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Dancing with Darcy Regency Ball at Jane Austen's Chawton House
07/03/2009 - By Chawton House

Dancing with Darcy Regency Ball at Jane Austen's Chawton House

Exactly two hundred years since Jane Austen came to live in Chawton, ‘Dancing with Darcy’ a truly authentic Regency Ball was held at Chawton House.

A stone’s throw from the cottage where she lived and worked, Chawton House or the ‘Great House’ which belonged to her brother Edward Austen Knight, was the scene of numerous Austen family gatherings.

Guests in full Regency dress were received by Mr. and Mrs. Darcy (actors David Rintoul and Elizabeth Garvie who played Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in a BBC production of Pride and Prejudice) together with host Lady Ayrshire (alias Sandy Lerner, Chairman of Chawton House Library).

It was a lovely summer’s evening and many of the guests swept up to the house in a horse drawn landau. The house had been decorated with vast flower arrangements in stone urns by Julie Johnson of Chawton with a stunning colour scheme of pale blue and clotted cream. 150 metres of pale blue organza were used to create swags and bows topped by tall, waving ostrich feathers and the rooms were lit by candlelight using tall silver candelabra.

During the daylight hours before dinner, guests were able to wander through the grounds sipping champagne and admiring the scenery. The Great Hall having been turned into a ballroom for the evening, Green Ginger played for the traditional dances of the period. Dance Master, Ellis Rogers, had given a workshop in the village hall during the afternoon which everyone attended and as there were 12 ‘professional’ Regency dancers present to help and encourage guests, the dance floor was always full. Jane Austen herself would have felt quite at home that night due to the period atmosphere in the house.

Cyrille Pannier, Executive Chef of the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, is an expert in eighteenth-century food and he spent many hours studying the Library’s recipe books and creating an incredible dinner which was served in the dining room by liveried servants. The first course included nettle and potato soup, crayfish and sweetbread vol au vent, pickled ox tongue, fried marrow and mushrooms and saddle of mutton. There was then more dancing and the second course which had boiled cod with beans and bacon, white pudding in their skin, Scotch collops and roast turkey.

Several of the guests had come from the United States and everyone entered into the spirit of the occasion. A silhouette cutter entertained the guests and there was a special exhibition of some of the Library’s precious eighteenth century books together with a Jane Austen manuscript of a short play that she wrote for the family. Some of Edward Austen Knight’s dinner service and silver were on googldisplay and also a silk suit that had belonged to him. Upstairs, card games could be played in the ladies withdrawing room.

The deserts were served on Edward’s dining room table and included sweet meats and jelly, raspberry tart and bread & butter pudding. In addition to claret and port to drink, there were traditional silver urns serving tea after dinner and home made mead and punch.

At 1.30am the guests departed down the drive which was brightly lit by burning oil lamps.

As well as being a truly memorable night for all those involved, the event helped raise money for the Chawton House Library Educational Programme. This project is committed to developing learning initiatives centered on the collection of early women’s writing, the estate’s walled garden, and the magnificently restored Elizabethan Manor. It is also focused on the re-erection of an 18th century barn which will serve as an educational centre for school, university and public visits.

Photos: Michel Focard

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