The hobbies and interests of W.S. Gilbert

Samantha PillingHistory

Old Library Books

W.S. Gilbert enjoyed indulging in his hobbies and interests, whilst at Grim’s Dyke. He not only found them creative and inspiring, they bought him closer to his family and allowed him to spend time in the grounds at Grim’s Dyke – something he loved dearly.

Autumn FlowersGrim’s Dyke – one of Gilberts greatest hobbies

Grim’s Dyke wasn’t only his home, it was a place he loved. Gilbert had once remarked to his friend, author Henry Rowland-Brown, that he wanted to be buried in the gardens – as he loved them so much. It’s therefore understandable, that Grim’s Dyke itself, was one of Gilbert’s greatest hobbies and pleasures.

Both Sir William and his wife loved the gardens. Lady Gilbert particularly took a great pride in her rose gardens, however Sir William also had a fondness for flowers. Although his own personal tastes were spartan, Gilbert would lavish money on the embellishment of the house and gardens, taking a great pride in the end result. The landscaped gardens were always well-kept and maintained, reward enough for the Gilberts’ labour of love, whilst also encouraging the local wildlife to frequently visit the grounds too.

Dressing up

Gilbert shared a child-like love for dressing up, something he shared with Dickens. Grim’s Dyke frequently held both fancy dress dinners and children’s parties – something that allowed Gilbert to delight in being made up as a stately Arab chief and making the Gilbertian children’s parties in Harrington Gardens far superior to all others!


An admirable conjuror, Gilbert bought a great many books on the subject. Not only would he read them, he’d study them and practice conjuring – something I’m sure would delight the children that came to any party or dinner event, held at Grim’s Dyke.


This was a hobby he shared with Nancy McIntosh. They both enjoyed taking images around Grim’s Dyke. Nancy was often seen taking photographs of the dinner party guests at Grim’s Dyke. By all accounts, Gilbert was a very fine photographer. He’d show an infinite patience in the manual dexterity it required – something he didn’t always afford to the people he encountered!

Library BarReading

Gilbert was a keen reader. The library at Grim’s Dyke was home to complete editions of works by his favourite authors – Tennyson, Dickens and Thackeray, as well as younger, newer authors, such as Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins – author of ‘Dolly Dialogues’. Although a keen reader, Gilbert wasn’t a collector; he wasn’t bothered about collecting first editions.

He had an eclectic taste in literature, disliking both Jane Austen and Kipling, whilst citing criminology as one of his favourite subjects. He’d even remarked on more than one occasion to his friend, Rowland Brown, that his favourite book was the ‘Book of Job’ – the first poetic book in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.

Gilbert was a man primarily known for his partnership with Sullivan and the Savoy Operas. However, it’s the hobbies and interests he had, away from the theatre, that illustrated how talented and creative the man really was.

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