Jane Austen Anniversary Events
As the country commemorates the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, many places and events across Britain will relive her world. Here we give you some ideas for southern England. The author lived in Bath between 1801 and 1806, and with its beautifully preserved Georgian townhouses, the city looks like it belongs in a TV costume drama. Austen grew up in Basingstoke, where she lived for most of her life, and died in Winchester in 1817. This year, the Hampshire Cultural Trust is marking the anniversary with a series of extensive events.
Basingstoke, between Winchester and London, is a place of pilgrimage for Austen fans, so much so that Britain’s first statue of the author is erected in the Market Square this month. Visit nearby Steventon, where Austen was born and lived until the age of 25. St Nicholas Church, where her father preached, has mementoes and a plaque dedicated to the author.
Enjoy afternoon tea at Oakley Hall, now a hotel, which Austen used to visit for tea and whose owner inspired the character of Mrs Bertram in Mansfield Park. Follow the Sitting with Jane public art trail, made up of 24 ‘BookBenches’, each created by an artist inspired by Austen’s work. Stay the night at Audleys Wood Hotel – try to book the Jane Austen suite.
North of Basingstoke is Oxford, where Austen was taught by Mrs Cawley as a child, while her elder brother attended St John’s College. Oxford’s Weston Library is holding an exhibition of Austen material and manuscripts, brought together for the first time. Which Jane Austen? (to 29 Oct) highlights the subtle yet important influence of the Napoleonic Wars on Austen’s works – two of her brothers served as naval officers.
Austen lived the last eight years of her life in Chawton in Hampshire. Visit Jane Austen’s House Museum where you can stand at the table on which she wrote her great novels, beginning with 1811’s Pride and Prejudice. Special events here include Talks and Tours Day (7 Jul), featuring the curators of the Jane Austen exhibitions at the Winchester Discovery Centre and the Weston Library, Oxford, and a linocut printmaking and letterpress workshop (23 Jul), celebrating the recent discovery of fragments of original wallpaper – replicas now hang in the Drawing Room and upstairs Family Room.
From Chawton, head to nearby Winchester, the ancient capital of England. In its superb Gothic cathedral you will find Austen’s final resting place, with a small exhibition about her life and work and a lavish brass plaque. Dedicated Austen tours are available.
At the Winchester Discovery Centre you can enjoy The Mysterious Miss Austen (to 24 Jul), which does its best to piece together the details of Austen’s life, much of which eludes scholars: her sister destroyed the bulk of her letters after her death to protect friends and family members from her unshrinkingly frank opinions of them.
This special exhibition brings together for the first time five portraits of the author, and also includes an alternative ending to Persuasion, written in her own hand. If it rains while you’re in Winchester, consider it a bonus. The Hampshire Cultural Trust has created a Rain Jane trail, consisting of 12 quotes in 39 locations around the city, which magically appear only when wet!
More than 100 miles west of London, Bath was used by Austen in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The house in Bath that Austen lived in, at 4 Sydney Place, is now a self-catering luxury penthouse available to rent, though you must book in advance (bathboutiquestays.co.uk).
Bath Tourism Plus has created a free audio guide walking tour, In the Footsteps of Jane Austen. The Jane Austen Centre has tours by guides in period costume and a waxwork of the author. Have a cream tea in its Regency Tea Rooms.
In the autumn, Bath hosts the world’s largest gathering of Austen fans in the annual Jane Austen Festival (8-17 Sep). The costumed promenade is a truly extraordinary spectacle.
Brighton, on the south coast, has long been a favourite weekend getaway for Londoners. It boasts beautiful beaches framed by a famous pier, a maze of boutique shops and cafés in The Lanes, and the spectacular Royal Pavilion, influenced by Indian and Chinese architecture and built for George, Prince of Wales. While Austen never lived there, in her day it was a fashionable ‘watering place’ with a somewhat louche reputation: it is to Brighton that Lydia Bennet runs off with her cad of a lover in Pride and Prejudice, fantasising that she would find herself there ‘seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once’.
The new exhibition Jane Austen by the Sea, at the Prince Regent Gallery in the Royal Pavilion, explores the author’s links with the coast. A highlight is the manuscript of her unfinished novel, Sanditon, which she wrote shortly before her death. You will also find a brooch with a lock of her hair, and letters from Austen to the Prince Regent’s librarian.