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Archaeologia Cantiana - Vol. 127   2007 page 436

Researches and Discoveries in Kent

JANE AUSTEN AND THE TOKES OF GODINTON

The Tokes of Godinton House, near Ashford, formed a regular part of the social circle of the Knight family at Godmersham at the turn of the nineteenth century. Edward Knight was Jane Austenís brother, and hence she met and came to know the Toke family over the 20 years when she was visiting her brother and his family.
   During Jane Austenís time, the head of the Toke family was Mr John Toke (1738 to 1819) Ė virtually a contemporary of Jane Austenís father, although in the end he outlived Jane Austen herself. He was a distinguished member of the local gentry, and served for a time as High Sheriff of Kent Ė a post which Jane Austenís brother held later. In 1762, John Toke married Margaretta Roundell, who died early, in 1780. His eldest son, Nicholas, was born in 1764 and was thus about 10 years older than Jane Austen. He married in 1791. The second son, John, born in 1766, was in due course ordained and became vicar of Bekesbourne and rector of Harbledown. The daughter of the family, Mary, married Edward Scudamore in 1813 Ė a physician, surgeon and apothecary who makes an occasional appearance in Jane Austenís letters attending on the Knights.
   The Tokes crop up from time to time in Jane Austenís letters to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1813. They were at the same social functions in Canterbury and Nackington (the Canterbury home of the Milles family) and no doubt at Godmersham and Goodnestone (the home of the Bridges, the family of Edward Knightís wife) as well. The Knights themselves would have visited Godinton, and it is very likely that Jane Austen accompanied them when she was staying in Kent, although there is no direct reference to this in her correspondence. Apparently for a time the Tokes would travel in a cart to Godmersham Church every Sunday, seemingly using it as their regular place of worship.1
   Whilst the Knights and Tokes were thus clearly on social and neighbourly terms, it is not clear how close they were and how well they got on. Jane Austenís references to them in her surviving letters were no doubt clear enough to Cassandra for whom they were intended, but, typically for Jane Austen, they read ambiguously to us.
   In 1796, when John Toke senior and his second son John were in a party at Nackington House, Jane Austen records2 that the young John Toke enquired after Cassandra, and says that she told him that neither he nor his father need longer keep themselves single for Cassandra. Since Cassandra had been engaged for some time, and in 1796 her fiancť was still alive Ė he died in 1797 Ė this could be banter enjoyable enough between friends, or a rather rude reponse from a 20-year old to a courteous enquiry from a man in his early thirties! Equally Jane Austen might never have said quite this, but be exaggerating or making a retrospective joke which Cassandra would understand.

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