Essayist and author, Secretary to the Bank of England (1898-1908) Lived in Cookham Dean (inspiration for The Wind in the Willows) and Pangbourne.
Link with the Chilterns
Lived at various times in his life in Cookham Dean and Pangbourne in Berkshire. His time in Cookham Dean provided the inspiration and material for his best known work, The Wind in the Willows.
8th March 1859
6th July 1932
Kenneth Grahame was born at 32 Castle Street, Edinburgh on 8th March 1859, the third child of Cunningham and Bessie Grahame. At the age of four his mother died and after this loss Grahame’s father descended into alcoholism and became unable to care for his four children.
The family was taken in by Grahame’s maternal grandmother, Granny Ingles, who, though not well-off, lived in a large country house in Cookham Dean, a stone’s throw from the River Thames. This was The Mount, where Grahame was to spend the happiest two years of his childhood, if not of his whole life. The freedom, independence, sibling camaraderie and intimacy with the natural world which he experienced during this first period in Cookham Dean were to exert a profound and formative impression upon Grahame and, ultimately, upon his literary output. Forays in the surrounding fields and woodland and on the nearby Thames would inform and animate Grahame’s writing in later life. Decades later, Constance Smedley (1876 – 1941), a close friend of Grahame’s from nearby Bray, records him as saying of this period, “the queer thing is, I can remember everything I felt then, the part of my brain I used from four till about seven can never have altered. Coming back here wakens every recollection. After that time, I don’t remember anything particularly”.
His time at The Mount, however, lasted less than two years. In 1865, one of the chimneys collapsed in a gale and the family moved to a cottage in the nearby village of Cranbourne. Thrown out of his Eden, Grahame spent the rest of his life trying to get back there. “Somehow the sun does not seem to shine as brightly as it used to,” he wrote later in The Golden Age (1895). “The trackless meadows of old time have shrunk and dwindled away to a few poor acres.”
Not until 1906 did Grahame make the return journey to Cookham Dean, this time as a married man with a five year-old son. By then he had been an employee of the Bank of England for all but thirty years, rising to become Secretary in 1898 at the age of 39, one of the youngest ever to be appointed to this position. In 1899 he had married Elspeth Thompson, who, the following year, bore him a son, Alastair (d. 1920). The family moved into Mayfield on Dean Lane, a large, gabled house with a sizeable garden and paddocks (now a prep school, see Places to Visit below), and it was here that Grahame wrote his most enduring work, The Wind in the Willows. Nearby Quarry Wood provided the inspiration for the book’s Wild Wood, while the River Thames, in particular the stretch from Cookham westwards to Henley, supplied its riparian setting.
In 1910, the Grahames moved to a house called Bohams in Blewbury, near Didcot, where Grahame settled down to a quiet retirement, often enjoying long, solitary walks on the nearby Ridgeway path. In 1924, they moved to Church Cottage in Pangbourne, on theThames, where Grahame lived out the rest of his life. He died at home on 6 July 1932 at the age of 73.
Graham now rests with his wife and son in Holywell Cemetery in Oxford . He bequeathed all the royalties in his works to ‘the University of Oxford for the benefit of the Bodleian Library’, an act of generosity that has enabled the Library to purchase many important books and manuscripts over the years.
An online literary society and discussion forum devoted to Grahame and his works, including an extensive, detailed and well organised bibliography.
What you can visit
Henley River and Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 1BF. Tel. 01491 415600. The museum has a permanent exhibition on The Wind in the Willows. Based on EH Shepard’s original illustrations, numerous settings have been created as a series of models. Equipped with a set of headphones, the visitor can enter the world of The Wind in the Willows and walk through the whole book from Mole’s spring cleaning scene to the recapture of Toad Hall.
Herries Preparatory School, Dean Lane, Cookham Dean, Berkshire SL6 9BD. Formerly Mayfield, where Grahame and his family lived between 1906 and 1910. The façade of the house, changed little since Grahame’s day, can be seen from Dean Lane.
Quarry Wood, Cookham Dean. The wood held to be the inspiration for Wild Wood in The Wind in the Willows. Quarry Wood is well served by footpaths and from its north-eastern extent on Winter Hill there are superb views of the Thames valley below.