Goodnestone Park was built in 1704 by Brook Bridges who had recently purchased the estate. The date of the house is scratched onto a brick on the main front. During the early 18th century the house was surrounded by extensive formal gardens recorded in a view by William Harris. These disappeared later in the 18th century when Sir Brook Bridges, the 3rd baronet and great-grandson of the builder, replaced the gardens with a landscape park in the fashion of the time. The park and house as altered by the 3rd baronet were again recorded in a view by Arthur Devis.
The 3rd baronet was responsible for two of the most significant pieces of family history for Goodnestone. He married Fanny Fowler who was a co-heiress of the ancient Norman barony of FitzWalter established in 1295 by the grandson of Robert FitzWalter who had forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. Throughout the Tudor period the FitzWalters were leading courtiers and politicians and became the Earls of Sussex. The widow of the 3rd Earl of Sussex, Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, founded Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in 1596.
Sir Brook Bridges and Fanny Fowler’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Edward Austen, brother of the famous author Jane Austen. Edward and his young wife spent their early married life in a house on the Goodnestone estate before moving to nearby Godmersham. Elizabeth was a favourite relative for Jane Austen (her daughter Fanny later became one of Jane’s favourite correspondents) and Jane was a regular guest at Goodnestone during their years there. It is significant that she began writing her first novel, Pride and Prejudice, immediately after staying at Goodnestone in 1796.
Walk in Jane Austen’s Footsteps and follow the newly reinstated 18th century Serpentine Walk. To find out more, click here
The next period of important alterations to the Goodnestone gardens came during the 1840s. Sir Brook Bridges 5th Baronet decided to change the entrance to the house, adding the imposing portico to what had been the back and to which a new approach drive swept down from both sides. Within the curve of the drive he made a series of terraced lawns with central flights of steps. On the other side where the entrance had been, he again terraced the lawns between the house and the park which he divided from the garden with the present wall.
Towards the end of the 19th century the last of the Bridges family, a sister of the last baronet, married a member of the Plumptre family and their son, Henry Plumptre, was eventually able to successfully claim the ancient FitzWalter barony in 1924, after it had been in abeyance for 168 years. He was succeeded in 1952 by his nephew, Brook Plumptre who became the 21st Lord FitzWalter, who married Margaret Deedes, sister of the famous journalist and politician, Bill Deedes (Lord Deedes of Aldington). They had five sons and fifteen grandchildren. Lord FitzWalter died in October 2004, aged 90 and their eldest son, Julian succeeded to the title.
Between the two world wars Emmy FitzWalter, Brook FitzWalter’s aunt, made significant improvements to the gardens, notably the woodland garden with its rockwork and pool. But during World War Two the house at Goodnestone was requisitioned by the military and when Brook and Margaret FitzWalter moved into the house in 1955 the gardens were in a derelict state. Four years later, in 1959, a disastrous fire destroyed the roof and upper two storeys of the house and the rebuilding took 18 months.
Work on the gardens did not begin in earnest until the mid-1960s and the restoration and expansion to their present standard was primarily the work of Margaret FitzWalter. In the process she created what many visitors regard to be one of the outstanding country gardens in England.
The gardens cover roughly fifteen acres. They are maintained by Paul Bagshaw and three part time assistants.
The soil is typical of the local area, slightly alkaline loam over the chalk that extends out from the North Downs, with an outcrop of more acid greensand in the woodland garden which allows rhododendrons and other ericaceous plants to thrive.