Jane Austen in Kent ~ Or, How a Set of Pimpernel Coasters Set Me on a Journey…

Browsing around an antique shop last week, I spotted a boxed set of six Pimpernel coasters, each coaster’s image an engraving of a British Heritage site in Kent, and all bordered by red and gold bands.

Pimpernel Coasters - British Heritage, Kent

Not sure how old these are – the box is plain white with an image on the front, but they were $3.00 in unused condition, and who could resist them? – all places that Jane Austen may have visited on her many trips to Kent [alas! my book Jane Austen in Kent by David Waldron Smithers is not in hand – I am lost!]

I have been to England many times, but have not seen the Jane Austen sites in Kent, so let’s take a short tour through these six coastered” sites, wondering if Austen visited any of them, beginning with, where IS Kent anyway?

Map of Kent’s location in England – wikipedia

and here a map of Kent, from Julie Wakefield’s Jane Austen Gazetteer


We do know that Jane Austen visited Kent many times, traveling through to her brother Edward Austen-Knight’s home at Godmersham Park, and staying in various coaching inns along the way:

 Godmersham Park – image from Frontispiece.co.uk

 and to Goodnestone Park, the home of the Bridges family and Jane Austen’s sister-in-law Elizabeth Bridges [when Austen’s brother Edward and Elizabeth first married, they lived in Rowling, a house on the Goodnestone estate.

Goodnestone Park (wikipedia)

Austen may have indeed visited each of these places on my now treasured coasters. We have only her letters to tell us for sure and I depend upon the homework already done by Deirdre Le Faye in her indexes to those letters [4th ed., Oxford, 2011], and by Julie Wakefield at the aforementioned sister site to Austenonly,  A Jane Austen Gazetteer, where Kentish sites are cross-referenced to the letters.

So here are the six places on the coasters – a perfect journey through Kent, with a little bit of history thrown in, and perhaps following in Jane Austen’s footsteps! 

1. Walmer Castle, Kingsdown Road, Deal, Kent

Built during the reign of King Henry VIII, Walmer Castle is one of the most fascinating visitor attractions in the South East. Originally designed as part of a chain of coastal artillery defences it evolved into the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The Duke of Wellington held the post for 23 years and enjoyed his time spent at the castle and in recent years Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother made regular visits to the castle.

The armchair in which Wellington died and an original pair of  ‘Wellington boots’ along with some of the rooms used by the Queen Mother are among the highlights. And with the magnificent gardens, a woodland walk and some excellent bird spotting there’s something for everyone to enjoy. There is also a pleasant cycle path along the beach front to nearby Deal Castle.

2. Canterbury Cathedral, Kent

St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, arrived on the coast of Kent as a missionary to England in 597 AD. He came from Rome, sent by Pope Gregory the Great. It is said that Gregory had been struck by the beauty of Anglo slaves he saw for sale in the city market and dispatched Augustine and some monks to convert them to Christianity.

Augustine was given a church at Canterbury (St Martin’s, after St Martin of Tours, still standing today) by the local King, Ethelbert whose Queen, Bertha, a French Princess,, was already a Christian. This building had been a place of worship during the Roman occupation of Britain and is the oldest church in England still in use. (from the Cathedral website) 

Canterbury Cathedral - wikipedia

3.  Rochester Castle,  Ken 

“It wanted five minutes of twelve when we left Sittingbourne, from whence we had a famous pair of horses, which took us to Rochester in an hour and a quarter; the postboy seemed determined to show my mother that Kentish drivers were not always tedious, and really drove as fast as Cax.”

Austen’s letter No. 9 of 24 Oct. 1798. Letters p. 14.

Rochester Castle stands on the east bank of the River Medway in Rochester, Kent, England. The 12th-century keep or stone tower, which is the castle’s most prominent feature, is one of the best preserved in England or France. Located along the River Medway and Watling Street, Rochester was a strategically important royal castle. During the medieval period it helped protect England’s south-east coast from invasion. The first castle at Rochester was founded in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest. It was given to Bishop Odo by his half-brother, William the Conqueror. During the Rebellion of 1088 over the succession to the English throne, Odo supported Robert Curthose, the Conqueror’s eldest son, against William Rufus. It was during this conflict that the castle first saw military action; the city and castle were besieged after Odo made Rochester a headquarters for the rebellion. After the garrison capitulated, this first castle was abandoned. [wikipedia]

