Arthur Ransome

18 January 1884 – 3 June 1967


Arthur Ransome (

Although he is primarily remembered as a children’s author, having created the much loved “Swallows and Amazons” series, Arthur Ransome was a multifaceted individual.

The Swallows and Amazons series came later in a complicated career history that included journalist, auto-biographer, spy, and possible diamond smuggler. Ransome first visited the Lake District as a baby, and this began a lifelong love of the area.


Ransome was born in Leeds in 1884, the son of Professor Cyril Ransome and his wife Edith. Despite his academic heritage, Ransome performed poorly at school, perhaps as a result of his poor eyesight. Having dropped out of Yorkshire College Ransome moved to London to pursue a career as a writer, where he earned a living writing articles for literary magazines. He met Ivy Walker in 1908 and the two were married, and had a child, Tabitha. However, the marriage was an unhappy one. Furthermore, in 1912 Ransome wrote an essay on Oscar Wilde, in which he discussed Wilde’s love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. Douglas launched a lawsuit against Ransome, who did eventually win, but the lawsuit and his wife’s increasingly eccentric and difficult behaviour caused Ransome considerable stress, and in 1913 he left his family to research fairy tales in Russia.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Ransome started working as a journalist and war correspondent and would later also cover the Russian Revolution. During his time in Russia, he became involved in the Bolshevik movement, and was recruited as a spy for MI5, receiving the code name S.76. There is some question over whether Ransome was working as a double agent during this period, with his close friendships with Lenin and Trotsky being noted. He met his second wife during this time, Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina, and questions over how much Ransome was involved with Shelepina’s diamond smuggling on behalf of the communist movement remain.

The pair settled in Estonia for a few years where they enjoyed sailing yachts, before Ransome was able to arrange a divorce with his first wife Ivy Walker, allowing him to marry Evgenia. They returned to England as a married couple in 1925. They spent some years living in the Lake District and Norfolk, and travelled around the country, as Ransome researched for his “Swallows and Amazons” novels, the first being published in 1929. Ransome died in 1967, having become a very popular children’s author.


Ransome is best known for his series of 12 children’s books “Swallows and Amazons” that tells of the adventures of a group of children who sail around fictional waters and create their own imaginary storyline. The books have been adapted into film, TV, and theatre, and remain popular to this day.

Links to the Lake District

Ransome first came to the Lake District as a baby, with his parents being keen holidaymakers in the area. He spent many summers here as a child, and learned to sail on Coniston Water, a hobby that he continued to pursue throughout his life, leading him to own a series of yachts as he moved around the world.

In 1925, Ransome moved to the Lake District with his second wife, and it was in 1928 that whilst teaching the children of some friends to sail on Coniston Water, Ransome became inspired to create his best-known publication, “Swallows And Amazons.”

Sites of Interest

There are a number of locations in the Lake District that were the inspiration for locations in “Swallows and Amazons”. It’s thought that “Wild Cat Island” is, in fact, Piel Island on Coniston Water, and today you can take a “Swallows and Amazons” cruise with the Coniston Launch. The “Great Lake of the North” is likely to be a combination of Windermere and Coniston, whilst the series’ mountain Kanchenjunga is most likely to be The Old Man Of Coniston, which is a popular walking spot today.

You can stay in part of Arthur Ransome’s last home, Hill Top, in Haverthwaite, south of Lake Windermere, as this is now a self-catered holiday home. Bank Ground Farm also provides accommodation in the form of both B&B style accommodation and self-catered holiday cottages. The farm was the inspiration for the children’s home, Holly Howe, in “Swallows and Amazons.” To find out more about Arthur Ransome and see his personal desk and typewriter, visit the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry.