Archive for the ‘Winchester’ Category

I thought of Jane Austen today on the eve of the 205th anniversary of her death in Winchester. At only 42 years of age, she left us a legacy so rich that her genius as a writer is regaled to this day. Several days prior to her death on July 18, 1817, she wrote the following poem about the Winchester races.


Ascot Heath Race for His Majesty’s Gold Plate, James Pollard, 1826, Yale Center for British Art, Wikimedia Commons. While this is not an image of the Winchester racing stands, one can gain a good idea of the size of the crowds and their enthusiasm.

When Winchester Races

When Winchester races first took their beginning
It is said the good people forgot their old Saint
Not applying at all for the leave of Saint Swithin
And that William of Wykeham’s approval was faint.

The races however were fixed and determined
The company came and the Weather was charming
The Lords and the Ladies were satine’d and ermined
And nobody saw any future alarming.–

But when the old Saint was informed of these doings
He made but one Spring from his Shrine to the Roof
Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins
And then he addressed them all standing aloof.

‘Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved
When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal! By vice you’re enslaved
You have sinned and must suffer, ten farther he said

These races and revels and dissolute measures
With which you’re debasing a neighboring Plain
Let them stand–You shall meet with your curse in your pleasures
Set off for your course, I’ll pursue with my rain.

Ye cannot but know my command o’er July
Henceforward I’ll triumph in shewing my powers
Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry
The curse upon Venta is July in showers–‘.

– Jane Austen

About the poem:

When it was written:

“Jane Austen wrote this poem just two days before her death, on 15 July 1817, which was the day of the Winchester Races, a fashionable race day and also St. Swithin’s Day. – Jane Austen’s House Museum

St Swithin:

St Swithin, a 9th century bishop, patron saint of Winchester, is linked through long tradition to the idea that if it rains on his feast day, it will continue to rain for 40 days and nights. The summer of 1817 was notably wet…” – Jane Austen’s House Museum


Winchester’s old name, which dates from Roman times.

About the Winchester Races during the 18th-19th Centuries:

During both centuries races, such as the Winchester Races, welcomed all people from every segment of society, whether they were betting or enjoying the social events. Groups of hairdressers and milliners traveled from London and Bath to Winchester during their respective racing seasons to provide fashionable services (and between 1781 and 1790 the ‘finest assortment of French Pomades and coloured powders’). London’s season, linked to the sessions in Parliament, began in February at the start of the opening session. Many did not arrive until after the fox-hunting season at the end of March. Horse racing was an important component of each social season in the aforementioned cities.

The Winchester Races were held in late June/early July each season, from Tuesday until Thursday during one week. The city’s annual social calendar revolved around the social seasons of winter and summer. Amusements ranged from balls, assemblies, cockfighting, public breakfasts, fairs, etc. During race week, public breakfasts and balls were held daily. An annual performance by the Winchester College boys included a reading of a selection of prose and a music festival were also organized.


A View of the Road to Newmarket Races, James Pollard, Yale Center of British Art, Wikimedia Commons.While this scene is about the crowds going to the Newmarket Races, one can imagine a similar group heading for Winchester in 1817.

These annual races drew people from all walks of life for nearly a fortnight. Genteel society took advantage of the social events to show off their finery, of which, as previously mentioned, certain working groups took full advantage. The change in racing venues provided an opportunity for visitors to move from a stifling London to fresher more rural environments, with the added attraction of more gambling opportunities.

Royalty was at times present at the Winchester races, but the ‘the bulk of its pleasurable amenities was utilised by the county gentry. Winchester society was well patronised by the Duke of Chandos and the Pawlett family (Marquesses of Winchester), as well as a host of others who were noted in the newspapers..’Proc. Hampshire Field Club Archived. Soc. 54,1999, 127-145 (Hampshire Studies 1999) LEISURE AND SOCIETY IN GEORGIAN WINCHESTER, By M COOPER

I don’t know what happened to Jane Austen’s original copy of the poem. This site by the Jane Austen’s House Museum offers a facsimile in her sister Cassandra’s hand. (Link to the Winchester Verses). On 24 May 1817, she left Chawton with Cassandra and moved into lodgings in Winchester to be near Dr Lyford at the County Hospital. Her illness however rapidly worsened and she died on 18 July 1817.

“The poem, which is written in cross-rhymed quatrains, was initially suppressed by [Jane’s] Victorian-era family, and later released in edited versions that changed words and punctuation (including one version that altered the word “dead” to “gone”. They thought that joking about St. Swithin and horse racing and death would be dimly viewed by the public.”Kelly R. Fineman

Austen Family Poetry:

Jane’s family left a legacy of letters, poems, riddles, and charades, which are charmingly captured by David Selwyn in his book, The Poetry of Jane Austen and the Austen Family. Below is a link to a youtube video on the Winchester City Museum site, in which another one of Jane’s poems is captured.

