Jane Austen lived at various locations around England, starting from Steventon, then Bath, Southampton, Chawton and Winchester, not to mention all the seaside resorts and the friends’ and family’s houses.
But she often stayed in London when visiting her brother Henry, and there are many walking tours you can do to explore the capital on the footsteps of Jane Austen, but do you know which museums you should not miss next time you are in town?
Here’s just a small selection.
Image by Cristina Apostoli
Among its collection of over 2,300 paintings, you can find famous works by Austen’s contemporaries such as JMW Turner and John Constable and there’s also a controversial portrait of Queen Charlotte by Sir Thomas Lawrence, dated 1789.
National Portrait Gallery
When it reopens to the public in 2023 this is where you will be able to see the famous portrait of Jane made by her sister Cassandra. Plus hundreds of portraits of many famous contemporaries including those of Warren Hastings, of Nelson, of Queen Caroline and George IV, and those of the actors and actresses that Jane Austen loved to see on the theatre stage.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
With two brothers in the Navy and all the naval references in her novels, you simply must visit Greenwich and its lovely museums. Let’s put aside the Cutty Sark, The Fan Museum, the Ranger’s House and the Queen’s House for the moment, and concentrate on one of the best maritime museums in the world.
Here you will find the Nelson Gallery, dedicated to the hero of Trafalgar. There’s also a gallery charting the history of the East India Company, linked to Warren Hastings, Eliza de Feuillide’s famous godfather. Another gallery illustrates the slave trade and the West Indies plantations mentioned in Mansfield Park. And you can learn a lot about life on board a ship and remember what Anne Elliot and Mrs Croft said about that in Persuasion.
The huge South Kensington museum houses all things beautiful ever made by man. That’s why this is where you will find clothes, furniture, china, miniatures, silver, jewellery and all sorts of other objects of the Regency period. Among my favourite pieces are beautifully crafted, everyday objects that could have been used by any of Jane’s wealthier heroines.
Reverend George Austen gave Jane a portable writing desk and here’s where you can see it on display alongside her reading glasses.
This excellent museum in fashionable Marylebone houses a vast collection of French furniture, porcelain, paintings and much more. Think Comtesse Eliza de Feullide at the French court, rubbing shoulders with Queen Marie Antoinette. Exciting. And exquisite.
Royal Observatory, Greenwich
John Harrison revolutionized navigation with the invention of the marine chronometer and you can learn all about longitude and safety at sea at this museum. Jane Austen’s links with the Royal Navy were extremely strong, having two brothers, Francis and Charles, serving as officers. And one can picture Admiral Croft, Captain Wentworth or William Price getting excited at the sight of all the navigational instruments on display here.
Featured image: Portrait of Jane Austen in watercolor and pencil by her sister Cassandra Austen (Public domain)
About the Author
Cristina Apostoli is a London Blue Badge guide and a Jane Austen’s fan. If you want to explore Regency London, join her on one of her walking or virtual tours.