An Interview with Ann, Our House Manager
If you have ever bought an item in the Museum’s wonderful shop, or online, then you will have had some contact with Ann, our House Manager. Ann has been working at the museum since 1990 and I thought you might like to get to know a little more about her and her responsibilities. Like me she is camera shy, so no photograph of her will appear, but I thought you might like to know something of Ann’s wonderful dedication to the museum, and so a few weeks ago I asked her some questions about her life at the house, and I’m sure you will find her replies fascinating.
Here we go…do note that my questions are in bold type, Ann’s replies are beneath.
How long have you worked at the Museum?
I began working at the museum part-time in 1990. I have lived in Chawton since I was 14 years old and up to that time I had not really been very interested in the building. Though I am a voracious reader I had not been interested in the classic works of literature either. That changed!
It began by first listening to a talking book of Pride and Prejudice. I then went on to read all Jane Austen’s novels. I started work full-time at the Museum from October 1991 with the then Curator, Jean Bowden who encouraged and mentored me, both in Jane Austen her family’s history and this amazing place.
What does being House Manager entail?
I am responsible overall for the day-to-day running of the Museum. We all work hard to keep the museum a welcoming, warm house, so that all our visitors are able to have an enjoyable experience and to keep the atmosphere of Jane’s home maintained. When I first arrived I was a Jack of all Trades, doing most things from cleaning to gardening, but now I have overall responsibility for the house and the shop.
Before the BBC’s production of Pride and Prejudice was aired the museum was a quieter place, but after that the visitor numbers rose dramatically to almost 58,000 a year. Over the years this has settled to around 40,000 visitors per annum. Next year sees the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice which we are looking forward to with lots of planned events and celebrations.
What is the favourite part of the job for you?
I have always loved caring for this house. It is a very special place with a wonderful atmosphere. I have also loved the constant learning about the Austen family story. Also I love seeing visitors from all over the world who know and love Jane Austen and her novels, or those who know very little and go away having really enjoyed the experience.
What has surprised me is how much I really love retail, especially the books, taking pride in the education and study editions stocked for both the shop and for our reference/reading library room. I love buying souvenir items for the shop, stocking it and enjoy working with the many different suppliers.
Which is your favourite room in the Museum?
It is the Admirals’ Room on the first floor. The floorboards were replaced in that room in 1985 with what were possibly the last elm boards available, as Dutch Elm Disease had devastated native stocks of elm trees. When the sun hits the floor boards they simply glow, and I love to see it. The effect is very beautiful.
What is your favourite object?
That has to be Jane Austen’s writing table in the dining room, without a shadow of a doubt.
What is your favourite Jane Austen book?
I cannot chose between Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. I consider P&P to be the only one of her books that contains details of every human condition, its wit and its truths. Persuasion, I love for the characters of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, so steadfast against the odds.
Do you have any other favourite authors?
So many, but I go back to re-read J.K Rowling, Jean Plaidy, Nora Lofts, Victoria Hislop, Mary Stewart, Manda Scott, Barbara Erskine, Colleen McCulloch, Katie Fforde, Jack Whyte, Wilbur Smith, Ken Follett, Stieg Larsson and the wonderful poet, Felix Dennis
Thank you, Ann, for your kindness and patience for allowing me to interview you for the blog. The care and dedication Ann has for the Museum, its history and the objects within it are evident on every visit, and we are all grateful to her.