The Kent Branch was established at the end of 1993 on the initiative of, amongst others, the late Mr Alwyn Austen. Our President is Fiona Sunley, and our Patron is Professor Jennie Batchelor.
Events are held in venues in east and west Kent, including Godmersham Park near Ashford by kind permission of ABDO. Godmersham, along with Chawton in Hampshire, was inherited by Jane’s brother Edward from the childless Knights. Jane and Cassandra were frequent visitors to both houses, and Jane worked on several of her novels while staying at Godmersham. She drew on her experiences in Kent for her descriptions of her fictional grand houses. When the Reverend George Austen died, Edward offered a choice of houses to his mother and sisters. One was in Wye, and the other was Chawton Cottage.
The Austen family originated in the Horsmonden area, and the Reverend George Austen was born in Tonbridge, attended Tonbridge School, and returned for a time as a master. His widowed and penniless grandmother, Elizabeth Weller, showed great resourcefulness in taking up a place as a matron and housekeeper at Sevenoaks School to ensure that all her sons received a good education.
Jane’s brother Edward was adopted by the Knight family as a child and grew up on Godmersham Park Estate. He inherited Godmersham Park and with his wife Elizabeth, made it his family home. Jane was a frequent visitor to Edward’s home and the inspirational surroundings and social environment it had to offer. She was particularly fond of Edward and Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, her much loved niece Fanny with whom she exchanged intimate correspondence. Copies of some of Jane’s letters to Fanny are on display at The Godmersham Park Heritage Centre, along with other interesting treasures which have been collected and conserved for the Parishes of Godmersham and Crundale, which the Centre has been established to serve. Visits to the Heritage Centre can be made by arrangement with the Administrator as follows:
The Kent Branch has a varied programme of events which includes talks and lectures, visits and a summer ‘period’ entertainment, with music, dancing or drama. There is an annual lunch in November, and a lively Discussion Group which meets twice a year. Members receive three Newsletters during the year, and also a free copy of the Branch’s own publication, Austentations, a varied collection of articles by our speakers and Branch members. New members are assured of a friendly welcome.
The Visit Kent (independent) website provides additional information and photographs related to Jane Austen’s links with Kent: explore Jane Austen’s Kent.
For any additional information about the Branch, or to apply for membership, please contact our Membership Secretary: