On this day in history : 8th March 1859 – The birth of Kenneth Grahame, the Scottish author who brought us tales of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger in ‘The Wind in the Willows’….
Kenneth was born in Edinburgh; his mother died when he was just 5-years-old. His father, an alcoholic, gave up the care of his children to their grandmother…. Kenneth, his brother, sister and a new baby went to live with ‘Granny Ingles’ near to Cookham, Berkshire….
It was a large tumble-down house – in a certain state of neglect – but it had a big rambling garden and was near to a river…. The children’s uncle, David Ingles – curate of the village church – introduced them to the delights of the riverbank and boating…. It was an idyllic place for a childhood and believed to be the setting for ‘The Wind in the Willows’…. Eventually though the family had to move, as the chimney stack of the dilapidated old house collapsed….
Kenneth had wanted to go to Oxford University – but because of finances this was not possible…. Instead he started work in 1879 at the Bank of England…. He worked his way up and by the time he retired (due to ill-health) in 1908 he had risen to the position of Secretary of the Bank of England….
In 1899 Kenneth married Elspeth Thomson – and the following year they had a son…. Alastair was born premature, he was blind in one eye and suffered from health problems throughout his life….
On retirement Kenneth took his family back to live where he had spent his childhood – Berkshire…. At his son’s bedtime he would tell the boy stories and it was then that the characters of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ were created…. Toad was based on Alastair himself – whilst Ratty was influenced by Kenneth’s good friend and fellow writer, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch…. Kenneth frequently went on boating holidays – without his family – but when he was away he would write home to Alastair with more tales of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger…. Later he was to use theses stories as a basis for his book, which was first published in 1908….
Tragically, on the 7th of May 1920 Alastair committed suicide on a railway line…. It was five days before his 20th birthday – he was an undergraduate at Oxford University…. Out of a mark of respect to his parents the death was recorded as accidental….
Kenneth himself died in 1932 in Pangbourne, Berkshire. English novelist and playwright Anthony Hope – who happened to be Kenneth’s cousin – wrote his epitaph….
‘To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the river on the 6th of July, 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time’….
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The Graham family gave the royalties from the Wind in the Willows with all the literature to the Bodleian Library in Oxford and he is buried in Hollywell Cemetery in Oxford with Alistair. His name is on The Benefactors Board dated 1933 just before you walk into The Arts End of the Library,
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