Lyme’s Literary and Artistic Connections

Beatrix Potter The author John Fowles Literary Lyme
The more well-known writers with Lyme connections, many of whom are represented in the museum, include:

  • Henry Fielding letterHenry Fielding (1707 – 1754): The famous novelist and playwright got himself into a scrape in Lyme Regis in 1725. He tried to run away with Sarah Andrew, the ward of a merchant, Andrew Tucker. His attempt was repulsed: the next day Fielding publicly posted this notice and left town in a hurry. The notice says, ‘This is to give notice to all the World that Andrew Tucker and his son John Tucker are Clowns and Cowards. Witness my hand Henry Feilding’ (He later settled for spelling his name Fielding). For more see this related blog post.
  • Jane Austen (1775 – 1817): One of the most widely read authors in the whole of English literature. She came to Lyme Regis on holiday in 1804, and her last novel Persuasion is partly set in the town. See our Jane Austen page.
  • Francis PalgraveFrancis Palgrave (1812 – 1897): The poet and editor of the Golden Treasury anthology (a Victorian bestseller) had a second home at Little Park in Lyme Regis. It was Palgrave who introduced his more famous friend Lord Tennyson to the town. Among Palgrave’s own works is a short volume of poetry called A Lyme Garland: Being verses, mainly written at Lyme Regis, or upon the scenery of the neighbourhood, which was printed in a limited edition in 1874. Some more information can be read in this blog post.
  • Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900): One of the most celebrated playwrights of the nineteenth century came to Lyme for a holiday in 1891, when he stayed at the Old Monmouth Hotel (then called the White Hart). According to a sign inside the hotel, Wilde scratched his name on a window! For moreon Oscar Wilde in Lyme Regis see this blog post.
  • Sketch of Broad Street in Lyme Regis by Beatrix PotterBeatrix Potter (1866 – 1943): The children’s author and illustrator came to Lyme Regis on holiday in 1904, two years after her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was published. While staying here she worked on another book, The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, which was eventually published in 1930. On her visit to Lyme, Beatrix Potter produced a number of sketches of the town, including a view of Broad Street that on display in the Museum (reproduced to the right – click to enlarge). There is also more information in this blog post.
  • G K Chesterton in the Three Cups Hotel in Lyme RegisG. K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936): Although he was a prolific poet, novelist and critic, Chesterton is probably best known for his Father Brown detective stories. In the summer of 1926, while Chesterton and his wife were on a motoring holiday in the West Country, they decided to stay in Lyme Regis for a couple of days… and ended up staying for two weeks. They came back again the following summer, and again the summer after that. One of the attractions of the town for Chesterton was a local family named Nicholl, who had six young children who were greatly appreciative of his sense of humour. He invented numerous games and jokes for them… including several at the expense of the elderly Museum curator, Vitruvius Harold Wyatt Wingrave. This photograph from the museum collection shows Chesterton sitting in the porch of the Three Cups hotel in Lyme Regis. Also see this related blog post.
  • PG Wodehouse (1881 – 1975): The famous comic novelist visited Lyme as a young man, when he stayed with friends at their country retreat of Fairfield House. His early novel Love Among the Chickens, which may have been partly written during his stay here, was originally set in Lyme Regis… although in later editions Wodehouse changed the name of the town to Combe Regis (see this blog post).
  • Ivy Compton BurnettIvy Compton-Burnett (1884 – 1969): The London-based novelist and her friend Margaret Jourdain, an expert on antique furniture, came to Lyme during the Second World War to get away from the constant bombing in London. While here, Ivy wrote the novel Elders and Betters and started on Manservant and Maidservant, which was finished in 1947 after she returned to London. Also see this related blog post.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973): author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. He visited Lyme Regis regularly between 1905 and 1910 for summer holidays with his younger brother Hilary and their guardian Francis Morgan. They stayed at the Three Cups Hotel in Broad Street. Later on, Tolkien returned to the town with his wife and children on many occasions. See our research paper on J.R.R. Tolkien and the influence of Lyme Regis.
  • Letter by Sir John BetjemanSir John Betjeman (1906 – 1984): The former Poet Laureate, who was also well-known as a defender of Britain’s Victorian heritage, visited Lyme on several occasions – including once when he was doing research for his Guide to English Parish Churches. In this he described the town as “An attractive little seaside resort on the borders of Devon with many late 18th and early 19th century houses and a few earlier survivals”. His concern for the town’s heritage is seen in a rather amusing letter he wrote to the council in 1954 (reproduced to the right – click to enlarge), which is now part of the museum’s collection. Also see this related blog post.
  • John Fowles (1926 – 2005): A long-time resident of Lyme Regis, who for many years was the curator of this museum. His most famous novel is The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which is set in the town. See our John Fowles page.
  • Colin Dexter (born 1930): The author of the Inspector Morse novels once described Lyme Regis as his “favourite place on Earth”. The 1992 Morse adventure The Way through the Woods is partly set in Lyme – it begins with Inspector Morse taking a rather reluctant holiday at the Bay Hotel on Marine Parade (see this blog post).
  • Tracy Chevalier (born 1962): The author of the bestselling Girl with a Pearl Earring is a patron of the Friends of Lyme Regis Museum. Her novel Remarkable Creatures, about fossil-hunter Mary Anning, is set in the town. See our Tracy Chevalier page.

Well-known artists with Lyme connections include:

  • Painting of Lyme Regis by TurnerJ. M. W. Turner (1775 – 1851): Considered by many to be Britain’s greatest painter, Turner produced at least two watercolours of the town – one of them is now in the Glasgow Art Gallery and the other in the Cincinnati Art Museum (illustrated to the right – click to enlarge). The Tate Gallery in London also has two engravings based on the Cincinnati painting, and there is a small oil painting entitled “Shrimpers at Lyme Regis” on display in the drawing room of Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire which is labelled “J. M. Turner 1832” on the reverse (see this blog post).
  • John Gould (1804 – 1881). Born in Lyme Regis, John Gould was one of the leading ornithologists of his day. However he is best remembered for the thousands of hand-coloured lithographs of birds he produced, covering almost the whole world.
  • Whistler and Lyme RegisJames McNeil Whistler (1834 – 1903): The flamboyant American-born artist visited Lyme Regis in 1895 at the age of 61, and spent the autumn at the Royal Lion Hotel. While in the town he produced a number of lithographs and two famous paintings: The Little Rose of Lyme Regis (to the right) and The Master Smith of Lyme Regis, both of which are now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A copy of one of Whistler’s lithographs (far right) is on display in the museum Also see this related blog post.
  • Autumn in Lyme Regis by Zdzisław RuszkowskiZdzisław Ruszkowski (1907 – 1991): The Polish-born artist escaped from occupied France to Britain in 1940, and settled in London after the war. In 1952 his wife was given a small cottage and garage in Pennyplot in Lyme Regis, and Ruszkowski proceeded to convert the garage into a studio. He spent almost every summer from then until his death painting in Lyme, and several of his works depict the town, including the following picture of Autumn in Lyme Regis dating from 1977 (click image to enlarge).
  • Sir Laurence Whistler (1912 – 2000): The accomplished glass engraver (no relation of his more famous namesake) lived in Lyme Regis and was instrumental in reviving the fortunes of the museum in the 1960s. A short YouTube presentation about Whistler’s engravings at Moreton church is embedded below: