The Story of a Norfolk Farm - Appendices



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Appendix A: The missing material


Appendix B: Other 'Norfolk Farm' writings



Appendix A: The missing material:



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Although there are no diary entries, it is evident that a great deal of discussion had taken place before the book was published. The answer to it all is held in a copy of bound original page-proofs which contain this ‘missing material’, and shows at what a late stage it was all dealt with. The deleted material would have been ‘Chapter Forty-six: Birkin for Britain’, and its ten-page content opens:


One evening Lady Sunne rang up and said that Birkin was coming to speak at the Corn Hall of Fenton, the next Sunday night. Fenton was at the mouth of the main river that drained the fen country.


Lady Sunne’, as already stated, was Dorothy, Dowager Lady Downe, and Fenton is King’s Lynn, situated on the mouth of the River Ouse where it drains into the Wash. Birkin is Sir Oswald Mosley. The chapter tells how HW drives across country to the meeting (his diary notes for 29 January 1939: ‘Mosley at Lynn Corn Hall’), passing the Royal residence of Sandringham en route, and so arrives at Fenton Corn Hall.


The Corn Hall stood back from the Square. Motor-cars were parked irregularly before it. The Hall showed the decayed look of the place; it looked too big for the shrunken modern harvests . . .


The chapter describes very factually and straightforwardly the gist of ‘Birkin’s’ background and how HW had already met him at a previous dinner party at Sunne Hall, and that:


Half a tree-trunk burned in the fireplace of the dining-room of Sunne Hall. My waistcoat was rather tight, two years since I had worn it . . .


Regular HW readers will recognise this material as being the same as that in The Phoenix Generation (1965, vol. 12, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight), Chapter 14: ‘Birkin for Britain’. The two chapters are not identical, for HW incorporates a complicated fictional scenario for the Chronicle version, which, at 19 pages (pp. 301-319), is longer; but all the material from that deleted Story of a Norfolk Farm chapter can be found there.


There are a few other small deletions: for example, two in connection with Lady Sunne, whose membership of the ‘Imperialist Socialist Party’ on p. 186 is changed to ‘what she and her friends believed’, and on p. 187 (last line) ‘of her party’.


At the head of the deleted chapter HW has written in pencil:


Cut out after months of pleading and ‘sound sensible reasons’ by Dick de la Mare, Geoffrey Faber, & others up there, Ann Thomas, etc etc etc. They thought it would get the book a very bad press . . .


The problem was, of course, that on 23 May 1940 Sir Oswald Mosley had been arrested and imprisoned under Defence Regulation 18B; he was condemned by all and sundry as a traitor, but without real cause or a trial – see the Postscript at end of this Appendix. Lady Mosley was also imprisoned soon afterwards. They were held for the duration of the war, although later released to house arrest due to Mosley’s illness.


On Friday, 14 June, following an official complaint by locals (almost certainly led by Major Hammond, who used ‘Goitre’ Gidney, the local rag and bone merchant, to approach Norman Jordan ‘for evidence to have me put in prison’ (HW’s diary, 12 May), plain-clothes detectives arrived at Old Hall Farm, searching the premises and questioning HW, before taking him to Wells police station He was locked in a cell over the weekend, but treated ‘kindly’ and allowed to write his farm story. He was visited by his wife and Ann Thomas, when they all sat in the yard behind the police-house. On the Monday morning he was taken to Norwich police station for an interview with the Chief Constable, Captain Van Neck, who released him without charge, because, as his diary records, ‘nothing was found against me’. But the Chief Constable warned him to watch his back, as the locals regarded him as a traitor working for the Germans. (HW’s subsequent avowals that he had been actually imprisoned were completely untrue, arising no doubt from an exaggeration of his weekend’s detention for effect.)


In these circumstances it would have surely been folly to have included such direct references to Mosley, although HW indicates in an MS note at the end of the deleted chapter that he feels a traitor for having done so – ‘a damned little Peter . . . over so slight a matter that no one would have heeded it’. But from this distance of time, and with the inclusion of that deleted material in The Phoenix Generation, it has all transmuted into a socio-historical context.


