History and Jane Austen
Goodnestone Park was built by the Bridges family in 1704. Its early history was populated by multiple Sir Brook Bridges, one of whom married an ancestor of the current Lord FitzWalter in 1756. Dating back to the Norman Conquest, the venerable FitzWalter barony is the third oldest surviving title in the English peerage.
The House itself has undergone remarkable change since it was first built in the early 1700s; initially a brick double-pile house, with two storeys above a basement, Sir Brook Bridges 3rd Baronet remodelled the house, adding a third storey. During the Victorian era, the 5th baronet made the back of the house the front, adding a neo-classical Doric portico on the west façade.
Jane Austen was a frequent guest at Goodnestone Park after her brother married into the family in 1791. His was a double wedding that, along with the house, gardens, country dances and local society, inspired her best-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice.
Born of a reverend and his wife, Jane’s family was not of the social background that would normally have married into the wealthy Bridges of Goodnestone. However, aged 12, her third eldest brother, Edward, had been presented to well-off relatives of his father and this childless couple, Thomas and Catherine Knight, eventually adopted him, introducing him to Kent society and making him their legal heir. This newfound standing enabled his marriage to Elizabeth Bridges on 27th December 1791 in a double wedding that saw her sister, Sophie, marry William Deedes. His inheritance made him an extremely wealthy man, wealthier, reputedly even than Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice.
Jane Austen often spent time at Goodnestone Park after her brother’s marriage into the family; Edward and Elizabeth lived in a house on the estate until 1812. In fact, references to dining at Goodnestone Park can be found in Jane Austen’s letter s to her sister, Cassandra.
The house at Goodnestone Park now has a reception room, the Jane Austen Room, named after the 19th century novelist, where many of Austen’s works can be found alongside the Waverly novels by Sir Walter Scott, one of her favourite authors.
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