4 March 2011

Visit to Charles Kingsley’s House in Clovelly

Charles Kingsley
The Reverend Charles Kingsley was a Victorian author and friend of John Ruskin and Charles Dickens. He is best known for being one of the first prominent Victorians to publicly recognise the importance of Origin of the Species, having been sent an advance copy for review by Charles Darwin.

The Water Babies

Kingsley was a prolific poet and author but for me it was his moral tale The Water Babies that leaves a lasting memory.  It was one of the first allegorical works I read as a child, full of Victorian values (and prejudices) and profound ideas, like that no one can say that something they have never seen, such as a human soul - or a water baby – can not exist.  A founder of Christian Socialism, Kingsley used The Water Babies to successfully draw public attention to the scandal of child labour.

Arriving at Clovelly

Charles Kinsley lived in the North Devon coastal village of Clovelly, where his father was the curate. We arrived by sea, and found the tiny fourteenth century harbour was too small for our yacht so we anchored in the bay and rowed ashore, as most visitors would have done in the past. 

The main street in Clovelly is a steep cobbled path which is famous for the donkeys which haul everything up the hill on special wooden sledges.  We found Charles Kingsley’s house about half way up the hill.  As with most of the houses in Clovelly, it was very small but well preserved.

Animatronic Charles Kingsley?

Tourism has been important to Closely since Victorian times but it remains largely uncommercialised and the interpretation of Kinsgley’s house is quaintly well intended. There is a small museum, with an odd animated display of Charles Kingsley working in his study and a loud recital of his famous poem ‘The Three Fishers’ running in the background.  

Despite this it was easy to visualise Kingsley at his desk writing Westward Ho! in 1855 and sending long letters to his influential friends campaigning on behalf of the poor.

I shall leave the last word on the village to Charles Kinsgley:

"Suddenly a hot gleam of sunlight fell upon the white cottages, with their grey steaming roofs and little scraps of garden courtyard, and lighting up the wings of the gorgeous butterflies which fluttered from the woodland down to the garden."

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