In 1816, when Jane Austen was 41, her health was becoming weaker and friends noticed a change in her. She suffered from fever and weakness, and was becoming more serious. Although she was very courageous, she must have been aware of the gravity of her situation, as in March, she made her will.
Jane was being treated by the Alton Apothecary, William Curtis, who called in a surgeon from Winchester, Mr Gyles King Lyford. As Jane was improving under his care, it was decided that Jane would travel to Winchester to be under his treatment.
Winchester was a convenient spot for me to travel to Chawton, and before heading off to Chawton by bus, I spent some time exploring the place where Jane breathed her last.
Winchester is a compact town to walk around, and has retained plenty of its traditional architecture. Walking down the quieter streets of Winchester, one could equally well be in the 19th Century if it wasn’t for the cars.
Most of the roads were narrow and winding, and the houses were a blend of the Georgian and the Victorian.
The house where Jane lived the last days of her life was in College Street, right behind the walls of Winchester Cathedral. It’s a quiet street, very much unchanged since the 19th Century.
The house in 8, College Street, remains on the facade as it was in Jane’s lifetime. She wrote, ‘Our lodgings are very comfortable. We have a neat little drawing room with a bow window overlooking Dr Gabell’s Garden.’
The view from Jane’s lodgings:
It was here that Jane lived, probably watching the cathedral that she admired very much. She would go out in a sedan chair, optimistic that she would be shifted to a wheelchair in the summer. However, as there was no knowledge of her disease at the time – now often referred to as Addison’s disease – there wasn’t much that Dr Lyford could have done.
On the morning of July 18th, 1817, Jane passed away in Cassandra’s arms. From the bow-shaped windows, Cassandra watched as her sister’s funeral hearse went past towards the Cathedral, where Jane was to be buried.
From College Street, I turned right to Kingsgate, which leads you to Winchester Cathedral.
In front of Winchester Cathedral.
Jane is buried in the north aisle of the church. The verses written on her grave, perhaps by her brother Henry, are beautiful, describing her as a person – however, there is no mention of her being an authoress.
It was comforting to know that Jane was buried in a place that she admired so very much. It did cross my mind, though, that perhaps she would have preferred to have been buried in Steventon – her birthplace, which she loved dearly.
At the time of my visit, there was an exhibition dedicated to Jane Austen’s life in the Cathedral. There was also a small set of Jane Austen memorabilia in the City Museum. Therefore I would say that Winchester was well worth a visit.
References: Edwards, A-M. (1991). In the Steps of Jane Austen – Walking Tours of Austen’s England. Wisconsin: Jones Books.