Jane Austen’s father George was from Kent. The family resumed links with the county when Jane’s brother Edward was adopted as a boy by a rich relative, Thomas Knight, who owned Godmersham Park. When Edward later inherited the house and estate, Jane was a frequent visitor to help look after a growing number of nieces and nephews.
The visits to Kent by Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra 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. When Jane visited her brother, she was often entertained at Goodnestone with dinners and dances.
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 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