Jane Austen’s Hampshire

Jane Austen has been a household name for more than two centuries and interest in her, and her books, is only likely to increase during the next 12 months as Hampshire prepares to mark the 200th anniversary of her death, in 2017.

A series of events and exhibitions will be staged throughout Hampshire during 2017 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death.

Some highlights already in place include:

-Hampshire Cultural Trust’s Jane Austen 2017 will hold an exhibition in Winchester with special and unique Jane Austen pieces.

-Winchester Cathedral is where Jane now rests. The Cathedral will be running tours which will explore Jane’s life in Hampshire and her connections with the Cathedral.  A moving experience for many as this tour includes readings at her graveside in the Cathedral’s north nave aisle.

-Sitting with Jane, Basingstoke.  A sculpture trail made up of 25 ‘BookBenches’ in and around Basingstoke, each uniquely designed and painted by a professional artist with their personal interpretation of a Jane Austen theme.  The trail will link together locations and will be accompanied by a dedicated web site, a free to download app and a trail guide.

There will be many more exhibitions around the county along with, talks, walks, writing, competitions and performances.  Details of all events and exhibitions throughout Hampshire will be found at: http://www.visit-hampshire.co.uk/janeausten.

Hampshire was not only the birthplace of Jane Austen, 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.

As good-a-starting-place as any is Jane Austen’s House Museum in the quiet village of Chawton.

It was here that Austen wrote and revised six of her most famous novels – four of which were subsequently published while she was living in this house.  This was Austen’s last home, where she lived with her mother and her sister Cassandra from 1809 to 1817 – and where the hairs will rise on the back of your neck when you see the little table where she revised her manuscripts for Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, and also wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion.

Chawton was the place where Austen found most peace and security.  Today, Jane Austen’s House Museum and gardens retain much of that same atmosphere; and it is the ideal starting point 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.

Elsewhere in the village Chawton House Library has become an internationally respected research and learning centre for the study of early women’s writing from 1600 to 1830.  Set in the manor house that once belonged to Austen’s brother, Edward, the library, house and gardens are also open to the general public.

Steventon is another destination on a tour of ‘Jane Austen Country’.  Jane herself was born on December 16th 1775 in the Old Rectory which, sadly, no longer exists.  It is where she lived the first 25 years of her life, and where she created 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, which Jane 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.

On her return to her beloved Hampshire countryside – first to Southampton, where the City of Southampton Society has commemorated Jane Austen’s association with their city in a Heritage Trail, which can either be followed occasionally in the company of a guide, or by picking-up a copy of the leaflet and following in the footsteps of Jane on a walk around The Old Town.

At the time when the Austen family lived there, 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 to bring it up-to-pace with the 21st century demands of its current day residents and visitors.

The trail itself highlights nine key locations within the remains of the old city walls which have strong associations with Jane Austen either at the time of her living there, or else in her earlier life.

A little more than two years later they 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 revise and complete 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 agreed to being moved to Winchester under the care of Giles Lyford, a surgeon at the County Hospital.

Lodgings were arranged for her and Cassandra there at 8 College Street in Winchester but she died on Friday 18th 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 at a later date confirming that she was “known to many by her writings”.