Famous '˜Literary Trail' is coming to Lancashire

They have always been able to tell a good tale here in Lancashire.

Thursday, 2nd March 2017, 10:30 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 11:23 am
Lytham Hall

So good in fact that the Red Rose county can claim enduring connections with some of Britain’s greatest ever storytellers, including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, JRR Tolkien, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lewis Carroll and Evelyn Waugh.

Now those links are being celebrated after three magnificent Lancashire buildings were included on a “Literary Trail” launched by the Historic Houses Asscociation.

Lytham Hall, Hoghton Tower near Preston and Stonyhurst College in the Ribble Valley are among more than 40 HHA properties nationwide chosen for their historic associations with classic authors, books and plays.

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The on-line trail coincides with 2017 being named the “Year of Literary Heroes” by Visit England. Among those “heroes” being celebrated is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose first book - a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories - was published 125 years ago in October.

Conan Doyle was a student at Stonyhurst near Clitheroe in the late 1860s and was said to have been heavily influenced by his experiences at the school.

Nationally authors as diverse as DH Lawrence, Charlotte Bronte, Roald Dahl and George Eliot all have connections with buildings on the HHA trail.

HHA director general 
Ben Cowell said: “It’s no surprise that so many Historic Houses Association member houses have links to literary heroes of the past – from William Shakespeare to Jane Austen.

“What is less well-known is that some of our members’ houses remain the lived-in homes of authors today, who draw inspiration from 
the beauty of their surroundings.

“Visiting these special places helps to preserve them for future generations.

“We hope visitors will enjoy the many houses on our trail, and the literary masterpieces with which they are associated.”

While Lancashire can boast three properties on the HHA trail, neighbouring Yorkshire has only one, Norton Conyers near Ripon, where Charlotte Bronte stayed when she was working as a governess.

While there Charlotte heard a story about a lady known as “Mad Mary” who had been incarcerated in one of the gable rooms.

And that tale inspired her to create the character of mad Mrs Rochester in her classic novel Jane Eyre.


It is said Evelyn Waugh based the character of Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisted on Henry De Vere (Harry) Clifton who was the last squire to own Lytham Hall.

Waugh visited the house in June 1935 and in a letter to Katherine Asquith he later described it as: “A very beautiful house.

“ A lap of luxury flowing with champagne and elaborate cooking.

“Large park entirely surrounded by trams and villas. Adam dining room.

“Five hideous Catholic churches on estate. Two or three good pictures including a Renoir.”

In his poem “Lapis Lazuli” WB Yeats wrote about an 18th century carved lapis lazuli stone sent to him by Harry Clifton as a 70th birthday present.


A young William Shakespeare was said to have stayed at the hilltop manor house as a guest of the de Hoghton family during his “lost years” around 1580.

It is believed he was part of a travelling troupe of performers and, while he was in Hoghton, was a tutor to the family’s children.

During his stay he is thought to have made use of the house’s extensive library before he developed as a playwright.

Charles Dickens is also reported to have visited Hoghton Tower in 1854 and then, most notably, in 1867 when he gave a reading in nearby Preston and stayed there overnight en route to another reading in Blackburn the following day.

His companion on that trip, George Dolby, described the house in his diary as “standing out weird and melancholy . . . on the summit of the precipice on which it was erected.”

Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, also had family connections with the Tower - his great, great, grandmother Lucy Hoghton lived there in the 1700s.


Arthur Conan Doyle was a student there from September 1868. The college is said to have inspired some of the locations in his Sherlock Holmes novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” particularly Baskerville Hall. Conan Doyle also named Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty after a fellow pupil.

Stonyhurst is also thought to have provided inspiration for former classics teacher Gerard Manley Hopkins whose poems feature details of the local countryside. And JRR Tolkien is known to have written part of “The Lord of the Rings” in one of the Upper Gallery classrooms during his stay there. His “Middle Earth” is said to resemble the local area.