A WINCHESTER exhibition celebrating the life of Jane Austen has a royal seal of approval.

Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, officially opened the The Mysterious Miss Austen at Winchester Discovery Centre last Thursday.

The earl was greeted by the Lord Lieutenant Nigel Atkinson and the new High Sheriff Mary Montagu-Scott, joking with the latter that he thought she would be in her full regalia, as well as David McLean, the new mayor of Winchester.

He took time to speak to centre staff and the organisers of the show which is expected to attract thousands of visitors before it closes on July 24.

They included Yinnon Ezra, the senior county council officer who drove through the conversion of the library into the discovery centre, now the vice-chairman of the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

The trust has taken over the running of many of the county’s museums and show spaces.

In the main gallery will be six portraits of the Hampshire author, the first time they have been gathered in one place at the same time. Included is a rarely-seen 1869 watercolour by James Andrews. The likeness will feature on the new £10 note from July.

The exhibition by Hampshire Cultural Trust and Jane Austen’s House Museum also includes about 50 items loaned from private and public collections in the UK and abroad, as well as Austen’s silk pelisse coat, one of a handful of items that survive today which actually belonged to her.

The Mysterious Miss Austen coincides with the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death at a house in College Street in July 1817.

In the City Space gallery at the centre is an exhibition on Winchester in 1817 featuring a number of rarely-seen paintings.

The earl also announced the winners of the Jane Austen 200 Short Story Competition. The competition, launched in October of last year, invited entrants to write a short story of up to 2017 words based on a quote from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, ‘Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.’ More than 280 entries were received, and the winner was Sally Tissington, who teaches creative writing at the University of Warwick. Both Sally’s story, and that by runner-up, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, can be read in full at www.janeausten200.co.uk.

Janet Owen, chief executive of Hampshire Cultural Trust, said: “We are both thrilled and honoured to have had the opportunity to welcome HRH The Earl of Wessex to open our The Mysterious Miss Austen exhibition. We are especially delighted that the visitor book signed by him will be available at The Gallery for visitors to sign and leave their own comments on this landmark exhibition celebrating the creativity and talent of Hampshire’s own Jane Austen.”

The Earl also visited Hampshire Cultural Trust’s Jane’s Winchester: Malady and Medicine exhibition in City Space at Winchester Discovery Centre. This show offers a vivid snapshot of Winchester in 1817, the year that Jane travelled to the city to receive treatment for what would be her final illness. Key objects on display include a rare surviving sedan chair used by patients attending the Winchester hospitals, a set of apothecary’s drawers of the period and other Regency medical equipment from pill pots to surgical instruments. It also looks at her depiction of illness and treatment in her books.

Eloise Appleby, assistant director (economy and communities) at Winchester City Council, said: “Jane Austen has enduring appeal, and is still one of the most important elements in our flourishing visitor economy. We have thrown ourselves into the bicentenary celebrations, notably with our innovative Rain Jane visitor trail of inspiring quotations. We are delighted at the royal recognition of the exhibitions, which would probably have surprised Jane if she had been here today: congratulations to the Trust for an excellent programme of events in 2017.”