What is of interest (and considerable surprise) is that HW is using the name ‘Birkin’ for Mosley at this early stage (i.e. in 1940). Hitherto the presumption has been that ‘Birkin’ is the product of the fictional Chronicle novel-series; although as the character was always instantly recognisable as Mosley, one wonders why any nom-de-plume was ever used! The use of this name even extended in this first version to HW’s title-page quotation, which in these bound page-proofs is ascribed as:




The proofs were amended by HW to ‘Sir Oswald Mosley’ for the printed book.


At this point the quotations were actually on a separate page; but HW notes – ‘Transpose to title page’, in order to accommodate his new ‘Author’s Note’, now placed there instead. (With the type being hand set, as little disturbance as possible to already type-set pages was necessary to avoid the extra expense.)


There is no mention of this anywhere that I have found in HW’s archive, but the name ‘Birkin’ is surely taken from the famous racing driver, Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin, one of the Bentley Boys, who took part in Le Mans races in the 1920s and who died in 1933 from septicaemia after burning his arm on the very hot exhaust pipe which ran along outside the car at arm height. He had lived at Blakeney, just along the road from Stiffkey and Old Hall Farm.



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By strange coincidence, Birkin's daughter was the first wife of Lord Aubrey Buxton, MC, the owner of Old Hall Farm in recent years and Patron of the Henry Williamson Society until his death in September 2009, a role now taken over by his son James.


The other main (but still slight) omission/deletion in the printed version of The Story of a Norfolk Farm led HW into making a small error. On p. 26, when HW is driving up to Norfolk over the New Year 1935-6 and remembering his 1912 cycle ride, he stops at the mill, ‘now a sombre semi-ruin’, where he saw his first otter. The original page-proof version read:


Some one had white-washed a crude device on the door with the words, Birkin for Britain. This meant nothing to me, beyond a vague idea that Birkin was a revolutionary politician who addressed big open-air meetings which usually ended in fighting.


This was changed in the printed version to:


. . . with the words, Stand by the King. This was probably done in the days before the abdication of Edward VIII.


However, HW was actually making that journey several months before the abdication of Edward VIII. Obviously, in the tension of dealing with these changes, no-one noticed the tiny discrepancy!



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Postscript to Appendix A:


Pasted into the front of HW’s C.G.A. ‘Estate Book diary’ for 1940 are some newspaper cuttings referring to Sir Oswald Mosley’s detention. They are of historical interest, and help clarify the situation.


The first, from the Daily Express, is undated – but as it mentions 40 days of detention, one can assume the date was early July; indeed HW’s diary entry for 1 July states: ‘Mosley had his examination today, according to the papers. . . .’



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Then from The Times, again undated (but HW has written beside it ‘Monday or Tues, Weds, 9-10-11 Dec. 1940’), is a report concerning a session of the House of Commons. (Mr Stokes would appear to have been, from a comment made later in the report, a socialist MP.) HW has written his own comments alongside – basically a despair of fixed ideas, ‘which are all right if the ideas are those of a creative thinker . . .’ (No-one sees their own blind spots!)



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Although outside the actual time period of The Story of a Norfolk Farm, this 1940 diary comes within the complications surrounding its writing and publication. It opens:


Monday, 1 January: This is rather a sad beginning of Hope, or a New Year. Our country is at war, though none of the people will it.


It ends on 31 December with:


We are threatened with invasion in 1941, & I fear we shall be terribly mauled, perhaps mortally. . . . England, England, England, disentangle thyself and become again simple unencumbered Albion . . . But I am tired, & can write no more, though hope is still alive in my heart . . .


(Note the ring of William Blake about this – one of HW’s Romantic poet mentors.)






Appendix B: Other ‘Norfolk Farm’ writings:


The Story of a Norfolk Farm covers only a small part of the total story of HW’s sojourn at Old Hall Farm. In due course he wrote a sequel to this first book, but this was never published as such. Instead it was incorporated into the farm volumes of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, and will be discussed with that context. Vol. 12, The Phoenix Generation, covers the same period as The Story of a Norfolk Farm itself; the series then continues with vol. 13, A Solitary War (1966) and vol. 14, Lucifer before Sunrise (1967).


