On this day in history : 12th June 1819 – The birth of English clergyman, university lecturer, historian, social reformer, novelist and poet Charles Kingsley – author of the classic ‘The Water Babies’….

Charles Kingsley – photograph by Charles Watkins – Credit : Wellcome Collection CC BY 4.0

Kingsley was born in Holne, Devon, the eldest son of the Reverend Charles Kingsley and Mary Lucas Kingsley…. His younger brother, Henry and sister, Charlotte were also to become writers…. His childhood was spent in Clovelly and then Barnack, Northamptonshire…. He was to develop a keen interest in geology and nature…. He attended grammar school before King’s College, London and then entering Cambridge University in 1838…. Upon graduating in 1842 he decided on a life in the Church and became Rector of Eversley, Hampshire in 1844….

St Mary’s, Eversley – Photo credit : Elisa Rolle, own work CC BY-SA 4.0

Influenced by the work of theologian Frederick Denison Maurice it was in 1848 that Kingsley became the founding member of the Christian Socialist Movement…. It was the Movement’s aim to seek ways of combatting the evils of industrialisation through Christian ethics….

In 1851 Kingsley’s first novel ‘Yeast’ was published – although it had been serialised in Fraser’s Magazine three years before…. It dealt with the social issues between the poor and the gentry…. The previous year his second novel ‘Alton Locke’ had been published – the story of a tailor, who was also a poet and who becomes a leader of the Chartist Movement in the fight against enforced long working hours and poor working conditions….

Kingsley was a great advocate of adult education…. He believed in the growth of the co-operative movement and he fought for improved sanitation and living conditions….

Charles Kingsley – photo by Cundall & Downes – Credit : Wellcome Collection CC BY 4.0

By the mid 1850s he had begun to write popular novels with ‘Hypatia’ being published in 1853 with a setting in early Christian Europe and ‘Westward Ho’ in 1854 and set in the Elizabethan period….

In 1859 Kingsley became Chaplain to Queen Victoria and was made Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University the following year…. In 1861 he became private tutor to the Prince of Wales…. Then in 1870 he was made Canon of Chester Cathedral where he served until 1873 – before being made Canon of Westminster Abbey….

He continued to pursue his other interests; he formed the Chester Society for National Science in 1872 – he had been one of the first to champion Charles Darwin’s ‘On Origin of Species’…. He remained highly critical of Roman Catholicism, which had controversially led to a public spat in print with theologian and poet Cardinal John Henry Newman…. Kingsley was a family man, he and wife Frances Eliza Grenfell had four children….

He continued to write throughout his life…. ‘Hereward the Wake’ was published in 1866 and was set in Anglo Saxon England at the time of the Norman Conquest…. But his most famous book, the children’s fantasy tale about a boy chimney sweep, ‘The Water Babies, A Fairy Tale For A Land Baby’ was published in 1863…. It is a story that combined so many elements of Kingsley’s life…. His interest in nature and his own theory on evolution, to his concerns on welfare reforms and the need for better sanitation….

1885 cover of The Water-Babies – Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library CC BY 2.0

Kingsley died in Eversley on the 23rd of January 1875….

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