A dream comes true

Following our previous discovery of the early notes about the House written by Dorothy Darnell, one of the founders of the Jane Austen Society, three more items from the attic intriguingly tell us the next part of the story of the Museum.

The cover of the appeal booklet

The first is an appeal booklet printed by the Jane Austen Society, giving details of Jane Austen’s House and its importance in the life and writings of Jane.  The leaflet states that the aim of the Society was to “acquire this house and while keeping it in repair and the main part of it in use as living accommodation, to make those rooms which are definitely associated with Jane Austen accessible to the public”.  One lovely detail from the booklet is that they cite the Brontë museum in Haworth as an example of such a literary museum, but go on to say that they could not turn the whole of Jane’s house into a museum as “the same treatment would hardly be suitable in the present housing shortage.”  This was just after the end of the Second World War and the Society recognised that it had a duty to leave people in their accommodation.

The inside of the appeal booklet

On the final page of the booklet they state that they need to raise £5000.  £3000 to buy the property and the rest to carry out repairs and create the Museum.  The address for contributions is that of the Society accountants, Messrs. Sheen, Stickland and Co.  Incredibly, this firm of accountants still practises in Alton.  Following an appeal in The Times, Mr T E Carpenter, a London lawyer, bought the house and formed the Jane Austen Memorial Trust to oversee its operation as a museum, working in conjunction with the Jane Austen Society.  The grand opening was on Saturday, July 23rd 1949.


Miss D Darnell’s programme for the formal opening of Jane Austen’s House

The second find is a programme for the opening, but not just any programme – this is marked on the front as “Miss D Darnell’s own Programme” in her own handwriting.  Inside, the programme of events has been annotated so we know that there was lunch at The Swan (in Alton) at 12.30pm and that all should take their places on the platform at 2.10pm. The 0pening ceremony took place at Chawton Village Hall and at 3.15pm all processed to Jane Austen’s House where Miss Darnell has listed those to be allowed into the garden, whilst all others had to remain outside, beyond the garden wall.  His Grace the Duke of Wellington formally opened the Museum and then visitors were allowed entry, with those with red tickets being allowed in first.  Additional notes by Miss Darnell include that the first page of the visitor book should be reserved for speakers and the committee and a note for herself “Remember Key on Spare Keys”.


1949 Museum Grand Opening. L to R: 7th-Duke-of-Wellington-T-E-Carpenter-R-W-Chapman-Dorothy-Darnell-Elizabeth-Jenkins-Richard-Arthur-Austen-Leigh

The Jane Austen Society had produced a guide book in commemoration of the formal opening of the House and this is the third item in this article.  There was a forward by the renowned Austen scholar, Dr R W Chapman and a lovely article by Elizabeth Jenkins about Jane Austen, Alton and Chawton.  Following a short chronology there is a detailed design for the garden written by Selwyn Duruz, complete with a diagram and suggested list of possible plants.  The final page of the book contains the following note “This publication is issued by The Jane Austen Society to commemorate the formal opening of Jane  Austen’s House to be performed by His Grace The Duke of Wellington, President of the Society, on July 23rd,1949.  This marks the first step in the fulfilment of Miss Dorothy Darnell’s original idea which led, with the assistance of Mr W H Curtis and Miss Elizabeth Jenkins, to the formation of the Society”  

We can only imagine how Miss Dorothy Darnell must have felt on the day of the opening of the Museum and we can only be thankful that she had such foresight, imagination and determination to have brought this project to fruition enabling us still to visit this wonderful place.

Watch this space for more stories from the attic, coming soon!

If you missed our first discovery, read on below.