Jane Austen’s father George was from Kent. The family resumed their links with the county when Jane’s brother Edward was adopted as a boy by a rich relative, Thomas Knight, who owned Godmersham Park. just off the A28 between Canterbury and Ashford. When Edward later inherited the house and estate, Jane was a frequent visitor to help look after nieces and nephews.
A misty view of Godmersham Park, formerly the home of Jane’s brother Edward Knight. It is now privately owned but can be viewed from a public footpath which runs nearby.
Today Godmersham Park is a college for the Association of British Dispensing Opticians, so it is generally closed to the public. However a public footpath runs through the grounds, so the exterior of the house can be viewed at a respectful distance.
The visits to Kent by Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra coming from Bath or Hampshire often lasted several months. The sisters were not usually there at the same time, and so many of the surviving letters from Jane to Cassandra date from these visits. Jane mentions going to Canterbury for shopping and balls and to other East Kent towns, such as Deal, Ramsgate and Broadstairs.
Elizabeth Bridges, Edward’s wife, lived before her marriage at Goodnestone Park with her parents Sir Brook Bridges and Lady Fanny and, until they inherited Godmersham, Edward and Elizabeth lived in a smaller house on the Goodnestone estate (Rowling House).
When Jane visited her brother, she was often entertained at Goodnestone with dinners and dances.
Situated near Wingham, between Canterbury and Dover, Goodnestone Park today has wonderful gardens which are open to the public for most of the year.
Elizabeth died in childbirth in 1808 aged only 35. She and Edward are commemorated in the church of St Lawrence the Martyr at Godmersham, on a large memorial on the wall of the nave and also in a stained glass window in the chancel. There is too a memorial to Thomas and Catherine Knight, Edward’s adoptive parents.
One can imagine that both Godmersham Park and Goodnestone Park provided background material and inspiration for many of the ‘stately home’ settings in Austen’s novels.
• It was a long journey by coach and horses from Hampshire to Kent (and back again) requiring stops along the way.
We know from Jane Austen’s letters that she often rested at the Bull and George Inn at Dartford, sometimes overnight, and sometimes just staying for a meal.
A plaque was put up in 2006 on the wall of Boots in High Street, site of the old inn (left).
Godmersham Church, where Jane worshipped with her brother and his family.
Goodnestone Park house where Jane’s sister-in-law Elizabeth Bridges grew up. The gardens are open to the public nearly every day.