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”.
Kingsley was born on 12th June, 1819 in the village of Holne, Devon, where his father was curate. Soon after his birth the family moved to Nottinghamshire and then to Barnack, near Peterborough, on his father’s appointment as Examining Chaplain to the Bishop of Peterborough.
His parents proved to be ideal role models for a bright child. His father was a keen sportsman and much interested in natural history and the arts. His mother, who had been born in the West Indies, was a lover of poetry and literature, as well as being attracted to the new scientific developments of the 19th century.
The young Charles grew into a gifted but rather delicate and sensitive child. He gave his first 'sermon' from a little pulpit in the nursery when he was only four years old, and was writing poetry before he was five. His sporting and natural history interests were developed whilst at Barnack. He often went on horseback with his father when he was out shooting, and spent many hours watching birds and catching butterflies in the Fens.
In 1830, Kingsley's father returned to Devon to become Rector of Clovelly. This provided new experiences for the young Kingsley. The seashore, with its flora and fauna, rock pools, shells and geological specimens excited him. The people he met, particularly the fishermen and their families, gave him new and lasting insights into the lives of ordinary folk.
Charles attended a preparatory school at Clifton before being sent to Helston School. Here he was commended for his studies, especially Latin, and his interest in natural history and related subjects was encouraged. He was a studious, hard-working boy but was not universally popular. He was shy, and afflicted by a stammer which gave him problems throughout his life. Although he did not excel in team games he often demonstrated courage in individual pursuits.
In 1836, his father moved again to a living in Chelsea. This was a bitter blow to Charles, now 17 years old, as it meant leaving his beloved Devon. He found city life a mixture of middle-class superficiality and, in the poorer areas, abject poverty and deprivation. He was bored by the former and distressed by the latter. He enrolled as a day student at King's College and devoted his days to reading voraciously all manner of books from poetry to religious tracts, and studying the Bible.
In autumn 1838, he left King's and went up to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he gained a scholarship.
In contrast to his time at school, he proved to be popular at Cambridge and made many friends;
"Whatever he engaged in, he threw his whole energy into; he read hard at times, but enjoyed sports
of all kinds, fishing, shooting, riding, and cards" one of his friends wrote.
Whilst at Cambridge, Kingsley was filled with religious doubts and had little faith in the clergy with
whom he came in contact:
"From very insufficient and ambiguous grounds in the Bible, they seem
unjustifiably to have built up a huge superstructure, whose details they have filled in according to
their own fancies or, alas, too often according to their own interest . . . . . ," he wrote in 1840.
But, during 1841, after much thought and further reading, he decided to make the Church his profession
instead of the law, which had been his earlier inclination.
"I feel as if, once in the Church, I could
cling so much closer to God," he said in one of his letters.
Kingsley obtained a first-class honours degree in classics in 1842 and achieved a very high standard in mathematics. After a physically exhausting and mentally draining time at Cambridge, he now prepared himself for a new life in the Church.
While studying for Holy Orders he was offered the curacy of Eversley, Hampshire. In July 1842 he was ordained deacon and very soon afterwards his long association with Eversley began.