WINCHESTER Cathedral has launched fund-raising towards a project to erect a statue to Jane Austen, setting a target of £250,000.

Austen is among the best loved writers in the English language and died in Winchester after living in Hampshire for most of her life.

Now the cathedral plans to erect a permanent monument in the Inner Close on the grass between the Deanery and Pilgrims School.

A cathedral spokesman declined to discuss the Jane in the Close project but the cathedral website says: “The bicentenary of Austen’s death presents an opportunity to mark her life definitively, to seal her place in the rich and complex identity of Winchester and create a lasting memorial to her literary genius.”

The Dean and Chapter has commissioned sculptor Martin Jennings to create a statue of Austen for the Inner Close of the Cathedral, a landscape which has changed little since her days.

The website says both the county council and city council are supporting the project with founding pledges.

The Dean of Winchester, the Very Rev Catherine Ogle, in the launch leaflet said: “I’m delighted by the launch of ‘Jane in the Close’ and commend this beautiful venture to you. Jane in the Close will not only bring a significant contemporary work of art to the grounds of Winchester Cathedral but will also honour

a woman of faith, one of our local ‘ordinary’ saints.

“This fine new sculpture will become a landmark to residents and visitors, leading them into the Close and towards the cathedral, her final resting place.”

But the proposal has already come in for criticism. John Seager Green, a brother at the Hospital of St Cross, described it as a ‘vanity project’ in a letter to the Chronicle.

The spokesman refuted Mr Seager Green’s claim that the Deanery Bookstall had been demolished to make way for the statue. The spokesman said the bookstall was always due to return inside the Deanery once its renovation had been completed and its departure is not connected to the Austen project.

At the moment there is little to highlight Austen’s connection with the city. There is a plaque on the house in College Street where she died in 1817 as well as her tombstone.