2017 is a big year for Alton - it is the year Jane Austen left Chawton and moved to Winchester, where she died a few weeks later. Jane Austen's time in Chawton was her most prolific - she wrote and re-worked her novels during that time. She regularly visited Alton to shop, catch the stagecoach from The Swan hotel, or visit her brother at his bank on Crown Hill. More details are below.
To celebrate her time in Alton and Chawton, Alton Town Council is working closely with neighbouring venues and authorities to ensure that the programme of events is interesting to both residents and visitors alike. A presentation was given at the EHDC Community Forum on 17th January, and a pdf copy of it can be found at www.easthants.gov.uk/janeausten200. Copies of the Jane Austen trail through Alton and Chawton can be found at http://www.janeaustentrail.org.uk/.
Alton Town Council has an Events and Community Officer who not only plans promotes and runs the Council events but also liaises with other local organisations to ensure promotion of their events. This role is crucial to raise awareness of local events to employers, workers and residents in Alton and surrounding villages. Alton has a detailed events programme (from all sectors of the community – not just Council run or funded events), which can be found here and once in Alton we would like visitors to feel encouraged to stay for longer to enjoy all that is available in the town, and to return in the future and recommend Alton as a place to visit.
Alton's centrally located main attraction is the THE MID HANTS RAILWAY.
Known as “The Watercress Line”, this former British Railway cross-country line is now operated by volunteers dedicated to preserving part of our rail transport heritage. Sit back, relax and travel by lovingly restored steam train through 10 miles of beautiful Hampshire countryside. It’s the perfect way to unwind and experience the nostalgic sights, sounds and smells of steam travel from a bygone age.
Operating from Platform 3 at Alton Station you can journey to the picturesque Georgian town of Alresford, just 7 miles from Winchester. Fares give you all day travel, so you can visit all four stations with period charm and explore these historic towns.Watch the world go by at the peaceful country station of Medstead & Four Marks and enjoy a stroll at Ropley station with its elevated picnic area, orchard and famous topiary. Here you can also investigate the impressive engineering sheds and see preservation in action.
Opened in 1865, the Mid Hants Railway is well known for its role in transporting locally grown watercress to the markets at Covent Garden in London andbeyond; from which it takes its name today. The railway is also famed as one of the most steeply graded lines in the country with aruling gradient of 1 in 60. Such is the effort required by man and machine to crest the summit at Medstead & Four Marks, that it became known as ‘Going over the Alps’. This gradient means the railway needs a fleet of large, powerful steam locomotives capable of working heavy trains over the line; a spectacular sight and sound at any time of year! The Watercress Line is a living history attraction, saved after closure in the 1970s and now run by a dedicated team of over 450 volunteers and a core paid staff, whose objective is to preserve part of the country’s railway heritage for generations to come.
Special events throughout the year include a Day Out with Thomas, War on the Line, Peppa Pig, Santa Specials and Christmas Leave, along with spectacular Steam Galas and much, much more! On selected Saturday evenings the Railway runs Real Ale Trains from Alton station and its five course fine dining service, the ‘Watercress Belle’ from Alresford. ‘The Countryman Pullman’ offers a traditional Sunday lunch and special Christmas Dining trains run in December. All dining and Real Ale Trains are immensely popular and require pre-booking.
For opening times and more information http://www.watercressline.co.uk/ or call our Talking Timetable on 01962 734866.
Alton is very fortunate to be closely linked to the pretty neighbouring village of CHAWTON, which is famous and hugely popular with tourists visiting the home of Jane Austen, where she spent the last eight years of her life where she lived in a brick house at the crossroads in the centre of the village.
The house has been both a village inn and a residence for the steward for the Chawton Estate. In 1809 Edward Austen, third brother of Jane and adopted son of Thomas Knight of Chawton Manor, offered this dwelling to his mother and sisters. After improvements and alterations to ensure their further comfort, the three ladies took up residence on 9th July, 1809.
It was here that Jane revised Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey and where she wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. Jane remained at Chawton until May 1817, six weeks before her death. Her mother who died in 1827 and her sister Cassandra in 1845, are both buried in Chawton churchyard.
The cottage was put up for sale in 1947 and after an appeal in The Times by the Jane Austen Society, it was purchased by Mr. T.E. Carpenter and it was turned it into a Museum dedicated to the life and works of Jane Austen. Mr. Carpenter presented the house to the nation in 1949.
Jane Austen’s home is now open to the public and contains a unique collection of her belongings, first editions of her works, her letters, their family dinner service, family baking oven and Jane’s donkey cart. The museum owns the only three pieces of jewellery known to have been owned by Austen, a turquoise beaded bracelet, a topaz cross, and a turquoise and gold ring.
The beautiful cared for “country” garden and the old well and wash house may be seen. In the latter is the family baking oven and Jane’s donkey cart. Visitors may picnic in the garden. Regular events are held at the museum, both to further appreciation of Jane Austen, and to encourage new writers. There are also recitals using the Clementi pianoforte and performances based on her works. For further information and opening times please visit http://www.jane-austenshouse-museum.org.uk/ or call 01420 83262
Down the road from Jane Austen’s house is Chawton House built in the 16th and 17th centuries. Chawton House Library is now an internationally respected research and learning centre for the study of early women’s writing from 1600 to 1830. Access to the library’s unique collection is for the benefit of scholars and the general public alike.
Set in the quintessentially English manor house that once belonged to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, the library, house and gardens – plus an always fascinating calendar of events – make Chawton House Library a very special and memorable place to visit and enjoy. The venue is available to hire and is especially popular for wedding ceremonies and receptions. Please visit www. chawton.org or call 01420 541010 for more information and opening times.