Rochester Castle – English Heritage

4. Dover Castle, Castle Hill, Dover, Kent

Commanding the shortest sea crossing between England and the continent, Dover Castle has a long and immensely eventful history. Many centuries before King Henry II began the great stone castle here in the 1160s, its spectacular site atop the famous ‘White Cliffs’ was an Iron Age hill fort, and it still houses a Roman lighthouse, one of the best-preserved in Europe. The Anglo-Saxon church beside it was once probably part of a Saxon fortified settlement: very soon after his victory at Hastings in 1066, this was converted by William the Conqueror into a Norman earthwork and timber-stockaded castle.

From then on Dover Castle was garrisoned uninterruptedly until 1958, a continuous nine-century span equalled only by the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. The stronghold hosted royal visits by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Charles I’s Queen Henrietta Maria: and from 1740 until 1945, its defences were successively updated in response to every European war involving Britain. [from English Heritage]

Dover Castle, by Amelia Long (Lady Farnborough) 1772-1837, No date, prior to 1837
Source: Tiny image at the Tate Gallery


5.  Sevenoaks, Kent.

Francis Austen, a great-uncle of Jane’s, was a solicitor in Sevenoaks.  Austen sends a letter to her cousin Philadelphia Walter in Seal, an area of Sevenoaks [Ltr. 8]. 

Sevenoaks is a commuter town situated on the London fringe of west Kent, England, some 20 miles (31.2 km) south-east of Charing Cross, on one of the principal commuter rail lines from the capital. The town gives its name to the Sevenoaks district, of which it is the principal town, followed by Swanley and Edenbridge.

The presence of Knole House, a large mansion, led to the earlier settlement becoming a village and in the 13th century a market was established. Sevenoaks became part of the modern communications network when one of the earlier turnpikes was opened in the 18th century; the railway was relatively late in reaching it. [wikipedia]

Knole House image:  Morris’s Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen (1880) – wikipedia

High Street in Chiddingstone, a village in the Sevenoaks area, [and where James Stanier Clarke visits when he is writing to Jane Austen in Letters 125(A) and 132(A)], has been described as “the most perfect surviving example of a Tudor village in the county.”

Sevenoaks High Street: image from Grosvenor Prints

6.  Folkstone Harbour & Pavillion, Kent

A Norman knight held a Barony of Folkestone, by which time the settlement had become a fishing village. That led to its entry as a part of the Cinque Ports in the thirteenth century and with that the privilege of being a wealthy trading port. At the start of the Tudor period it had become a town in its own right. Wars with France meant that defences had to be built here and soon plans for a Folkestone Harbour began. Folkestone, like most settlements on the south coast, became involved in smuggling during the eighteenth century. At the beginning of the 1800s a harbour was developed, but it was the coming of the railways in 1843 that would have the bigger impact.

 Until the 19th century Folkestone remained a small fishing community with a seafront that was continually battered by storms and encroaching shingle that made it hard to land boats. In 1807 an Act of Parliament was passed to build a pier and harbour which was built by Thomas Telford in 1809. By 1820 a harbour area of 14 acres (5.7 hectares) had been enclosed. Folkstone’s trade and population grew slightly but development was still hampered by sand and silt from the Pent Stream. The Folkestone Harbour Company invested heavily in removing the silt but with little success. In 1842 the company became bankrupt and the Government put the derelict harbour up for sale. It was bought by the South Eastern Railway Company (SER), which was then building the London to Dover railway line. George Turnbull was responsible in 1844 for building the Horn pier. Dredging the harbour, and the construction of a rail route down to it, began almost immediately, and the town soon became the SER’s principal packet station for the Continental traffic to Boulogne.

Image and text from Folkestone History.org


So thank you for joining me on my journey through Kent – I should like to write more on this, once I have my proper research tools in hand – especially about the coaching inns that Austen stayed in her travels – so stay tuned please! And if any of you have any Kentish tales to share, especially those involving Jane Austen, please do!

And with hearty thanks to Julie at Austenonly for her references and map and to Deirdre Le Faye for her invaluable indexes!

