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Selling Jane Austen to Hampshire tourists
Jane Austen
Jane Austen was born in Steventon in 1775

Almost two centuries after her death, TV and film adaptations have ensured there are legions of Jane Austen fans around the world.

Many are eager to discover the people and places which influenced and inspired the Hampshire-born author.

The Jane Austen 'industry' is one that Hampshire is now keen to cash in on.

A new permanent exhibition at Winchester Cathedral charts Jane Austen's lifelong connections with the county.

Jane Austin brand

The Austens' house at Chawton, 17 miles from Winchester, is now a museum dedicated to celebrating her life and works.

Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 in the village of Steventon where her father was the local clergyman.
After a period living in Bath, following the death of their father, the Austen family moved to rented lodgings beside Southampton's old city walls.
While living at Chawton near Alton, Jane wrote Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility
Jane died in Winchester and was buried in the cathedral in 1817

Last year's visitor numbers were the highest since 1995 when Colin Firth first set hearts aflutter as Mr Darcy in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice, and created a whole new generation of Jane Austen fans.

A £500,000 lottery-funded expansion saw the renovation of the house and a new education centre open in 2009.

While the house is a popular attraction, Hampshire is still not seen as the country's prime Jane Austin venue.

That accolade goes to Bath - but the spa town, where Jane Austen only actually lived for years, appears to have stolen a march and captured the Jane Austen 'brand'.

The Jane Austen Centre and an annual festival attract thousand of visitors. The town even holds the world record for most number of people in regency costume.

Has Hampshire lost out in a 'battle of the bonnets'?

Louise West, Education Officer at the Jane Austen's House Museum , said: "We get a little bit rattled - this is where she lived and wrote and this is where the most important collection of her letters and music, we've got her table, her quilt - there is so much that belonged to her."

Local visitors

With 'staycationing' likely to be a long term trend, making the most of marketable assets like the Jane Austen connection is more important than ever to local tourism businesses.

Jane Austen's House
Jane Austen's House Museum opened its expanded facilities in 2009

Discover Winchester publishes a Jane Austen Trail and there is a specialist team of Jane Austen Guides who lead tours around the cathedral city.

Retired lecturer Phil Howe set up Hidden Britain Tours and has been running Jane Austen tours for the last five years.

His day-tours around key Austen locations hidden in the depths of the north Hampshire countryside cost around £70.

Customers are evenly split between English fans and overseas tourists - mainly Americans or Australians but even a recent group of Azerbaijani English literature students found it "a real blast".

Although he would not like to see "'Welcome to Jane Austen country' signposts around every corner ... and Mr D'Arcy soap-on-a-rope", Mr Howe thinks more could be done to cash in on the Jane Austen market.

He said: "North Hampshire is 'the cradle of her genius' - the formative influences on her writing. She's a Hampshire girl and an under-sung Hampshire asset."

The lack of an instant connection in people's minds between Austin and Hampshire, as there is for Hardy and Dorset, or Shakespeare and Stratford-upon-Avon is something Louise West is keen to remedy.

She said: "We need more promotion in the UK - we still lack the 'Jane Austen - Hampshire' link like the Brontes and Yorkshire - that comes to mind immediately.

"You could come to Hampshire and easily spend two or three days doing Jane Austen things."

Visitor strategy

A new Jane Austen exhibition at her grave inside Winchester Cathedral charts her life with original artefacts - including a first edition of Emma dedicated to the Prince Regent.

Jane Austen's grave
Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral

Marketing Officer Charlotte Barnaville said: "The vast majority of visitors have no idea she has any connection with Winchester or Hampshire. We want to provide a sense of the places in Hampshire and Winchester within Jane's life."

The exhibition follows a fall in the cathedral's visitor numbers which prompted a re-think of the strategy to attract visitors and revenue to meet its £4m annual running costs.

Ms Barnaville said: "Our visitor income is hugely important. You can't sit back and hope people will come - you have to tell interesting stories and improve the visitor experience - providing a level of interpretation for visitors so they can get the most out of their visit.

"Perhaps, with less people coming as part of the congregation, you still want to be at the centre of the community, so it's about engaging with people in all sorts of ways."

"This is only a fraction of the stories we could tell - but [Jane Austen's] is a very popular one and an important one we should be telling."

Jane-ite jaunts

She insists that as well as guided tours, there is the potential for more short-breaks and coach tours of international tourists and the so-called 'Jane-ites' legions of, mainly female, Jane Austen enthusiasts.

Pride and Prejudice
The 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice caused a surge of interest in Jane Austen

She said: "This has always had potential and if we can nurture it we can make the most of the connection."

Whatever the strategy to make the most of the county's most famous author, all agree on the lasting appeal of Jane Austin herself.

Charlotte Banaville said: "These brilliant characters she created have managed to stay relevant through the generations."

Louise West said: "They are great page-turning stories, they've lasted because of the psychological insights, depths of characterisation, she invented the modern English novel. She changed everything."

Austen movie boosts house tourism
27 Aug 07 |  Berkshire
Jane Austen - why the fuss?
09 Mar 07 |  Magazine
Austen 'too ugly' for book cover
23 Mar 07 |  Entertainment
Austen novel sells for 325,000
31 Mar 10 |  Oxfordshire
Austen house opens as library
10 Jul 03 |  Arts & Culture



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