Farringford & Isle of Wight Literary Heroes

Imagine that you are in Tennyson’s former home Farringford, sometime in the late 1800s, and he’s just gone out for a walk on the downs, as he very often used to do. And that’s exactly the experience you will have if you visit Farringford today.

The ground floor reception rooms and the first floor bedrooms have all been lovingly restored and curated to look just as they did when Tennyson was in residence, smoking his pipe and drinking his favourite port wine.

From the eye-popping azure blue wallpaper in the reception room, given to him by pioneer photographer and neighbour Julia Margaret Cameron, to the spacious library still filled with his belongings, the house is a time capsule to the great poet and his family.

With ten rooms and the hallways to explore you can take the headphones and recorded tour guides, hearing interesting information about each area to listen to whilst you walk around the house. You hear not only about the house but about the people who lived there and visited, with personal stories of those times. Plus your tour guides have just about any information on Tennyson and the interior that you might like to know.

Original wallpaper was discovered beneath the layers of more modern wall coverings, and framed pieces can be seen in the house. On the walls of the school room is the nonsense alphabet given to Tennyson’s sons Hallam and Lionel by Edward Lear, who was a frequent visitor. The original plasterwork has all been restored and painted as it would have been in his time and the carpets have all been hand made for the house, based on the original designs, by Linney Cooper, carpet makers to the Queen.

In a closet off of his wife Emily Tennyson’s bedroom is a desk that was owned by her husband and in Tennyson’s bedroom, which is very Victorian deep red, green and brown, there are a hip flask, a smoking cap and a pipe that were also owned by him. You can even hear him reciting ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ in his library on an early recording made by Thomas Edison.

And one of his cloaks and huge black hats are in a recess in his son Hallum’s bedroom, which is the attire he wore whilst walking great strides on the nearby downs, reciting and composing his poetry. In the grounds is the newly restored walled garden where Tennyson used to love to cultivate plants and to teach his sons, and you can walk over the replica of the bridge he used to access the downs.

Many famous people visited Tennyson whilst he was in residence, such as Garibaldi, who planted a tree, and other writers and painters of the day such as Watts, whose paintings hang in the house. Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodson) visited both Tennyson and Julia Margaret Cameron in Freshwater as did his muse for Alice in Wonderland, Alice Liddell, when she was a young woman.

The Isle of Wight was especially popular in Victorian times with Dickens visiting Bonchurch, near Ventnor, when he was writing David Copperfield, and Darwin staying at nearby Shanklin whilst he was writing Origin of the Species.

Some of these are listed in the new Literary Heroes Trail that you can interact with on Visit Isle of Wight’s website www.visitisleofwight.co.uk/inspiration/literary-heroes-trail  For example DH Lawrence wrote his second book The Trespassers after holidaying in Freshwater and JB Priestly lived at Brook House overlooking the west coast of the Island for many years. Click on each town to see the famous literary figures who once lived or visited the area.

Tours of Farringford run from Wednesday to Saturday but do have to be pre booked by phone 01983 752500.

Jo Macaulay

9 October 2017

By Jo Macaulay in Articles