However, the full story of the farm can only be really understood by reading the large number of articles that HW wrote during that time, which indeed gave him the income with which to keep the farm going; more importantly, they shed light on many areas of his farming years. These are imperative reading for any serious follower of HW’s life and of farming at that time. They also reveal just how large HW’s writing output was during that time. These articles have been gathered together in a series of volumes edited with great dedication by John Gregory and published by the HW Society, and all are currently available either in book form or as e-books from the ‘Online Bookshop’ section of this website. The titles are:


nf chronicles    Chronicles of a Norfolk Farmer: Contributions to the Daily Express, 1937‒1939 (HWS, 2004; e-book 2013). The articles cover a wide range of subjects and the book include not only the original illustrations but also several photographs of the farm. The paperback is now out of print; the e-book is available for download.
nf heartofengland   Heart of England: Contributions to the Evening Standard, 1939‒1941 (HWS, 2003; e-book 2013). Headlines from the paper that appeared in the same issue as each article illustrate the progress of the war and make a stark reminder and contrast to HW’s essays. The paperback is now out of print; the e-book edition is available for download.
nf greenfields   Green Fields and Pavements: A Norfolk Farmer in Wartime (HWS, 1995; e-book 2013). HW’s contributions to the Eastern Daily Press during 1941-44. It has an introduction by Bill Williamson (HW’s eldest son, ‘Windles’, who worked on the farm throughout the war), and is illustrated by Mick Loates. Both hardback and e-book editions are available.
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A Breath of Country Air, Part One (HWS, 1990; one-vol. e-book 2013). HW’s contributions to the Evening Standard in 1944, with a Foreword by Richard Williamson (‘Baby Richard’ of the Norfolk Farm – now President of the HWS). The paperback is now out of print; the one-vol. e-book edition is available for download.


A Breath of Country Air, Part Two (HWS, 1991; one-vol. e-book 2013). HW’s contributions to the Evening Standard in 1945; plus the series ‘Quest,’ written for Woman’s Illustrated in 1946, which tells in honest detail family life immediately after the farm. With a Foreword by Robert Williamson. Both paperback and the one-vol. e-book edition are available.


Illustrated is the cover of the e-book edition.

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HW’s BBC radio broadcasts made during the farm years, under the series titles of 'Close to Earth', 'Green Fields and Pavements' and 'Still Close to Earth', are collected in Spring Days in Devon and other Broadcasts (HWS, 1992; e-book 2013) and Pen and Plough: Further Broadcasts (HWS, 1993; e-book 2013).


Illustrated are the covers of the e-book editions.

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nf indiansummer   HW also wrote an Introduction for Sir John Russell’s English Farming; this is reprinted as ‘English Farming’ in Indian Summer Notebook: A Writer’s Miscellany (HWS, 2001; e-book 2013; both paperback and e-book editions are available). In this essay HW equates the present war as ‘the second phase of the Great War’. The essay neatly encapsulates the Norfolk Farm era in 4 pages! Immediately following this essay is reprinted ‘The Winter of 1941’, first published in The Pleasure Ground, ed. Malcolm Elwin (1947).





Also of this farming era is HW’s collaboration with Lilias Rider Haggard in Norfolk Life (Faber & Faber, 1943). Lilias, daughter of the famous writer Sir Henry Rider Haggard, wrote for the Eastern Daily Press. HW had been reading her articles and contacted Lilias offering to edit them into book form. He contributed the first chapter and sundry notes, but it is not possible to really tell how much work he put into the book as a whole; certainly more than is evident. Lilias was very appreciative at the time but it would appear that friends influenced her against the sequel that HW suggested in due course. They felt HW had interfered too much with ‘her’ work (although it would never have been published in book form without his input into the project).


Rider Haggard had acquired the estate of Ditchingham House (near Bungay on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, the River Waveney) through his marriage in 1880 to Louise Margitson (its heiress). This resulted in his farming activities and the books A Farmer’s Year (1899) and Rural England (1902), a survey of agricultural decline. Lilias inherited the Ditchingham estate from her father, and when HW’s wife moved to Ditchingham after their divorce the two women became friends. HW occasionally met Lilias on his frequent visits to his ex-wife.






Also see: HW’s ‘Epigraph’ (dated ‘Botesdale, 1946’) in George Gill’s A Fight Against Tithes (1952). Gill had died and HW seems to have taken on the responsibility for getting the book published.


The following cutting is pasted into the front of his 1936 diary:



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