PUPILS at Chawton Primary School have been getting into the spirit of the Austen 200 celebrations by designing and creating their very own ‘Sitting with Jane’ BookBench, as well as the centrepiece for Jane Austen’s new patchwork quilt.
It has been an exciting time, in particular for year six children who had the privilege on May 24 of meeting historian, author and TV presenter Lucy Worsley. As museum ambassador, Ms Worsley came to Jane Austen’s House Museum to lay flowers to mark the day, some 200 years ago, when Jane Austen left her home in Chawton to depart on her final journey to Winchester, where she died some weeks later.
As part of the Austen bicentenary commemorations, the museum has commissioned the making of a community story quilt, inspired by the patchwork coverlet made by Jane, her mother and sister.
The museum is working with a diverse range of community groups in the production of the quilt, with each block designed and created by representatives from more than 40 community groups worldwide, including groups in North America, Australia and Brazil, as well as closer to home in the village of Chawton.
Each block will explore a different theme which, when combined, will form a patchwork of stories narrating Jane Austen’s life.
Thanks to a Heritage Lottery grant, the museum has recruited Brighton-based quilt designer and freelance editor Elizabeth Betts as quilt designer and facilitator to oversee the final construction of 60 individually-created quilt blocks.
The 17 year six youngsters at Chawton Primary School were given the job of designing the centrepiece for the quilt. They received help from Elizabeth Betts and heritage activities project manager Lucy Bailey, who spent a day with them, walking around Chawton and sketching various aspects of village life, which they then used to create a design using decoupage.
Headteacher Dawn Tilley said that for the 10 and 11 year olds it had taken time to sink in that “theirs will be the main focus of a quilt designed by an international team” and which will be viewed and admired by people from around the world.
During the school’s ‘We Are Chawton’ week, before the May half term, it was very much “about Jane”. Every child in the school visited Chawton House Library gardens and Jane Austen’s House Museum, and they all took part in a guided historic walk around the village led by local historian Jane Hurst.
In addition, there were some art workshops with Alton College, music workshops with Denise Janaway, a variety of art projects, and the making of scarecrows for Chawton’s open gardens event last weekend.
Importantly, the decision had been taken for the school to get involved in the ‘Sitting with Jane’ BookBench project being run by Destination Basingstoke, with 24 BookBenches forming a public art trail that will take visitors through Basingstoke, Winchester, Alton and Chawton.
To be launched on Monday (June 19), while both Alton and Chawton have bought benches that have been designed and painted by local artists, there was an opportunity also for schools to buy a mini bench at a subsidised rate, which Chawton Primary School did with the help of grants from East Hampshire District Council and Chawton Parish Council.
The children then worked with Chawton BookBench artist Caroline Fairbairn, coming up with a design which has resulted in a map of the village on the front of their bench and a bookcase full of books on the rear. A competition was held, with the winning pupils assigned to painting the bench, and each child in the school was able to contribute to the project by signing or naming a book on the back.
The school BookBench was unveiled at a ceremony at Festival Place in Basingstoke on May 26, attended by Chawton pupils Grace, Cerys and Carenz, and the bench remained on display in the shopping centre over half term.
But it is now back in Chawton, taking pride of place in the school hall where it was on display to the public during the Chawton open gardens weekend.
Following the ‘We Are Chawton Week’ activities, Mrs Tilley said: “The excitement of this week has been amazing and we are all so proud to be part of this special community.”