Francis Kilvert

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Robert Francis Kilvert
The English diarist Robert Francis Kilvert (1840–1879)
ChurchChurch of England
Personal details
Born(1840-12-03)3 December 1840
Chippenham, Wiltshire
Died23 September 1879(1879-09-23) (aged 38)
Photograph of Robert Kilvert (diarist's father) taken about 1870

Robert Francis Kilvert (3 December 1840 – 23 September 1879), always known as Francis, or Frank, was an English clergyman whose diaries reflected rural life in the 1870s, and were published over fifty years after his death.


Kilvert was born on 3 December 1840 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. Kilvert started his diary on 1 January 1870 whilst incumbent at Clyro and, from his writings, seemed to have basked in his life within the Welsh countryside, often writing numerous pages describing his surroundings and the parishioners that he visited.

In late 1871 he fell in love with Frances Eleanor Jane Thomas, the youngest daughter of the vicar of Llanigon, a parish not far from Clyro, and asked her father permission to wed her. Due to his position as a lowly curate, Frances' father looked unfavourably on the diarist and refused his request. After receiving this rejection he wrote in his diary that "The sun seemed to have gone out of the sky". It was shortly after this, in 1872, that Kilvert resigned his position as curate of Clyro, and left the village forever returning to his father's parish of Langley Burrell.[1] 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.

In August 1879 he married Elizabeth Ann Rowland (1846–1911), whom he had met on a visit to Paris, but he died a few days after returning from his honeymoon in Scotland from peritonitis, aged 38, and was buried at Bredwardine.


Kilvert is best known as the author of voluminous diaries describing rural life. After his death, 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). Published in the wake of World War II, the first editions of the diaries were well received by the public when, in a period of bombing and rationing they provided an escapism back to the simpler and happier times of the mid Victorian era, still just within living memory.

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 three-volume indexed edition was reprinted in 2006 by O'Donoghue Books. In the 1950s, whilst Plomer was contemplating further publication of the remaining journals, it was found that the majority of the surviving diaries had been destroyed by their then owner; an elderly niece of Kilvert's, who claimed to have done so to protect "private family matters." This had occurred during a clear out of various personal papers, prior to moving into a residential care home. When confronted by this information Plomer was said to have recalled he "could have strangled her with his bare hands."[2] Only the three volumes listed below survived, which the said niece gave to other people. Plomer's own transcription was destroyed by fire in the Blitz.

Despite Kilvert's niece's actions she ironically was a Vice-President, and an avid member of the Kilvert Society for many years up until her death in 1964.

Francis Kilvert was also known to have privately published pleasant but conventional poetry.

The Cornish Diary: Journal No.4, 1870—From 19 July to 6 August, Cornwall was published by Alison Hodge in 1989.[a] 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 was an enthusiast for public bathing in the nude, which he regarded as natural and healthy.[4] The first entry in Kilvert's diaries in which he records his naked bathing was for 4 September 1872, at Weston-super-Mare. He writes: "Bathing in the morning before breakfast from a machine. Many people were openly stripping on the sands a little further on and running down into the sea and I would have done the same but I had brought down no towels of my own". However, next day Kilvert joins in the fun: "I was out early before breakfast this morning bathing from the sands. There was a delicious feeling of freedom in stripping in the open air and running down naked to the sea where the waves were curling white with foam and the red morning sunshine glowing upon the naked limbs of the bathers".[5][6]

Relationships with girls[edit]

Several modern writers have commented on passages in the diaries describing interactions with young girls which these days might raise suspicions of paedophilia.[7][8][9]

Adaptations to film[edit]

A John Betjeman BBC television documentary on Kilvert, Vicar of this Parish, was shown in 1976.[10] This led to Kilvert's Diary being dramatised (18 × 15-minute episodes) on British television between 1977 and 1978, with Timothy Davies in the title role. All episodes survive.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ From 20 July to 6 August 1870, Kilvert stayed with the family of William Hockin at Tullimaar, Perranarworthal.[3]
  1. ^ HOWELLS, ANITA (13 June 2001). "Kilvert and a sad love affair". Hereford Times. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  2. ^ "Kilvert's Diary". The Kilvert Society. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  3. ^ Kilvert 1989.
  4. ^ Smith 1996, p. 15.
  5. ^ Kilvert Society Newsletter March 1979
  6. ^ Conradi, Peter J (17 July 2009). "Book of a Lifetime: The Diaries, By Francis Kilvert". The Independent. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  7. ^ Bostridge, Mark (20 January 2008). "Life on the wing". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 December 2016. There are 44 passages containing descriptions of women and girls. These are sometimes emotionally overcharged and, just occasionally, give the modern reader uncomfortable pause – for example, the state of near-ecstasy in which Kilvert writes of receiving the caresses of the seven-year-old Carrie Britton.
  8. ^ Bennett, Alan (2007). The Uncommon Reader (Profile Books, 2008 ed.). London: Faber and Faber. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-84668-049-6. 'You could try Kilvert, ma'am,' said Norman. 'Who's he?' 'A vicar, ma'am. Nineteenth century. Lived on the Welsh borders and wrote a diary. Fond of little girls.' 'Oh,' said the Queen, 'Like Lewis Carroll.' 'Worse, ma'am.' 'Dear me. Can you get me the diaries?'
  9. ^ Adlard, John (Spring 1974). "The Failure of Francis Kilvert". Michigan Quarterly Review. 13 (2): 133–135. ISSN 1558-7266. Retrieved 10 December 2016. (p.134): The Stranges are not the only humble family in the Diary who strip and whip a daughter with evident relish, with all the relish displayed by Kilvert in his obsessive repetition of evocative words like 'naked', 'bottom' and 'bare'.
    (p.135):...the nosegay of roses he brought for Janet, the 'long loving kiss, he gave her and the affectionate talk in 'a secluded walk, dark and shady, at the bottom of the garden', where he carved Janet's initials and his own on a young beech, must have made him look more like a visiting fiance than a clergyman friend of a child's father.
  10. ^ Vicar of this Parish. 1976. Retrieved 26 December 2017 – via YouTube.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]