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An Interview with Ann, Our House Manager

June 14, 2012

If you have ever bought an item in the Museum’s wonderful shop, or online, then you will have had some contact with Ann, our House Manager. Ann has been working at the museum since 1990 and I thought you might like to get to know a little more about her and her responsibilities. Like me she is camera shy, so no photograph of her will appear, but I thought you might like to know something of Ann’s wonderful dedication to the museum, and so a few weeks ago I asked her some questions about her life at the house, and I’m sure you will find her replies fascinating.

Here we go…do note that my questions are in bold type, Ann’s replies are beneath.

How long have you worked at the Museum?

 I began working at the museum part-time in 1990. I have lived in Chawton since I was 14 years old and up to that time I had not really been very interested in the building. Though I am a voracious reader I had not been interested in the classic works of literature either. That changed!

It began by first listening to a talking book of Pride and Prejudice.  I then went on to read all Jane Austen’s novels. I started work full-time at the Museum from October 1991 with the then Curator, Jean Bowden who encouraged and mentored me, both in Jane Austen her family’s history and this amazing place.

What does being House Manager entail?

 I am responsible overall for the day-to-day running of the Museum.  We all work hard to keep the museum a welcoming, warm house, so that all our visitors are able to have an enjoyable experience and to keep the atmosphere of Jane’s home maintained. When I first arrived I was a Jack of all Trades, doing most things from cleaning to gardening, but now I have overall responsibility for the house and the shop.

Before the BBC’s production of Pride and Prejudice was aired the museum was a quieter place, but after that the visitor numbers rose dramatically to almost  58,000 a year. Over the years this has settled to around 40,000 visitors per annum. Next year sees the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice which we are looking forward to with lots of planned events and celebrations.

What is the favourite part of the job for you?

 I have always loved caring for this house. It is a very special place with a wonderful atmosphere. I have also loved the constant  learning about the Austen family story. Also I love seeing visitors from all over the world who know and love Jane Austen and her novels, or those who know very little and go away having really enjoyed the experience.

What has surprised me is how much I really love retail, especially the books, taking pride in the education and study editions stocked for both the shop and for our reference/reading library room. I love buying souvenir items for the shop, stocking it and enjoy working with the many different suppliers.

Which is your favourite room in the Museum?

It is the Admirals’ Room on the first floor. The floorboards were replaced in that room  in 1985 with what were possibly the last elm boards available, as Dutch Elm Disease had devastated native stocks of elm trees. When the sun hits the floor boards they simply glow, and I love to see it. The effect is very beautiful.

The Elm floorboards in the Admirals Room on the first floor of the Museum

What is your favourite object?

That has to be Jane Austen’s writing table in the dining room, without a shadow of a doubt.

The table, in the Dining Room, at which Jane Austen sat when she was writing at Chawton

What is your favourite Jane Austen book?

I cannot chose between Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.  I consider P&P to be the only one of her books that contains details of every human condition, its wit and its truths.  Persuasion, I love for  the characters of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, so steadfast against the odds.

Do you have any other favourite authors?

 So many, but I go back to re-read J.K Rowling, Jean Plaidy, Nora Lofts, Victoria Hislop, Mary Stewart, Manda Scott, Barbara Erskine, Colleen McCulloch, Katie Fforde, Jack Whyte, Wilbur Smith, Ken Follett, Stieg Larsson and the wonderful poet, Felix Dennis


Thank you, Ann, for your kindness and patience for allowing me to interview you for the blog. The care and dedication Ann has for the Museum, its history and the objects within it are evident on every visit, and we are all grateful to her.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink
    June 14, 2012 9:50 am

    It was great to learn more about Ann. Her dedication is inspiring. My family is planning a visit for next year, this Q & A has given me more to look forward to. One of the things I like most about Jane Austen enthusiasts is there vast knowledge of other areas of study. Ann’s knowledge of the Elm blight, has increased my knowledge and ties back to Jane as well.

