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Last week I paid another pilgrimage to Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral. As you no doubt know, she is buried in the North Aisle of the Cathedral, shown below,
…under a ledgerstone etched with the now familiar words written by her brother, Henry Austen.
The stone is by the brass plaque which was installed in 1870, and was paid for from the proceeds of her nephew, Edward Austen Leigh’s Memoir of his aunt, and also by the memorial window, above the plaque, paid for by public subscription in 1900.
Winchester Cathedral has recently added some explanatory displays on Jane Austen’s life and her connections with the Cathedral, in the form of rather beautiful, ethereal 3-D effect light boxes, and I really want to share them with you here. The boxes are simple but very lovely, set in blue ‘cupboards” complete with words written by Elizabeth Proudman, a Winchester Guide who has a special interest in the life of Jane Austen, and with watercolour illustrations by the artist, Laura Haines.
There are four of them and they stand very unobtrusively near to Jane Austen’s Grave. The first illustrates Jane Austen’s early life in Steventon:
You can enlarge all the photographs in this post by clicking on them and I do recommend you do it to get the full effect of these lovely illustrations. The text gives a simple but accurate outline of Jane Austen’s early life:
Jane Austen was born on the 16th December 1775 in the parsonage house in Steventon near Basingstoke in Hampshire, where her father was Rector. The house no longer stands but you can still visit the little church where the family prayed each week and see the scattered rural community where she grew up…..
The Second Box deals with Jane’s time in Bath, showing her sitting on the banks of the Avon near to the Pulteney Bridge:
In 1801 Jane’s father, Rev. George Austen, decided to retire and move the family to Bath where he had met and married Jane’s mother, Cassandra Leigh. Everything was sold ,even Jane’s books and her piano, and they left her beloved countryside to live in town…
The third box’s subject is Chawton:
This shows Jane Austen in the famed Donkey Cart, which she disliked using, and Chawton Cottage, now the Jane Austen’s House Museum:
…it is this house which we know as Jane Austen’s house today, where she lived for the last eight years of her life, and where she became a great writer. Upstairs she shared a bedroom with her beloved Cassandra and in the dining room she could write, covering her work with a piece of blotting paper to avoid inquisitive eyes. ..
The fourth and last light box shows the house in College Street, just outside the Cathedral Close, where Jane Austen died in 1817:
On 24th May 1817, Jane Austen said goodbye to her mother in Chawton, and she and Cassandra drove the 16 miles in pouring rain to Winchester. There were good doctors in Winchester and they hoped her illness could be cured. They took comfortable lodgings near the Cathedral in Mrs. David’s house at 8 College Street where Cassandra nursed her….
There can now be no confusion as to “who that lady is?” This was of course the famous question asked by a Verger of the cathedral to a visitor who wanted to visit Jane Austen’s tomb in 1850. I think it is a rather beautiful, unobtrusive and very clever way of giving an accurate, interesting and visually pleasing display about Jane Austen’s life. Bravo Winchester Cathedral for having the imagination to make this small exhibit such a beautiful and fitting one.