Thomson William Gunn (Thom Gunn) was born in Gravesend, Kent, England, on August 29, 1929, to Herbert Smith Gunn and Ann Charlotte Thomson. His mother’s family, originally Scottish Baptists, came from Echt in the late nineteenth century when one of the Thomsons ventured into Kent, found success, and invited his siblings to join him, where they all established thriving farms, including Gunn’s maternal grandfather Alexander who worked the land in Snodland. Gunn’s maternal relatives were nonconformists, hated Catholics with a Scottish passion, were pacifists, and had no use for the Royal Family. Gunn himself was raised without religion. His mother and father met as journalists at the Kent Messenger, but she stopped working outside the home in 1929. Gunn considers his mother an early feminist, but one with good taste in clothes who knew how to cause a stir: At one party she appeared with a hammer-and-sickle brooch. Gunn’s paternal grandfather, who had emigrated to Kent from northeast Scotland also in the nineteenth century, served in the British merchant marine.
One of Gunn’s earliest recollections is his father’s bringing home to him a newspaper in “dummy copy”: It had lines indicating where columns should be but no text. Gunn delighted in scribbling in the spaces, his initial foray into “publication.” His father’s success as a writer eventually brought his father an editor’s position at the Daily Sketch, a paper that enjoyed a million readers. In 1937 the Gunn family moved to Hampstead, the hamlet on the edge of London where Keats’s house still stands. Gunn’s childhood, according to Gunn himself, was happy, but unfortunately Herbert Gunn divorced his wife Ann when Thom was eight, and Herbert became estranged from his young son. Gunn’s father died in 1961.