Marlow: Mary and Percy Shelley anniversary

Albion House which is now divided  into several houses

Percy and Mary Shelley took possession of their new home at Marlow in March 1817.

So this year is the bicentenary of their summer in Marlow.

Albion House in West Street was to be their home for a year although at the time they intended to stay longer having purchased a 21 year lease.

They employed a gardener and sowed seeds brought back from Switzerland where Mary had begun to write Frankenstein. 

Now during her pregnancy in Marlow she prepared a new handwritten copy for the publisher.

In between there were boat trips up and down the river to nearby Medmenham Abbey, Henley and Maidenhead. Shelley loved the river and had once rowed to Inglesham. He also sat thinking and writing in a boat at Bisham on the right bank.

He walked a lot and sometimes took a woodland path to upstream Medmenham Abbey and back.

In 1817 the High Street was not the direct route to the river crossing. Instead St Peter Street, which now runs into the Thames, was the approach to a white painted wooden road bridge.

Today’s suspension bridge in line with the High Street and The Causeway was not considered for another decade.

With Percy and Mary at Albion House were Claire Clairmont and her baby Allegra by Byron who was in Venice.

Mary’s father William Godwin stayed as did Leigh Hunt and his family.

Shelley’s friend Thomas Love Peacock was also living at 47 West Street, opposite the turning to Oxford,  and in his novel Nightmare Abbey gives a picture of the Shelley household.

On Tuesday 2 September Mary gave birth to Clara and the same month she finished her and her husband’s travel narrative A History of a Six Weeks’ Tour which was published under Percy’s name in November.

All this time Mary was finding Albion House damp and lacking direct sunshine.

The approach of Christmas saw the couple, despite their lack of regular money, distribute blankets to the poor of Marlow. They were embroidered with the decoration ‘PBS Esq., Marlow, Bucks’.

Do any still exist in the town?

Shelley, who was waiting for his long poem The Revolt of Islam to have its print run completed, spent Boxing Day along the road in Peacock’s house where he started his poem Ozymandias.

New Year’s Day 1818 saw the publication of Mary’s Frankenstein but there was no great public celebration. The title page did not carry the author’s name and her husband had to deny that he was the author.

There were to be no royalties so the couple looked to Percy’s The Revolt of Islam to earn money.

Shelley sent a copy of Frankenstein to Sir Walter Scott who, without knowing that Mary was the author, later praised it in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.

But that was in March 1818 just days after Mary and Percy had left England.

2018 will see many Frankenstein anniversary events but for Mary her Frankenstein year was really 1817.

Albion House front door


Thomas Love Peacock’s house where the Shelleys stayed whilst Albion House was prepared for the family


High Street sign opposite the Causeway


Sign on an old house at the start of West Street

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