Margate and the Ingoldsby Legends - The Reverend Richard Barham
Featured in the December 2009 handbook.
Richard Barham was a true son of Kent. Born in Canterbury on the 6th of December, 1788, he claimed for himself notorious descent from a knight who arrived with William the Conqueror and whose son, Reginald Fitzurse, earned for his name immortality as one of the assassins of Archbishop Thomas a Becket. He fled to Ireland, the family estate here passing to his brother, Robert. He, to escape hostility generated by his brother’s deed, changed his name to de Berham, and this became corrupted to Barham over the years.
Richard Barham’s father died when the boy was only five years old, he then inheriting the small Kent estate of which Tappington Wood was a part, a name familiar to all who have read the immensely enjoyable romps forming ‘The Ingoldsby Legends’, by one Thomas Ingoldsby (the nom de plume Barham adopted to avoid any possible embarrassment to his status as a clergyman), as are ‘A Legend of Jarvis’s Jetty’ and ‘The Smuggler’s Leap’ both tales of Thanet with the former telling of the woes of poor Mr. Simpkinson at the hands of that most crafty ‘vulgar little boy’ whom he encountered whilst strolling on the pier at Margate.
Richard was severely injured in a carriage accident in 1802, and it was feared he would not survive, and though he did he remained less than physically robust for the rest of his life. After university he took holy orders, being appointed Curate of Ashford and then Westwell, marrying Caroline Smart in 1814. He then moved to Romney Marsh as a Vicar of Snargate, where he also attended to the needs of the folk of Warehorne. In 1821, after serious injuries from yet another carriage accident, he became a Minor Canon at St. Paul’s Cathedral and in 1824 a priest of the King’ Chapel Royal, after which he was incumbent at St. Mary Magdalene and St. Gregory-by-St. Paul.
His writing career blossomed when his work was published in ‘Blackwood’s Magazine’, ‘John Bull’ and
‘The Globe’, it being in ‘Blackwood’s’ that his cousin ‘Nicholas’ appeared in 1828. In 1837 the first stanza of ‘The Ingoldsby Legends’ saw the light of day in Bentley’s ‘Miscellany’ (a publication which also featured the efforts of Charles Dickens), and that same year the whole first series of ‘Ingoldsby Legends’ was published by Spencer in ‘Blackwood’s’.
Barham’s life was dogged by misfortune and ill-health, and as a result he spent much time in Margate recuperating in our fresh air. His base here was on The Parade in that rather unusual building later renamed ‘Ingoldsby House’ in his honour. (for many decades a gent’s outfitters and now an art gallery). Due to structural problems caused by subsidence after its poor foundations failed, this underwent an almost total rebuild in recent years.
As a lad his teachers had remarked on his sharpeness and his ability to compose almost instant verse, and his ‘Legend of Jarvis’s Jetty’ fits that bill superbly. It is well-observed, all taking place within a stone’s-throw of ‘Ingoldsby House’ and instantly recognisable to Margatonians. He seemed to have a working knowledge of our hostelries too, highlighting the ‘Ship’ and ‘Foy’ as he did, so perhaps the good Reverend appreciated a pint - he has obviously sampled Cobb’s best to recommend its strength as he did in his text!
He also told the tale of ‘Smuggler Bill and Exciseman Gill’ in ‘The Smuggler’s Leap’, a wild chase on horseback which ended in tragedy at the chalk pit at the crossroads above Cleve Court, and composed
‘The Brothers of Birchington’, a clever rhyme of a battle of wits between Becket and the Devil.
His fame as an author was meteoric but short. At an open London window to see the Queen in October, 1844, he remarked that the biting east wind would be the death of many present, and a coughing fit which began that day progressed steadily over the months until his death on the 17th of June, 1845.