Born on this day: Kenneth Grahame

Kenneth Grahame was born 156 years ago today in Edinburgh, Scotland. Shortly after his fifth birthday, Grahame and his three siblings moved to Berkshire to live with their Granny Ingles, after their mother’s death from scarlet fever. He was taught to row by his uncle, and loved the countryside, especially the upper part of the River Thames.

Although Grahame did very well at school and wanted to attend Oxford University, financial constraints meant he was unable to pursue further education. Instead Grahame moved to London and began working at the bank of England. In 1897 he met Elspeth Thompson and they married in 1899. Their son, Alastair (nicknamed ‘Mouse’), was born the following year.

Grahame invented bedtime stories about a toad and his riverside friends to sooth his young son to sleep. The swaggering character of Mr Toad is based on his son Alastair, who, despite suffering from blindness in one eye and ill health, was very headstrong. He later compiled these stories into what would become his most famous work, The Wind in the Willows, which was originally published in October 1910.

To celebrate Kenneth Grahame’s birthday, here are five weird and wonderful words from The Wind in the Willows and what they mean:

Boles: tree trunks
‘the black boles of the trees showed up in a light that seemed to come from below’

Halberd: a weapon that is a combined spear and battleaxe
‘their halberds leant against the wall’

Panoply: an impressive display or collection of things
‘A good deal of his blustering spirit seemed to have evaporated with the removal of his fine panoply’

Pettifogging: paying too much attention to unimportant details
‘It was hard, he thought, to be baulked by the want of a few wretched shillings and by the pettifogging mistrustfulness of paid officials.’

Rumpus: an uproar; an angry protest
‘such a rumpus everywhere!” continued the Otter.’

Want to know more about Kenneth Grahame?

The Wind in the Willows 9780192732347

The Wind in the Willows Gift Edition


The Wind in the Willows 9780192738301Oxford Children’s Classics
The Wind in the Willows


The Wind in the Willows 9780199567560 Oxford World’s Classics
The Wind in the Willows

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