On the 27th June 1855, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the celebrated American author, his wife Sophia, daughter Una, and son Julian visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace and signed the Visitors’ Book. The address given was Massachusetts, USA, but at this time, in his capacity as United States Consul at Liverpool, he was in fact living in Leamington Spa. He had been appointed consul by President Franklin Pierce in 1853 and during his term of office spent three periods in Leamington: in 1855 and 1857 at 10 Lansdowne Circus, and in 1859 at 21 Bath Street.
Sophia kept a diary in which she describes the Bath Street house: "We have taken apartments in an unfashionable part of this fashionable Royal Spa, but the rooms are pretty comfortable, excepting that we are close upon the railroad and have constant thunder, though no screams of the steam demon."
Hawthorne was born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, and was from a strict Puritan background. The original name of the family was Hathorne, but Nathaniel added a ‘w’ to distinguish himself from the family history, which included John Hathorne, a prominent judge in the Salem witch trials of 1692-3.
As his father, a sea captain, died in 1808, an uncle financed his education at Bowdoin College from where he graduated in 1825. There he met future prominent figures who became lifelong friends. These included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and a future President of the United States, Franklin Pierce. Following graduation, he returned to live with his mother in Salem while attempting to make his mark in the literary world. This took twelve years, as his first success was in 1837 when Twice Told Tales was published. In 1839 he changed course, taking up a position at the Custom House in Boston, a position he resigned in 1841 in order to participate in the Transcendentalist movement’s experimental Brook Farm, where he felt he would earn enough money to marry.
On 13 July 1842 he married Sophia Peabody, daughter of Dr. Nathaniel Peabody, at her parent’s house in Boston. The young couple moved to Concord, Massachusetts where they rented a house from Ralph Waldo Emerson returning to Salem in 1845.
The US Census of 1850 records the family at Stockbridge, Berkshire, Massachusetts as follows:
Nathaniel Hawthorne | aged 41 | author
Sophia | wife | aged 36
Una | daughter | aged 6
Julian | son | aged 3
His most influential novel The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850, followed by The House of Seven Gables eighteen months later, and The Blithedale Romance in 1852.
Hawthorne passed away on 19 May 1864 at Plymouth, New Hampshire, and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts.
The family’s stay in Leamington in the winter 1859/60 proved not to be so desirable as it must have been in the summer season, for Nathaniel wrote on 16 December 1859: "The muddy old Leam is covered with ice thick enough to skate upon and my bathing tub is frozen over."