John Todhunter was born in Dublin to parents who were members of the Society of Friends. John grew up to study medicine at Trinity College Dublin, and became not only assistant physician at Cork Street Fever Hospital, but also Professor of English Literature at Alexandra College for Women.
John married Katharine Gresley Ball in 1870. She died in childbirth the following year, and their son Arthur survived only until 1874. Following this second loss, John resigned his membership of the Society of Friends, abandoned medicine, and moved that same year to London. In 1879, he married Dora Louisa Digby, with whom he had three children.
In Ireland, John Todhunter had been a close friend of John Butler Yeats (father of Willy, Lily, Lolly, Bobbie, Jack, and Jane). John Yeats had brought his family in 1867 to London, where he had enrolled at the Heatherley School of Fine Art, at which Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Millais had studied.
The Yeats family led an itinerant lifestyle, while, beside John’s restless and gregarious nature, his wife Susan became an increasingly shadowy figure. They moved to Bedford Park for the second time in 1887, settling at 3, Blenheim Road.
The Todhunters, meanwhile, moved in to 3, The Orchard, a house they had built for them between 1887-8, and which they named Orchardcroft. (It was still their home when John died there on 25th October, 1916.)
W B Yeats wrote The Lake Isle of Innisfree (1888) in Chiswick, inspired by Chiswick Eyot, with its opening lines:
“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;”.
Roy Foster, biographer of W B Yeats, has written:
“Bedford Park demonstrated that by the 1880s aestheticism, long a butt for satire, was established enough to have moved to the suburbs: a word rejected by the inhabitants, who preferred the idea of a village or a colony.”.
The St James Gazette of 1881 printed the Ballad of Bedford Park:
“Thus was a village builded
For all who are aesthete
Whose precious souls it fill did
With utter joy complete.”.