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In conversation with Phil Howe

“Scratch an acre of England and there are stories to be found. Basingstoke is no exception.” Phil Howe

To kick off Local and Community History Month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Phil Howe, the Managing Director and founder of Hidden Britain Tours. Specialising in the early life of Jane Austen in north Hampshire, The Hidden Britain tours shed light on a fascinating chapter of the beloved author's story.

Delve into Phil's insights as we find out more about the tour, Basingstoke’s history highlights and how you can discover more about the history of the borough.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I studied Politics, Philosophy and English at the University of Reading before becoming a Senior Lecturer working with universities and colleges and frequently travelling in Europe as a consultant to educational institutions. My vision for Hidden Britain Tours was created in 2005 from my own experience of what I felt was missing from many mainstream tours.  I have a rural background and a talent for explanation.

Tell us about your Hidden Britain tour

My aim is to offer something that you will not be able to see on a larger group tour as many of the roads we travel are not suitable for larger vehicles. I offer something that is personal and engaging, with opportunities for informed debate and dialogue throughout the day. I’ll explain the landscape, the flora and fauna as well as the social and cultural context that informed Jane Austen as a child, a young girl and author.

Who is the tour for?

Our customers are the curious, the inquisitive, families, friends, international visitors, especially Americans, conference delegates, visiting academics, Jane Austen fans, and people like you. You like taking photos of the English landscape, sharing them on social media, meeting local people and good conversation. The tour is an ideal gift.

Up to six people can be seated in our air-conditioned people carrier (MPV), chosen for its capacity, comfort and great visibility. If you do have a larger group, we can usually arrange for a suitable vehicle with driver.

Tell us about Basingstoke’s history and tour highlights

It is perceived as a modern town but the truth is there have been people living here since pre-Saxon times. The town is as rich in history as any other medieval town, and the countryside around the town is beautiful. American clients think it’s wonderful to be able to travel in a landscape they have only seen on film. Ancient churches, villages, thatched roof cottages, chalk streams, the countryside around the town has so much to offer. One of my favourite parts of the tour is the hamlet of Deane, the source of the beautiful River Test. There are so many stories to tell about Jane’s early love life. The tour is an ideal way to explore Jane Austen’s neighbourhood with the expertise of an experienced knowledgeable local guide.

What recommendations do you have for those who want to find out more about Jane Austen and local history?

There are a few ways to find out more. To explore fully appreciate the tour I suggest reading Claire Tomalin’s biography, Jane Austen A Life.

To understand Basingstoke’s history, an afternoon spent in the town library will be time well spent.

To understand the town’s past Basingstoke Heritage Society is a good organisation to join.

Blog created by Phil Howe, Hidden Britain Tours.
May 2024

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