Most places around the British coast have had one or more eccentric characters enliving the life of the locality. In the case of Morwenstow, it was the local vicar Robert Stephen Hawker, or Parson Hawker, whose antics during his time at Morwenstow during the mid-19th century could have filled a book. First up there was his chosen attire: he loved bright colours and often wore a long purple coat, or even more unconventional for a clergyman, a yellow horse blanket wrapped around him in the style of a poncho. His leisure pursuits included a penchant for opium and installing himself in a hut on the cliff which he built himself from the timbers of shipwrecks, where he would indulge in his passion for writing poetry. One of his most enduring creations was the famous Trelawny song beloved of Cornish patriots. But he was also a compassionate man and he took a leading role in the rescue of sailors from stricken ships which had come aground on this wild stretch of coast, as well as trying to prevent the locals from looting the wrecks. His compassion even stretched to mice, when he excommunicated his cat for mousing on Sundays.
The church of St Morwenna presided over by Hawker dates from Norman times and has fine examples of stone carvings and carved bench ends. As a reminder of the danger of the seas around this coast, over 40 seamen are buried in the churchyard, and the figurehead of one of the wrecks, the Caledonia, is also to be found in the churchyard. The Caledonia was on its way back to Gloucester from Odessa when it fell victim to a north-westerly gale. There was only one survivor, who was taken to the Rectory where Hawker made sure he was nursed back to health.
Map of the area.
|Vicarage Cliff, site of Hawker's Hut. Photo by David Hawgood, via Wikimedia Commons|