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Early C19th British novelist Jane Austen's former home at Chawton Cottage, Hampshire was founded as a Museum dedicated to her life and works in 1949, and is now acknowledged to be 'The Most Treasured Austen Site in the World', with over 40,000 visitors each year.


Following our work since 2018 to produce a Condition Survey and Repairs Schedule for the Grade I listed Museum site, we were appointed by the Trustees to undertake a Feasibility Study into improving the visitor experience.

Our analysis of the history of the House is recorded in this in-depth interview with the Director of the Museum, Lizzie Dunford, recorded in 2021. 


The Trustees’ brief outlined the following aims and suggested how these could be achieved:

  • Increase public access to the historic house and outbuildings;

  • Increase capacity for visitors;

  • Increase revenue with a robust business model;

  • Improve quality of daily experience for staff and volunteer community.



  • A greater understanding of the history and significance of the building;

  • Access for all to the first floor of the main house;

  • Amendments to the house to improve visitor flow;

  • Less doubling-up of functions, i.e. designated spaces for different activities;

  • Staff offices moved out of the historic buildings;

  • Facilities to prepare and serve refreshments;

  • More pleasant welcome area;

  • Larger and more efficient shop.

Following completion of our Feasibility Study, the Trustees are consulting with stakeholders and potential funders to take the project forward.



As the former home of Jane Austen from 1809-17, where she wrote the majority of her work, the site is of international significance. The main house is listed Grade I and the outbuildings Grade II. As such, the development of any proposals to change the site would need to be developed alongside a Conservation Management Plan, with clear evidence and justification for any proposals.



The Study opens with a brief analysis of the existing building, charting its development through time, based on evidence in historic maps. We then collate all other forms of desk-based evidence we consulted, and show a series of conjectural diagrams suggesting how the main house may have changed since the 1700s up to now.

We then looked at the present situation, how visitors flow around the site and raise some of the problems and opportunities for improvement.

Using existing survey drawings from 2007,

we constructed a 3D CAD model of the existing,

which we used to illustrate potential changes to the

interior of the main house, and provide preliminary

justification for doing so.


We then look at the rest of the site, and show how it may be possible to sensitively provide additional space, allowing the main house can be opened up more fully to the public. We also look at ways in which the layout of the house could be changed to more closely resemble the house Jane Austen knew.


We then gave a tour of the new proposals, with a series of photographs and photo-collages, before a review of costs, programme and procurement. We finish with a brief look at alternative proposals for the site, and a summary of some other museums who have recently carried out similar works.



The origins of the building are likely to be late C15th or early C16th, the remnants of the timber frame of which are still contained within the existing structure. Records indicate the building was originally a farmhouse, up until it was briefly an inn and brewhouse in the mid C18th, until 1791 when the site was returned to residential use. Alongside these changes of use, which continued through the 1800s, 1900s and up to now,  significant alterations were made to the fabric and layout of the building, as outlined in this in-depth interview.

Photographs by Jane Austen's House

and Studio Sam Causer.

Watercolour of Chawton Cottage, circa 1809:

from Jane Austen's House Collection.

Historic photograph - front facade of Chawton Cottage, circa 1947. Photo extracted from newspaper cutting in the Jane Austen's House Collection.

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