ReverendMorwenstow
Robert Stephen Hawker
 
 
 
 
Stephen Hawker was born in Plymouth on 3 December 1803.  He was the eldest of 10 children and grandson of the famous firebrand Vicar of Charles’ Church, Robert Hawker. 
 
He was brought up by his grandfather and no doubt witnessed his grandfather’s bold Evangelical style, his compassion for his parishioners and his philanthropy to the poor and needy.  As well, he would have been regaled with stories of his grandfather’s time as a naval surgeon. 
 
Stephen Hawker received a good education, first at Liskeard Grammar School and then at Cheltenham Grammar School.  At age 19 he married his 41 year old godmother, Charlotte I'ans.  This marriage, along with a legacy, helped to finance his studies at Pembroke College in Oxford where he graduated in 1827 and won the Newdigate Prize for poetry.
 
Lifelong interest in Cornwell's history and folklore
Stephen and Charlotte spent their honeymoon in Tintagel in Cornwall. Stephen began a lifelong interest in the history and folklore of Cornwall, particularly the Arthurian legend.  He was a successful writer, poet and songwriter; his best known piece 'The Song of the Western Men ' has become the Cornish national anthem and is regularly sung at Cornish gatherings and rugby union matches. 
 
When Stephen was 28 he took Anglican orders and was appointed curate at North Tamerton in Cornwall.  He was soon sent as Vicar to the Godless parish of Morwenstow, a place with an ancient church and ruined vicarage but which had not had a vicar in residence for over a century. 
 
Morwenstow is the most northerly parish in Cornwall and a wild outpost of dramatic scenery, high sea cliffs, deep wooded valleys and farms.  Life was very hard and incomes were supplemented with smuggling and wrecking.  Life was very cheap and a contemporary account records “…the Morwenstow wreckers allowed a fainting brother to perish in the sea without extending a hand of safety." 
 
Hawker was a colourful, maybe eccentric character
Rev. Hawker was an extremely colourful character and considered by many to be eccentric.  He would wear brightly coloured clothes, not the normal sober black of a clergyman.  He could be seen dressed in a claret-coloured coat, blue fisherman's jersey, long sea-boots, a pink hat and a poncho made from a yellow horse blanket, which he claimed was the ancient habit of St Padarn. 
 
He talked to birds, kept a huge pig as a pet, invited his nine cats into church and excommunicated one of them for mousing on a Sunday! 
 
He built a little hut of driftwood, Hawker's Hut, into the face of Vicarage Cliff and there he would sit for hours, writing poetry and some say, smoking opium. 
 
He loved practical jokes, one time dressing up as a mermaid.  One of his greatest jokes can be seen in the vicarage, just below Morwenstow Church. Look for the chimneys.
 
Rev. Hawker rebuilt the vicarage himself and fashioned each chimneystack to represent the towers of places or things most dear to him.  There are the towers of North Tamerton, Morwenstow and Welcombe churches, Magdalen College, Oxford and his mother’s tomb adorns the old kitchen chimney. The vicarage is now a private house and B&B so please respect their privacy. 
 
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He was a compassionate Christian Man
He was an extremely compassionate Christian man who, despite his oddities, or perhaps because of them, was much loved and respected by his parishioners who referred to him as ‘Parson Hawker’.  They appreciated his devotion to Cornwall and his philanthropic gifts to the parish. Although a poor man he built and maintained a school for the local children. 
 
Shipwreck victims buried in the Churchyard
The stormy Atlantic coast around Morwenstow is littered with shipwrecks.  Before Rev. Hawker arrived, drowned seamen were either buried on the beach where they were found washed up, or left to wash out to sea.  Hawker started leading his parishioners down the treacherous cliff to bring the bodies up the cliff face for a Christian burial in the churchyard. 
 
Over 40 shipwreck victims are buried in the churchyard.  The most striking grave near the entrance through the Lych-gate is of the captain and crew of the sailing ship 'Caledonia of Arbroath' wrecked in 1843.  The grave is marked with a new marker and the salvaged figurehead of the ship is on the inside wall of the church. A weather-resistant replica now serves as the grave marker.
 
Introduced the popular Anglican Harvest Festival
Rev. Hawker is credited with introducing the popular Anglican church Harvest Festival.  In 1843 he invited his parishioners to a Harvest service.  He wanted to give thanks to God for providing such plenty in a more fitting way. This service took place on the 1st of October and bread made from the first cut of corn was taken at Communion. 
 
The Hawkers were often visited by celebrated writers such as Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Kingsley who were taken along the cliff path to Hawker’s Hut.  Stephen Hawker’s contented life changed when Charlotte, his wife of 40 years, died. 
 
A year later he married 20 year old Pauline Kuczynsk who bore him 3 daughters.  Hawker died on 15 August 1875, aged 71.  True to form, his mourners were requested to wear purple and not traditional black.  He is buried in Ford Park Cemetery, Plymouth
 
Google Maps - Morwenstow Church