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Richard Hopton

MY LITERARY HISTORY

Richard Hopton’s literary forebears:
Is that The Hound of the Baskervilles I see snoozing on the Camomile Lawn?

Here are a few fragments of literary history from my family background which might be of interest to the inquisitive.

My paternal great-grandmother was Mrs Dorothy Baskerville of Clyro, Radnorshire. Her father, Walter Baskerville, my great-great-grandfather, makes many appearances in Revd Francis Kilvert’s celebrated diaries of rural life in the Welsh Marches written between 1870 and 1879, in which he is frequently referred to as ‘The Squire’. Family legend has it (nor there is any good reason to doubt its authenticity) that my great-grandmother gave Arthur Conan Doyle permission to use the family name for the title of his famous novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles. The villain-hound is based on a Radnorshire folk tale; she had met Conan Doyle while he was staying with neighbours of hers in the county. The story goes that my great-grandmother allowed Conan Doyle to use the Baskerville name on condition he transposed the story from the Radnorshire-Herefordshire area. As the world knows, it ended up on Dartmoor. The story of the hound of the Baskervilles – and the novel – has occupied an enduring place in the public imagination since its publication 120 years ago.

Again on my father’s side, I am related to Mary Wesley (née Farmar), author of The Camomile Lawn and many other successful novels. Her father was a cousin and great friend of my Hopton forebears in the early 20th century. He and his wife Violet, Mary’s mother, were regular visitors to the family house – a fact proved by their many entries in its visitors’ book. The same book also contains one example of Mary’s signature, dating from the 1930s, as well as those of her brother and sister, Hugh and Susan.

My maternal great-uncle was Bernard Spencer (1909-1963) an important if lesser-known English poet of the mid-C20, a friend and contemporary of Auden, MacNeice, Spender, Betjeman, Lawrence Durrell and Olivia Manning. His Collected Poems were published in 1981.

Baskerville coat of arms

Clyro Court, Radnorshire

“swashbuckling, suspenseful and elegantly plotted, an intoxicating romp through the treacheries, duels and bravery of the Napoleonic wars”
Vanora Bennett, author of The People’s Queen

“Thoroughly absorbing history … Hopton’s prose races along, bringing to rich and detailed life the insanity and insouciance of this terrible sport.”
Daily Telegraph.

“Compelling”
Good Book Guide

“Here may be all you need to know about duelling – from its origins, possibly in a challenge issued by the Holy Roman Emperor to the French King in 1528, to its fizzling out before the second world war.”
Financial Times.

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