We all know Pemberley, Rosings Park, and Hartfield. But which real homes were the source of inspiration for these famous homes in Jane Austen’s novels? Have you ever imagined yourself wandering around great stately homes like Pemberley? Or are you curious about real places that inspired England’s most famous female writer?
Jane is famous for writing, with great wit, about the landed gentry in England. These landowners often lived in grand estates around the country and were sought-after marriage prospects for young women in the better social classes.
In this article, you will read more about real homes that inspired Jane Austen for her famous novels. From humble cottages like Chawton Cottage where she lived in her last years to grand estates that were owned by family and friends of Jane Austen. Many country homes that inspired Jane Austen are still standing and these homes are often open to the public for us to enjoy.
The Cottages That Inspired Jane Austen
Jane Austen loved a good cottage. Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters move into Barton Cottage after her husband dies in Sense and Sensibility, Fanny and Bertram move into a rectory in Mansfield Park, and Elinor and Edward move into Delaford. There is no doubt that Jane’s own time living in a happy cottage with her family inspired these fictional cottages in her novels.
Jane Austen was born at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire. Jane’s father George, was the rector of the Anglican parishes of Steventon and Deane. Despite coming from a wealthy family, George’s branch of the family fell into poverty and as a child, he was taken in by relatives. Jane’s mother, Cassandra, was a member of the prominent Leigh family and she grew up among the gentry.
The Austen family was neither rich nor poor, Reverend Austen has an annual income of £200 plus a profit of £300 from a farm he rented. Together, this would be an annual income of $81.000 in today’s money.
The Austen family home was lively and educated as Jane’s father also supplemented his income by teaching boys who would also live at Steventon Rectory. Sadly, the Rectory is no longer standing, but we do know that the rectory was built in the 17th century and renovated in the 1760s for the Austen family. The home had seven bedrooms (which means the Austen children had to share a bedroom) and the home was surrounded by fields and trees. This is another reference to her novels as her main characters, like Elizabeth Bennet, often enjoy being in nature.
Jane Austen’s first three novels, Sense and Sensibility (then called Elinor and Marianne), Pride and Prejudice (then called First Impressions), and Northanger Abbey (then called Susan) as well as the short novel Lady Susan were written at Steventon Rectory.
In 1801, Jane’s father decided to hand over his living to his eldest son James and the family moved to Bath in the hope that Jane and her sister Cassandra might find husbands.
In the Autumn of 1805, not long after Jane’s father died, Jane, Cassandra, and her mother briefly lived at Stanford Cottage in the Sussex seaside town Worthing. This charming cottage has views of the sea on one side and fields on the other. This may have been an inspiration for the seaside trip Anne and her company makes in Persuasion.
In 1809, Jane and her family moved to Chawton Cottage. The cottage is part of Chawton House which at that time was owned by Jane’s brother Edward.
The 17th century cottage is where Jane spends the last eight years of her life. She had already written three novels at the rectory but in Chawton Cottage she revised these novels before sending them to publishers. At Chawton Cottage Jane also wrote Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and the fragment Sanditon.
Today, Chawton Cottage house the Jane Austen’s House Museum.
Stately Homes That Inspired Jane Austen
Despite Jane’s fondness of cottages, several of her heroines move into stately homes that are owned by the landed gentry of England. Jane also visited grand estates in her life that were owned by friends or family. These stately homes are the inspiration for the grand houses like Pemberley, Mansfield Park, and Hartfield.
Close to Jane’s childhood home in Steventon lies the large country house The Vyne. The 16th century country house was first built in Tudor style by William Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys, Lord Chamberlain to King Henry VIII. In the 17th century, The Vyne was turned into a classical mansion with a classical portico, the first portico in English domestic architecture, and a principal stair hall that is designed by Horace Walpole.
In Jane’s time, The Vyne was owned by the Chute family. Even though the Chute family was of a higher social class than Jane and her family, they visited the house as Jane’s brother was friends with Thomas Chute.
In 1790, Thomas’ elder brother William inherited the grand estate which made him a popular man for all the young ladies in the neighborhood. And it is believed that this event inspired Jane to write about such an occasion in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Bingley moves into Netherfield Hall.
The Vyne is now owned by the National Trust and offers a glimpse into the life of the higher social classes like the Chute family. It features a beautiful Oak Gallery, which is believed to be one of England’s first long galleries, an anteroom with ceramics, a Tudor Chapel, and a historic housekeeper’s room.
Jane’s brother Edward had been adopted by the Knight family, a wealthy couple (and cousins of the Austens) without children. Edward inherited their estates including Godmershan which would become his family home.
Godmersham Park is a Regency mansion was built in the early 18th century by the Knight family and the wings were added fifty years later. Between 1798 and 1813, Jane often visited the grand house, usually after Edward and his wife Elizabeth had a new baby. Jane often wrote about the library at Godmersham which she loved to spend time in.
Godmersham Park is one of the grand houses that offered Jane inspiration for the famous grand homes or her book.
Goodnestone House is a stately home in English county Kent. The Palladian stately home was built in 1704 by Brook Bridges, 1st Baronet. His grandson, Sir Brook Bridges, 3rd Baronet was the father of Elizabeth, the wife of Edward Austen.
