Charles Kingsley holds a pivotal place in the history of our church. It was he who 'put Eversley on the map': by inviting notable people of his day to the Church and to the Rectory, by preaching sermons in which he pulled no punches on social and religious issues, by writing numerous books and pamphlets, and by his deep interest in natural history. He was by nature an inquisitive man and a ‘searcher for the truth’, not just in religious matters but all the many subjects in which he was interested. He made his mark is so many fields he can justifiably called “a man of many parts”.
The following synopsis of Charles Kingsley's multi-talented life was prepared by Canon Graham Fuller (Rector of Eversley, 1990 to 1996) and Mrs. Rachel Fuller. It is reproduced with their permission.
Charles Kingsley had spent 15 months as curate of Eversley during 1842-3. He returned in May 1844 at the age of 25 to become Rector, following his marriage to Frances Grenfell (Fanny) in January of that year. Here he was to remain until his death in 1875. Charles and Fanny were eager to make a home and to devote themselves to the needs of the parish. In his practical concern for the well-being of his parishioners and his readiness to share their experiences Kingsley soon won the hearts of Eversley folk.
The Old Rectory
Many visitors came to the Rectory, (now a private house); the needy seeking help, others attracted by his enthusiasm for the natural world, for scientific enquiry and for art and literature. Kingsley took pupils to supplement his income. Among these, John Martineau remained a life-long friend and was buried at Kingsley's feet.
The profound mutual affection between Charles and Fanny is expressed in the Latin inscription on his tombstone. Their children - Rose, Maurice, Mary and Grenville - grew up under the sympathetic care of both parents in a home where curiosity was encouraged and where learning became a voyage of discovery.
Kingsley was deeply influenced by the theologian Frederick Denison Maurice whose book 'The Kingdom of Christ', published in 1838, offered a new vision of the place of the Church in society. Together with Maurice, Thomas Hughes, John Malcolm Ludlow and Charles Mansfield, he became a leading member of the Christian Socialist Movement which led to the formation of Working Men's Colleges and Trade Unions. Under the pseudonym of 'Parson Lot' he contributed to Politics for the People and The Christian Socialist, two periodicals which the Movement published.
Believing passionately in the need to improve the lives of ordinary people, Kingsley encouraged the co-operative principle and promoted educational and sanitary reform. In particular, he helped to make known the horrors of an insanitary area in Bermondsey - Jacob's Island. The provision of pure drinking water and the proper management of sewage became an important goal for Kingsley and his fellow campaigners.
The church in which Kingsley conducted services was a mainly 18th-century building, its interior dominated by a lofty three-decker pulpit. Such pulpits served to emphasise the central place of the sermon in 18th and 19th century worship.
By 1853 Kingsley's preaching "was becoming a great power". He had a strong aversion to the impersonal and formal style of preaching adopted by so many clergymen of the day. Instead he would address the congregation with directness and intensity, making a deep impression on parishioners, army officers and university students alike.
In 1859, following an invitation to preach before Queen Victoria, he was appointed one of her Chaplains, an honour he valued greatly. In 1873 his power as a preacher was recognised in his appointment as a Canon of Westminster.
The Kingsley Statue at Bideford
In 1860, to everyone's surprise - including his own - Kingsley was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. His inaugural lecture "The Limits of Exact Science as applied to History" was followed by a series concerned with the rise and fall of the Goths, subsequently published as 'The Roman and the Teuton' . Undergraduates flocked to hear Kingsley lecture, but he was not held in high esteem by his fellow academics.
The statue of Kingsley at Bideford in Devon (right) depicts him in academic robes. His gifts as a teacher in making learning accessible were recognised in his appointment as Tutor to the Prince of Wales. His concern for education is also remembered in Eversley, where the village school which he founded in 1853 is named after him (Charles Kingsley's School )
Kingsley's intense love of landscape and his restless energy both found expression in sporting pursuits. He revelled especially in fishing and hunting and his writings abound in descriptions of these sports. For him they were more than pastimes; the skills of angler and horseman, and the urge to range the countryside on foot were an essential part of his God-given make-up.
Unlike many Victorian clergymen, he did not discourage his parishioners from playing cricket on Sunday afternoons, believing that in wholesome exercise the joy of creation could be discovered.
Throughout his life, Kingsley suffered bouts of acute depression. These were relieved by going on extended visits to Devon, North Wales and Ireland where he was able to give free rein to his sporting impulses.
In 1852 the Kingsley family spent some time at Torquay to recover from the ill-effects of living in the damp Rectory at Eversley. Charles threw himself into prospecting on the foreshore, the cliffs, and in caves for specimens of marine life. He saw the natural world as the handiwork of God, and was to welcome Darwin's theory of evolution with an enthusiasm which was rare among clergymen of the time.
The fruit of the Devon sea-coast explorations was a series of articles in the North British Review, subsequently published as 'Glaucus: or Wonders of the Sea Shore' which he illustrated himself.
Later, in 1872, when he was a Canon of Chester, Kingsley gave a number of lectures. In these, later published as 'Town Geology', he argues that all creation is divine, and science, a God-given activity.
The Water Babies
As a novelist and poet Charles Kingsley attracted a wide following in his lifetime. His first novel Yeast was published anonymously in 1848. Sir John Cope (Kingsley's patron and owner of Bramshill) appears here as Squire Lavington - an oppressive landowner. Alton Locke (1850), the story of a poor tailor, featured the impoverished conditions of working men. The aim of Hypatia (1852), set in 5th century Alexandria was to "set forth Christianity as the only real Democratic Creed." Westward Ho! (1858), Kingsley's response to the Crimean war, was intended to re-kindle England's fighting spirit. The Heroes (1856) was a re-telling of the Greek myths for his three eldest children. For his youngest child, Grenville, he wrote The Water Babies in 1862. It is for this strange but enduring work that Kingsley is best remembered. His last full-length novel, Hereward the Wake (1865), is an evocation of the legendary folk hero of the 11th century East Anglian fens.
Kingsley's pen was seldom still; he wrote poetry and a large number of shorter prose pieces. Some of these were polemical, e.g. an article in Macmillan's Magazine in 1863 critical of John Henry Newman. Newman, a convert to Roman Catholicism, responded by writing his Apologia pro Vita Sua.
Kingsley's verse drama about St. Elizabeth of Hungary is illustrated in the central panel of the memorial window in the sanctuary of Eversley church. His best-known poems, however, are The Sands of Dee, Ode to the North East Wind and The Three Fishers.
The Sequoia Tree planted by his daughter Rose
Travel was a constant source of exhilaration for Kingsley. At the end of 1869, his appointment as a Canon of Chester gave him the means to realise a lifelong ambition to visit the West Indies, and particularly Barbados, where his mother had grown up as a child. He embarked on this voyage with his daughter Rose, and later wrote of his impressions in At Last.
In 1874 Kingsley undertook a lecture tour of North America, again with Rose as companion. His health deteriorated during this trip and he caught a chill from which he never recovered. On his return to England he sank further and died on 23rd January 1875.
After his death, Rose found a fir cone which they had collected from a giant Sequoia tree in the western United States. She grew two saplings from the seeds of this cone and planted one in the churchyard; today it is some 150ft [50m] high), and the other on the Mount (the hill opposite the Rectory).