More About July 18, 1817 on this blog:

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Sanders-JaneAustenforKidsInquiring readers,

In this blog post (to wind up women’s history month), author Nancy Sanders discusses her new book Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings and World, with 21 activities, which teaches young readers about our favorite novelist through 21 enriching activities that help them gain a better understanding of what day-to-day life in the Georgian era was like. Activities include learning to play whist, designing their own family coat of arms, planting a Georgian-style kitchen garden, hosting a Regency tea, sewing a reticule, and more.

I am pleased to announce that the publisher has agreed to give away two free copies of the book. Please leave a comment to enter the contest and let us know which activity you would introduce to children to learn more about Georgian life! Winners will be drawn via random number generator 7 AM EST USA April 1st. (US readers only, please). You may leave as many comments as you like. NOTICE: Contest is closed as of 10 AM April 1. The winners are: Rona Shirdan and DanelleinKansas

Ms. Sanders sent us information about her new book and her splendid visit to Winchester. Enjoy!

When I signed the contract to write a biography of Jane Austen for young people, it was a thrilling day indeed! The deadline was set when the final manuscript would be due at the editor’s desk, and I dove into my project.


How diverting it was to read and reread Jane’s delightful novels, watch and watch again the amazing variety of movies based on her books, and pour over biographies others had written about our favorite author.


Several months into my deep research, however, I discovered a treasure that changed my course. Shortly after my manuscript was due at the publisher, all England would be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane’s legacy to the world.


On July 18, 2017, Winchester Cathedral planned to host private services at Jane’s grave followed in the evening by a Choral Evensong honoring this amazing woman.


Would I be there to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event? Could I be there? I called my editor and got my deadline extended to include this unexpected trip. My husband Jeff and I booked an exclusive tour with JASNA (The Jane Austen Society of North America). Upon my word, we were excited to participate in the gala celebrations and all-things-Jane!


All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

July 18, 2017 dawned sunny and fair. I entered the hushed halls of Winchester Cathedral with Jeff and my tour group whom we had just met the night before. Our capable and enthusiastic group leader was Liz Philosophos Cooper, a Janeite from a family of Janeites who was destined to become the very next President of JASNA!


All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

We were led through the magnificent nave of the cathedral and stood next to Jane’s grave. Canon Sue Wallace greeted us and shared inspirational words about Jane and how her faith shaped Jane’s thoughts, actions, and writings. Along with the other members of our tour group, Jeff and I placed a rose on Jane’s grave.


All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

It was 200 years ago, this very day, that our beloved Jane passed quietly away. After the graveside service finished, we lingered nearby.


All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

There was a beautiful bust of Jane displayed in the nave. I stopped and looked into Jane’s eyes.


All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

There was a memory book to sign. The BBC radio interviewed several of us on our way out. The only way I could force myself to leave was knowing that in the evening we would return back to the cathedral for yet another special event once again in honor of Jane.


All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

We traced the route the small funeral procession probably took on the day of Jane’s funeral. The short walk led us to College Street where the house still stands that Jane and her sister Cassandra rented during Jane’s last days.


All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

I stood at the front door of this historic landmark…remembering the letter her sister wrote to inform the family of Jane’s last moments…remembering the description she gave of the small sad funeral procession that departed from this door…


All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

A dog looked down at me and at our tour group who was visiting this house. What was the dog thinking? What did Jane think as she looked out onto this street during her final days? What did Cassandra think 200 years ago as she chose to stay behind from the funeral and looked out on this street to whisper her final good-byes to the sister she had so dearly loved? I longed to switch places with the dog for just a moment to catch a glimpse of the same view these two sisters shared during those heartbreaking times.


All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

A film crew arrived and set up their equipment to begin filming. This was an important day in history. Two hundred years ago this very day, one of English literature’s greatest authors passed quietly away into the halls of eternity. Although practically unknown, Jane Austen was given a stately burial site in the magnificent Winchester Cathedral. Somehow, someone recognized the treasures this self-taught genius and amazing woman had given to England…and the world. They gave her a final resting place where Janeites from around the globe could come show their love and respect…as did I and hundreds of others on this unforgettable day.

Thank you Nancy, for this wonderful description of your visit to Winchester and these excellent photos! Don’t forget to leave your comment, readers, for a chance of winning one of two copies of this book. (U.S. readers are eligible only)


About the author:

Nancy I. SAnders is the author of many books, including Frederick Douglas for Kids, America’s Black Founders, A Kid’s Guide to African American History and Old Testament Days. She lives in Chino, California.

About the book: 

Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings, and World, with 21 Activities by Nancy I. Sanders. Chicago Review Press, Distributed by IPG Publication Date: February 5, 2019, 144 pages. Two color interior, ages 9 & up. ISBN: 978-1-61373-853-5

Other posts about Winchester on this blog:





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