Welcome to All Things Austen in April! Today Abigail Reynolds takes us on a walk in Jane Austen’s footsteps in Kent.
Comment on the All Things Austen posts to be entered in the weekly giveaways. See the April 1 post (link here) for a list of the prizes. Winners will be announced on Sundays.
In 1796, Jane Austen spent several months in Kent visiting her brother, Edward Austen Knight, and his wife, Elizabeth, whose parents lived at Goodnestone (pronounced gun-stun) Park. It’s easy to imagine Jane Austen dancing the night away at Goodnestone Park, but Jane actually stayed with her brother at Rowling House, a manor house a short walk from Goodnestone. According to her letters, she walked from Rowling to Goodnestone most days. “We were at a Ball on Saturday. We dined at Goodnestone and in the Evening danced two Country Dances and the Boulangeries. I opened the Ball with Edwd Bridges…We supped there, and walked home at night under the shade of two Umbrellas.”
There’s lots of information of pictures of Goodnestone out there, but I couldn’t find much information about Rowling House. That would simply not do! So when I visited Goodnestone, I decided to retrace Jane Austen’s footsteps, although not at night nor under an umbrella. I took plenty of pictures so you could enjoy the walk with me!
Starting at Goodnestone House, I walked down The Street (yes, that’s actually the name of the road!) through Goodnestone village, past Holy Cross Church and The Fitzwalter Arms pub.
The village doesn’t look quite the same as it did in Jane Austen’s time, as the picturesque windows in most of the houses were added later. Part way through the village, I turned onto a public footpath leading through a field. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the UK footpath system, Wikipedia says, “In England and Wales a public footpath is a path on which the public have a legally protected right to travel on foot and in some areas public footpaths form a dense network of short paths. It is probable that most footpaths in the countryside are hundreds of years old.” When Elizabeth Bennet walked to Netherfield and got a petticoat six inches deep in mud for her pains, she would have been walking on footpaths like these.
I approached Rowling House on a country lane. Like many British country houses, it’s difficult to get a glimpse of Rowling because it’s surrounded by hedges. Fortunately, it had yet another footpath running behind it, so I could at least see the back of it.
That was all lovely, but I still didn’t know what the house looked like from the front, as Jane Austen would have seen it on her walks. Luck was with me, though. As I walked back past the entrance to the house, a kind gardener took pity on me and allowed me to walk a few feet up the drive so I could at least see it from a distance. I’ve also cropped and enlarged the picture so you can see some details.
What about the interior of Rowling? After much hunting, I found a description of the interior by the colorful Baroness Trumpington who lived at Rowling House in the 1930s: “You entered the property via the hall, which had a large inglenook fireplace and an incredible Charles II staircase. This led off to the dining room and study; the servants’ quarters were in their own wing at the back. Upstairs was a double drawing room, and a corridor led to my mother’s bedroom on the left, and two bathrooms.” For a less personal view, since it’s a listed historic building, we know a little from the formal description from the listed building database:
C16, clad C18 and extended mid C19. Timber framed and clad with
painted brick and extended with buff brick. Slate roofs. Two storeys and
attic on plinth with boxed eaves to hipped roof with 2 flat roofed dormers
and stack to centre right. Five glazing bar sashes on first floor and 4 on
ground floor with gauged heads. Central door of 6 raised and fielded panels.
Extended to left by 2 separately roofed 2 storey blocks, that immediately
adjacent with dogtooth cornice and gable, that at end left hipped, with
stacks to left and rear left and with 1 glazing bar sash on each floor of
each block. Projecting 2 storey hipped bay on right return. Exterior being
in part repaired at time of survey. Interior: exposed frame with stop
moulded joists in main hall, with inglenook fireplaces. Sunk panelling in
Dining room, and moulded C18 wooden fire surrounds. Open well with dogleg
late C18 stair and newel stair. Clasped purlin roof. The house was anciently
a manor house, then belonged to the Bridges family of Goodnestone Park, and
let to Edward Austen (later Edward Knight of Godmersham Park), Sir Brook
Bridges’ son-in-law and Jane Austen’s brother. The house and locality feature
prominently in Jane Austen’s correspondence, 1791-7, and her works. A later
tenant was George Dering (c.1800), a link which may explain the Dering windows
and Pluckley-style architecture of the early C19 Goodnestone estate style of
The name Rowling makes me wonder. I often take names for places and characters from maps or signs I see, and I’ve strongly suspected Jane Austen did the same ever since discovering the real-life Earl Fitzwilliam lived in Wentworth Woodhouse (no, I’m not making that up!). Rowling sounds awfully close to Rosings, and they’re both located in Kent.
If you enjoyed this little ramble in Jane’s footsteps, you might like this post about Hertingfordbury, a village she visited in Hertfordshire.
Food for thought: Last year when I visited Goodnestone Park with Susan Mason-Milks and Elaine Sieff, we asked Lady Fitzwalter, who was taking tickets from garden visitors, about the extensive renovations being done on the house. She told us it was being renovated to be used as a holiday rental property. Apparently it’s going to be available starting this summer. What a treat that would be! I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the stunning gardens at Goodnestone Park for your daydreaming pleasure. And don’t forget to comment for a chance to win one of the Austen in April prizes!