Robert Francis Kilvert (3 December 1840 – 23 September 1879), always known as Francis, or Frank, was an English clergyman remembered for his diaries reflecting rural life in the 1870s, which were published over fifty years after his death.
Kilvert was born at The Rectory, Hardenhuish Lane, near Chippenham, Wiltshire, to the Rev. Robert Kilvert, Rector of Langley Burrell, Wiltshire, and Thermuthis, daughter of Walter Coleman and Thermuthis Ashe. He was educated privately in Bath by his uncle, Francis Kilvert, before going up to Wadham College, Oxford. He then entered the Church of England and became a rural curate, working primarily in the Welsh Marches between Hereford and Hay on Wye. Initially from 1863 to 1864 he was Curate to his father at Langley Burrell, and in 1865 he became Curate of Clyro, Radnorshire; he remained there until 1872 when he rejoined his father at Langley Burrell. From 1876 to 1877 he was Vicar of St Harmon, Radnorshire, and from 1877 to his death in 1879 he was Vicar of Bredwardine, Herefordshire.
Now there is a Francis Kilvert Society which holds meetings looking around places where Francis went and where he lived.
Kilvert is best known as the author of voluminous diaries describing rural life. After his death from peritonitis, his diaries were edited and censored, possibly by his widow. Later they were passed on to William Plomer who transcribed the remaining diaries and edited and published a three-volume selection Selections from the Diary of the Rev. Francis Kilvert (Jonathan Cape, Vol I: 1870-1871 pub. 1938, Vol II: 1871-1874 pub.1939, Vol III: 1874-1879 pub.1940), and later a one-volume selection Kilvert's Diary, 1870-1879 (Jonathan Cape, 1944—corrected in 1960, and with an abridged and illustrated version for children published as Ardizzone's Kilvert in 1976). A different selection from Plomer's original version was published as Journal of a Country Curate: Selections from the Diary of Francis Kilvert by The Folio Society in 1960. In 1992 a new selection was published under the editorship of David Lockwood, Kilvert, the Victorian: A New Selection from Kilvert's Diaries (Seren Books, 1992). Out of print since 1970, the 3 volume indexed edition was reprinted in 2006 by O'Donoghue Books of Hay-on-Wye (http://www.odonoghuebooks.co.uk/). The complete surviving diaries were destroyed, for reasons unknown, by an elderly niece who owned them, except for the volumes listed below, which had been given to other people, while Plomer's own transcription was destroyed by fire in the Blitz. Kilvert also privately published pleasant but conventional poetry.
The Cornish Diary: Journal No.4, 1870 - From July 19 to August 6, Cornwall was published by Alison Hodge in 1989. The National Library of Wales, which holds two of the three surviving volumes, published The Diary of Francis Kilvert: April–June 1870 in 1982 and The Diary of Francis Kilvert: June–July 1870 in 1989.
Kilvert adapted to film
A John Betjeman BBC television documentary on Kilvert, called Vicar of this Parish, was shown in 1976. This led to Kilvert's Diary being dramatised (18 x 15 minute episodes) on British television between 1977 and 1978, with Timothy Davies in the title role. All episodes survive.
- John Toman. Kilvert's Diary and Landscape. (Lutterworth Press, Dec 2008)
- David Lockwood. Francis Kilvert. (Seren Books, 1992)
- John Toman. Kilvert: The Homeless Heart. (Logaston Press, 2001)
- Frederick Grice. Francis Kilvert and His World. (Caliban Books, 1980)
- Readings are available on Saydisc CD (available from Qualiton US, and other retailers). The CD, Kilvert's Diary, (CD-SDL 309) can be ordered from the Saydisc web site, . Reader is Timothy Davies.
- Mark Bostridge on the fate of Kilvert's Diary, 'Life on the Wing', Guardian, 19 January 2008.