Although last year was amazing when it comes to all things Jane Austen, with plenty of Austenesque events taking place in different parts of southern England to celebrate Jane Austen 200, I didn't get round to much blogging as my time has been taken up by family commitments. I did, however, attend as many Jane Austen-related exhibitions as I could, the most recent ones being the Bodleian Library (Oxford), British Library (London) and Willis Museum (Basingstoke).
I also visited Jane Austen's House on her birthday in December as there is always a wonderful ambience on that special day and there are usually a couple of new things on display. The highlight of the day for me was when my four-year-old daughter sang "Away In A Manger" accompanied by the old pianoforte in the drawing room!
In the autumn I returned to nearby Basingstoke to explore the old town and the various places familiar to Jane Austen. Of course I had to view the newly erected statue of Jane Austen in front of the Willis Museum in the Market Square.
I thought the statue was perhaps somewhat smaller than her actual height would have been, Jane Austen being considered a tall woman at her time (taller than myself although I'm just 5"4!). That said, I was overwhelmed and proud finally to have a statue and a tribute to my favourite author in a place that was so familiar to her.
Basingstoke was the closest larger town to Steventon where Jane grew up. It is a place where she went shopping and attended her very first balls. The high street, Winchester Street (above), still retains some of its period feel, with a number of old buildings dotted here and there. At the time, the shopkeepers included 6 bakers, 4 butchers, 4 drapers, 2 wig makers, 2 grocers, 2 hatters and 1 ironmonger. In her letters, Jane mentions buying some fabric and ink here, and her father bought Jane's writing slope and bed in Basingstoke, too.
As I wrote in an earlier post, the site where Lloyds Bank (above) is now was where the Town Hall was situated in Jane Austen's days, and she attended balls here. Winter balls were held regularly on full moon dates, attended by the local gentry.
Another assembly room, mentioned in the same post, was in the Angel Inn, opposite the museum, which now houses Barclays Bank (above). We do not know for sure if the Austens attended balls here, but it is quite likely as it was very popular venue.
If you turn left and walk down the road, you come to The Red Lion (above), where coaches used to stop on their way to and from London. Perhaps Jane also stopped here on the way from visiting her brother, Edward, at Godmersham Park in Kent.
On the other side of the Market Square, turning right, used to be another coaching inn, The Crown, where the Austens' carriage might also have stopped (above). Jane's father attended a Gentlemen's Club in this building. The space at the back is the old inn yard.
A narrow street from the inn yard leads into Cross Street.
This is where the Austens' doctor, John Lyford, lived. We do not know exactly which house he lived in, but it could have been one of these.
Going back to Winchester Street and past the Red Lion, you come towards War Memorial Park, which houses Goldings (above), a lovely mansion from the 1780s. Goldings was the home of the Russells, a prominent 18th century Basingstoke family who were friends of the Austens. The Appletree family moved into Goldings in the early 19th century and interestingly, their daughter, Eliza, was the lady who married Harris Bigg-Wither after he was turned down by Jane Austen after just an overnight's engagement. What a fascinating connection! Goldings now houses a register office.
Russell Park (now known as War Memorial Park) was laid out between 1788 and 1797 as private grounds to Goldings, on 6 acres of land. The park was then designed in English landscape style, and is a beautiful green space with some lovely, winding walks, belts of tall, old trees and a hexagonal brick temple.
I had a lovely stroll around the park, which was basking in beautiful autumn sunshine. What a wonderful place to end my little excursion around Jane Austen's Basingstoke.
Points of Interest - Jane Austen - Basingstoke Leaflet, published by the Basingstoke Heritage Society.