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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Eunice the Menace

Last month, a storm named Eunice ravaged large swathes of Europe. In the UK, which was hit especially hard, three people were killed, more than a million homes lost power, and devastating winds damaged everything from a train station in Lancashire to an arena in London.

Among the casualties were beautiful old trees on the grounds of Chawton House, the Elizabethan mansion once owned by Jane Austen’s older brother Edward Knight, which now welcomes visitors as both a research library and an Austen-linked stately-home-cum-tourist-attraction.

"An old lime tree came crashing down over the drive, blocking access to the House. One of the limes on the Victorian Lime Avenue split in two. Another old oak and an elegant forty-foot fir fell in Mingledown Woods, blocking popular paths,” Chawton House reported on its website. “Beautiful outdoor spaces, that were only one day earlier open to the public, were suddenly declared unsafe.”

Unfortunately, Chawton House has been living hand-to-mouth for years, ever since the departure of its founding patron, Sandy Lerner. (See details of the saga here.) Months of COVID closures, with the resulting loss of visitor income, certainly didn’t help.

As a result, “we now cannot afford to pay for the remaining storm clearance from across the 250-acre estate,” the website explains. Chawton House has launched an emergency £15,000 fundraising appeal, which Americans can donate to by accessing this link and checking the box for the Mingledown Woods appeal. But until money materializes, the fallen trees and unsafe paths will have to remain as they are.

Chawton House’s trials mark the second time in less than three years that an iconic Austen-linked site has fallen prey to natural disaster: In August 2019, as blog readers will recall, the gardens of Lyme Park, the Cheshire estate that played Pemberley in the BBC’s famous 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, were flooded after days of torrential rain.

I suppose we Janeites can be grateful that it wasn't last year's Storm Darcy that inflicted all the damage, but still: This climate-change business is scarier than Mrs. Norris.


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