Literary Guests

— #03 The Peacock

Overview Penny Weddings Literary Guests

Over the centuries, lured by the reputation of its excellent fish dinners, many famous people patronised the Peacock.  Newhaven was well known to Sir Walter Scott who had as a character in his 1816 novel “The Antiquary”, Mrs Maggie Mucklebackit, with her couthie wisdom and based on his experience of Newhaven fishwives.   It was into Newhaven, at the Chain Pier, that his ship sailed on Scott’s final journey in 1832 returning from the Continent to Abbotsford to die having travelled abroad in the hope that it would provide a therapeutic benefit to what was a terminal decline.

IMAGE: Public Domain — Sir Walter Scott from "The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott"

Around 1826, 16 year-old Charles Darwin, studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh along with his elder brother, Erasmus, was bored with the variable quality of the lectures and nauseated by the dissection of human bodies.  Influenced by the enthusiasm of one of his professors, Robert Grant, for sea sponges, Charles developed a keen interest in marine invertebrates.  For two years he all but abandoned his father’s desire for him to follow in the family footsteps to become a doctor and formed an ever-deepening understanding of zoology.   He found many specimens to study on his regular sojourns from Newhaven to explore the inshore waters from Cramond to Prestonpans.   The Newhaven fisherman he befriended, (possibly James Liston, the forefather of Newhaven Heritage’s current Chair) would patiently row him back and forth with bemusement until he declared himself satisfied — or too seasick to continue.  On those occasions, even the fare of the Peacock would not have attracted him.

IMAGE: Public Domain. Charles Darwin1840. Chalk and water-colour drawing by George Richmond (1809-96).

Charles Reade, while studying the life of fisherfolk for his 1853 novel “Christie Johnstone”, stayed here and was long remembered by a pane of glass in one of the windows, inscribed not only with his name but bearing also the autograph of Sir Henry Irving, a famous actor of the day. Unfortunately, this unique memorial was broken during a storm.

Literary giants such as Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Anderson also availed themselves of the Peacock’s famous fish dinners when in the area, Hans Christian Anderson in particular stayed in Trinity for a short period.

IMAGE: Public Domain — First Edition flyleaf

In more recent times, three of Scotland’s most influential poets of the 20th Century, Hugh McDiarmid, Sydney Goodsir Smith and Norman McCaig, held the Inaugural Meeting of the 200 Burns Club in the Peacock on the 20th January 1959.

Hugh MacDiarmid (real name Christopher Murray Grieve, Hugh MacDiarmid being his penname) has had a lasting impact on Scottish culture and politics and was a founding member of the National Party of Scotland in 1928, the precursor of the Scottish National Party.