Robert Stephen Hawker (1803 – 1875) was vicar of Morwenstow from 1834 to 1875. He is chiefly is remembered today for being eccentric but he was also a minor poet and writer
When Hawker first arrived in Morwenstow the existing vicarage was in ruins due to it not having been in use. Hawker and his wife, Charlotte, were obliged to rent a small cottage to live in.
Hawker chose as the site of his house a spot where he had seen the sheep shelter in a storm.
He described the building of the vicarage in letters to the Reverend H T Ellacombe in 1837
… I begin my house in a few days, and if you can have access to Hunt’s ‘Designs for Parsonage Houses’, you may see a sketch of mine, for it is the first in that Series of Engravings. The Style Old English, coeval with that of a part of my Church. I find that by a sweeping abolition of fences and the old Vicarage Buildings I can contrive that my Church and Churchyard shall stand just in the centre of my future lawn. The only objects then perceptible from my two fronts will be the Church and the Sea, the suggestions of both of which are boundless…
…I will send you soon in a letter drawn on one side a scheme of one Window and a Chimney, by which a Quarry Man might pronounce on the probable cost. I hope some Hiram may be found to dwell at Bitton who may assist me with hewers of Stone if not of wood. My House will cost much. But I ought not to build a Shoppy Residence, I think, and as, like Absalom, I have no son, I will like him build me a pillar in the Bishop’s Dale that I may be had in Remembrance among men. I would fain attract too a good Man here in every future generation…
My House quoad Walls and Roof is finished. I ought to have mentioned to you sooner that by mere accident I discovered just as my Building commenced a Quarry of most excellent Freestone, gray in colour, soft at first when taken out of the Quarry so as to cut well but gradually hardening like iron. I have found four veins: one of large size I have worked, and, with the assistance of a common stone-cutter from Lanson, I have put in a good entrance door labelled with coigns, and external chimnies and a Gable on one front surmounted with a cross…
It adds to the beauty and gives an ecclesiastical feature to the Building. We have fitted up a little room in the Roof and there we spend Sundays and sometimes other days…. And now with regard to the Cherubim. Do you think that they could be carved so as to adorn an entrance gateway, one on each pier? If so I think that hereafter when I go to reside at my new Vicarage they would do for that purpose…
The chimneys, according to Byles, are three Cornish church towers: Stratton, Whitstone and North Tamerton, and two towers in Oxford, and his mother’s tomb. These large and elaborate chimneys are a distintive feature of the vicarage.
Above the front door is the inscription:
A House, a Glebe, a Pound a Day;
A Pleasant Place to Watch and Pray.
Be true to Church – Be Kind to Poor,
O Minister for evermore.
The Old Vicarage is not open to the public (but it is a bed and breakfast) and can be viewed from the road and the churchyard.
Sources: Life and Letters of Robert Stephen Hawker by C.E.Byles, 1905.