Edward and Elizabeth didn’t live at Goodnestone House in the first years of their marriage. Instead, they lived in Rowling House, a smaller house on the Goodnestone Estate. Jane would often visit her brother and when she did she would stay at Rowling House.
However, Jane often mentioned visiting the grand Goodnestone House. Through the country fields of Kent, she often walked to the grand house on the Goodnestone Estate. She also mentioned having dinner and visiting a ball at the grand house.
Goodnestone House is still a privately owned estate but the house can be rented for events. But you can follow Jane’s footsteps by visiting the award-winning gardens, some of the finest gardens in South East England.
The good fortune of Jane’s brother Edward is evident as he owned another grand estate in England. Chawton House is an Elizabethan manor house in Hampshire that was also inherited by Edward Austen Knight.
Just like Edward’s other houses, Jane also visited Chawton House and according to the Knight family legend she liked to sit the in reading alcove of the Oak Room.
Today, there is still a connection to Jane at Chawton House. The Chawton library is now the Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing, 1600–1830. The house shows portraits and items belonging to the Knight family (including a private collection of books that Jane also used) as well as a collection of women’s writing.
In 1806, Rev. Thomas Leigh inherited Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire. Thomas Leigh was the cousin of Jane’s mother Cassandra and when he decided to visit his new property, he brought his Jane’s mother, Jane’s sister, and Jane with him on his trip.
Humphry Repton was an English landscape designer in the 18th century and he also worked on the grounds at Stoneleigh Abbey. Jane took this visit as inspiration for her novel Mansfield Park. In Mansfield Park, Humphry Repton is mentioned as making changes to the grounds of Sotherton Court. And the chapel at the Stoneleigh Estate also resembles the chapel mentioned in Mansfield Park.
Stoneleigh Abbey was acquired by the Leigh family after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The first part of the house was built shortly after and the impressive Baroque wing was added between 1714 and 1726.
Jane isn’t the only notable guest of Stoneleigh Abbey. In 1858, Queen Victoria stayed in Stoneleigh Abbey for two nights. You can also visit the house that inspired Jane for her novel Mansfield Park. The house is open to visitors by guided tours and the grounds are open from Sunday to Thursday.
Mansfield Park is the Jane Austen novel that’s often a bit forgotten. It also stands out because the main residence in the book is set in Northamptonshire, an English county that was never visited by Jane herself.
Dr. Robert Clark, a senior fellow at the University of East Anglia, thinks that Castle Ashby might have been the inspiration for Mansfield Park. Jane writes to her sister Cassandra about whether Northamptonshire is a county of hedgerows. And Cassandra was friends with Elizabeth Chute, the sister of the Marchioness of Northampton who lived at Castle Ashby. A full read on the inspiration and connection to Castle Ashby can be found in an article by The Telegraph.
Inspiration or not, Castle Ashby is a magnificent Elizabethan prodigy house that is still owned by the Marquess of Northampton. Only 35 acres of gardens are open to the public. They include a romantic Italian Garden, a unique Orangery, and an Arboretum.
Stately Homes Mentioned in Jane Austen’s Books
Many believe Chatsworth House to be the inspiration for Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley. This idea mainly stems from the fact that Elizabeth Bennet visits Chatsworth House in the novel. Elizabeth visits Derbyshire together with her aunt and uncle the Gardiners. In those days, you could visit stately homes and get a tour of the house from the housekeeper. In the novel, Jane and her aunt and uncle visit Chatsworth House before they visit Darcy’s home Pemberley.
Jane never visited Chatsworth House, but in those days this was already a grand estate by one of the grandest aristocratic families so it is certainly possible that she had read something about the house.
Funny enough, Chatsworth House is used as the filming location for Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley in the 2005 movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice featuring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.
Tintern Abbey is mentioned in Mansfield Park as a likeness of the abbey hangs in Fanny’s room. The abbey fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. From the 18th century onwards a romantic movement started in Europe and it became popular to visit ruined abbeys and castles.
Tintern Abbey has often been mentioned in poetry and it has often been painted, for example by William Turner. It’s likely that Jane knew what Tintern Abbey looked likes as she mentions it in one of her books. It is also suggested that the abbey was an inspiration for the gothic novel Northanger Abbey.
Jane’s Time in Bath
When Jane’s father retired, the family moved to Bath in the hope that Jane and Cassandra might find a husband. Not much is known about Jane’s time in Bath as her sister burned all the letters she had of Jane from this time.
However, if you read her novels you can get a feeling about her thoughts on Bath. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey are both set in this famous city. Anne Elliot is not at all happy to leave her home Kellynch Hall and move to Bath. And in Northanger Abbey, Mr. Tilney mocks Bath for its boring social etiquette.
Jane also let her feelings about Bath known in one of the surviving letters that she sent to her sister. In the letter, she says: “It will be two years tomorrow since we left Bath for Clifton, with what happy feelings of Escape!”. That really says it all.
Jane lived at Gay Street in Bath. Today, one of the Georgian townhouses on this street is the home of the Jane Austen Centre. Here, you can learn more about life in Bath in Jane’s time.
Whether it’s a humble cottage or a grand stately home. Jane knew how to write about the homes (and future homes) of her heroines. If you’re interested in the filming locations for Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, you can read about that on this site as well. But the real homes that inspired Jane Austen are certainly worthy of a visit as well.
And for more famous writers’ homes in England, you can read this post.