Those of us who love the Regency era would probably select Jane Austen’s house in Chawton as our favorite literary site in Great Britain. While it did make the cut in the recent 90 Places You Must See in Britain published by British Heritage, some of the choices are surprising.
The British Heritage booklet is sort of a top 10 compilation. There are the top 10 gardens, top 10 castles, top 10 stately homes, etc. British Heritage claims these must-see sites are selected by their editors. Anglophiles may take issue with some of their picks.
Though I don’t consider myself an expert on literary sites in Great Britain, I was surprised that the top pick under literary sites was D.H. Lawrence’s Birthplace in Eastwood, a Nottingham suburb. Because I have never visited Lawrence’s Birthplace, nor ever heard much about it, I cannot claim the expertise to pass judgment. But. . .
What about Stratford-upon-Avon, for pity’s sake? The city Shakespeare put on the map comes in at paltry sixth on the list.
For many years I’ve made it a point to visit authors’ homes when I travel in England. Of course I made the pilgrimage to the Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District, which fills the number 4 spot on the Literary Sites list. Outside of Stratford-upon-Avon (where I visited the bard’s birthplace as well as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage), the only other author residence on the top 10 list that I had visited was the Dickens House Museum in London’s Bloomsbury, which was the ninth pick.
Two more homes that made list are high on my list of wanna-sees. They are Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford (5) and Rudyard Kipling’s Bateman’s in Sussex (7), both purchased after these two enormously successful authors made their fortunes writing.
The other sites rounding out the British Heritage list were Thomas Hardy’s Cottage in Dorchester, Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse in Laugharne, Wales, and the Writers Museum in Lady Stair’s former Edinburgh home. That museum honors Scotland’s three most noteworthy authors: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Conspicuously absent from the list was the Bronte Parsonage in the West Yorkshire moors – which has always been high on my want-to-see list.
I am chomping at the bit to see one of the latest literary houses to open to the public: Agatha Christie’s Greenway near the South Devon coast. It just opened to the public in 2009. I will see it on my upcoming trip to Great Britain.
Authors’ places I’ve enjoyed include Thomas Carlyle’s home in London’s Chelsea, Ruskins’ Museum in the Lake District as well as Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount, also in the Lake District, and Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, also in the Lake District.
I spent a fascinating couple of hours at Keats’ House in Hampstead. That wasn’t really Keats’ house since he was a boarder there, but the home is now used as a museum to honor the poet. He was engaged to marry the daughter of the house before he was claimed by tuberculosis at age 25.
I have also visited Dr. Johnson’s house in London’s old City and Churchill’s Chartwell in Kent, where he penned his bestselling non-fiction.
Discussing Britain’s literary associations is a whole other topic, which would fill a book. In fact, I possess that book. I highly recommend the The Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles, touted as an A-Z of literary Britain. I got my copy at an Oxford University Press book store in the U.K. Mine is a 1980 paperback containing 413 encyclopedia-style pages, listed by locale rather than the author. In addition, it offers a map appendix.
Here is just one little sampling in the voluminous section on London:
St. George’s Church, Hanover Square is an early 18th-c. church where the following were married: Shelley and Harriet Westbrook in 1814 after a ceremony in Scotland following their elopement, Disraeli to Mrs. Wyndham Lewis in 1839, Marian Evans (George Eliot) to John Cross in 1880, and John Galsworthy to Ada Galsworthy in 1904.
If my home were in flames and I could save just one book from my extensive library, The Oxford Literary Guide would be that one book. – Cheryl Bolen, whose lighthearted romantic mystery Falling for Frederick (Book 1 in the Stately Homes Murders) is now available in print – and is available internationally for the first time