John Fowles Author and Poet

In 1965 acclaimed author John Fowles moved to a remote farm on the Undercliff, part of the South West Coast Path between Lyme Regis and Seaton. Surrounded by the wildlife of this large National Nature Reserve, Fowles was haunted by the image of a woman on the Cobb, whose "figure stood motionless, staring, staring out to sea." 

That woman was later portrayed by Meryl Streep in a 1981 adaptation of Fowles’ novel. 


After finding his home on the Undercliff to be too remote, Fowles moved to Belmont House within Lyme's town centre in 1968.  

Belmont is now owned by the Landmark Trust and can be rented as a holiday let, sleeping up to eight people. Occasionally the house is open for free, public viewings. 

The French Lieutenant's Woman

Fowles wrote the French Lieutenant's Woman in 1969. The novel tells the story of lovers, Sarah and Charles, separated by the morals of Victorian society. Sarah, the heroine of the title, flouts all convention and embodies Pre-Raphaelite style and thought. She leads Charles out of Victorian stricture, where he was engaged, and into the delights of a new era.  

In the novel Fowles described the Cobb as “Primitive yet complex, elephantine but delicate; as full of subtle curves and volumes as a Henry Moore or a Michelangelo; and pure, clean, salt, a paragon of mass”. 

The French Lieutenant's Woman had a huge effect on Lyme Regis and an adaptation of the book was filmed in the town during 1980 starring Meryl Streep as Sarah and Jeremy Irons as Charles. 

During filming, the town’s buildings were shrouded in greys and browns transforming them into the Lyme Regis of 1867. Sheep roamed Broad Street as a farmer called to his dog. Rubber cobblestones were laid over road markings, the bus shelter was thatched and the Cobb given fake boats. Locals were given bonnets and bowler hats to wear and Meryl Streep was given the great cape that has become the symbol of this famous novel and film. 

Lyme Regis Museum

John Fowles was curator of Lyme Regis Museum for 10 years and afterwards, he was the archivist. During this time, he also published his books Mantissa (1982) and A Maggot (1985). 

There is a display dedicated to Fowles in the Literary Gallery along with a collection on another famous writer who put Lyme Regis on the map – Jane Austen.

Explore more...

The Cobb

The Cobb is Lyme Regis' most iconic landmark and has featured in many films.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen's novel Persuasion was partly set in Lyme Regis.

Mary Anning

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