Alone in the library, Mistress of all I survey… five Tables, Eight and twenty Chairs & two fires all to myself.Jane Austen Letter dated September 25, 1813
Jane often visited her brother Edward at Godmersham Park and came here on six occasions we know about between 1798 and 1813. Godmersham Park is situated eight miles southwest of Canterbury in Kent, and is in the valley of the River Stour.
The estate was pictured on the new British ten pound banknote in 2017.
Built in 1732 on the site of an earlier Elizabethan building, Godmersham Park was part of the Knight family estate. Jane’s brother Edward was adopted by the son of Thomas Knight, a distant cousin of Mr Austen. Edward loved the countryside, and enjoyed horse riding and hunting with the boys in the surrounding villages.
Instead of going to University like his brothers, Edward trained to manage the Knight family estates in Kent and Hampshire which he eventually inherited. Elizabeth Bridges was a local beauty, and after Edward returned from a Grand Tour of Europe, they married. Their first home was at Rowling House before moving to Godmersham when Edward inherited following Thomas Knight’s death in 1794.
Jane was 23 years old when she first visited Godmersham, and was in the company of her parents and sister Cassandra. This was just weeks after her brother took possession of the estate and they stayed for two months, from late August to late October 1798.
Jane often wrote in the library, and it is thought that after one of her visits to Godmersham she wrote the first draft of First Impressions, later titled Pride and Prejudice.
Following Jane’s surviving letters, we can read that Jane’s next visit was from September to October in 1803, and then again in 1805. This was for three months after Mr Austen died, from mid-June to mid-September.
In 1808 she went alone for three weeks, from mid-June to early July, and it was in the following months that Cassandra would visit to help Elizabeth with the children. It was during this visit that their sister-in-law Elizabeth died on 10 October 1808, age 35. The family was devastated, and Cassandra would spend months at Kent taking care of her nieces and nephews.
Jane’s next visit was in 1809 for six weeks, from mid-May until the end of June. It was said that Godmersham was inspiration for Mansfield Park, and moving in wealthy circles gave Jane ideas for the characters in her novels. Her final stay was from September to November 1813. During this visit she wrote to Cassandra that “we live in the Library except at Meals & have a fire every Eveng.”
Edward died peacefully at his Godmersham home on 19 November 1852 age 85, and is laid to rest beside his wife in St Lawrence The Martyr Church within the Godmersham estate.
His children erected a monument inside the church, that reads:
Visit Godmersham Park Today
Godmersham Park was sold to the Sunley family in 1983, and they lease it to the Association of British Dispensing Opticians.
You can visit the beautiful house and gardens during the annual National Garden Open Days and when set tours or events are held at the Godmersham Park Heritage Museum.
Read about Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight and more about the history and visiting Godmersham Park in the Jane Austen Travel Guide.
Jane became good friends with their governess Anne Sharp, to whom she gifted a bound copy of Emma in her appreciation. This is the subject of Gill Hornby’s book Godermsham Park. Read Gill Hornby Profile and see where to buy her Godmersham Park Novel.