In 2021 we marked the 150th anniversary of Edward Lear's anthology, Nonsense songs, stories, botany and alphabets, containing the 1st publication of the nation's favourite children’s poem (poll of 2014), The Owl and the Pussy-Cat. Explore the events and activities of our 2021 festival.


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Edward Lear is world-famous for his nonsense poems, his limericks, his paintings and, during his lifetime, he was one of Britain's best-known travel writers. Less well known is his long and fruitful association with Hastings and St Leonards on Sea.

He came here again and again between 1833 and 1864 seeking inspiration from nature and from the other artists who came here to paint. It was a place where he could escape his demanding social life in London and find the peace he needed to work. Just a few years after James Burton founded St Leonards as a seaside resort for the aristocracy in 1827, Lear first stood on the beach there and did a sketch of the magnificent Marina.

In 1852 he lived at a farm near Fairlight for three months with the Pre-Raphaelite artist Holman Hunt who taught him to paint in oils up on the cliffs. The following year, when he sold his first major oil painting for £250, he was staying with Hasting's MP Frederick North on Old London Road, and was so happy that he said he wanted to "hop on one leg all the way to Hastings."

In 1859 he came down to stay several times, working during the day and, at dusk, he would "puddle along the shingly beach". Two years later he was back, working on proofs for a new Book of Nonsense. He described a day by the beach in St Leonards in September that year as: "One of the purestly lovely days it is possible to see on earth." In 1867 he wrote The Owl and the Pussycat to cheer-up Frederick North's granddaughter, Janet, who was ill at the time. Since the poem was first published in the 1871 edition of Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets it has become his best-loved work, and was voted Britain's favourite children's poem.
Sean Duggan.

Sources and further reading:

Mr Lear, A Life of Art and Nonsense - Jenny Uglow
That Singular Person Called Lear - Susan Chitty
Edward Lear and His World - John Lehmann
Edward Lear 1812-1888 - Vivien Noakes
Utter Nonsense in Hastings - Michael and Elaine Short
Edward Lear's Indian Journal - Ray Murphy
Edward Lear Selected Letters - Vivien Noakes
Later Letters of Edward Lear - Lady Strachy


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