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      June 14, 2012 10:16 am

      Thank you, Jennifer. I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview. I’ll pass your kind comments onto Ann, and we all hope you have a wonderful trip to the House next year!

  2. Lila permalink
    June 14, 2012 10:23 am

    Thank you. Enjoyed the interview. And surprising bits of information about P&P.

    Who wouldn’t love to work at such special place? 🙂

    PS. Just noticed there’s list of upcoming events on the right. Exciting! =)

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      June 15, 2012 10:34 am

      Thank you! We are very lucky to have Ann! I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview,as it is a great opportunity to get to know the staff who keep the Museum alive and vibrant.

      The Events are always listed in the right hand column, so if you want to attend you can find all the information you require there.

      • Lila permalink
        June 15, 2012 10:46 am

        Oh, I wish I could visit, but as it is (I am in Spain), I’m just happy to be the reader of this blog 🙂 Besides, you have so many events all the time that the only solution would be settling in Chawton :0)

      • jfwakefield permalink*
        June 15, 2012 10:52 am

        Ah! Well then in that case we are delighted you are able to read about the Museum here. And we hope you will be able to visit in person one day too.

  3. Aline permalink
    June 14, 2012 2:55 pm

    How a lovely inteview! I read it at work and it was refreshing! Ann seems to be really into the house’s atmosphere, reading and loving that wonderful place that I hope to meet one day… Inspiring and kind!

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      June 15, 2012 10:35 am

      Thank you, Aline. I do hope you get the opportunity to come and visit the House one day. It is a very special place.

  4. kfield2 permalink
    June 15, 2012 4:16 am

    Great idea, Julie, to interview Ann. It was lovely to see things through her eyes.

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      June 15, 2012 10:37 am

      Thanks, Karen. Its the first in a series I hope to be able to bring to the blog, interviewing different members of staff. Its easy to take all their work for granted, so this is great way to highlight what they do to keep this place alive.

  5. cathyallen permalink
    June 15, 2012 6:41 pm

    What a great idea, and a great interview! I found many answers that resonate with me, in particular the part about, ” We all work hard to keep the museum a welcoming, warm house, so that all our visitors are able to have an enjoyable experience and to keep the atmosphere of Jane’s home maintained.” That is EXACTLY what I feel when reading this blog — welcomed; I can’t explain it any better than that! I don’t forsee that I shall get there in person any time soon (from Southern California), so it’s pretty special to get such a feeling from the blog! I bet Jane Austen would be proud of you all. Thank you, Julie, and thank you, Ann, and keep up the good work.

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      June 23, 2012 12:34 pm

      Thank you very much, Cathy, I will certainly pass your thanks onto Ann. And we are delighted you feel welcomed by the approach of the blog.That is very encouraging news indeed 🙂

  6. June 20, 2012 5:33 am

    I will soon be traveling to the UK for the first time, with a visit to Chawton Cottage as the highlight of my trip. I also plan on being there on the 21st for the Jane Austen Society Annual General Meeting. I have a question to you relating to this. Do some of the visitors to this yearly event dress in Regency Costume, or is this just a tradition we Americans do when we get together?

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      June 23, 2012 12:31 pm

      Hi Lynnae, Its not really a custom that is followed at AGMs here.Usually people wear smart/smart casual clothes. This year in England the weather is terribly unsettled, colder than the norm and very wet, even for an English summer-we fear it may be another summer without honey!-and so my advice would be to wear something that is also waterproof and warm too,but to make a judgement on the day. I do hope this helps, and that you have a wonderful time!

      • June 24, 2012 12:21 am

        Thank you for your kind reply. I guess the wardrobe I have for the Seattle rain will also work for England. I was hoping to need a shopping trip! 🙂

      • jfwakefield permalink*
        June 24, 2012 8:49 am

        Then let’s hope the weather changes and you can buy something delightful in England…the exchange rate is in your favour 🙂

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