As part of the exploration of Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs Stories Botany & Alphabets, you can buy an anniversary copy of the book published by A Town Explores a Book. In his introduction to this edition, Sean Duggan, researcher for the group, writes about the connection Edward Lear has with St Leonards. 

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.

He came here again and again between 1833 and 1863 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, 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, composing nonsense rhymes during the day and, at dusk, he used to “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. 

You can obtain copies from independent shops around the town from 16th April. 

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