News: 23 August 2021

Keats-Shelley 200: Winchester Water Meadows ‘To Autumn' Walk

On Sunday 11th July the long-overdue Winchester Water Meadows Walk took place; this was no one-dimensional passeggiata along the path of the beautiful River Itchen and the 18th century water meadows which flank it, but a full-on combination of poetry, the historic heritage and the great outdoors.

We convened at Winchester College, an historic institution founded in c. 1382, by Archbishop William of Wykeham. Fellows’ Librarian, Richard Foster gave us a tour of a display which included a set of contemporary water colours of the river and St Cross and a fine first edition of Keats’s 1818 poems. Meanwhile, Headmaster Tim Hinds spoke about the College and its importance to the romantic movement and he kindly presented us all with copies of his booklet Bards of a Feather, which reflects upon the history of the College and the romantic movement. The College Museum was also opened for us, with its beautifully displayed collection of objects from Asia, Ancient Greece and the Middle Ages.

The experience continued in the Courtyard garden, where two members of the cast of Blue Apple Theatre’s production of Frankenstein, Sam Dace and Lawrie Morris, performed extracts from the play.

The paths of Jane Austen and John Keats never crossed, but we paused outside the house on College Street where Jane died in July 1817, and here Stephanie Norgate read her moving poem ‘Jane Austen’s Visitor’ from her forthcoming anthology The Conversation. Adam Rattray then guided us through the cloisters of the College to the Medieval chapel and then stopping briefly at the wall where alumni, Anthony Trollope had left a graffiti, but we did not see another mark inscribed by this unhappy pupil on a banister elsewhere in the College.

We paused at several points of interest during our progress along the river where South Downs poets, James Simpson and Stephanie Norgate, read some of Keats’s odes and pieces of their own work while James described how this special natural habitat has changed so much since Keats’s time. His poem from Map of Lost Cuckoos poignantly describes the drastic decline in their numbers and those of other native bird species. The moment was captured by a group recitation of To Autumn, forever associated with this special place.

The last port of call was the Hospital of St Cross with its Norman church and medieval alms houses; and here we were greeted by Brother Adrian, who spoke so eloquently about the institution and also about Keats and his timeless association with the Hospital. The lovely gardens of St Cross were open to the public on that day, so this provided a fitting conclusion to the day.

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