Why Rudyard Kipling lived in Torquay but loathed it

Torbay Weekly

The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Rudyard Kipling and Rock House:

A plaque to honour the stay of Rudyard Kipling at Rock House on Rock Lane, Maidencombe, Torquay, in 1896 was requested in 2003 by then owner of the large Victorian home turned out to be a major learning curve for me, when I had only just re-established the new plaque scheme in 2001, after being selected as the new Torbay Civic Society chairman.

By 2003 I had seen ten historic plaques unveiled in a second scheme - the first having ceased in 1999 - following the placement of the plaque to John Salter on Beacon Terrace, Torquay, which had been arranged and fronted by the former chairman Mrs Ena Hocking before retiring as civic society chairman in 2001.

Knowing Rock House was a listed building saw my first action being to visit the property and meet its owner, when both the sponsorship and an advertiser were agreed and the wording for the plaque.

Now only permission from the planning department of Torbay Council was required before we could formally install a plaque on a listed building.

The sponsor came courtesy of the owners of the Orestone Manor House, neighbour of Rock House, who were well aware of our plaque schemes having already placed an earlier plaque on their restaurant/hotel to honour John C Horsley - brother-in-law of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

I would now visit Rock House only one more time during the learning curve.

That second and final visit came when delivering the literature and plaque fresh from the foundry in Buxton which were happily received - but retained.

This was my error, my learning curve, as leaving a plaque on site without a date fixed for an unveiling or event was a disaster in the making.

After all the only point of an event is an unveiling. Now no further call contact was made and no formal unveiling ever held.

No event, no unveiling, no history of the Kipling era and having never invited to the property again, 17 years later with more than 50 blue plaques under my belt, I have adopted a tried and tested format - approval then fix the event, fix formal guests and proceedings and never leave a plaque on site.

I am, however, aware the Kipling plaque has been informally fixed to the wall of the house and that it can viewed through the main gate of the boundary wall.

As I said at the start, the Rock House debacle was an important lesson.

The original pamphlet I produced is still available and this confirms that Rudyard Kipling was born in India in 1865 and, with his younger sister, came to England at age six to live with 'proxy parents', a retired naval captain and his wife at Southsea.

Later, in his book 'House of Desolation' he exposes all, before explaining he was schooled in Westwood Ho! in north Devon, then returned to India and even lived in America.

Finally, in the autumn of 1896, he came to Torquay and from the start he loathed our town.

Having leased Rock House for the winter months of 1896, that year was wet, which was a little unfortunate for the English Riviera.

Yet Rudyard penned his 'Stalky stories' here while writing many personal letters.

One went to a friend - "Bloody British is the only word for it. Torquay is such a place as I do desire acutely to upset by dancing through with nothing on but my spectacles."

Having discovered the new craze for bicycling, Rudyard found riding a tandem cycle tested his patience, especially when he fell naming it immediately 'Hell Spider' - admitting later: "It made for continuous domestic quarrel."

It seems Torquay would be the third town in Devon Rudyard Kipling would never come back to, while Rock House was sold many times.

The Rudyard Kipling pamphlet can be obtained by sending two second class stamps and a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.