There’s plenty going on this summer in Basingstoke as I discovered in a recent visit to the Hampshire town that Jane Austen knew well, since she lived most of her life just 4 miles away. The businesses in the town centre are celebrating the best of Basingstoke’s local talent in a Made in Basingstoke Festival with activities throughout July and August. I was there for a preview of some the events that will celebrate Basingstoke’s creativity, tasty food and help visitors and locals to discover the town’s heritage and Jane Austen connections.
Discovering Jane Austen in Basingstoke
If you enjoy the work of Jane Austen you’ll be aware that there’s plenty going on to mark the 200th anniversary of her death this year. As an author she found modest success in her own lifetime but in recent years her lively characters and themes of wealth and romance have been popularized by TV and films and found a firm place in our hearts. You may be aware of Jane Austen’s connections with Bath and Winchester but it’s less well known that she lived for much of her life in Steventon, only 4 miles outside Basingstoke where her father was the Rector. Jane regularly visited Basingstoke to shop, dance in the Assembly Rooms or visit friends, and there are many places around town that she would still recognise.
This summer there’s a Sitting With Jane art trail of 24 benches around Basingstoke, each decorated by a different artist picking out themes from Jane Austen’s life, placed in locations that she would have visited. I enjoyed wandering around the benches in the city centre, using a leaflet showing the locations and a mobile app that allows you to check off the ones you’ve visited. There were several book-benches around the shopping centres of Festival Place and The Malls, the station and Willis Museum as well as in locations at Goldings, now a registry office but once a grand house that Jane might have visited. On the benches are scenes from her novels and quotations that still ring true today such as “There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart” and “there is no doing without money”.
The Sitting with Jane art trail will be in Basingstoke until Thursday 21 August 2017 after which the benches will be auctioned for charity – so see them while you can. You’ll find more information on the Sitting with Jane website
During the week of July and August there are lots more Jane Austen happening in Basingstoke to help you discover Basingstoke’s past – find out more on the Made in Basingstoke Website
- Retail and Romance: Jane Austen goes to the ball – an exhibition at the Willis Museum about the Basingstoke that Jane Austen knew when she came shopping and attended dances at the Assembly Rooms. 29 July – 7 October
- The Basingstoke Jane Austen Statue: A new statue of Jane Austen to commemorate her connections with Basingstoke will be unveiled outside the Willis Museum on 18 July
- Jane Austen Themed Afternoon Tea: Book for this special afternoon tea at the Red Lion Hotel
- Jane Austen Guided walk: This guided walk around Basingstoke will visit the places that Jane Austen knew, where she shopped, danced and gained inspiration for her novels. Thurs 20 July from Basingstoke Discovery Centre £4
Getting Crafty in Basingstoke
I remember being taught to knit and crochet by my grandmother, but thought that these days it was something of a dying art. Not so! as I learned when I visited All our own crafts, a pop up shop in Festival Place that showcases the work of local craft makers. Founder Kate Donohoe started the shop in 2014 and it has gone through eight incarnations in different parts of the Festival Place, using shops that are empty between other tenants. Kate’s craft is crochet and she makes colourful tea cosies and pretty flower clips under her crochet business Loopy Needles, as well as running workshops in the shop. Kate told me “the whole purpose is to inspire and motivate people to try crafts – not just sell“.
We sat down at the central table, which is normally used for kids to draw pictures while their parents browse, while Kate showed me how to crochet a butterfly hair clip. It’s one of the workshops that will be taking place in July and August as part of the Made in Basingstoke Festival Create week – find out more here. There’s something very therepeutic about letting your hands do the work while having a chat about nothing in particular – they even have a “Knit and Natter” group who gather each week to knit and set the world to rights over a cup of coffee.
The first week of the Made in Basingstoke festival 14-20 July is dedicated to all things creative with plenty of other workshops at All Our Own Crafts including folding ceramic pots, colourful cushion making, ceramic flower painting and book folding. Check out these and other workshops they are running on the All Our Own Crafts Website.
