The plaque, at 25 Heavitree Road, EX1 2LG, was unveiled on 8th December 2023 by Richard Dennis, Emeritus Professor of Historical Geography, UCL.
It reads “George Gissing, Novelist, Lived in Exeter 1891-1893, Rented a study in this house, 1892-1893“.
The cost of the plaque was generously supported by the Gissing Trust which operates the Gissing Museum in his birthplace in Wakefield.
George Robert Gissing, 1857-1903, was the author of 23 novels published between 1880 and 1903, as well as other works of biography and literary criticism.
In 1891 he came to live in Exeter, looking for material for a new novel that he was planning, which was to be set in a cathedral city. He was also looking for somewhere cheaper to live than London, having recently got married. The family stayed until the summer of 1893, when they returned to live in London.
During their time in Exeter, the Gissings lived at two addresses in Exeter: in lodgings at 24 Prospect Park from January to August 1891; and in a house at 1 St Leonard’s Terrace which they rented from August 1891 until June 1893. Sadly, 1 St Leonard’s Terrace was destroyed in the blitz in 1942, and the site has been built over. The plaque has been placed on 25 Heavitree Road, known in Gissing’s time as 7 Eaton Place, where he rented a room for a couple of months in which to work away from the noise of family life.
Gissing set two of his novels in Exeter: Born In Exile and Denzil Quarier (thinly veiled as “Polterham”). He also set the later The Private Papers Of Henry Ryecroft partly in Devon, with direct references to Exeter. Some of his letters reveal something of his experiences in the city, such as : “I eat at a remarkably good Coffee Tavern, and get meat with two vegetables, bread, and a glass of milk for ten pence. I find that at the country inns, half pints of ale cost a penny farthing”. The Coffee Tavern was in the Eastgate Arcade.
Married life and the birth of a son had brought financial pressures, to which Gissing responded by changing from writing full-length novels to writing the more profitable short stories that appeared in magazines. His move back to have London may have been prompted by a concern that he needed to be within easier reach of these London publishers.
Articles by Professor Richard Dennis, published in The Gissing Journal Vol LIII No 3 July 2019, and later editions in 2020. Not currently available online.
“George Gissing in Exeter by W J West”, Exeter Rare Books 1979.
The Gissing section of the website “The Victorian Web” https://victorianweb.org/authors/gissing/index.html