Charles Kingsley came to live in Torbay but was banned from giving sermons

Torbay Weekly

The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Charles Kingsley at Livermead House

This blue plaque was sponsored by John Perry, the owner of Livermead House Hotel, Torquay, in 1988.

As research of the Rev Kingsley's life in Torbay was not fully complete at that time, we did not discover that with his family he later moved to reside at Marystowe Hotel - now Coombe Court - on Babbacombe Downs Road.

That discovery came two decades later in 2012 when a second plaque was requested, the story of which I will feature in these pages later.

Charles Kingsley (1819-75) was born on the edge of Dartmoor at Holne Vicarage where his father Charles was curate.

His mother Mary loved living in Devon and often walked its countryside during her pregnancy to communicate her passion for the county to her as yet unborn child, Charles.

Later, this child became a churchman like his father, yet was also to be a social reformer, marine biologist, artist, essayist, poet and novelist.

By the time he came to Livermead House in Torquay he was already famous for his The Water Babies children's book explaining how Victorians and their forbears 'thought and lived'.

It was in 1854 that Rev Kingsley was given six months' leave of absence from his vicarage duties at Eversely, Hampshire, so that his wife, also Mary, could convalesce.

Torquay was chosen mainly because of our mild climate, clean air and the fact that his friend Philip Gosse, a fellow botanist and religious man, lived at St Marychurch.

Yet on arrival in Devon, Kingsley was immediately banned from giving sermons by the tyrannical Bishop Henry Phillpotts, as he supported Chartists and, of course, pressed for social reform.

He even challenged the Orthodox Church in his controversial writing of books like - Alton Locke, Hypatia and Yeast, guaranteeing even more anger from the Bishop.

It was to be 150 years before Torbay achieved international recognition as a Global Geopark when due to its rich geological, historical and cultural heritage.

Yet Kingsley had written Glaucus; or The Wonders of the Shore, paying glowing tribute to Torbay's scientific importance at the introduction to his book in the mid 1850s by saying: "No wonder that such a spot as Torquay with its delicious Italian climate and endless variety of rich woodland, flowery lawn, fantastic rock cavern, and broad bright tide-sand, sheltered from every wind of heaven except the soft South East, should have become a favourite haunt, not only for invalids, but for naturalists. Indeed, it may well claim the honour of being the original home of marine zoology and botany in England.”

Geopark status awarded later emphasised all these early points.

The first plaque to Rev Charles Kingsley at Livermead House was unveiled in the anniversary year of the Spanish Armada.

Years before, Kingsley's writings entitled 'Life and Letters' - edited by his wife after his death - were a fitting tribute to Torbay as during his brief respite from his 'busy, public and controversial life' the writings state: "Torbay is a place which endears itself to the patriot, the naturalist and the artist. We cannot gaze on its blue ring of water and limestone buffs which bound it to the north and south without a glow passing through our hearts as we remember the terrible and glorious pageant which passed by it in the bright days of July 1588 when the Spanish Armada ventured slowly past Berry Head with Elizabeth's gallant pack of Devon's captains following fast in its wake."

With no correspondence surviving at all, we do know this unveiling and its literature written by Denis Walton and edited by Frank Cawson was sponsored and published by Torbay Council.

No details of the actual unveiling have survived although the plaque installation would have involved the hotel owner Mr Perry and Torbay Civic Society chairman Ena Hocking and, we assume, the elected mayor in 1988.

A pamphlet on Charles Kingsley can be obtained by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA