The day after the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death (July 18), Jane Austen’s House Museum (JAHM) saw an influx of visitors. It’s like people had suddenly remembered that she was somebody important or something! I volunteered as a steward at JAHM on the 19th. From 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. we had over 250 visitors. Remember, this house is small, and we have a 50-person maximum. When we reach this number (which includes a couple of stewards), we have to ask people to wait to enter the house.
On this day, we began with a tour group at 10, and I got to meet and greet them (basically welcome them to the house)–a new task for me. The group had 45 people in it, so I had to split up the group so that they would not all enter at the same time. Keep in mind that we also had other visitors, so at 10 we had more than 50 people wanting to enter the house. At least we knew that this tour group was coming….
I was supposed to give a behind the scenes tour to two of the Chawton House fellows, but I was too busy to do that. The tour turned into a 10-minute “look at this!” run through the house. On the upside, I did get to chat with a bunch of really nice people from the tour group, as well as many other visitors.
- We talked about the wallpaper in the house, including how wallpaper was made and applied to walls in the 18th- and 19th-centuries and now.
- We talked about why JAHM does not have people dressed up as Jane Austen acting as stewards. Truly, one visitor was disappointed to not find a JA figure present in the house. I said, “Oh, that’s what it’s like in Bath.”
- I had to keep my eye on a few visitors who were picking up items in the house. Another visitor warned me about them!
- I assisted an elderly woman in a wheelchair’s caretaker as he helped her walk up the stairs so that she could see JA’s room.
- I also had to convince a visitor that JA did not die 400 years ago, even though his friend assured him that indeed it was 400 years ago. 😀
So many interesting things happen when you work as a steward.
Perhaps the morning’s most unexpected delight was when a tour bus stopped in front of the house, and about 25 or more people got dressed up in Regency attire on the bus. How do I know that they were dressing on the bus? I was upstairs looking out, and I could see them getting dressed. Awkwarrrddd. I ran downstairs to check the schedule, and no other tour group was scheduled for the morning. What? A surprise, unannounced tour group? What would we do? We were at capacity already.
Luckily, this group decided to enter the grounds and only take some pictures, in the rain, by the entrance to JAHM. Whew! They were not coming in, we thought. Oh, wait! They just went back to the bus to change into their streets clothes! To back track a few minutes here, while I was watching this intrepid group take their pictures, I noticed the person taking the picture. I could have sworn that he was a contestant on Project Runway. Nah.
Who was this group of people? One of our visitors recognized the group as the cast of Jane Austen’s Persuasion: A New Musical Drama. I met half of the cast as they wandered in, and I asked the first few visitors who was taking pictures of them. “Is he from America?” I asked. They were like, um, I don’t know. Really? Well, eventually Mr. Photographer entered. In the pic above he is in the center pane directly above the girl in the blue dress. He has a hat on.
I saw him, pointed at him, and said, “You were on Project Runway! I knew it was you! Project Runway!” It was Justin, a contestant on not only a regular season of PR, but also an all-stars season. Guess what! He immediately shushed me! Apparently he didn’t want anyone to know who he was. Why not? I never found out. Better question: did he design the costumes? Still don’t know.
Just another day at JAHM. 🙂