Number 8 stands unassumingly amongst the other eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings in Winchester’s College Street. Even with the modern slate plaque above the front door, it would be easy to pass it by without realising it was here that Jane Austen, one of the greatest novelists ever to have written in English, spent her final days, living just long enough to complete her last novel, Persuasion.
Having fallen seriously ill the previous year, perhaps with Addison’s disease, her family finally persuaded her to move from rural Chawton some twenty miles away into lodgings in Winchester, so that she could be treated properly. In the event the doctors could do nothing for her, and she died peacefully on 18 July 1817 within a few weeks of her arrival in the city.
Just two years later John Keats would be staying in Winchester for a little while, enjoying what was probably the last happy spell in his all too short life, walking out each day along College Street, headed for the Water Meadows and St Cross beyond. It is fascinating to wonder whether he even noticed this modest house, let alone realising its associations with the mainstream of English literature, whose ranks he would shortly be joining.
Number 8, College Street is listed as a Grade II* building by English Heritage.