Winchester has been home for me and my family for more than thirty years. I thought that nothing could recompense me when we moved from the Lake District to Hampshire, but Winchester did just that.
Walking through the mediaeval centre of the city is always a joy and my work as a voluntary Guide in the Cathedral has helped me to understand the links we have with our past. Welcoming first time visitors to the Cathedral, we share their sense of awe and appreciation of the craftsmanship in wood and stone, textiles and glass, which previous generations have left for us to enjoy. We can all feel a connection with the many people who have been here before us.
This is particularly true when we take visitors to see Winchester Bible, the largest and finest of the surviving 12th century English Bibles. A single monk wrote the text in Latin while artists worked on the beautiful illuminated capital letters; gold and lapis lazuli were used on the prepared calfskin and the colours remain wonderfully clear and fresh for us to admire today.
Many people choose to visit Winchester Cathedral in order to find out more about the author Jane Austen and to visit her grave. It is a great pleasure to lead Jane Austen Tours in the Cathedral and out through the Close to College Street, to see the house where Jane Austen lived for the last weeks of her life.
I feel very much connected to the year 1817 as I point out to a group of visitors the window from which Cassandra Austen looked out on her sister’s funeral procession leaving College Street in the early morning of July 24th. Women didn’t attend funerals in those days but Cassandra’s grief is clear in the words she wrote, ‘Never was a human being more sincerely mourned by those who attended her remains than this dear creature’: just three brothers and a nephew formed the funeral party.
These Saturday tours finish with coffee and cake in the Cathedral Refectory, a time to share ideas about Jane Austen’s life and work and often to make new friends.
I also enjoy taking visitors on ‘Modern Art’ Tours in the Cathedral. We are so fortunate in Winchester that the commissioning of works of art has continued from 1079 to the present day. It is a delightful way to spend a Saturday morning, discussing work by Antony Gormley, Maggie Hambling, Eric Gill and many more. Of course we continue our discussion and thoughts about the works of art with coffee and cake afterwards….perhaps it is the cake which attracts me to this voluntary work!
My other particular interests are well catered for in Winchester, theatre, cinema and the visual arts: for a relatively small city we have an abundance of cultural riches. I love visiting the theatre, and art galleries. Access to the visual arts has always been important to me, so it is satisfying to find excellent touring exhibitions at the Discovery Centre and work in the many private galleries in the city. I particularly enjoy ‘Open Studio’ time when local artists invite us to visit their studios and see their ‘work in progress’ where we have the opportunity to discuss their ideas and methods.
I still miss the mountains of northern England but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere now but this special city, which offers me so much history, art, literature and of course, cake.