Robert Louis Stevenson in Cockfield and Suffolk

“Let the reader then, betake himself in the spirit we have recommended to some of the quieter kinds of English landscape. In those homely and placid agricultural districts, familiarity will bring into relief many things worthy of notice, and urge them pleasantly home to him by a sort of loving repetition; such as the wonderful life-giving speed of windmill sails above the stationary country; the occurrence and recurrence of the same church tower at the end of one long vista after another: and, conspicuous among these sources of quiet pleasure, the character and variety of the road itself, along which he takes his way”
(RLS, “Roads”, in Essays of Travel [London: Chatto and Windus, 1905], pp. 229-30)

First Visit to Cockfield

RLS first went to Cockfield (near Bury St Edmonds) from 30 September – c. 15 October 1870. He stayed with his cousin Maud Babington (nee Wilson) at Cockfield Rectory. He also attended the wedding of his cousin Jane Wilson (Maud’s sister) to Reverend Carleton Green. During this stay, RLS visited Cockfield’s outlying hamlets, including Great Green, Parsons Green, Windsor Green, Old Hall Green, and Cross Green. He also visited Clopton Hall and Lavenham, a village three and a half miles from Cockfield.

Second Visit to Cockfield: Meeting Fanny Sitwell and Sidney Colvin

When RLS visited Cockfield Rectory again from 26 July – late August 1873 (he also visited the villages Long Melford and Lavenham), he made two significant friendships – with Fanny Sitwell and Sidney Colvin. RLS’s cousin Maud and Mrs Sitwell were friends and during this period Fanny was staying at the Rectory. RLS first met Fanny Sitwell on 26 July and fell in love: for a long time he would write passionate letters to her, making her his confidante. He also met her partner, Sidney Colvin, who would not only be a lifelong friend but an enormous help to his literary ambitions.

Indeed Cockfield’s greatest significance in Stevenson’s life is the relationships RLS forged there: “Just a month ago, we were sallying forth at this time to Kew Gardens, with the nice schoolmaster in our company. O that is a day that I shall never forget; nor the day before; nor so many other beautiful days at Cockfield. And they cannot be taken from me; they, nor their influence” (Letter from RLS to Fanny Sitwell, 28 September 1873, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol i [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 321).

When RLS’s relationship with his parents grew strained (shortly after the visit to Cockfield), his health deteriorated. Sitwell and Colvin provided emotional support and RLS was “ordered South” to Mentone for his health. For information about this journey, see the section devoted to Mentone.

Cockfield and Suffolk in RLS’s Writing

During his walks at Cockfield Rectory, RLS planned the essay “Roads” (1873). The essay was his first paid publication in a periodical. Although the essay is concerned with nature and the notion of figurative “roads”, it does give an insight into his mindset when he was at Cockfield Rectory and Suffolk. You can read the essay in Essays of Travel (1905).