Copyright @2012 Jane Austen in Vermont

19 thoughts on “Jane Austen in Kent ~ Or, How a Set of Pimpernel Coasters Set Me on a Journey…

  1. I wish I could hope it was my recent Austen Authors post on Jane Austen in Kent, and Provender in particular, that inspired you, but I daresay not – the lovely coasters are sufficient inspiration i themselves! I have spent a lot of time visiting in Kent, have the David Waldron Smithers book by my side, and even possess the same coasters! (I paid more for them than you did – in Kent.) So what are we doing in Vermont/California? In springtime every one ought to be in Kent. Here’s my Provender post:


    • Oh Diana! – No I did not read your post but shall rectify that immediately! – must have been something in the air I daresay that prompted me to find these coasters and report on them! How funny that you have the same ones! – now we are more connected than our other such ties – birthday, NY, love of Austen, etc… and now COASTERS!

      I am without my library [esp my Smithers!] and just posted this fairly quickly without doing much research – just checked The Letters [which is always by my side!], so this is not a thorough post at all in the sense of Jane and Kent – I just want to travel there [right now would be nice!] and this seemed a way to do it without having to go through security… my next trip is gradually taking shape – and I shall read my Smithers and talk to you before I go!..

      Thanks Diana for visiting…


  2. Delightful Deb. You have curled my toes during this Jane-ological hunt through Kent. What fun you must of had digging through your research books and scouring the internet. Thank you for this lovely travelogue. It took me away to Jane Austen’s England for a much needed respite. And, what an incredible coincidence that both you and Diana own this set of coasters.I feel left out of the club. Must rectify that. ;-)


    • Thanks Laurel Ann – glad to help you enjoy a little vicarious travel! – If I find another set of these coasters, I shall get them for you, so you can be part of our now quite exclusive club! [there are some online I think, but for more that $3.00, sorry to say] – the first time I went to England I bought a set of these Pimpernel coasters for my mother as a gift – six English cathedrals – she was upset with me that I didn’t buy her a pair of bell-bottomed pants [as I did for myself, which dates me I’m afraid – we didn’t have them in the US yet!] – I still have these coasters I gave her [but alas! not the pants] -and since then Pimpernel has always sort of personified England to me, as silly as that sounds!


  3. Well,Deb, great introduction to Kent. Love the way you have used your magnificent coasters to illustrate the history.Shakespeare’s King Leer, with Shakespeare harping back to an ancient Celtic culture, set his Leer in Kent. Shakespeare Cliff, just outside of Dover is the very place King Leer is lead to and ,”thinks,” he jumps off.

    I know four out of six places really well, from your six place mats, Deb . Godmersham is a short distance south west of Canterbury. You could almost walk it!!!!

    Kent, is part of the Weald and what used to be termed, “The Garden of England.” It used to be famous for growing hops and beer making. Many fine breweries began in Kent.The countryside is still dotted with the tall conical roofs of oast houses. They make fine residences these days. All the women and children from the East End of London, The Docklands, used to spend their summer holidays hop picking in Kent.

    Kent was also nick named, “Bomb Alley,” during WWII. The Luftwaffe flew across Kent as it’s shortest route to London and the Midlands. Many bombs were unloaded in the fields of Kent when the Luftwaffe bombing raids were turned back.


    • My friends in Kent, whom I often used to visit, had an old farmhouse, and in their woods was a bomb hole from World War II. They were very amused by my astonishment when they showed it to me – that little hole made the far away, long ago war so much more real. It still had bits of metal in it. A bluebell woods. So many of the people living round about in oast houses and old vicarages were wealthy, that it reminded me of Jane Austen saying that every body was rich in Kent. And don’t forget Mrs. Elton silencing Emma on which county was “the garden of England”!


      • Hi Diana. You appear to have visited evry part of Britain. You must like it here.

        You say far away war, Diana. Well, my Mum and Dad are still very much alive and remeber it all very vividly. When they were constructing the London Eye across The Thames, before erecting it vertically, they had to construct piers in the river to lay it on. First they had to dredge that whole part of the river searching for unexploded bombs and only when it was clear could they start construction. Any new building work in London can still unearth unexploded bombs.It is quite rare nowadays but it still happens.

        In Northern France near the Somme, farmers still unearth live shells from The First World War.

        It appears a war is never finished and never in the past.


      • You speak truly, when you say that a war is never finished and never in the past. Even I had a cousin who flew bombing missions, and only died last year at 90. A friend’s very elderly father just missed a recent war memorial ceremony with Prince Philip at Sandringham. I myself was born just after the war, and grew up in New York City, so the perspective is a little more distant…though even so, Jewish refugees were passing through our apartment for years in the late ’40s and early ’50s, which I remember well.

