1917 plaqueText by Diane Bilbey, Former Curator at Jane Austen's House
Located at a site of pilgrimage for Austen admirers, and an essential photo opportunity for visitors, the memorial plaque on the wall of Chawton Cottage – Jane’s home for the last 8 years of her life – has recently been conserved.
It was unveiled on 18 July 1917, the centenary of Jane’s death, and paid for by a fund set up by a Memorial Committee, with subscriptions gathered from devotees of Jane’s work in both Britain and America.
Designed by Ellen G. Hill, sister of Constance Hill, one of Jane’s biographers, and executed by the architect Charles Evelyn Simmons, the symbolism depicted on the modest memorial simply represents personal objects and places connected with Jane’s life.
The carved oak surround with pediment and pilasters each side recalls a window at 4 Sydney Place, Bath – a home of the Austen family. The repeated acorn detail in raised relief recreates the design of a muslin shawl said to have been worked on by Jane.
The deeply-sunk gilt lettering summarises why it was felt so important to remember Jane in a formal way. The inscription ends with part of a quote from the literary critic George Henry Lewes that references both her current and future legacy: ‘Such art as hers can never grow old’.
Placed next to what was the original front doorway onto the main road, and protected from the elements only by the classical-style pediment, the plaque had suffered during its first 100 years, and has recently been conserved in preparation for the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death.
It is fitting that one hundred years on from the original contribution made by Jane’s American fans that funding for this conservation has been provided by JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America), to ensure the preservation of this significant memorial into the next century and beyond.