While on holiday recently, I revisited Hawker's Hut, which is tucked into the very high cliffs just west of the North Cornish village of Morwenstow. I was last here in 1995.
This part of North Cornwall is sparsely populated and open to the fierce winds and bad weather sweeping in from the Atlantic. You can easily tell that, because of the windswept look of the trees! Staunchly defying those winds, albeit slightly sheltered in a valley, is the parish church:
The Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker was the vicar here for much of the 19th century. He is best known for being a poet, for being much concerned for his parishioners' welfare, and for his opposition to the brutal local shipwreckers. Also for various eccentricities. I can easily believe that he had a singular character. He was well-educated, and yet buried himself for decades in this wild spot. He would have had a great deal of leisure for contemplation on the human condition. He was of course a very important local figure, commanding unquestioned respect. And yet his everyday clothing was very colourful, not at all the usual sombre black of an Anglican clergyman. 'Twas said that at times he dressed up as a mermaid; and once excommunicated his cat for mousing on a Sunday. Men whispered that in the cliff hut that he built from driftwood he would not only write poetry, but use cocaine to induce dreams. Proper facts include marrying a 41 year old woman when he was only 19, and after her death marrying again to a 20 year old girl at the age of 60. And on his deathbed, he converted to Roman Catholicism. I suppose that Anglican vicars then could be as unconventional as they pleased!
The Hut is on the very edge of the cliff, but below the level of the field above, and although the National Trust have marked the path down to the Hut with a small stone, its roof is turfed, and really there is nothing to reveal it from the field. In mist, or at night, you would certainly walk straight past it without realising. It's a hidden, private place. I thought at once, what a secluded spot for an assignation! And I wondered whether it was here that the Vicar of Morwenstow discreetly met the troubled souls of his parish. Or, for all one knows, where he offered counsel and other comforts to those women and girls who needed to make a personal and strictly confidential confession to him.
In winter the Hut would have made a chilly hermitage, facing the bleak sea:
Inside it was lined with wood, with an all-round bench to sit on, but somewhat cramped for space, so that if two were conversing they would be unavoidably intimate:
Those be my legs, m'dears. With the split door shut, there might have been draughts, but there would also have been a high degree of privacy, bearing in mind that all would be dark within, and that in any case nobody would dare intrude on the Vicar's domain:
So if Parson Hawker was construing a dialogue by Xenophon, or composing his own poetry, or lost in a cocaine-induced haze, nobody would disturb him. I fancied that in the summer he would come to the Hut often to contemplate the sunset. And in the gales, he would come here to look out for ships in distress, and be ready to intervene if a wrecking gang were at work. He was a very compassionate man.