On the edge of the South Downs, the city of Winchester and its surrounding district have inspired a wealth of literary classics; from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility to John Keats' ode 'To Autumn'. Step into the shoes of these literary greats and see the treasures of England's ancient capital through their eyes. From memorials and guided walks to film and television locations, Winchester's literary heritage is waiting to be discovered.
The English Project
Based in Winchester, The English Project's mission is to deepen people's understanding and awareness of the English language, its history and continuing development so that all English speakers everywhere can better appreciate, use and enjoy it. It will undertake a range of projects in a variety of media in an entertaining way with a strong emphasis on public participation.
The first innovative project is a book 'Kitchen Table Lingo' which aims to record and liberate the words that thrive behind closed doors, words that are used every day by English speakers around the globe more...
For those on the literary trail, a visit to Chawton, 17 miles from Winchester, to the house where Jane Austen lived from 1809 to 1817, is a must. Here she wrote and revised six of her novels including popular classics Emma and Sense and Sensibility. You can view family memorabilia, original manuscripts and a bookcase containing first editions of Austen's novels.
In the 18th century, Winchester was the leading medical centre outside London and this was one of the reasons Austen moved to the city in 1817. She lived her final days at 8 College Street before she was laid to rest in the cathedral.
The original memorial stone over her tomb in Winchester Cathedral made no reference to her literary achievements. A brass plaque was added in 1872 to redress this omission, and in 1900 a stained glass window was erected in her memory, acknowledging her reputation as a famed writer.
If you are looking for Jane Austen themed activities, our tourist information centre can offer advice on places to visit, including Jane Austen's House Museum at Chawton and Winchester Cathedral. They can also arrange a personal guided tour of Jane Austen's Winchester with one of the city's official tourist guides. Call the tourist information centre on 01962 840 500 to start planning your literary break!
You can also take a self-guided trail that uncovers the landmarks of Austen's life in Hampshire, click here to find out more.
"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom-friend of the maturing sun." Perhaps two of his most famous lines, John Keats' ode 'To Autumn' was written during his stay in Winchester in September 1819. This was the last ode he wrote, inspired by his daily walks through the Cathedral Close and water meadows to St Cross. Follow in the footsteps of this famous Romantic with the self-guided Keats' Walk leaflet available from the Tourist Information Centre, or online by following this link.
Regarded as the father of angling, Izaak Walton lived in the Close and published The Compleat Angler in 1653. It is now the most reprinted fishing book of all time with over 400 editions so far. Walton was known to have spent happy days at the water meadows and considered the River Meon the best trout fishing in England, a legend that holds fast today with the prime trout fishing section stretching from Wickham to Meonstoke. Visit Walton's tomb in Winchester Cathedral where a memorial stained glass window contains the epithet, 'Study to be quiet'. Or take a trip to East Meon where you can sip a pint in his honour in the pub named after him.
More beautiful countryside is on offer at the scenic downlands between Winchester and Newbury, the inspiration for Richard Adams' best-selling book Watership Down. Follow in the tracks of Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and companions as you walk along the footpaths of the Wayfarers' Walk, the best way to enjoy Hampshire's diverse countryside. A route map is available from Winchester Tourist Information Centre.
Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies is reputed to have written his famous novel at Itchen Abbas. This picturesque village is located between Winchester and New Alresford, set on the banks of the River Itchen.
18th century poet and naturalist, Gilbert White, was born and spent the greater part of his life in the village of Selborne. Today, visitors can tour the house where he lived on Selborne High Street.
Benjamin Franklin, inventor, politician and one of the five congressmen responsible for drafting the American Declaration of Independence, is said to have written much of his autobiography whilst staying in Twyford, just outside of Winchester.
The Winchester Bible
Winchester Cathedral is home to the Winchester Bible, widely recognised as the finest of all the great 12th century bibles. A single scribe wrote out the entire bible in the Latin of St Jerome, and the initials, which stand at the beginning of each book of the bible, were drawn and coloured by a team of artists over a period of 20 years. The colours, including gold and lapis lazuli, are as intense today as they were 800 years ago.
Annual Writers' Conference
Winchester's Annual Writers' Conference draws up to 500 budding amateurs and established professionals each summer. In 2007, the conference celebrated its 27th year and was headlined by Jacqueline Wilson.
St Luke's Church in Stanmore is home to the font in which novelist Thomas Hardy was baptised. The 18th century marble font, whose home was originally in the writer's native Dorset, was recently traced back to the novelist's christening in 1840.
The Da Vinci Code
Although not set in Winchester, some scenes from the movie The Da Vinci Code, based on Dan Brown's bestselling novel, were filmed in Winchester Cathedral in October 2005.
More movie locations
Avington Park, just outside of Winchester, starred as Quentcham Hall in the BBC adaptation of George Eliot's masterpiece Daniel Deronda. Originally belonging to Winchester Cathedral, the stunning Georgian manor overlooks sweeping lawns, set in peaceful surrounds along the River Itchen. From stunning ballrooms to lime tree avenues, unique iron conservatories to finely gilded ceilings, you can immerse yourself in another era. Both Nell Gwyn - actress and mistress of King Charles II - and the poet P.B. Shelley are said to have stayed here.
Widely considered one of the finest neo-classical buildings in Britain, Northington Grange near Alresford, provided the dramatic backdrop to the 1999 film adaptation of Pushkin's Onegin, starring Liv Tyler and Ralph Fiennes. It took the crew three weeks to transform the 18th century mansion into a sumptuous Russian country house (including adding a third storey and an extra wing), described by the film's producer as having 'as much the essence of Russia as anything you could find in Russia itself.' Now an English Heritage site, the Grange is open to the public all year round and hosts the critically acclaimed Grange Park Opera festival each year in June.
> More information on film and TV locations in the Winchester district.