Now the shop sells the work of up to 40 Crafters at any one time, with everything from felt ornaments and driftwood art pieces to silver jewellery and colourful cushions. The artists all spend a few hours each week helping out in the shop and talking to customers. Since the shop moves to different locations in Festival Place, new customers are discovering them all the time, and you can read all about the different Crafters in the Meet the Makers section of their website. As Jackie Denham, who exhibits her silver and aluminium jewellery at All Our Own Crafts told me, “We put the fun into functional“.
On Sat 15 and Sun 16 July you’ll also find The Create Market in The Malls Shopping Centre with 15 local artists and creators from across the Basingstoke Borough to showcase the local artistic talent on Basingstoke’s doorstep.
For more information about the other crafty events in Basingstoke this summer check out the Made in Basingstoke Website
Foodie happenings in Basingstoke
While I was wandering around Festival Place my eye was caught by the big bubbling pan at Festival Street Kitchen, stirred by owner Alex who was busy chopping herbs as a final garnish for his lunchtime dish. Since the Festival Street Kitchen opened, it has become very popular with lunchtime locals who come to buy a different big pan dish each day – I tried the delicious Chicken Tikka but you could find Tuscan Chicken one day, Jerk Chicken the next. There are also tasty Burrito wraps with different fillings, Tex-Mex Nachos, Quesadillas and vegetarian options. Through the summer you’ll see the Festival Street Kitchen at lots of local festivals, including the Made in Basingstoke Create Market on 15/16 July.
To celebrate the great food in Basingstoke and surrounding Hampshire, the Made in Basingstoke festival is holding a Taste Market in The Malls shopping centre on 22/23 July with 15 stalls from local food producers. You can look out for organic vegetables from Northdown Orchard, hand produced chocolates from The Hampshire confectioner and honey products from a Basket of Bees. On Saturday 22 July, TV chef Phil Vickery will be giving 3 free cookery demonstrations in The Malls Shopping Centre, while on Sunday 23 July it will be the turn of Michelin star chef Jean-Christophe Novelli to demonstrate some of his favourite French inspired dishes.
Find out about other foodie events in Basingstoke this summer during Taste week on the Made in Basingstoke Website.
- Jane Austen Cream Tea Party – at the Red Lion Hotel with a choice of tea and coffee, scones with jam and cream, sandwiches, cakes and fancies and a glass of Buck Fizz. 21-27 July £15.95 per person
- Coffee demonstrations and tastings – at Whittards of Chelsea in store 21-27 July
- Cupcake decorating with a Vintage Twist – at Vintage Treasures, Church Street where you can decorate cupcakes with a classic vintage twist and leave with your own stunning cupcakes Sat 22 July 11-2pm £25 per person
- Afternoon tea, Jazz and Draw – Afternoon Tea at The Tea Bar Sunday 30 July £20 for 2 people
Dinner at The Lime Leaf
Along London Street in The Top of the Town, Basingstoke’s Old Quarter, there are plenty of bars and restaurants and I had dinner with a friend at The Lime Leaf, a popular Thai Restaurant. The restaurant is in one of the half timbered Tudor buildings that line London Street and as we were seated upstairs, we could see the old oak beams in the rafters and look out on the pedestrianised street that was once the busy road to London.
The restaurant is decorated in rich shades of pink and purple and we ordered from the reasonably priced Early Bird menu (2 courses for £13.95) as we were off to the theatre later. I tried the Mussaman chicken curry with coconut milk, potatoes and peanuts which was delicious and nicely presented with a big bowl of rice. The main menu has a great selection of dishes which are reasonably priced with soups and starters £6-10, curries and sizzling dishes £10-14. The Lime Leaf, 25 London St, Basingstoke
In July and August The Lime Leaf also has a special offer as part of the Made in Basingstoke festival of a free bottle of wine when you book a table of 4 people. More information on the Made in Basingstoke Website.