        And you judge correctly about my loving England! Fell in love with it at three, courtesy of A.A. Milne. Since I could not live there, I made it the business of my life to go as often as I possibly could, and have logged some thirty trips, visiting the places that meant most to me from books, and making many friends along the way.


      • Diana, how I envy you your many trips to the UK! – I loved your series of posts on your travels that you did last year… might have to revisit them as well for my wanderlust fix!


      • Nice to see you and Diana having a chat Tony! – I appreciate your comment of war never finished and never in the past, always moreso for the people who live with it every day in some way… we forget sometimes the realities of war when often all we have is the movies that glorify it … so good to remind us that even in peaceful Kent, it was touched by the devastation… I have just been in touch with a long-lost relative and find that an aunt was killed in the bombing of Coventry along with her newborn baby – so, yes, it is never really in the past, is it?


    • Thanks Tony for your usual history-packed comment! – I just so quickly did this – each coaster alone could take a month of posts! – so not much research here really – just a quick travelogue that put me in Kent for a few hours, and that constant reminder that wherever one goes, even if into a small antique shop in the middle of nowhere, one finds Jane!

      I shall have you trek me around Kent when I am next there, ok? – the WWII interests me as much as anything… and know you are quite versed in it as well as Jane Austen…

      Thanks for stopping by Tony, as always,


  4. Deb, just say when.

    However, to see Seven Oaks and Knole House, Rochester, Canterbury and Dover, (Folkestone is a not very interesting cross channel port) you need at least two days. Dover has not only it’s magnificent Norman castle on one side, the 18th century redoubt on the other but also the Roman painted house and a brilliant museum. Witherspoons do a great pub lunch, very reasonably priced, in the town centre. if you base yourself in London we could travel from there.
    But what about Portsmouth? That’s another day trip.

    You will need to put aside at least three days, Deb.

    We can do it!!!!!!!!!



    • Well Tony – that sounds like a plan! – I should at least add that I have been to Dover and to Canterbury Cathedral but like I said, I was not travelling around Kent with Jane Austen in the back of my head, where she seems to reside now – and all so long ago, I may have actually been there when Thomas Becket saw his untimely end! – and yes to Portsmouth, where I am ashamed to say I have not been, or Southampton, doubly ashamed – I think I need to come there and live for at least 10 years, don’t you?

      Thanks for the itinerary!


      • Diana, whar=t with sissinghurst and charleston you must add Monks House at rodmell just south of |Lewes. If you want Virginia Woolf we must go the whole hog. Actually, living in Wimbledon i don’t live that far from Richmond and Hogarth House where Virginia and leonard set up the Hogarth Press.

        Ok so it’s Rochester and we can do Diclens, Southampton and Portsmouth could be our Jane input and Charelston with Monks house thrown in, our Virginia Woolf pilgramage.

        Deb why come for 10years why not the rest of your life? There is so much to see and do. Ha! ha!

        To be serious now, Diana and Deb if you want my company for the best pub lunches around I am yours.

        All the best,

        Heathrow to New York is only a few hours. You wouldn’t be totally cut off and then of course there is Skype!!!!!!!!!!


      • Yes Tony – Diana has quite the trek! – and no I have not seen the Pavillion in Brighton – I need to rethink all my travel plans and start packing right away it seems – and we shall book a pub lunch wherever you say…nothing better in the world [my favorite being the Sherlock Holmes in London, but that is a whole other story for another day] – any pub will do really, just hate the dastardly travel to get there… ok, back to reality now…


  5. Just a thought. It would be better to get a hotel in Brighton, Deb. You would be closer to all this.Have you seen the Brighton Pavilion? Just one of those places you MUST SEE before you die. Ha! Ha!


    • Sounds mighty tempting, Tony, and next time I cross the pond (and the States, I live in California!), I am having the best pub lunch with you! And pub lunches in Kent are worth crossing the pond for. I did go to Monks House when I went to Charleston and sublime it was. Drove through Wimbledon too, while staying with friends in Peckham Rye who drove me to Chawton. Speaking of which, another favorite must-see is Gilbert White’s house and the zig-zag…but don’t get me started. My plans for this year are still out to lunch.


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