Cottage home of ‘giant of literature’ Robert Graves

Robert Graves

Robert Graves - Credit: Archant

Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society, gives us the who and how each of Torbay's Blue Plaques was chosen. This week: Robert Graves at Vale House, Galmpton

Vale House in Galmpton, once home to Robert Graves

Vale House in Galmpton, once home to Robert Graves - Credit: Archant

Contacted by the new owners of Vale House, Greenway Road, Galmpton in mid 2003, I quickly discovered this listed 17th century farmhouse had been the cottage home of author Robert Graves during the 1940-1946 Second World War.

Robin and Sarah Evans wished to sponsor their idea for a Blue Plaque to be erected at their new home, to both honour and commemorate the author Robert Graves who had lived here with this wife-to-be Beryl Hodge, daughter of solicitor Sir Harry Pritchard.

She had just left her husband Alan Hodge, a fellow poet and friend of Robert Graves.

With the funding of the plaque agreed, Robin as branch manager of one of Plymouth's leading building societies, meant I was assured in recommending to my committee this writer was certainly a worthy figure for our support and indeed the plaque would be a first for Galmpton village.

Already a 'giant of literature' Robert Graves had responded to this comment: 'I write poems for poets, and satires or grotesques for wits. For people in general I write prose, and am content they should be unaware that I do anything else.'

Of course, we now know that his 'anything else' includes historical novels, theatre plays, ordinary novels and fictional work, although his most memorable writing is of 'I Claudius', making him a 'giant' wordsmith indeed!

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Vale House being a listed building, meant I had to approach Torbay Council's conservation officer before proceeding further.

I found he had very firm views about any fixings to the cottage wall, so a plaque was out. Yet with a compromise agreed, we would place the plaque on the garden gatepost, not my ideal choice.

The wall and gatepost is too near the road and vandalism is always an issue.

Today, the officer, like Robin and Sarah, has now moved on and, fortunately, the plaque still survives although, of course, under new ownership.

On the day of the unveiling, 70 locals attended the event and on this rare occasion a Plymouth television and radio crew joined us.

With refreshments provided free and with camera crews wandering from room to room, it made for an interesting event as both the Mayor of Torbay, Councillor Nick Bye, and myself tried to relate a little of Robert's life history to those interested.

Robert and Beryl had produced three children while living at the cottage, and interestingly they had invited her estranged husband Alan Hodge to visit them. It seems Alan was happier as a friend of Beryl than a husband.

Other famous names living nearby, who also regularly visited, were the military historian Basil Liddell Hart and close friend Agatha Christie who ultimately, even dedicated a novel to Robert Graves.

Throughout their years at Galmpton, Robert could hardly wait for the day he could return to 'Deya', his Majorcan home.

With the war nearing its end and in spite of his latest novel 'The White Goddess' just published in April, a truly uninterested Robert was quick to charter a plane so that the Graves family could leave Britain on May 15, 1946.

After two enforced landings to refuel, plus some renegotiation while in the air, they touched down at Palma and then journeying by road to 'Deya', to spend the rest of their lives there.

They did return to Galmpton once in July, 1950, and visited old friends.

Today, their son Tomas, like his father, is also a writer but again like his father, he is passionate about 'Deya'.

Meanwhile, Robert finally died on his beloved island home at age 90, on December 7, 1985.

The society's Blue Plaque was officially erected on the gatepost of Vale House by Torbay Civic Society president Mrs Ena Hocking and Torbay's Mayor on September 19, 2003, 18 years after Robert's death and 57 years after the author left Galmpton.

• Torbay Civic Society's pamphlet 'Robert Graves at Vale House' is obtainable by sending postage stamps and an stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ1 1DE.