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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Jane Austen and Boris Karloff's Hampshire

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

There's plenty of evidence when you hit certain parts of Hampshire that you are entering Austenland. There are trails, tea shops and of course homes and places that she once visited. But less so of Boris Karloff, and it was only a chance conversation that led me from one passion - Jane Austen, to another - Boris Karloff during a day out in Hampshire.

The Friends of National Libraries were instrumental in the recent fundraising campaign to buy the Blavatnik Honresfield Library which had a number of rare Austen (amongst other authors) items. As a thank you, Jane Austen House, which now has some of the treasures in their collection put on a special 'thank you' event for the National Libraries Friends.

Jane Austen House is in the sleepy village of Alton, Hampshire and is where Jane, her sister and mother (both Cassandras!) and a family friend Martha Lloyd moved to in 1809. It is there (not Bath!) that Jane finalised and wrote all her finished her six novels.

The event started with a presentation by the House's director Lizzie Dunford (right) who shared images of the two letters that were acquired from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library. The first being from 1796 and outlines the 20 year Jane's flirtation with Tom Lefroy (below) and the second from 1813 in which an older more confident Jane, shared fashion and literary gossip during a trip to London.

This was followed by a look at some first editions of Austen's novels from the collection. These were the in original publisher's boards (left), and therefore really rare. Most books of this period would have been bound by the purchaser in the style of their library collection (right).

And finally a tour of the House itself...

See how tiny Jane Austen's writing desk is! The vibrant wallpapers are new versions of those from the preiod the Austens were living there.

A view from the drawing room where she wrote, and a bedroom presented as it would have been when Jane lived there.

This Quilt (actually a coverlet) was made by Jane, her sister Cassandra and her mother, also Cassandra. It is made from over 3,000 diamonds from 64 different pieces of fabric, a mix of dress and upholstery.

Then over the road to Cassandra's Cafe for a tasty lunch, before making the short walk alongside Chawton Park to Chawton House, where there's a statue of Jane in St Nicholas Church Churchyard, near where her sister and mother are buried.

So what about Boris Karloff? Whilst waiting for the Friends event to start I was chatting to one of the listed building specialists working on some window frames at the House. In passing he mentioned that Boris Karloff used to live in the nearby village of Bramshott and that the house is a really unusual building. So, given that I am currently researching and writing about Karloff for a BFI commission, I had to make a detour!

And it certainly was worth the detour! It’s called Roundabout as it is sort of one, but the house and gardens looks almost coffin shaped.

He lived there from 1966 to his death in 1969. He died in the nearby town of Midhurst, and was cremated at Guildford Crematorium and his ashes were placed in their Garden of Remembrance.

Also stopped by St Mary’s Church, Bramshott where Karloff’s widow donated a new set of bells following his death in 1969, as he so enjoyed hearing them ring.


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