Kenneth GRAHAME (1859–1932)
Boham’s House, Westbrook Street, Blewbury
Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh but when his mother died, he and his siblings were placed in the care of their grandmother Ingle at The Mount, Cookham Dean. Here he enjoyed an idyllic childhood exploring the banks of the Thames. Sent to school at St Edward’s in Oxford, he excelled academically and became Head Boy. He was enchanted by the ancient streets of Oxford and the sequestered reaches of the Thames around the city but his hopes of going up as an undergraduate were dashed by his uncle who held the purse strings. He embarked on a career in the Bank of England, eventually rising to the top as Secretary.
Under the influence of Dr F. J. Furnivall and his literary circle, he began to write occasional pieces. In 1893 he published a collection of essays entitled Pagan Papers followed by The Golden Age (1895) and Dream Days (1898), books about childhood which first made his name.
In 1899 he married Elspeth Thomson and their only child Alistair, known as ‘Mouse’, was born in 1900. Kenneth was soon telling bedtime stories featuring Mole, Badger, Rat and Toad and he sent Alistair further stories in letters. These ‘Letters to Mouse’ formed the basis of The Wind in the Willows (1908), originally titled The Wind in the Reeds. In the same year he retired from the Bank, exhausted by ill health, commuting and shaken by an incident in which he narrowly escaped the bullets of a madman who appeared in his office. In 1910 the family took up residence at another rural retreat, Boham’s Farmhouse, in the lovely village of Blewbury.
Alistair went up to Christ Church in 1918, fulfilling his father’s dream, but he did not cope well with the demands of academe and adult life. In 1920 he was struck by a train on the line near Oxford. The coroner’s verdict was one of accidental death. The Grahames in their grief immediately leased out Boham’s and went to Italy for two years. On their return to England, they lived at Church Cottage, Pangbourne. Kenneth Grahame died there in 1932 and was later buried with his son in Holywell cemetery, Oxford.
The Wind in the Willows remains a classic of children’s fiction with a loyal following among grown-ups. In 1930 the well known edition with illustrations by E. H. Shepherd was published and A. A. Milne further popularised the stories with his stage version Toad of Toad Hall. Kenneth Grahame left his royalties to the Bodleian Library where the Kenneth Grahame Fund has been a major purchasing asset over the years. The ‘Letters to Mouse’ are also held there as a much valued part of the collection.
- Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Peter Hunt.
- Photograph of unveiling ceremony
- Oxford Mail, 1 June 2012: ‘Village was home to The Wind in the Willows writer’
The plaque was unveiled at Boham’s House, Blewbury, on Friday 25 May 2012 by Peter Hunt, biographer of Kenneth Grahame and Professor Emeritus of Children’s Literature at Cardiff University, together with some children from Blewbury Endowed CE Primary School.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
Bodleian Library University of Oxford