On this day in history….8th October 1908

On this day in history : 8th October 1908 – Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s book ‘The Wind in the Willows’ is published – and has never been out of print since….

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Image credit : Paul K via Flickr

Kenneth started work at the Bank of England in 1879 – from a junior position he worked his way up through the ranks, eventually to become Secretary of the Bank….

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Kenneth Grahame in 1910 – Public domain

In 1899 he married Elspeth Thomson and they had one son, Alistair – a sickly child, born premature, blind in one eye and suffering ill-health all his life…. His parents gave him the affectionate nickname of ‘Mouse’….

When the boy was around 4-years-old his father began to tell him bedtime stories, about four animal friends – Toad, Badger, Ratty and Mole…. When Kenneth was away from home, (often on the boating holidays he enjoyed so much), he would write home to Alistair – his letters full of more tales of the four friends…. The child was quite a headstrong and wayward boy – and Kenneth based the character of Toad on him…. Ratty was based on a good friend of his – fellow writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch….

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Image credit : Julie Sweeney via Flickr

In 1908 Kenneth retired early from the Bank due to ill-health…. The family moved to Crookham in Berkshire – the area where Kenneth had spent much of his childhood…. In his retirement he spent much of his time by the banks of the River Thames…. Having decided to develop his tales of Toad, Badger, Ratty and Mole he no doubt drew much of his inspiration from the river….and giving us the children’s book ‘The Wind in the Willows’ that we all grew up with and loved so much….

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Ratty and Mole – Image credit : Amber Case via Flickr

Sadly Alistair, who was an under-graduate at Oxford University at the time, committed suicide on a railway track five days before his 20th birthday….

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Image credit : Paul K via Flickr

On this day in history….8th March 1859

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’….

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Image credit : Paul K via Flickr

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….

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Ratty and Mole – Image credit : Amber Case via Flickr

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’….