The author of five sublime novels, Jane Austen moved to Winchester seeking medical treatment at the end of her life. Her beloved sister Cassandra joined her at No. 8 College Street. Although Winchester was a renowned medical center, her doctor Giles King Lyford did not hold out hope. Indeed, Jane crossed over on July 18, 1817, 200 years ago today.
After reading about the many special anniversary activities planned this Anniversary year, I added Winchester to my itinerary. I lodged at the centrally located Royal Winchester Hotel and took an easy train ride from Southampton.
Her temporary home makes a good first stop. Further down the road on College Street is the elite boys prep school Winchester College. Across the street from No 8 is a small park with several Jane tributes. Stop in the awesome independent bookstore P&G Wells and buy a new copy of Persuasion, the international Austen book for 2017. Then go round the corner to the Wykeham Arms for a fantastic cup of coffee or better than pub lunch or dinner.
The Winchester Cathedral offers a “Jane Austen Events Programme 2017” and includes a funeral procession reenactment on Monday 24 July at 8:30 a.m. (5 pounds for ticket). This is the same time, 200 years earlier, that her brothers and nephews escorted her body to the Cathedral. “Her sister Cassandra wrote that she watched from the window as her dear sister left her forever as the procession turned the corner to enter the Close.” (Winchester Cathedral programme)
The Winchester Cathedral is the final resting place for Jane Austen. Her grave and a special memorial are in the north nave aisle. The Cathedral published a booklet by Michael Wheeler, “Jane Austen and the Winchester Cathedral,” where he explains how Jane Austen came to be buried inside the Cathedral,
“The fact that Jane Austen died in the paris of St Swithun entitled her to burial in the Cathedral precinct, and there were no compelling reasons for her to be buried in Chawton, Steventon or Bath. But to be buried inside the Cathedral, she and her family must have had strong connection in the Close. If the Revd Henry Austen made the request to the Dean and Chapter, he may well have been supported by Mrs. Elizabeth Heathcote, nee Bigg, his sisters’ lifelong friend and the widow of the Revd William Heathcote, sometime Prebendary of Winchester.”
My last stop on my Jane Austen adventure was to the special exhibits at the Discovery Centre and library. If you are not already familiar with Jane’s life story, then this is the place to start. I also picked up a helpful brochure at the City Museum “Jane Austen’s Winchester” that provided a helpful overview of her time in Winchester 24 May – 18 July 1817.
These exhibits will be open through 24 July (and the last one until 20 August):
- The Mysterious Miss Austen
- Jane’s Winchester: Malady and Medicine
- Jane and her Alton Apothecary
If you have the extra time, Chawton is about 30 minutes by car and 1 hour by bus. Jane’s home and a special study center await you there.