From Tonbridge to Ashford and Horsmonden to Canterbury, author Jane Austen touched much of the county, just as it touched her.
Jane’s father George was born in Tonbridge, and along with his cousin, attended Tonbridge School, which is also where he later taught.
Today, there is a circular walk and audio tour commemorating the fact, which starts at Tonbridge Castle and incudes the school and church of St Peter and St Paul where the family worshipped and where her paternal grandparents are buried.
Still as picturesque today as it would have been in the 18th century, the village of Shipbourne, nestling in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and just a few miles from Tonbridge, was home to Jane’s father, George, who was curate of St Giles’ Church, taking over from his cousin Henry in 1754.
Jane’s brother Henry is buried in the Woodbury Park Cemetery tucked behind St John’s Road in Tunbridge Wells, and the town makes several appearances in her novels.
Her brother Edward’s wife’s family lived at Godmersham Park near Ashford, where Jane was a regular visitor. You can view the estate as she would have done when the park is open on the first Monday of each month from April to October.
Edward’s wife’s family home was grand Goodnestone Park near Canterbury. Today, you can visit the house, set in 14 acres of 18th century parkland, and even stay there, as the house can accommodate up to 24 guests.
The village of Horsmonden near Tunbridge Wells also has Austen links as Jane’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Weller from Tonbridge, married an Austen from Horsmonden. It means that many of Jane’s ancestors are buried in the gated tomb in St Margaret’s churchyard.
THE 200TH ANNIVERSARY
The spotlight is on Jane Austen throughout 2017, which marks the 200th anniversary of her death.
She brought us some of the most memorable and romantic novels ever written.
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, and died on July 18, 1817. She published Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma in her lifetime, although anonymously.
Her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously. She also started another, Sanditon, but died before she could finish it.
Depicting tales of life and love in the English middle and upper classes, they have rarely been out of print since, and are known for their humour, social observation and insights into the lives of women at that time.
As well as being home to Austen’s heritage, the county has been home to many film and TV versions of her books.
The 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley, was filmed at Groombridge Place in Tunbridge Wells, which has remained largely untouched since it was built more than 350 years ago. The house in the film became Longbourn, the home of the Bennets.
You can visit the house and garden between 10am and 4pm this time of year. For details go to groombridgeplace.com
The 2009 BBC adaptation of Emma, which starred Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller, included both the village of Chilham, which stood in for 18th century Highbury, while Squerryes Court in Westerham doubled as Emma’s family home.
To find out more, check out the Jane Austen Movie Trail on the movie map by the Kent Film Office at kentfilmoffice.co.uk/kent-movie-map