Monday, October 26, 2020

Jane Austen passes through Deptford & Blackheath

I love the notion that as the main road between London, Kent and the Channel, what is now the A2 has been travelled by so many historical personages and movements - everyone from royals to revolting peasants have passed along the Old Kent Road, New Cross Road, Deptford and up to Blackheath and beyond. So I am pleased to be able to add the novelist Jane Austen to the list confirmed to have passed through.

On June 15 1808, Austen wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra describing her journey from London to visit her brother's family at Godmersham Park - located between Canterbury and Ashford in Kent:

'My dear Cassandra,—Where shall I begin? Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first? At half after seven yesterday morning Henry saw us into our own carriage, and we drove away from the Bath Hotel; which, by the by, had been found most uncomfortable quarters,—very dirty, very noisy, and very ill-provided. James began his journey by the coach at five. Our first eight miles were hot; Deptford Hill brought to my mind our hot journey into Kent fourteen years ago; but after Blackheath we suffered nothing, and as the day advanced it grew quite cool. At Dartford, which we reached within the two hours and three-quarters, we went to the Bull, the same inn at which we breakfasted in that said journey, and on the present occasion had about the same bad butter.

At half-past ten we were again off, and, travelling on without any adventure reached Sittingbourne by three. Daniel was watching for us at the door of the George, and I was acknowledged very kindly by Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, to the latter of whom I devoted my conversation, while Mary went out to buy some gloves. A few minutes, of course, did for Sittingbourne; and so off we drove, drove, drove, and by six o'clock were at Godmersham'

The Bath Hotel in London was situated on Piccadilly on the site of what is now the Ritz.  Plainly travelling by horse-drawn coach was a slow business, with the journey from here to Godmersham taking some ten and half hours - though this did include stops at the Bull Inn in Dartford and the George Inn in Sittingbourne, both of which are still standing if you want to recreate this journey!  The house at Godmersham Park is still there too - and it features along with Austen on the ten pound note.

Another letter from 1796 mentions a plan to visit Greenwich.  Her brother Francis Austen was in the Royal Navy and rose to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet, so no doubt was familiar with Deptford and Greenwich.

Another South London location is mentioned in a letter from 1811: 'who should I meet but Mr. Moore,  just come from Beckenham. I believe he would have passed me if I had not made him stop, but we were delighted to meet. I soon found, however, that he had nothing new to tell me, and then I let him go.'  There was a strong connection between parts of Austen's family and Beckenham. Her dad's cousin Frances Motley Austen (1747-1815) was born in Beckenham, with his mother Ann Motley and grandfather Thomas Motley - a prominent landowner in Beckenham.  So it seems likely that Jane Austen was in touch with relatives in Beckenham, though it is not known if she ever visited there. 

Source: The Letters of Jane Austen

Thanks to JaneAustenCork for mentioning this journey on twitter

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