Jane Austen’s writing table

Object name: Writing table

Object number: CHWJA:JAH69

Category: Object

Description: Small walnut tripod table. The top dates from the early eighteenth century; it has twelve sides with a moulded edge, measuring 47cm wide on the flat edges. The base appears to be of a different age to the top and it has been suggested it is of seventeenth century origin; it consists of a single turned column with ‘s’ scroll tripod supports.

On the underside of the top there is a handwritten note, believed to be in the hand of Montagu Knight, a descendent of Jane’s brother Edward, or one of his family, which reads:

‘This table was bought by Montagu Knight of Chawton House from a grandson of James Goodchild, who lived in Chawton village in Jane Austen’s time. His brother-in-law, William Littleworth, was footman to Mrs George Austen, Jane’s mother and when he was too old for work she furnished a cottage near the pond for him.  Amongst the furniture was this table at which Littleworth often saw Jane Austen writing. Only the top is original.’

Made:

Top: early eighteenth century

Base: unclear, possibly early seventeenth century

Context: Family tradition tells us that Jane Austen wrote at this fragile table, placed by a window for light. We do not know why Jane chose such a tiny table. Perhaps its small, unassuming nature suited her purpose of writing quietly and discreetly. We do know that she was a neat, tidy worker and wouldn’t have needed much space. As her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote in his Memoir of Jane Austen:

‘She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants, or visitors, or any persons beyond her own family party. She wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper.’

At some point after Jane’s death in 1817 the table was passed to a family servant, William Littleworth, and in 1913 it came into the ownership of the Knight family. In 1957 it was given to the Jane Austen Society for display at the House.

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