews arrived at 4.30am to set up in time for broadcast on Breakfast TV. This was the first of many visits by film and TV crew who wanted to see where Jane revised and wrote her masterpieces.
February brought the launch of some wonderful stamps by Post Office with each of the novels being allocated a different stamp – and some heated debates about which novel should have had the highest value. A new rose was launched in May at Chelsea, by Harkness Roses, in conjunction with JAHM; the scented floribunda was named “Pride and Prejudice” and Ian Hislop, Private Eye editor, was our champion at the launch. We have a number of the roses blooming in the garden, planted by local gardener (and national TV presenter and writer!), Alan Titchmarsh. Harkness are one of the foremost rose breeders and are kindly donating a percentage of sales to the Museum.
July saw the arrival of the Governor of the Bank of England at the House to announce that Jane Austen would be on the new £10 note – probably from 2017; we took great delight in showing the Press that this was not the first time one of the family had appeared on a bank note – we have a £10 note from Henry Austen’s bank in our collection which was much photographed that day and appeared on several evening news bulletins. As ever at these events, we paused to consider what Jane and her family would make of the passion and interest her books and their lives evoke today.
Just as we were breathing a sigh of relief that most of the excitement of the year was over we heard that an export ban was being put on the turquoise ring once owned by Jane and recently purchased by Kelly Clarkson. We had a very limited time to show that we were interested in raising the £150,000+ that was required to purchase the ring, but with help from friends all round the world, and one or two very generous donors the money was produced and the ring is now housed alongside her bracelet and amber cross at the Museum, for all to see. In parallel to all this we said a sad “Goodbye” to Louise West the curator at the Museum and gave a cheery “Hello” to Mary Guyatt, the new curator. She started in one of the busiest years we have experienced, having over 50,000 visitors to the Museum last year. Ann Channon, the shop manager, had the unenviable task of keeping the shop stocked, as sales were constantly high, and other staff were kept on their toes all year with events, school visits and many other happenings. (We plan to introduce you to all the staff here at a later date.)
Who is writing this today? My name is Sue Dell and I am a volunteer at Jane Austen's House Museum. The staff at the Museum have been keen to reinstate the blog and allowed me to write the first one. Together we are planning future blogs and would love to hear from you about anything we have written or should write.
And in case you think we are sitting back on our Pride and Prejudice laurels be assured that we have plenty more plans at the Museum for events, activities and exhibitions. We recognise that our audience is worldwide and while we know that a blog can never be a substitute for a visit to Jane's home, we hope that we will be able to offer a taste of what museum life is like in this small corner of Hampshire, and entice you to visit in the future.