Books and Readers

Chawton House Library

Volunteers conserving books in the Lower Reading Room at Chawton House Library

Volunteers conserving books in the Lower Reading Room at Chawton House Library


As a working library our collections are kept in regular use and from time-to-time some books require minor repairs.  We have recently started our book conservation project, trained volunteers work systematically through the collection undertaking minor repairs on our rare books. This takes place in a reading room that is accessible to the public, allowing visitors to see the work in progress. We are also sending our rarest and most fragile books to be professionally conserved thanks to money we have received from various funding bodies.  Our visitors often comment on how much they enjoy meeting our Book Conservation volunteers and having an opportunity to see this work being carried out. It has become an important element of our visitor experience.

The hard work of our volunteers ensures that our library collections will be able to withstand many more years of regular use by our readers. An important element of CHL’s work is to continue researching and promoting early women’s writing at the cutting edge of current thought on the subject. To support this aim we regularly hold and host conferences, over the 12 years since the Library opened, these have covered a diverse range of themes and writers. The most recent was the conference celebrating the Dutch writer Isabelle de Charrière (1740-1805) whose style is often compared to Jane Austen’s. Our visitors from the Netherlands, who were the organisers of the conference and members of the Dutch Isabelle de Charrière Society, spent two days discussing all aspects of de Charrière’s work. As you can see from the photograph of the delegates on the front steps of Chawton House Library, the group came prepared for the English weather with their conference themed umbrellas and the new, blue, CHL umbrellas!

Charriere conference photo

The next conference at Chawton House Library will be in December on the theme of Marilyn Butler and the War of Ideas. Professor Butler was a leading scholar of English literature, and latterly Rector of Exeter College, the author of paradigm-shifting books and articles and a patron of Chawton House Library. As 2015 is the fortieth anniversary year of the first publication of Professor Butler’s Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (1975) this conference will include papers commemorating her scholarship and will move forward the discussion in the twenty-first century. For full details of the programme and a list of speakers please see the Chawton House Library website:


Gilbert White’s House

A while ago we were able to purchase with the help of the Friends of Gilbert White’s House, an exquisite fore-edged edition of Gilbert White’s The Natural History & Antiquities of Selborne; bound in leather by Robert Riviere. The fore-edge painting is a copy of the illustration of The Plestor in Selborne, by the Swiss artist Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, which features in the book. Grimm was the artist commissioned by Gilbert White to illustrate the first edition of The Natural History of Selborne. The pages look gilded but when you bend the book just so the image is revealed. It has been added to our large collection of different editions of Gilbert White’s works, which as the book has never been out of print since its publication in 1789 is definitely worth seeing!

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Jane Austen’s House Museum

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As well as displaying a number of Austen first editions Jane Austen’s House Museum also has in its collection books owned by Jane herself and passed on to other family members.

The Reading Room at the Museum houses an array of books which visitors are welcome to sit and read. Many visitors enjoy finding the collection of foreign language editions of Jane’s books housed here. These include languages from Hebrew to Hungarian. Visitors who do not find a copy in their own language quite often send one as a gift to the Museum after their visit.


‘Sense and Sensibility’ in Hebrew



Petersfield Museum and Flora Twort Gallery

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Petersfield Museum has more than 1,000 books and booklets in its collection. They range from local guide books and directories to books on archaeology, telephone engineering and cricket, all topics with relevance to the museum’s social history collection. They encompass many books about the history of the town and the surrounding villages.

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Among the rarer items are a copy of the ‘Report of the Case of the Borough of Petersfield’, two copies of ‘The Jolliffes of Staffordshire and their Descendants’ and a children’s story book illustrated by local artist Flora Twort. In addition, the museum’s research collection encompasses more books on local and national history, museum manuals and books on historic dress.

Visitors can make an appointment with the curator to look at any items in the collection unless they are very fragile. Please contact or 01730 262601.