by Ben Johnson
Nearly every county of England can claim a ‘literary giant’ who has lived within their boundaries.
Elstow in Bedfordshire is the birthplace of JOHN BUNYAN. There is a Bunyan Museum adjoining the Meeting House in Bedford. Bunyan wrote ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress’ in Bedford Prison where he spent many years!
Chalfont St. Giles is where JOHN MILTON wrote ‘Paradise Lost’ and his cottage is now a museum, open to the public.
Cheshire has two literary figures. LEWIS CARROLL (Rev. Charles Dodgson) was born at the Vicarage at Daresbury. He was the author of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’. In Daresbury Church there is a memorial window depicting the Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit and other characters.
Mrs Gaskell, the author of ‘Cranford’, lived at Kingsford, Cheshire and is buried there.
Cornwall and DAPHNE DU MAURIER go together! She wrote ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘Rebecca’ at Menabilly, near Fowey.
Cumbria and The Lake District
The Lake District was home to several who were inspired by the beautiful scenery. Keswick in Cumbria had CHARLES LAMB, COLERIDGE, SOUTHEY and SHELLEY who all lived there for a time.
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH and his sister DOROTHY were born at Cockermouth in Cumbria and their childhood home is open to the public . The entire Lake District is known as Wordsworth’s County as William is the best known ‘Lakeland Poet’.
Also in Cumbria, at Near Sawrey, east of Esthwaite Water, is Hill Top, the home of BEATRIX POTTER, author of the Peter Rabbit books. Her house is also open to the public.
Dorset is known as THOMAS HARDY country. He was born in Dorchester and his novels give an insight into the provincial life of the times. ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ is his best known book.
SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL had his home at Chartwell in Kent and wrote several of his books there, ‘The Second World War’ and ‘The History of the English Speaking Peoples’.
JANE AUSTEN lived in Chawton, Hampshire. Her novels ‘Emma’, ‘Mansfield Park’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’ were written there and she spent most of her life in Chawton. Another Hampshire resident was CHARLES KINGSLEY who is buried at Eversley. He was the rector there from 1847 – 1875. Kingsley wrote ‘The Water Babies’ and while living in Bideford, Devon wrote part of ‘Westward Ho!’
Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth, Hampshire is the birthplace of CHARLES DICKENS (1812-1870). Dickens lived here for just 5 months before moving away from the Portsmouth area altogether as a small child. He did however return to Portsmouth to research Nicholas Nickleby.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, playwright, lived at Ayot St. Lawrence in Hertfordshire for 44 years until his death in 1950. His house is open to the public.
Somersby was the birthplace of ALFRED LORD TENNYSON, but Freshwater on the Isle of Wight was his home for 30 years. Tennyson became Poet Laureate in 1850 and his poetry ranks highest in English verse.
Thetford in Norfolk was the home of THOMAS PAINE who wrote ‘The Rights of Man’ and SIR RIDER HAGGARD, who was born in West Bradenham Hall, wrote his popular book, ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ there. ANNA SEWELL, the author of ‘Black Beauty’ also lived in Norfolk at Great Yarmouth.
D. H. LAWRENCE was born at Eastwood, Nottinghamshire and the landscapes in some of his novels were based on this part of the county. He wrote ‘Sons and Lovers’, ‘Women in Love’ and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’.
At Hucknall in Nottinghamshire can be found the grave of LORD BYRON. His family were refused permission to bury him in Westminster Abbey so he is interred with his ancestors.
Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire is of course WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE‘s town and his house, as well as those of his mother and his wife, are open to the public. The famous Shakespeare Theatre can be found in the town. Warwickshire can also claim MARY ANN EVANS, who used the name GEORGE ELIOT for her novels. She was born at South Farm in Arbury Hall in 1819. Her most popular works were ‘The Mill on the Floss’ and ‘Adam Bede’.
Yorkshire has the BRONTE sisters, EMILY, ANNE and CHARLOTTE who lived at Haworth Parsonage. The Bronte Museum is in the Parsonage and open to the public. Charlotte’s best known book is ‘Jane Eyre’, Emily wrote ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Anne was the author of ‘Agnes Grey’.
JAMES HERRIOTT, although born in Scotland, lived all his working life as a vet in Yorkshire where he wrote his popular books.