Visit Winchester > Things to do > Literary


Day out with Thomas
Day out with Thomas

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’.  From memorials and guided tours and trails to film and television locations, Winchester’s literary heritage is waiting to be discovered.

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.

Austen wrote and revised six of her novels including popular classics Emma and Sense and Sensibility at her house in Chawton. You can view family memorabilia, original manuscripts and a bookcase containing first editions of Austen’s novels.

The ‘Great House’ was home to Jane’s brother and where she regularly dined with her family. Now called Chawton House Library it houses a unique collection of women’s literature, including first editions and a unique manuscript of Jane Austen’s, along with many other early women writers.

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, they can also arrange a personal guided tour of Jane Austen’s Winchester with one of the city’s official tourist guides.

You can also take a self-guided trail that uncovers the landmarks of Austen’s life in Hampshire download here Jane Austen walk

“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 visitor information centre or download it here. 

See the finest of all the great 12th century bibles at Winchester Cathedral.
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.

Look out for the black swan on the site of the former Black Swan Hotel which was visited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth and his partner Dr Watson in The Adventure of Copper Beeches. There is now a plaque marking the location on the corner of Southgate Street and the High Street.

Find out more about this quirky feature and others in a fascinating book that reveals some of the city’s often overlooked architectural landmarks – ‘Look Up!’ is available in paperback (£6.99) and hardback (£9.99) from Winchester Visitor Information Centre and Amazon as well as various other outlets on the High Street itself.

Winchester is home (and inspiration) to many local authors.

  • Claire Fuller who has written a Unsettled Ground

  • Doing Time by Liz Kavanagh and Leonie Mountney takes a look at 175 years of Winchester Prison.
  • Licoricia of Winchester is Rebecca Abrams’ biography of the 13th-century Jewish businesswoman who battled antisemitism to become the wealthiest Jewish woman in England. Her statue stands next to The Arc on Jewry Street.
  • Gibbon’s Years, a memoir by Jock Macdonald. Jock, a former master at Winchester College and city councillor.
  • Since publishing her first novel The Perfect Girlfriend in 2018, Karen Hamilton has released three other thriller novels, with her latest book being The Contest.
  • Sam Holland is the award-winning author of the Major Crimes series, following brutal murders committed in the south of England.Her debut, The Echo Man, shocked and enthralled readers and reviewers alike with its sinister depiction of a serial killer copying notorious real-life murderers of the past.

    The Twenty is her second novel in the series.

  • L. V. Matthews is the author of standalone psychological suspense thrillers, The Prank and The Twins.

    Her third novel is called Silent Waters.

The Visitor Information Centre sell a couple of books by:

Geoff Read

Chris Heal

Phil Yates

See the landmarks across Hampshire that inspired the following writers.
Watership Down

The beautiful countryside and scenic downlands between Winchester and Newbury, inspired 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 Visitor Information Centre.

Charles Kingsley

Picturesque Itchen Abbas on the banks of the River Itchen, located between Winchester and New Alresford, is reputed to have provided the setting for Kingsley’s The Water Babies.

Gilbert White

Visit the village of Selbourne where the the 18th century poet and naturalist was born and spent the greater part of his life and and tour his house on Selborne High Street.

Benjamin Franklin

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.

Izaak Walton

Regarded as the father of angling, Izaak Walton lived in the Close and published The Compleat Angler in 1653 – 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 and memorial in Winchester Cathedral, or take a trip to East Meon where you can sip a pint in his honour in the pub named after him.