Top of the Town – Basingstoke’s History and Heritage
While Basingstoke is well known for its shopping and easy to access from the M3, you may not be aware the the town has an ancient and historic heart. This area, known as the Top of the Town is where you can see 17th century almshouses and coaching inns like The Red Lion along London Street. This is the Basingstoke that Jane Austen would have known well, but while London Street was once the main route to London, it’s now pedestrianised so you can wander around without fear of being run down by a stage coach! I picked up a booklet for The Town Trail, with information on the old historic buildings and you can also look out for the Heritage Trail signs, that give you information about the old buildings. Did you know that Thomas Burberry started making his famous raincoats in Basingstoke for local shepherds and farmers and had a showroom at 27 London Street?
On Sat 15 July you can join a one day adventure game in Basingstoke called the Mystery of the Star-eaters. You collect a case file in the morning and follow the clues around the streets of Basingstoke, taking you to 12 secret locations that you don’t always get to visit. Adults £12, children free More information here
One place in Top of the Town that’s well worth a visit is The Willis Museum, in a building that once served as the Town Hall and Corn Exchange. When I visited, the foundations were being prepared in front of the museum, for the Jane Austen statue that is due to be unveiled on 18 July. I really enjoyed looking at the free ground-floor exhibition of the work of Angie Lewin with beautiful printed artwork and textiles inspired by the natural world. There’s also an attractive tea room at the back of the ground floor where I could almost imagine myself in a drawing room where Jane Austen might have sipped tea with friends, a chandelier and portrait over the fireplace.
After the Angie Lewin exhibition which finishes on 19 July, the Willis Museum will be hosting a Jane Austen themed exhibition that runs 29 July – 7 October 2017. This free exhibition entitled Retail and Romance: Jane goes to the Ball examines the world of Basingstoke that Jane Austen knew, from dances in the Assembly Rooms to the gossip and gowns that she mentions in her letters.
On 10 August there’s an evening talk about Jane Austen and her world from novelist Josephine Ross, and a walking tour of the places that Jane Austen knew around Basingstoke on 20 July. More information: The Willis Museum
Theatrical happenings this summer
There’s plenty of theatre and music on offer in Basingstoke this summer and the town has The Haymarket Theatre as well as the Anvil concert hall and The Forge Studio Theatre: More information on The Anvil Website. I attended a thought-provoking one night production from the Basingstoke Youth Theatre by Lydia Thomson, called Living Portrait, which imagined what Jane Austen might have made of the world of nightclubs and social media had she encountered them today.
Look out also for productions at The Proteus Centre, who provide a community space for workshops and exhibitions as well as theatrical productions. I popped in to their cafe which is open daily and offers cakes and snacks in a light, airy room within this old Victorian building. There’s also plenty on to entertain families in the holidays at Basingstoke Discovery Centre within Festival Place, with story-telling, craft activities and other events for children.
Where to stay in Basingstoke
I enjoyed my stay at The Hampshire Court Hotel, on the edge of Basingstoke – it’s a 10 minute drive from the centre of town, so makes a great base if you are visiting Basingstoke and the surrounding Hampshire countryside. This modern four star hotel is part of the QHotels group with over 30 hotels throughout England, many in old or historic buildings. The rooms at The Hampshire Court Hotel are mainly on the first floor seat around a courtyard which was beautifully landscaped with walkways and plantings of lavender and grasses making a pleasant view from my window.
My very spacious bedroom was decorated in restful shades of soft green with a sofa to relax and magazines laid out on the coffee table. The large bathroom had both bath and shower with luxurious ESPA toiletries. I’d certainly recommend this hotel as a base for business or leisure when visiting Basingstoke. For more information or to book: The Hampshire Court Hotel
Visitor Information for Basingstoke
There’s plenty going on this summer in Basingstoke during the Made in Basingstoke Festival – discover what’s on in the centre of Basingstoke on the In Basingstoke Website.
This article is a collaboration with the Made in Basingstoke Festival who kindly hosted my stay in Basingstoke. Some of the activities mentioned were provided on a complimentary basis.
This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here
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