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 Born in 1761, on the 2nd of March 1851 Susanna Sackree died. She was nurse to the eleven children of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward (Knight) and his wife Elizabeth. Susanna joined the Knight household at

Godmersham Park in January 1793 as their nurse, for the birth of their first

child, Fanny. She was much loved and remained with them until her death

nearly sixty years later. She is frequently mentioned in Jane’s letters. The fact

that both a portrait and a silhouette of her are extant, and that there are

numerous mentions of her in family letters over the decades, show she was

much more than just a servant to the Knight family.

Susanna appears in the 1841 Census at Godmersham Park.

It was quite traditional to register household staff by rank in the

census and Susanna appears at the top of the list of twenty-one

servants. At the time she was 80 years old and considerably older

than all the other servants.

 

I quote from Edward Knatchbull (Fanny Knight’s son): ’The ‘Sackree’

of whom such frequent mention is made in Jane Austen’s letters from

Godmersham was the old nurse of my grandfather’s children, an

excellent woman and a great favourite.’

 

Jane Austen, when visiting, felt rather poor and the masses of servants

put Jane in a quandary. Her difficulty with money was well known and

forgiven below stairs. Mr Hall (the visiting hairdresser) did Elizabeth’s

hair for five shillings yet only charged Jane half that amount. On one

visit, feeling herself ‘very poor’ she guiltily gave nurse Susanna only ten shillings (still worth about £50 in today’s money)!

 

Susanna went by the familiar name ‘Caky’ although I do not know why. It was perhaps the name given to her in the Godmersham nursery by the children struggling to pronounce her surname. Susanna lived on at Godmersham, caring for and playing with many of the Knight children and taking them to Church where they sat in the south transept to listen to the sermons of the Reverend Sherer.

 

She died in March 1851, in her ninetieth year. Susanna wrote her Will on 25th March 1847 and added a codicil on the 3rd June. She obviously had some money saved in an Ashford bank. The funds were to be released to Edward Knight (senior) and Edward Knight (junior) to be distributed to those to whom she wished to leave money, exclusively widowed relations. Any funds remaining were to be given to Marianne Knight, the unmarried daughter of Edward. She acted as housekeeper to Edward Senior until his death, less than two years after his long-time and faithful servant had died, and then, like so many spinsters in Victorian England, Marianne had to move from relative to relative whilst becoming increasingly impoverished. In addition, Marianne was left Susanna’s clothes, books and trinkets. More importantly to us the Will also stipulated that her savings would accommodate ‘the expense of a stone with suitable inscription which I desire to be erected in Godmersham Church yard all within the space of three months after my death’

Many years have now passed and if you go and look at the stone on the north wall, you will see that the lettering is indecipherable. As you will know, all churches run from east to west and the largest windows face east, the rising sun and Jerusalem. The outside walls of the nave and chancel are therefore directly north and south. The south wall benefits from sunshine and warmth and the north wall faces the worst of the weather, thereby causing the stone to degrade more quickly. If you ever get lost, the local Church will soon direct you.

 

There is a lovely copy of Susanna’s inscription to be found inside the Church, transcribed in calligraphic script, by Godmersham parishioner, Hazel Jones,  but the original, paid for by Caky herself is on the exterior of the Church, opposite the Mortuary.

 

It is this very stone that Godmersham Heritage Centre and The Friends of Godmersham Church plan to restore with your help! Susanna, and therefore her memorial tablet, plays a large part in the story of Jane Austen at Godmersham and celebrates a caring, worthy and wonderful woman, who is very much part of Godmersham's history.

 

Please support Susanna’s wish to be remembered at Godmersham Church by helping us to raise funds for the memorial’s restoration via the QR code on the right or contact us via Heritage Centre email above for more options to donate

 

Very best wishes

 

James Russell

Chair of the Friends of Godmersham Church

 

Donations toward the running of the Heritage Centre can be made below.  Thank you for your support

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