Portraits from Lyme Worthies

John Fowles

John Fowles, author, whose many books include the novels The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Magus and The Collector, lived at Belmont in Lyme Regis from 1968 until his death in 2005.


Draft letter to the publisher(?)

Letter from John Fowles

This letter was delivered (to the wrong house) late one Sunday night by a theatre director, in a howling gale. He knocked on our door and explained the mistake, raising his voice above the sound of the wind and rain. I had the impression John was sitting in the car outside.

Neil Reid

Beyond the lawn, the garden at Belmont was rambling and wild. On the possibility of getting lost in it, John said 'I frequently do.'

In a small clearing, I once came across a fawn asleep in the grass.


This is Neil, the gardener; the first portrait I completed.

Mary Morris

Mary Morris, affectionately known in Lyme as Mad Mary, lived next door to John. When he took me round to see her, he said, 'If she offers us sherry, you have a glass - but only one - and I will say no.'

Vijaya Rajaratnam

Vijaya Rajaratnam lived in one of the large, old houses in Lyme Regis, with 18 cats. Most rooms were darkened, except the dining room which had a large table and grand piano piled high with books, magazines and crockery.


A nuclear physicist, he had worked at CERN in Switzerland and suffered from radiation poisoning, he said. 'Formidably intelligent,' John Fowles described him, and this was no exaggeration; half an hour with him would give me a head-ache. He cooked us several meals:on a small four ring cooker, with pots and pans stacked up and warming in a way I have never seen before or since.


His uncle was a mathematician who had worked with Einstein.

Dr. Vini Rajaratnam

Dr. Vini Rajaratnam lived in Uplyme, a village adjacent to Lyme Regis. I heard it said that he could diagnose a rare illness - that had been missed by consultants - just by looking his patient in the eye.


Sometimes, he cooked curries for the village fete, and when he did, the attendence doubled.


The dog was left to him by an elderly patient.

Selima Hill

Selima Hill, poet.

Maurice Bishop

Maurice Bishop.


His house and garden looked down on the Cobb, Lyme's ancient harbour. 


I think I would have chosen this picture for the cover of the book.

Neville Marriner

Sir Neville Marriner, celebrated conductor of The Academy Of Saint Martin's In The Fields, pictured here in his cottage on the seafront in Lyme Regis. 


He said: 'We were staying in Lyme and they sent me out to get a loaf of bread, and I came back with a loaf of bread and a cottage.' ('They never sent me out again,' he added.)


When he came to our house, we had only a bottle of blackberry wine to offer, home-made by a French priest (a friend of a friend.) We finished it.


On the subject of period instruments, Sir Neville remarked:

'The sound of the modern orchestra is what he [Mozart] was after; period instruments were what he got.'


 A few weeks later, he called round to see if we had any more blackberry wine.

Hard at work on Lyme Worthies. In the kitchen at Belmont Hard at work on Lyme Worthies. In the kitchen at Belmont.

I explained to Neville Marriner my idea about Beethoven's Grosse Fugue being made up of figures which are flat but which combine to create a sense of depth; he listened politely, but with a look of bemusement.


When I recounted this to John, he said, 'My love, when speaking to musicians it is always advisable to avoid using the word Flat.'

Mike Hartley

Mr Hartley's greengrocery was the best shop in Lyme Regis; Mr Hartley would happily sell a teaspoon of spice, and customers often came in with a list of ingredients for just one dish (usually a cake.)


In winter, one could walk down Broad Street and not see a soul, apart from Mr Hartley.


When there was nothing doing, his assistant, Wendy, used to weigh our babies on the shop scales. She also did it when there was plenty doing and a queue going out into the street.

Derek Steinberg

Derek Steinberg.


Derek was a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Maudsley and Bethlem Royal Hospitals. He was the author of many psychiatric textbooks.


We spent many afternoons having tea and cake in the Bay Hotel, which was then a rather shabby seaside hotel, discussing the ideas which would become his last book, 'Consciousness Reconnected', a combination of psychology, evolutionary theory and aesthetics.


It was also there, one dreary winter afternoon, that he demonstrated David Blaine's levitating trick to me. He was quite taken aback by my response - I had never seen it before. 'Everyone knows that trick,' he said.


John Fowles called him 'My Dear'. John Fowles called me 'My Love'.

Derek explained to me that My Dear was higher up in the hierachy than My Love.

Victor Homyer

Victor Homyer, fish-monger and former mayor, didn't think much of John Fowles, whom he considered an outsider, for having only lived in Lyme Regis for 40 years.


John Fowles didn't think much of him either.


It was me that wanted to do this painting.



Beresford Peeling

Beresford Peeling, potter.

Richard Fox

Richard Fox















Copies of Lyme Worthies are available from The Sanctuary Bookshop, Lyme Regis.

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© Gavin Bird