Jane Austen’s writing tableText by Madelaine Smith, Former Marketing and Events Manager at Jane Austen's House
The number of visitors who arrive in the dining parlour at Jane Austen’s House and simply stop when they see Jane’s table cannot be counted.
For so many the small occasional table is the highlight of their visit to Jane’s home and the moment of spotting this unassuming piece of furniture is the moment when they feel as if they really are in the place where Jane wrote and conjured up her much-loved novels and memorable characters. Standing by the table, fingers itching to touch it, as if the wood itself contains something of Jane, some visitors hold their breath. Others cry.
Austen family tradition indicates that Jane wrote daily and that she wrote at this small table placed by a window for light. Jane wore spectacles and was known to have some trouble with her eyes so light would have been important. Writing with a quill and using ink which she may have made for herself using the recipe that survives in Martha Lloyd’s recipe book, Jane’s writing flourished in her Chawton home where she was given time and space to write, albeit on a small 12-sided walnut table.
The table was returned to the Museum in 1957. Only the table top is original as noted on the handwritten note attached to its underside when it was given to the Jane Austen Society by Brigadier B C Bradford. The note was written by Bradford’s great uncle, Montague G. Knight, and reads: “This table was bought by Montague G. Knight of Chawton House, from a grandson of James Goodchild, who lived in Chawton village in Jane Austen’s time.” Goodchild’s brother-in-law, William Littleworth, had been a servant for Mrs Austen, Jane’s mother, and when he was too old for work she furnished a cottage for him. Amongst the furniture was the little table at which Littleworth claimed he “often saw Jane Austen writing”.