2025: Celebrating the 250th anniversary of her birth
One of Hampshire’s best loved daughters, Jane Austen, has been a household name for more than two centuries, but Hampshire is now planning extra celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of her birth in 2025.
She was born on 16 December 1775 in the Old Rectory in Steventon which, sadly, no longer exists, but the county has plenty more to tempt Austen fans, including the most iconic, and evocative, of all Austen sites: Jane Austen’s House, in Chawton.
A year of celebrations
Jane Austen’s House, her home whilst she wrote and published all six of her globally beloved novels, will mark this iconic year with the launch of a new, permanent exhibition as well as innovative and exciting temporary exhibitions celebrating two and a half centuries of Britain’s greatest writer. A range of special events will run throughout the year, from exclusive and intimate tours to summer celebrations in the garden, culminating with a Virtual Birthday Party on 16 December, live from Jane Austen’s House, bringing Jane Austen fans from across the globe together for an epic birthday celebration. Full details will be available at www.janeaustens.house.
Jane Austen’s story
Hampshire was not only her birthplace, but its people, and the society in which she moved, provided inspiration for many of her novels. Known for proudly reminding people that she was “a Hampshire born Austen”, she was finally laid to rest in Winchester Cathedral, in 1817 – at the age of just 41. Visitors to Hampshire can follow in the footsteps of Jane Austen by visiting Chawton, Alton, Steventon, Southampton and Winchester.
For anyone wanting to find out more about Jane Austen and her books, as well as her family and the life-and-times in which she lived, the most treasured Austen site in the world must be Jane Austen’s House in the quiet village of Chawton. Here, in this inspiring cottage, Jane lived with her mother and her sister Cassandra for the last eight years of her life and is where she wrote and revised all six of her globally beloved novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Visitors can explore the sunny Drawing Room, where she read Pride and Prejudice aloud to a neighbour on the very day she received her first copy, and the vibrant green Dining Room, complete with the little table where she sat to write all her famous works.
Elsewhere in the village Chawton House – a manor house that once belonged to Austen’s brother, Edward, and was referred to as the ‘Great House’ in Jane Austen’s letters – offers fascinating links with not only Jane, but the lives and works of early women’s writers from 1600 to 1830. Jane would often visit the grand Elizabethan manor and its picturesque gardens, and today visitors can saunter through those same grounds, see Austen heirlooms, such as the dining table at which Jane would have enjoyed family meals, and explore the historic collection of early women’s writing. Accessible to anyone, the magnificent Library has become an internationally respected research and learning centre for the study of women writers, with manuscripts, rare and early editions, and for some works, the only known surviving copy. Aimed at inspiring a new generation of writers, and shedding new light on less well-known works, the Library includes an extensive collection of women’s travel writing from this early period, when the rights of women were still heavily contested.
Steventon is another destination on a tour of ‘Jane Austen Country’. Jane was born in the Old Rectory where she lived the first 25 years of her life, creating the first drafts of three of her published books. Today, a giant lime tree planted by Austen’s brother, James, is all that remains in the spot where the rectory once stood. But St Nicholas Church, where Jane was baptised and later attended regularly with the rest of the family to listen to their father preach, is where visitors will find a bronze plaque dedicated to her memory.
Having collected sufficient inspiration from the people she had met and the places she had been to begin her writing, Jane’s life was interrupted when the family moved to Bath following the retirement of her father.
After her father’s death, she returned to her beloved Hampshire countryside – first to Southampton, where she lived from 1806 to 1809. Visitors can discover more on the self-guided Heritage Trail, which highlights nine key locations within the remains of the old city walls with strong associations to Jane, either when she lived there, or earlier in her life. During Jane’s time, Southampton was an old seaport with medieval streets tumbling down to a quay. It was also reinventing itself as a fashionable spa town – in much the same way that the city is currently undergoing a major transformation.
A little more than two years later the Austen family would be living happily in Chawton, and Jane would be relaxed – and most importantly of all – writing again.
Sadly, illness started to shape her life in her final years, but she recovered sufficiently to write Persuasion, which would be later published posthumously along with Northanger Abbey. But after starting her seventh (unfinished) novel – Sanditon – her health once again started to fail, and she moved to Winchester under the care of Giles Lyford, a surgeon at the County Hospital. Lodgings were arranged for her and Cassandra at 8 College Street, but she died on Friday 18 July 1817, and was buried in the north aisle of the Cathedral. While the inscription on her tomb makes no reference of her literary talent, a brass tablet was added later confirming that she was “known to many by her writings”. During this anniversary year there will also be a new Jane Austen trail around the city which will highlight key locations and connecting them with exhibitions and special events. A walk exploring Jane Austen’s Winchester is among the special interest tours run by Winchester tourist guides, starting from the city’s Visitor Information Centre. Visitors can also enjoy a self-guided tour, ‘Jane Austen – discover the landmarks of her life in Hampshire – Visit Winchester’.
Take an inspirational stroll…
For those who want to literally follow in Jane’s footsteps, the Jane Austen Circular Walk is a must. Start at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton and retrace the route she would have taken across fields and through the village of Farringdon. Jane was inspired by this beautiful countryside to write, and revise, all her novels. Jane Austen’s House run regular Guided Village Walks around Chawton – discover the village Jane Austen knew and loved, learn about her love of nature, Chawton neighbours, the houses and views she knew, and the importance of village life in shaping her writing. Throughout the walk, short readings from Jane Austen’s letters and novels bring her world to life.
For a longer stroll, the Jane Austen Trail winds its way from the market town of Alton to Chawton village. Starting from Alton High Street, where Jane and her sister Cassandra frequently walked for shopping and entertainment, Alton is also where her brother Henry had a branch of his bank, Austen, Maude and Tilson, and he often visited it from London.
All general tourist information for Hampshire can be found at www.visit-hampshire.co.uk
Jane Austen's House, Chawton
Pride and Prejudice first edition, Jane Austen's House
Jane Austen Trail