From Kingsley to Wodehouse!

Discover Charles Kingsley and more…On Our Shelves!

Over the years we have discovered several varied and fascinating connections in the North Devon area. A series of these starts with the man who was born 200 years ago today. On the shelves dedicated to local authors you will discover Mr Kingsley sitting right next to a certain Mr Kipling. You may be wondering what connects these two along with two other well known authors, Saki (AKA Hector Hugh Munro) and PG Wodehouse, so here goes…

Charles Kingsley was born in Holne, Devon in 1819, where his father was a clergyman. In 1826 his father became the Curate of Clovelly, becoming the Rector in 1832.  He spent much of his childhood here along with his brother, Henry, and sister, Charlotte. He went to school in Bristol and Helston, before going to King’s College London and Cambridge, from where he graduated in 1842.

He followed his father’s footsteps into the ministry, becoming the rector of Eversley in Hampshire before being appointed as chaplain to Queen Victoria and Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. He was also the Prince of Wale’s private tutor for a time. After resigning from Cambridge in 1869 he went on to become the canon of Chester Cathedral before being appointed the canon of Westminster Abbey in 1873.

Frontispiece – Ferny Coombes

However, he is perhaps most well-known as a writer. His first novel, Yeast, was published in 1848 and several more followed including Westward Ho! published in 1855. While Westward Ho! itself was set in Bideford local businessmen realised it’s potential to increase tourism to the area around Northam and so a Hotel, named after the book, was built. This led to further development around the hotel and eventually became a settlement in its own right known as Westward Ho!

In 1874 the United Services College was founded in the village which aimed to prepare boys between the ages of 13 and 18 for a life in the military. It was here Rudyard Kipling went to school and was the subject of his book Stalky & Co. published in 1899. Kipling went on to influence another local author, Hector Hugh Munro, better known by his alter ego Saki. Munro lived in Broadgate Villa in Pilton with his aunts. He wrote about his life with his aunts in his book the Squared Egg. He also collaborated with yet another local man, the famous caricaturist, Francis Carruthers Gould, on the Westminster Alice.

H H Munro in turn influenced another well-known author with a local connection who also wrote about his family, PG Wodehouse. Wodehouse would often be sent to visit various aunts and uncles during the school holidays. One of these uncles was the vicar of Bratton Fleming and it is quite possible he spent time there. PG was not the only writer in the family, our collections hold items by three of his Bratton Fleming cousins including a manuscript history of Bratton Fleming by another PG, Philip George.

Just as PG Wodehouse wasn’t the only writer in his family, Kingsley wasn’t the only author in his. We have his niece Mary’s book Travels in West Africa [966/KIN], several volumes of his daughter’s work writing under the pseudonym of Lucas Malet and last, but not least we have several copies of Ferny Coombes [D587/CHA] written by his sister Charlotte.

Charlotte Kingsley married local clergyman John Mills Chanter who was the vicar of Ilfracombe and her book helped kick start the fern collecting craze of the 19th century. Her husband also happened to be a cousin of John Roberts Chanter the man who helped William Frederick Rock set up both the Barnstaple Literary and Scientific Institute and the North Devon Athenaeum the later of which was given at least one collection containing, you guessed it, ferns!

Statue of Charles Kingsley in Bideford

Amongst our collections are also items relating to the rich geology of the Westward Ho! area along with many guides and brochures harking back to its origins as a tourist destination and its connection to the man who started this whole thread…Charles Kingsley.

…Barum Athena

3 Replies to “From Kingsley to Wodehouse!”

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