As many of you know, earlier this summer I was lucky enough to be in England for the Jane Austen Regency Week in Hampshire, where I also enjoyed the company of fellow Austen Variations’ authors, Abigail Reynolds, Jane Odiwe and Monica Fairview.
This annual event takes place on the third week in June, and this year we were blessed with lovely weather for most of the time! The activities and events are varied, and you can see what was on the calendar this year by clicking here.
The base for the Regency week is Alton, a town wholly familiar to Jane Austen and her mother and sister as it was the nearest of any size to the village of Chawton where they lived. Alton was also home to some of Jane’s brothers during certain stages of their lives.
Together, we managed to attend several events, including Regency Day on the opening Saturday, the talk on the recent archaeological dig at the site of Steventon Rectory, and a guided, Austen-themed tour of Chawton Great House. In addition, though not on the main calendar, we all spent a delightful afternoon together on a Hidden Britain Tour with our knowledgeable guide, Phil, who took us to many of the places Jane frequented during her time in Hampshire, both before the move to Bath and after.
We saw many familiar houses, churches and even vistas, which had changed little since Jane lived in Hampshire. Our guide’s knowledge of Jane and her life (including randomly quoting from her letters from memory) truly enhanced this wonderful afternoon, and if you ever want to really walk where Jane Austen did and see what she saw, I highly recommend taking the tour.
After we all went our separate ways, I did manage to attend a few other events, including the talk on Alton in the days of Jane Austen, the musical recital and the Regency supper with dancing.
One of the highlights was John Mullan’s talk, during a torrential downpour, on the final Saturday, with so many people crammed into Chawton Village Hall, they ran out of chairs! Though titled ‘What Matters in Mansfield Park’, John’s ‘talk’ wasn’t solely about the one book but touched upon several of them. His presentation was informal and inclusive, with lots of audience participation and a great deal of laughter! Again, highly recommended, and if anyone is due to be in Bath in September for the Jane Austen Festival, he will be doing a similar session. I have my ticket, and I advise you to book early because he’s clearly a sell-out!
The last event I attended (though not the last of the entire week) was the Saturday evening supper with dancing. Wow, what a spread the chef put on for us! It was served in true period style, with the desserts jostling for space on the table with the main courses, and as you can see from the photos, beautifully presented.
Prior to sitting down, however, we were treated to a display of Regency dancing by the talented and entertaining Hampshire Regency Dancers, and then they invited attendees to join them in several more dances, giving gentle guidance along the way, and much fun was had by all!
What did I like most about this event, one I was attending for the first time? It was in Hampshire, and Jane is all around you there! She lived in Steventon for the first 25 years of her life and Chawton for the last nine, so almost 90% of her life was spent in the county. The emphasis was very much upon Jane and her environment, with all events taking place in Alton and Chawton, including the Jane Austen House Museum.
We also had the opportunity to meet and talk with Mr Jeremy Knight, a descendant of Jane’s brother Edward, and the last of the Knights, along with his family, to reside in Chawton Great House. Mr Knight is often to be found at the Museum, guiding people around or just talking to them, and he also accompanied one of the Great House tour groups. Surely there is no finer authority on what it is truly like to not only have lived in a house so intimately linked to Jane Austen, but to be a part of Jane’s family?
What next? Well, developments are underway already for next year’s Jane Austen Regency Week (20th to 28th June 2015). As you may already be aware from comments on the Austen Variations’ Facebook page, several of us plan to attend next year (I think it was six at the last count and is likely to rise!), some of whom are in conversation with the organising committee to establish some new events to add to the traditional ones.
There is likely to be a book sale and signing during the opening Regency Day, a panel discussion one evening and possibly some writing workshops. Other events we’re hoping to see include walking tours of Alton and Chawton and a special readers-only lunch meeting with the authors.
The Committee is also keen to learn what else might encourage Jane Austen fans to come along and join in the fun in such a wonderful location, and this is where you all come in!
Of the events from this year, what would you have loved to take part in? In addition, we’d love to know what you think would be the icing on the cake, the number one enticement to make you determined to get there? Also, with everything open for discussion, is there something in particular you would like to see on offer relating to the Austen-inspired authors?
Do please share your thoughts in the Comments, and we look forward to seeing some of you in Hampshire next June!