Author uncovers secret story of poet’s life in Sidmouth

An author has uncovered a new chapter in a famous 19th century poet’s life with a series of letters and poems from her time in Sidmouth.

Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s friendship with Reverend George Hunter was uncovered by Christine Hardy, who has written a book and play on the subject.

It is now being published by the Sid Vale Association (SVA), who said the story ‘adds to the knowledge’ of the town.

Mrs Hardy, a well-known local author, was asked to look into Rev Hunter’s relationship with the poet by the United Reform Church, as he was the minister at its precursor, the Marsh Independent Chapel, in the 1830’s.

She said it ‘tweaked her interest’, which set off 18 months of research, including contacting a university in Texas to get hold of letters from her period in Sidmouth.

Elizabeth Barrett-Browning was renowned for her long messages, the product of a sickly childhood and young adult life spent mostly indoors.

She was from a wealthy family who had fallen on hard times, who moved to Sidmouth in 1832 to rent a property in Fortfield Terrace.

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Her father became close to the Reverend, and in turn so did the young poet, and Christine said from her research it is clear he had an influence on her, and their friendship continued long after the Barrett-Browning family left Sidmouth.

She has written a play, entitled ‘Elizabeth and Mr Hunter’, based on her research, which includes real extracts from the letters and poems sent between the two.

But Mrs Hardy felt Elizabeth’s story in its entirety should be seen by a wider audience, and that was when the SVA became involved to take on the role fo publisher.

The ensuing book, ‘Elizabeth Barrett-Browning: Sidmouth Letters and Poems 1832-5’, is launched today at the Sidmouth Museum.

The play will be performed at the URC, Chapel Street, from July 4 to 7. For tickets contact Paragon Books on 01395 514516.

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