- 1911 - Born July 9th in the hill town of Kuling , Kiang-Hsi Province, China . The nearby mountain overlooking the plains of Ho was an inspiration for his novels. The younger son of Congregationalist missionary parents, most of his childhood was spent in Tientsin (Tianjin) south east of Peking ( Beijing ).
Read more about Mervyn Peake's in China.
- 1914 - His first visit to England, where he stayed with relations at Poole, Dorset. During his twelve years in China he attended the Tientsin Grammar School
- 1923 - Moves back to England and lives at Wallington, in Surrey, where his father sets up a medical practice. Attended the then School for the Sons of Missionaries, now Eltham Collegiate School.
- 1929 - Left Eltham and briefly went to study at the Croydon School of Art before enrolling at the Royal Academy in December that year.
- 1931 - Has one of his paintings chosen for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
- 1932 - Designs costumes used for The Insect Play
- 1933 Following advice from one of his teachers at Eltham, decides to move to Sark in the Channel Islands where he lives for the next two years.
- 1935 - Moves back to London having exhibited his work on several occasions with The Sark Group, at galleries in London and in Paris. Begins teaching at the Westminster School of Art.
- 1936 - Meets Maeve Gilmore on her very first day at the art school.
- 1937 - Marries at St James’s, Spanish Place Central London, on 1st December
- 1938 - Has his first one-man show at the Calmann Gallery in London
- 1939 - His first book Captain Slaughterboard is published by Country Life
- 1940 - Moves from London to Sussex where School House is rented in the village of Warningcamp , near Arundel, in Sussex . His first child Sebastian is born. Begins writing Titus Groan and joins the Royal Artillery. In December Ride a Cock-Horse and other Nursery Rhymes is published.
- 1942 - Second son Fabian is born. Receives special dispensation from his commanding officer to continue writing his novel. Given the job of painting For Officers Only on the doors of portable wooden lavatories.
- 1942 - Leaves the Army
- 1945 - Visits Germany as war artist, commissioned by The Leader magazine and enters the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in June. Gathers ideas for a future collection of poems, and produces several drawings of the dying inmates.
- 1946 - Titus Groan is published by Eyre & Spottiswoode the manuscript having been read by Graham Greene who recommends it to the publisher who reads it over the weekend and immediately decides to publish.
- 1946 - The Peake family moves to Le Chalet in Sark , renting the large house from a local farmer. The previous occupant had been the commanding officer of the German occupation force.
- 1949 - Daughter Clare is born at the Le Chalet attended at the birth by Sister Kilfoyle, known to Mervyn as Sister Tinfoil. She, the nurse, is not amused.
- 1950 - Gormenghast is published to very good reviews.
- 1951 - Wins the Heinemann Prize for Literature for Gormenghast and The Glassblowers and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
- 1952 - Moves back to Wallington his childhood home.
- 1956 - Titus Groan adapted for BBC radio
- 1957 - The Wit to Woo performed at the Arts Theatre in London
- 1959 - Titus Alone published
- 1968 - Dies November 17th at a carehome run by his brother in law, at Burcot, near Oxford . He is buried in the churchyard of the 11th century St Mary the Virgin, at Burpham, near Arundel, together with his wife. In nearby graves lie his paternal grandparents, and together in another grave, his brother and sister in law
The Peake Family
1918 – 1983
The youngest of six, Maeve, like Mervyn, had a medical doctor for a father and was brought up at a large house in Acre Lane , Brixton, South London , where her father had his practice. So-called, as at the time all the houses were surrounded by an acre of land, the family later moved across the river to Chelsea Square from where after convent boarding school at St Leonards on Sea, Sussex, she attended a finishing school in Switzerland . Here she learnt to speak fluent German and French and became a good pianist; her favourite music being that of Johann Sebastian Bach whose piano pieces would resound around the many houses she lived in after marrying Mervyn Peake. A fine painter and sculptor in her own right she also wrote several short stories, and had numerous one-woman exhibitions in London before dedicating her life to the well-being and support of her husband, following the onset of his illnesses. She would paint every day in her studio where the cat would sit watching as the canvases developed into works of art which, following her husband’s death in 1968, often emitted a powerful sense of injustice. Her memoir, A World Away, is often cited as one of the most poignant insights into marriage, life, and the joie de vivre of early life with a genius ever written, and remains in print decades after first being published.
Sebastian Peake, born in 1940, has worked in various branches of the wine trade for most of his life, although after leaving school he studied foreign languages for five years while travelling around different European countries. He studied drums for a year in the late 1950s with the then leading modern jazz drummer in the country, and visited the wonderful annual Antibes Jazz Festival in 1963 where, during a break in the performance, he managed to persuade Miles Davis to join him and his Swedish girlfriend in a bottle of Provence rosé. In 1964 he was the drummer in the trio whose pianist came second in the National Young Pianist of the Year competition - the award being presented by Dave Brubeck, who gave a warm, encouraging speech. Jazz remains a lifelong love of his, but a penchant for the great wines of Bordeaux runs neck and neck. The promoting of his father’s work really accelerated after his mother’s death in 1983 when, in the first of what are now regular speaking events, he addressed the English faculty at the University of Krakow. Since then he has been speaking at literary festivals, bookshops, private gatherings, schools and universities both at home and abroad.
Fabian Peake is a painter and poet. He has had several collection of his poems published and held many one-man exhibitions both in Britain and abroad displaying his highly evocative and original painting. He taught at the fine art department of Manchester Metropolitan University for over thirty years where he was a popular and admired senior lecturer.
Clare Penate, Mervyn and Maeve’s daughter can technically call herself Sarkese having been born on the island and is one of a very small number of people who
could actually purchase property on the island. She has recently completed a work on her parents life together as seen from her perspective given that she is much younger than her brothers. Mother of the singing star Jack Penate, she plays an active part in the promotion of her father’s work.