A Costume of Sport
“Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy! ..Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud. I am absolutely certain.- Pride and Prejudice
Chawton House Library
28 April to 4 September 2022
Did Jane Austen play sport? It looks like she did. She mentions playing cricket with her nephews, and was an expert with the cup and ball (if that could be classed as sport?!) and played games with her many nieces and nephews.
A Costume of Sport considers the typical physical exercises enjoyed by women in the Regency period, and what they wore whilst doing it, from cricket and riding to sea bathing using horse-drawn machines.You can also see the typical sporting pursuits that the gentry and the family held in the grounds of the house over the centuries.
I love visiting the ‘Great House’ as Jane called it. Walking up the long drive, you can see the small window above the door where Jane would sit and watch the visitors arriving. The large wooden door opens into a hallway that takes you into the Great Hall. Climbing the old wooden stairs at the far side, you can find the exhibition rooms on the top floor.
BATHING IN SANDITON
In the entrance to A Costume of Sport, your eyes are immediately drawn to the red gown in the corner. Miss Charlotte Heywood wore this bathing dress and matching cap in the UK TV series of Sanditon.
Sam Perry who was inspired by the fashion plate called “Sea Bathing in Scarborough” made it, which you can see in the adjoining cabinet. The photograph next to it shows Charlotte laughing whilst wearing the dress and swimming in the freezing water!
The boards on either side of the room tell you about Regency women Riding, Bathing, Walking, playing Cricket and a variety of other sports. Quotes around the room are from Jane’s novel Northanger Abbey which she wrote in her teens which has Catherine rolling down grassy hills.
Other quotes are from Jane’s novel Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth walks across the fields to see her sister, “Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!.. Yes, and her petticoat, … six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain and the gown which had been let down to hide it, not doing its office.”
Sport at Chawton House
We know that Jane’s brothers and nephews enjoyed hunting with their friends, and the second room of the exhibition is themed “Sport at Chawton House”.
There is an old framed family tree drawn by hand and you can use the magnifying glass to follow the lines of the Knight and Austen family. The open books date from the 19th century and contain paintings of both women and men at the hunts and playing sport alongside the old cricket bats used by the family.
In one of the cabinets on the far side you can see an oval ladies pill box decorated with both women and men playing cricket which is especially lovely.
The old pattens on display are what ladies wore to keep the mud off their shoes. Although these did not belong to Jane, they look like the ones that she wore in the winter. (Pattens are like flat pieces of wood in a shoe shape with a strap over to hold them onto your feet).
Women in the Arts
Going through to the Oak Room themed “Women in the Arts” you can see a selection of large impressive paintings of talented female writers and artists.
I love this room as it has the little alcove where Jane would sit and watch people and carriages pass by and who would be coming up the drive. There is a wonderful painting in this room of Lady Catherine who really was quite stunning.
The Long Gallery
The last part of Costume of Sport exhibition is in the Long Gallery. The cabinets in are opened and show novels that date from 1744 through to 1976 and in-between. I particularly like the novel Cecilia by Fanny Burney that Jane loved to read that is shown here in five volumes.
Overall, this is a really well pulled together exhibition who show us that women did participate in sport and outdoor pursuits, and enjoyed doing so. The information boards tell you all about each topic at that period in history with the relevant items on display underneath.
The history found here in the exhibition is uplifting, and some of the items are rarely found on display and quite exquisite. I think you will love it.
Okay, I’m off downstairs now for some sumptuous cake and tea, and to buy some goodies from the shop. Now where is that quill necklace..?!
The exhibition runs from 28 April to 4 September 2022 and is FREE with your entry ticket (valid for 12 months) which you can buy from Chawton House Library WEBSITE
On 23 June there is a Curator Tour taking place as part of Regency Week which you can BOOK HERE
For more Jane Austen see our EVENTS page.