The famous Victorian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta in 1811. In 1817 he was sent back to England by his recently widowed mother to be educated at the Southampton boarding school run by Alfred Arthur and his wife Rebecca from their house in the Polygon. Thackeray did not enjoy his time there. He wrote in later life: “We Indian children were confined to a school of which our deluded parents had heard a favourable report, but which was governed by a horrible little tyrant, who made our young lives so miserable that I remember kneeling by my little bed at night, and saying, ‘pray God I may dream of my mother’.” And in 1850 he wrote to his daughters who were staying with friends in Southampton: “You went to St Mary’s Church, I suppose. I recollect it in the year 1817, when I was a miserable little beggar, at school in the Polygon under an odious littleguard who used to starve and cane us.”
Mrs Arthur did however take him and some of his fellow students to the Theatre Royal in French Street, an excursion that he very much enjoyed and may have been at least partly responsible for implanting in him a life-long love of the stage. He remained at the Polygon school until 1819 when he transferred to Walpole House School in Chiswick.
Thackeray’s connection with Southampton did not end there. His friend William Henry Brookfield was curate of St Mary’s Church from 1836 and St Lawrence’s Church from 1838 to 1840. Through Brookfield he met the Reverend Charles Fanshawe, curate of Holy Trinity Church, North Front and later rector of All Saints. Thackeray stayed with both men while visiting the town and his daughters stayed with the Fanshawes on a number of occasions. On a visit to the town in 1847 Thackeray met Dr William Bullar, who treated him for toothache.
Thackeray became very close to Brookfield’s wife, Jane, and often corresponded with her. This may have been a factor in the two men falling out in 1851, when Brookfield barred Thackeray from visiting and corresponding with his wife.
'Thackeray in Hampshire', by R. A. Hodgson, in Hampshire, Vol. 27, No. 4, p33-34. (H/y)
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