The Austen Sisters team recently visited Chawton House, which belonged to Jane Austen’s brother Edward. Co-writer Nelly Harker describes the research visit.

“I went up to the Great House between 3 and 4pm and dawdled away an hour very comfortably”, wrote Jane Austen in 1814.

Chawton House is a five minute walk from where Jane lived in with her mother and sister, Cassandra. The sisters were frequent visitors – Jane called it the ‘Great House’ eating there and reading in the library.

You can easily imagine the sisters walking up the grand drive to the Great
House, or sitting in a nook in Edward’s library looking out over the

It was fantastic to see the very books Jane read. The library has a copy of Lover’s Vows that surely would have given her inspiration for its use in her novel Mansfield Park.  

It is interesting to learn that Chawton House Library is now an independent research library and study centre which focuses on women’s writing in English from 1600 to 1830. The library’s main aim is to promote and facilitate study in the field of early women’s writing. It seems very fitting for the library where Jane spent so much time.

I felt daunted imagining Jane’s descendants and the academics of Chawton House and their reaction to our interpretation of this time in Jane and Cassandra’s life – our play, Austen Sisters, covers this period.

Austen Sisters - Susannah Harker and her mum with Austen descendent
L-R: Austen Sisters’ Susannah Harker, Austen descendant Jeremy Knight, and Susannah’s mother actor Polly Adams.

My dad, Henry Ward, the renowned musician and composer, brought a musical score with him and when, later that afternoon, we visited Chawton Cottage (Jane’s house), he played it on the replica Jane Austen piano. You can see him at the piano n the main photo.

Scene set: It was the end of the day and pouring with rain. I was all alone wandering through the cottage. Imagine my emotion as dad’s evocative music rose up through the floorboards.

We’re so pleased that dad has agreed to accompany us on the piano as we perform Austen Sisters in Wells Cathedral Sanctuary. Please join us.

Austen Sisters will be performed on 12 and also 13 July at 6:30 pm in Wells Cathedral Sanctuary. Tickets cost: £12 – £16.

Book your tickets to see Austen Sisters now.

Created by Susannah Harker. Written by Nelly Harker and Joel Pearcey, with music from Henry Ward.

The feature image is Henry Ward playing the piano at Chawston Cottage.