Jane Austen was a great walker. In her time, walking provided beneficial exercise for ladies and a chance to socialise. Jane delighted in natural beauty, and walking in a beautiful environment will have been a favourite pastime for her. “I prefer walking”, she said, it’s “the pleasantest part of the day”.
Alton is a market town in East Hampshire, close to Winchester and within easy walking distance from Chawton, Jane’s permanent home. Jane and Cassandra used to take a daily walk to Alton to shop, to collect the post, and to visit friends and relatives. She made an effort to do this even when her health was declining, as she preferred not to show her weakness and was persistent to maintain her fitness. Thinking herself well, she wrote, “I feel myself getting stronger than I was half a year ago & can so perfectly well walk to Alton, or back again, without the slightest fatigue”.
Having finished my tour of Chawton, I decided to walk the 1.7 mile journey to Alton. It was a pleasant walk with plenty of greenery and wild flowers to admire on the way. The first thing I saw as I arrived in Alton, was Alton church (St Lawrence), which has been there since well before Jane Austen’s days.
As I entered the High Street, I could see the usual M & S and other such chain shops dotting the street. However, a historic town, Alton still retains the distinct style of the 19th century in architecture and landscape – the curved roads, the Georgian windows and the raised pavements…
Along the High Street, I walked past a pub that used to be a coaching inn in Jane Austen’s time, and a house where Jane’s brother, Frank used to be a tenant. At 4, High Street, I saw the home of William Curtis, Jane’s Doctor whom she called “Alton Apothy” (on the right).
Jane’s favourite brother, Henry, had one of his banks in Alton. He had already attempted a career in the military before embarking on a career in banking. That proved to be unsuccessful and, close to the end of Jane’s life, he took orders and became a clergyman like his father.
The Bank of Austen, Gray & Vincent was at 10, High Street. The bank also handled some of Jane’s correspondence between Alton and London.
References: Brochure for a Jane Austen trail in Alton and Chawton, provided by the Alton Chamber of Commerce and Industry.