Lynmouth

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Shelley Sites/Sights

Lynmouth

After viewing sunken non-sites in Wales, we followed Shelley and Harriet to the seaside town of Lynmouth, in Devon. Here we found not too few, but too many Shelley buildings—the local citizenry has been engaged in a decades-long squabble over which of three sites he and Harriet had inhabited. (The stakes are fairly high here. Since Lynmouth is primarily a tourist town, the hotel that can boast that it is the actual Shelley "honeymoon cottage" is guaranteed a lively trade in romantic and/or Romantic tourists.)

Most picturesque of the three was a thatched cottage owned by the "Rising Sun" pub. It was exactly the sort of place one wished for young Harriet’s honeymoon—and certainly fit her description of the place in a letter to her friend Mrs. Nugent: "beautifully situated, commanding a fine view of the sea, with mountains at the side and behind us . . . . We have roses and myrtles creeping up the sides of the house, which is thatched at the top. It is such a little place that it seems more like a fairy scene than anything in reality" (cited in Holmes 146).

 

Unfortunately, the site of the place is roughly half a mile from that in Holmes's description; the original cottage, he notes, was "Hooper’s Lodging" and "stood a little way back from the beach on rising ground where the trackway met the two branches of the Lyn River, crossed, and ran down parallel to the sea" (Holmes 146). The building that most closely matches this location—indeed, which seems dead on top of it—is the current "Shelley’s Cottage Hotel," which boasts a Hooper among its previous owners, and the reported memory of long-dead residents: in a 1901 newspaper article, 100-year-old Agnes Grove of Lynmouth stated that she remembered Shelley staying at what was then the Woodbine Villas; more recently, a local resident claimed that in the 1940s, he saw a visitor’s book signed by Shelley.

The building may well have been thatched at one time, and, while its eleven bedrooms make it seem far too large to be Harriet’s "such a little place," she had indeed noted that it was "not half built" (cited in Holmes 145) when the Shelleys lived there. In April 1998 a Richard Briden of Essex, who hoped to restore and extend the building, purchased the place. As of June 1999, however, work had not yet begun.

The Lynmouth historical society also mentioned that the original place might have been situated at a third site that burned down around the turn of the century.

The historical records which would solve the mystery are few, partly due to the horrific flooding that destroyed a huge portion of Lynmouth (and seriously damaged the Shelley’s Cottage Hotel) in August 1952. Good sources of information are Lynmouth historian Tom Prosser (Sheppards, Castle Hill, Lynton EX356JA, phone: 01598 7535230) and Erica Gooch of the North Devon Journal.

Published @ RC

January 2006

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