Kingsley Museum

The great Victorian writer who loved Clovelly

Kingsley Museum is a short walk down the cobbled street.  Watch out for the signboard of the New Inn, one of Clovelly’s two hotels.

The writer and social reformer Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), author of ‘The Water Babes’ and ‘Westward Ho!’ came to the village in 1831 at the age of 11. His father was curate and then rector until 1836, and Charles and his two brothers enjoyed an idyllic boyhood in and around the village. Clovelly and North Devon were a powerful and lifelong influence on Kingsley, and he returned here time and again for literary inspiration.

Until the middle of the 19th century this region of the West Country was still remote and unknown to the outside world.  It was partly as a result of ‘Westward Ho!, set in and around the village, that visitors began to come for holidays in North Devon and to see the places Kingsley described so powerfully. This is how he pictured Clovelly as it was over 150 years ago:

“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.”

A moving recital by actor Joss Ackland

Enter the Kingsley museum and you’ll see Charles sitting at his desk in his study composing a letter to his bride-to-be. Listen to the celebrated actor and Clovelly resident Joss Ackland recite one of Kingsley’s most famous and moving poems.  The story of three fishermen’s wives waiting in vain for their husbands to return during a terrible storm in Bideford Bay (the full text is given below). It is a stark reminder of the harsh realities faced by fishing communities. There are also two rooms with informative displays about Clovelly’s history and Charles Kingsley’s links with Devon, and a shop where you can buy a souvenir of your visit.

If you detour down the side of the Kingsley Museum to visit Fisherman’s Cottage, you will see how basic life was, even in the 20th century.