July 18th 1817 marks the day that Jane Austen died 203 years ago.
Jane had been ill for about a year and her condition gradually worsened. William Curtis was her Alton Apothecary who advised her to go to Winchester to consult Dr Lyford. He was a surgeon at a new hospital on Parchment Street and a friend of the family. He was the cousin of Susannah Digweed who married Jane’s friend James.
Jane’s family escorted her the 16 miles by carriage from Chawton to Winchester on a particuarly gloomy and rainy day in March 1817. Her friend Elizabeth Bigg was now married and living in the Cathedral Close, and helped to arrange the lodgings for Jane at 8 College Street.
Although Dr Lyford visited often, he could not cure Jane as she was suffering from what was thought to be Addisons disease, and now thought to be lymphoma. In the early hours of July 18th she died in her sister Cassandra’s arms, aged just 41.
She lay in her coffin for a week on the ground floor of the house, before being taken by cart on July 24th to Winchester Cathedral to be buried.
Jane’s brothers Edward, Frank and Henry attended the short service with her nephew James Edward standing in for Jane’s brother James who was ill. Her other brother Charles was too far away in Eastbourne to attend.
It was not considered proper for ladies to attend funerals, so Cassandra and her sister-in-law Mary Lloyd watched the procession from the bay window on the first floor. The service took place early in the morning before services began.
Jane is buried in north aisle of the nave.
Her gravestone talks of Jane’s sweetness and kind heart, and the irreparable loss felt by her family. There is no mention of Jane as a writer. The inscription simply says,
In Memory of
youngest daughter of the late
REV GEORGE AUSTEN
formerly Rector of Steventon in this County
she departed this Life on the 18th July, 1817
aged 41, after a long illness supported with
the patience and the hopes of a Christian.
The benevolence of her heart,
the sweetness of her temperment
the extraordinary endowments of her mind
obtained the regard of all who knew her and
the warmest love of her intimate connections
Their grief is in proportion to their affection
they know their loss to be irreparable
but in their deepest affliction they are consoled
by a firm though humble hope that her charity,
devotion, faith and purity have rendered
her soul acceptable in the sight of her
Jane Austen Brass Plaque
As Jane’s fame as a writer steadily grew, her family felt that Jane should be recognised for her writing abilities. In 1870, her nephew James Edward wrote a memoir about his Aunt Jane and used the proceeds to finance a brass plaque. It is mounted on the wall next to Jane’s gravestone, and is inscribed,
Known to many by her
writings, endeared to
her family by the
varied charms of her
Character, and ennobled
by Christian Faith
and Piety, was born
at Steventon in the
county of Hants Dec
wvi mdcclxxv and buried
in this Cathedral
July xxiv mdcccxvii
“She openeth her
mouth with wisdom
and in her tonuge is
the law of kindness”
Prob xxxi vi xxvi
Jane Austen Memorial Window
By 1900, Jane was famous enough for a memorial window. It was made by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907) and it sits above the brass plaque and Jane’s gravestone.
The top panel features Saint Augustine reminding us of Jane’s own name, and on either side the Austen family coat-of-arms. King David is holding his harp high as he plays. On the four outer panels are the sons of Korah holding scrolls of Psalm texts.
Saint John sits at the bottom of the window holding a scroll that simply says, “In the beginning was the Word“.
Your Visit to Winchester
To find 8 College Street from the Cathedral, face the front doors and go down the side passageway on the right into The Close. You will pass Elizabeth’s impressive house on your right, Number 11. Keep walking diagonally towards the old houses and then turn right to go through the walled gates, then turn left through under St Swithuns archway.
(The church is above and the bookshop is underneath). Turn left and walk down College Street and you will see Number 8 on your right. It is just past P&G Bookshop where George Austen purchased his books.
There is a circular slate plaque on the wall of the house that tells you that Jane Austen stayed there. The best view is from the gardens across the road, as it is a private residence and not open to the public.
To visit Winchester Cathedral there is a charge, although your ticket gives you access for a year. It opens daily, though closes frequently for events. You can attend a service free of charge. However, it is worth checking their website before you set off.
We can recommend the Cathedral’s own Jane Austen Tour held on the first Saturday of every month.