Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Frederick Rolfe in Christchurch

In 1891, Frederick Rolfe, using the name Baron Corvo, was living for a short while in Christchurch in Hampshire, a beautiful and well-to-do seaside town built around a medieval priory. While there he befriended a number of the towns residents and visitors and became part of a small literary and artistically inclined gay coterie. One of that coterie was Philip Kains Jackson, a solicitor but also a keen art critic and the editor of an art magazine. Jackson was gay and in a relationship with his younger cousin, Cecil Castle and the pair would spend time together away from London in Christchurch where they met Rolfe and where the 21 year old Castle happily threw off his clothes as a model for Rolfe's photography.

There exists in typescript, (and one holograph), a series of letters from Corvo to KJ in 1891 in which the pair discuss all the cultural moments of the day as well as their shared interest in photography and in young men. The correspondance is a rare example of openly gay nineteenth century writing and I am currently editing it for publication. As a part of this R and I took a trip at the weekend to Christchurch and tracked down Tyneham House, (Toinham House in 1891) where Rolfe lived and from whence all the letters are sent. It is still standing even if a little shabby around the edges and it doesn't take much of an effort of imagination to see that in the 1890s this would have been a very nicely appointed lodging house. I'm sorry on this occasion I wasn't able to find a time when there wasn't a car parked in front of the house.

As well as finding Toinham House the local history museum turned up some nice finds that I hope to use in my publication of the letters.

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