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Jane Austen art trail to raise funds for a treatment centre

PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 September 2017

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Events to mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death reached a peak in Basingstoke with a statue of the author being unveiled. A colourful art trail also gives visitors a tour of an area she knew well, says Simon O’Neill

It was the moment that Jane Austen came home. Two hundred years to the day since her death on July 18, 1817, Basingstoke became the centre of a year of commemorations when a life sized bronze statue of the author was unveiled in Market Place.

Austen, aged 41 when she died, knew the town well, having been born a few miles away in Steventon, where her father was rector of St Nicholas Church. The family lived there until they moved to Bath in 1801 and Jane wrote the first drafts of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey while there. She no doubt drew inspiration from people and places she was familiar with, while attending social events at the Assembly Rooms in Market Place, shopping and visiting friends at The Vyne, Oakley Hall and Ashe House.

Jane wrote of one visit to the Assembly Rooms in 1800: “It was a pleasant ball, and still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly 60 people and sometimes we had 17 couples. The Portsmouths, Dorchesters, Boltons, Portals and Clerks were there. I danced nine dances out of ten.”

The £100,000 statue was sculpted by artist Adam Roud, born six miles away in Ellisfield. Starting with a maquette, or preliminary model, in his Farleigh Wallop studio, he became a Jane Austen expert as he researched the woman behind the legend. He says he was determined not to put her on a pedestal, but to have her appear as if she was walking along with modern day shoppers. “We have all the hoo-ha about Jane Austen the author - and rightly so - but she’s a real person and that made me a bit more connected to the idea of her just walking here,”

The statue was the initiative of Hampshire Cultural Trust, with support from Basingstoke MP Maria Miller, chair of Parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee. It is one of a series of events across Hampshire in 2017 to mark the anniversary, under the umbrella of Jane Austen 200, a partnership between the trust, Jane Austen’s House Museum and others. Mrs Miller said: “She is a woman who broke the mould in her generation… it is a fitting tribute to her status not just as a local writer, but as one of the finest and most-loved authors the world has known.”

Another Austen project is a unique art trail that also raises funds for Ark Cancer Charity’s new £5m Hampshire treatment centre. Sitting With Jane, organised by Destination Basingstoke, is made up of 24 BookBenches designed and painted by various artists with an Austen theme. They can be seen in Basingstoke and Deane, Alton, Chawton and Winchester Cathedral. Anyone who takes a shine to one can bid for it when they are auctioned on September 15 in aid of Ark.

To register for the auction see sittingwithjane.com | For information about Jane Austen events across Hampshire go to janeausten200.co.uk

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