Gulliver’s Travels was written by Jonathan Swift. As a child, it is reputed that Swift dreamt up the story during a stay in Whitehaven, Cumbria. Overlooking Whitehaven harbour is a former Inn, known locally as Jonathan Swift House. Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin in 1667.
In his autobiography, Swift claims that when he was a year old his nurse stole him away from his widowed mother and his uncle and took him over the sea to her home town of Whitehaven. The nurse, Swift claimed, was “under an absolute necessity of seeing one of her relations, who was extremely sick, and from whom she expected a legacy”.
The nurse was so careful of Swift during his stay in Whitehaven, that before he returned to his home in Dublin, he had learnt to spell; and by the time he was three years old ‘he could read any chapter in the Bible’.
At age five, Swift returned home to Dublin with his nurse, but his mother, Abigail Swift, née Erick, no longer lived there, having gone to live in Leicester, where her parents came from and where she still had family. Swift was taken into the family of his uncle Godwin, by whom he was sent to Kilkenny school when he reached six years of age, and there he remained for about eight years. (Jonathan Swift’s father died seven moths before he was born).
Swift also was often heard to tell, at the dinner table, the story about the nurse carrying him off in his babyhood to Whitehaven. As Deane Swift wrote, the story “gave occasion to many ludicrous whims and extravagances in the gaiety of his conversation”.
Swift was to describe Gulliver, a finger-sized manikin among the giant Brobdingnagians, being parted from his giant nurse-girl, wafted in his carrying-box over the sea by an eagle, and dropped into the water to float on till he was rescued. Its believed that when he wrote Gulliver’s travels, that Whitehaven was in the back of his mind.
There is no doubt however that the infant Jonathan Swift was brought to Whitehaven and the view of the bustling town from the cliffs above was likely to have lodged in the young child’s mind. Indeed, if you were to look down over the town of Whitehaven from Jonathan Swift House, you can imagine his thoughts as a young child, looking down upon the “midget people”.
Swift became a very successful literary figure in London, but eventually returned to Ireland and became Dean of St. Patricks, in Dublin, in 1713. In 1742, Swift was diagnosed with a form of Dementia, meaning his affairs had to be dealt with by guardians. He died in 1745.
There is a claim, by Edward Caley-Knowles, the current owner of Jonathan Swift House, that Swift was actually born in Whitehaven, and this is confirmed in “Parsons and White’s 1829 Directory”.
A Department of Environment survey as part of the building’s Listing states it is “Evident that this is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Whitehaven and predates the main development of the town in the early 1800’s. It is certainly the same building clearly seen in the Matthias Reed drawing of 1738 and other contemporary pictures. During the C18 it was an inn known as Bowling Green House (complete with bowling green that would have given a dramatic seascape setting for a game) and later Flagstaff House and Red Flag.”
A tavern is a place where madness is sold by the bottle.Jonathan Swift