As part of our Heritage lottery funded Piecing Together Jane Austen: Her Chawton Legacy 200 years On project, we have begun cataloguing artefacts discovered in the Museum garden over the last twenty years. Items include ceramics, clay pipes and a Blue Peter badge! We are hoping to date these fragments, hopefully giving us a greater insight into life at the house during the time that Jane Austen lived here.
We have recruited a new team of volunteers who will deliver the project, all of whom attended a training day at the end of January to learn the processes involved in cataloguing these items. Some of our volunteers share their experiences of the day, below:
"This project combines two of my interests; archaeology and Jane Austen, so I was eagerly anticipating the training day. We started with a private “behind-the-scenes” tour of the house, including areas visitors don’t usually see, and we even had a sneak-preview of the new exhibition. It was fascinating to hear where artefacts had been unearthed over the years, and what would be done with them as part of the collections process. It was also great to chat with other volunteers and find out how their love of Jane Austen began.
I look forward to not only the privilege of spending time at the site but recording the finds themselves. To have tangible evidence of the past in your hands, however small, is always something of a thrill to me, and knowing it comes from this particular site is wonderful. Who knows what else may be unearthed in the future?"
"It was with great excitement and a little shot of nervousness that on a crisp and fresh day, with the spring bulbs elegantly nudging their heads through the soil that I, and I am sure the other new volunteers, arrived at Jane Austen House Museum for our induction and training in preparation for their newest volunteering venture. The Garden Archaeological Project is a wonderful opportunity to explore and catalogue the melting pot of flotsam and jetsam found in this very special garden.
Firstly, we were treated to an exploration of the House and grounds, and a sneek peek at the wonderfully inviting Family, Friendship and Northanger Abbey exhibits. The House and stewards, always so warm in their welcome and in their appreciation of all things Jane Austen, chatted happily with us. Even the House itself seemed to be responding to this new group of enthusiasts. It was a great time to bond with each other and share stories and anecdotes about what Jane Austen, her novels and life mean to each of us.
During the full and varied programme on the day we learnt from the knowledgeable David Allen, Curator of Archaeology at Hampshire Cultural Trust, and discussed the aims of the project. Tyler Mills, Collections Trainee, succinctly encapsulated our goal; his words really chimed with me. All of us are drawn to the Museum by stories; stories written by Jane Austen and stories written about her. In cataloguing many of the intriguing finds that Head Gardener Celia Simpson has made, Tyler explained that we might be about to capture further stories about the House and its residents. The walls may not be able to speak, but the stones, pottery and paraphernalia found in the garden soil over many years, may very well have a story to tell.
The experienced volunteers made us all feel so welcome and, following cups of tea and delicious sandwiches, we threw ourselves into the final exercises of the day; practising the cataloguing process together. This was great fun and really gelled us in our mission. Congratulations to Sam and Lucy for a stimulating day.
Let’s hope we find what we are looking for."