IN AUSTEN FAMILY FOOTSTEPS
A Circular Walk in Tonbridge
Jane Austen was born at Steventon in Hampshire on 16 December 1775 to George and Cassandra Austen. Her father had been
born in Tonbridge in 1731, and there are many family links to the town.
1 The Castle
From the Civil War in the 17th century to the early 19th century, we can trace members of Jane Austen's family living in Tonbridge. The Castle comes into
the Austen family story in the 17th century when it was leased by Jane's great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Weller.
Make your way across the Castle lawn, through the Gatehouse, and follow the path which keeps the Cannon on your right-hand side. Bear round to your left
(past the public loos) on Castle Street with the old Fire Station on your left. Opposite, you will find the building which was Tonbridge's Workhouse
('Poor House'), now Warners Solicitors. Cross the road into Bank Street and find the Corn Exchange on your left. Where Bank Street joins the High Street,
there is a new development on the old market called Wellington Place.
2 5 Bank Street
Land behind 5 Bank Street is believed to have been the home of Jane's grandparents, William and Rebecca Austen. Although the exact location is uncertain, documents indicate that the Austen family definitely owned property in this area.
3 180 and 182 High Street
These two properties were originally a 'toft' (a house and accompanying plot of land). The date 1749 survives in the cellar of 180. The property at 182,
Fosse Bank House, was entailed to Francis Austen, Jane's great-uncle, a prosperous lawyer who practised in Sevenoaks at The Red House. In 1780, he sold it
to Thomas Hooker, owner of the Castle, who gave it to his brother-in-law, the Reverend Henry Austen, the cousin of Jane's father, and his family. We know that
Jane's parents and her brother, Francis, visited them there in 1783. Henry eventually sold 182 and became a tenant of 180, which had had several owners.
So the two houses had several associations with the Austen family. 182 was later demolished and replaced by offices.
Continue just up the road to Blair House.
4 Blair House, 186 High Street
This is a house of medieval origin where Thomas Austen, Jane's great uncle, an apothecary, lived when married to Elizabeth Burgess. Their son was Henry (see above).
When Thomas died, he was buried in the Church but no memorial remains to him.
Continue walking up the High Street, crossing the road at Landsdowne Road. Carry on until you reach Tonbridge School.
5 Tonbridge School
Henry Austen was the first of the Austens to be educated here from 1734. George, Jane's father, aged ten, joined Tonbridge School in 1741 when Henry was Head Boy.
George flourished at the school, his education being paid for by his uncle, Francis Austen (mentioned above). In 1747, George went to Oxford University and, after
being ordained, came back to Tonbridge to teach at his old school until 1757. It was at Oxford that he met Cassandra Leigh, Jane's mother. You will see a plaque on
the wall of the Cawthorn Lecture Theatre (situated at the front of the school) commemorating George's time there. The plaque is placed there as James Cawthorn was
the headmaster who chose George for the position of Second Master. There is a memorial to Cawthorn in the Church.
The impressive red brick building opposite the school is Ferox Hall. Cross the road at the pedestrian crossing.
6 Ferox Hall
This property is now part of Tonbridge School.
Carry on walking on the same side of the road, turning left into Bordyke.
Chauntlers was a large property now divided into two: The Priory and The Red House. It belonged to the Weller family from the time of the Civil War, and so was where Jane's
great-grandmother, Elizabeth Weller, was brought up. Elizabeth married John Austen IV, who, at his untimely death in 1704, left her with seven young children and such
considerable debts that she sold everything she could to pay them off. It appears she was given no help by the Wellers and the only help the Austens gave was to take her
eldest son into their care. Elizabeth's philosophy was that if she could give her sons education they would have a good chance of doing well in life. Elizabeth took the job
of housekeeper at Sevenoaks School in return for her five sons receiving education there. By studying the progress of her sons, we can see the trickle-down effect this had
on Jane Austen.
Retrace your steps to the pedestrian crossing at the junction with the High Street, cross Bordyke and continue along the High Street, turning left into Church Lane.
8 Church of St Peter and St Paul
This church has been at the heart of Tonbridge for around 900 years. There is a guide book and audio guide to the very important monuments in our story. All the people
mentioned in this guide would have worshipped here, and there are several memorials in the North Aisle. William, Jane's grandfather, is buried with his first wife, Rebecca,
and their first child, Hampson, who died at two years old. William's second wife, Susanna, who outlived him is also buried here. The gravestone is covered by a carpet for
preservation, but you will find a photograph of the inscription on the adjacent wall.
When you leave the church, turn left and continue through the churchyard past the little row of cottages in Church Street. Powells is the white house opposite the end of
Church Street in East Street.
9 Powells (now Lyons)
This was the marital home of Elizabeth Weller's eldest child Elizabeth (Betty). She married George Hooper, a Tonbridge lawyer. Their son, George, is commemorated in the church.
This George gave Tonbridge a fire engine which was housed in the church porch were you can see two fire hooks which were used for pulling the thatch off the houses. Jane's father
and her aunt Philadelphia also came to live with them there for a time after their father's death. Philadelphia was the first Austen to travel extensively, as she went to India
to marry Tysoe Hancock, who was, like her father, a surgeon. Their daughter, Eliza, married Jane's brother Henry.
To return to the Castle, turn right in front of Powells, walk to the High Street, cross at the pedestrian crossing, turn right and walk up Castle Street. The Castle is on your left.
Family tree of the Austens mentioned above