Dining room grate

Object name: Dining room grate

Object number: n/a

Category: buildings

Description: Cast iron grate, painted black, set into the fireplace in the Dining Room.

Made: Eighteenth century

Context: This grate would have been part of the fixtures of the house when Jane Austen lived here. She was responsible for making the tea and toast for breakfast, both of which could be made on the small fire in the Dining Room.

The grate is also of significance as it was a catalyst behind the formation of the Jane Austen Society and ultimately the establishment of the Museum.

Following the death of Jane’s sister Cassandra in 1845, the house was divided into cottages for Chawton estate workers and by the 1920’s was described as being in a shabby state.

Walking by the house one day in 1940, local resident and lifelong Janeite Miss Dorothy Darnell was horrified to see this grate lying on a heap of nettles by the neighbouring  forge, having been removed to make way for the tenant’s gas fire.  She contacted The Curtis Museum in Alton who agreed to house it until it could be restored to its rightful place. Determined to secure the house for the nation, Miss Darnell formed the Jane Austen Society in May 1940.

Major Edward Knight was approached and agreed to sell the house to the Society for £3,000.  After the war ended, the Society launched an appeal in The Times which was seen by Mr T. Edward Carpenter, a London lawyer. Miss Darnell’s ambitions were realised when he bought the house in 1948 and set up the Jane Austen Memorial Trust to run it as a museum.

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