Kentish Express Ashford & District
Godmersham, Jane Austen’s second home
This year is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice being published. Although Hampshire is regarded as the author’s home, she spent months in Kent. has been finding out about Austen, Ashford and her connections with the area in her per
NOBODY needs a degree in English Literature to have heard about Mr Darcy and the Bennet sisters.
Even those who have not read Pride and Prejudice will probably have at least heard of these famous characters in the literary world.
But Ashford, and Kent in general, are intrinsic to author Jane Austen’s life.
Austen’s family tree is rooted in the county. Her father was from Tonbridge and went to school at the Tonbridge School, later becoming the schoolmaster there.
Edward Austen Knight, Jane’s brother, was adopted by Thomas and Catherine Knight when he was 12-yearsold.
The wealthy couple owned the Godmersham Park estate, near Ashford, located on the A28 between Canterbury and Ashford.
Edward inherited the estate when the Knights died. He used it as his family home with his wife Elizabeth Bridges and their 11 children.
Before that they lived at Goodnestone Park - near Wingham between Canterbury and Dover.
“She had obviously seen places and been taken with them,” says Phil Scrivener who has researched Austen’s links with Kent, “there is a suggestion she began work on Pride and Prejudice – originally called First Impressions – in 1796 after staying at Goodnestone.” Although she returned to her home in Hampshire to write it.
Jane frequently visited Godmersham until 1813 and spent months there with her brother and his family.
Letters to her sister Cassandra describe socialising in Canterbury as well as visiting other East Kent towns. Some are on display at the Godmersham Park Heritage Centre and collections are available in libraries throughout Kent.
They show she also loved visiting Godmersham to look after her niece, Edward’s daughter, Fanny.
“It would not be absolutely correct to say that Kent was an inspiration but Jane did use places from Kent in her books,” says Vivian Branson, who is on the committee of the Kent Branch of the Jane Austen Society.
Godmersham and many things she saw in Kent are believed to be inspirations behind the themes and descriptions in Austen’s novels.
“She mentions a new set of officers arriving in Canterbury and the great importance of the militia to certain young ladies is brought out strongly in Pride and Prejudice.
“It is certain that, by having a brother at Godmersham, Jane had an entry into a level of society perhaps less familiar to her.
“She made copy of people she met at Godmersham and through Edward, her brother, almost certainly used the great houses or parts of them, as background in her novels,” says Averil Clayton, chair of Kent’s Jane Austen Society.
Last weekend, the society celebrated the anniversary with a picnic, readings and music at Godmersham Park.
Ms Branson’s highlight was The Regency Duo who performed with a square piano of Austen’s time.
“They performed music which Jane had transcribed. I particularly liked this as it brought a ‘silent’ character to life.”
Austen’s work is as popular now as it ever has been. There are dozens of Pride and Prejudice fan pages on Facebook.
The page for the film alone has more than 3.25 million ‘likes’. And her work continues to be used in the National Curriculum.
And if you fancy a wander in ‘Austen country’ you can. Godmersham Park is in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and you can walk the grounds in which she spent so much of her time.
Kent may be known as the Garden of England but perhaps it should also be given the title Land of Literature.
The links between Jane Austen – not to mention Dickens, Chaucer and H.G. Wells – and the county just highlights the ties Kent has with great English authors.
While Hampshire might have been her home, Kent was her adopted county and Godmersham like a second home.