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 was
born in Tonbridge in 1731, and there are many family links to the town.
1. The Castle
Francis Austen, great-great-nephew of Jane Austen, being filmed in front of the Castle in 2009.
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.
3. 180 and 182 High Street
182 High Street in the early 19th century.
THE REVEREND HENRY AUSTEN, cousin of GEORGE (Jane's father), and his family lived in 182, then known as Fosse Bank. We know that
Jane's parents and her brother, FRANCIS, visited them here in 1783. 182 was later demolished and replaced by offices.
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 of St Peter and St Paul, but no memorial remains to him. In later years, this
building was known as The Star and the White Horse Tavern.
5. Tonbridge School
GEORGE's cousin, 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. 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.
Old Judde House
6. Ferox Hall
This property is now part of Tonbridge School and, like Old Judde, GEORGE would have known this building.
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 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 protected by
thick glass so the inscription can be read.
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. Betty's father-in-law gave Tonbridge a fire engine which was housed in the church porch where you can see two fire hooks which were used for
pulling the thatch off the houses. Jane's father, GEORGE, came to live with them here after his father's death.
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.
For the production of this walk, thanks go to Margaret Wilson and Deirdre Le Faye of the Jane Austen Society, and Mark Ballard of the Kent Archives Service.