The Henry Williamson Society

 

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           Recently added web pages

 

           Dates for your diary

 

 
Henry Williamson

The writer Henry Williamson was born in London in 1895.

Naturalist, soldier, journalist, farmer, motor enthusiast and author of over fifty books, his descriptions of nature and the First World War have been highly praised for their accuracy.

He is best known as the author of Tarka the Otter, which won the Hawthornden Prize for Literature in 1928 and was filmed in 1977. By one of those extraordinary coincidences, Henry Williamson died while the crew were actually filming the death scene of Tarka.

Here in the Henry Williamson Society's website you can explore the man, his life, and his place in English Literature and history.

If you enjoy browsing through the pages of this website and wish to support the work of the Henry Williamson Society in furthering the appreciation of Henry Williamson’s writings, please consider either becoming a member of the Society or making a donation towards the maintenance of our website.

 

  


 
Anne Williamson has written an illuminating and considered essay about Henry Williamson's personal beliefs, In Search of Truth – Henry Williamson’s credo. We feel that her essay deserves a wide readership and are very pleased to present it on this website.
 

 
 
Web pages added in the last twelve months:
 
 
July 2018 Norfolk Life by Lilias Rider Haggard and Henry Williamson
June 2018 Genius of Friendship: T. E. Lawrence
May 2018 As the Sun Shines (an anthology, with 18 pieces from books published up to 1941)
May 2018 Lucifer before Sunrise (vol. 14 of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight)
March 2018

Waveney Girvan and the West Country Writers Association (of which Henry

Williamson later became president. This new page is an adjunct to the page on Girvan's

Bibliography and a Critical Survey of the Works of Henry Williamson.)

February 2018

Two additional pages to expand on our Richard Jefferies page:

Richard Jefferies Centenary Celebrations, June 1948

Henry Williamson and the Richard Jefferies Society

February 2018

The Daniel Brothers, London Rifle Brigade. This page was created courtesy of Tom

Daniel, grandson of one of the brothers, who provided the details and the marvellous photo.

(Updated with further information and photographs March 2018.)

January 2018

Francis Thompson (A look at his life and work; his influence on HW; HW and the Francis

Thompson Society; and HW's two essays on Thompson, 'A First Adventure with Francis

Thompson' and 'In Darkest England')

January 2018

Five essays and reviews by Fr Brocard Sewell:

'Facing the Spectres of the Mind' (review, 1960)

'Henry Williamson' (1961)

'The Power of the Dead' (review, 1963)

'Some Thoughts on The Flax of Dream' (1965)

'Some Memories of H.W.' (1980)

December 2017

'Some Notes on The Flax of Dream & A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight', by Henry

Williamson. This illuminating essay was first published in the Aylesford Review

(Vol II, No. 2, Winter 1957–'58).

November 2017

'A Fair Seed-time: an illustrated account of Henry Williamson's childhood', by

Anne Williamson. The page also includes perhaps HW's earliest known writing: a

school essay written in 1908 when he was 12, entitled 'Keepers and Birds of Prey'.

November 2017

In the Woods (including Appendices on: Fr Brocard Sewell and St Albert's Press;

'Machen in Fleet Street; HW's involvement with Aylesford Review literary events)

October 2017

A Soldier's Diary of the Great War by Douglas Bell, Introduction by Henry Williamson

(Not a new page, but revised and augmented – an album of pencil drawings and

watercolours by Bell, most drawn by him in 1915, has recently been donated to the

Society. The entire album has been scanned and added to this page.)

May 2017

A Solitary War (vol. 13 of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight; including HW's synopses

for a proposed film, 'Immortal Corn', 1940)

May 2017 The Story of a Norfolk Farm
May 2017 A Fight against Tithes by George Gill (with an Epigraph by HW)
 
 
 
 

 

 

2018 Dates for your diary:

 

 

— 5–7 October: Autumn Meeting and AGM. Programme to be announced.

 

— November: Southern Area Meeting, at the Harlequin Centre, Redhill. Precise date and programme to be announced.

 

 


 

 

An important resource on our website is the series A Life's Work. This is a descriptive bibliography of Henry Williamson's writings, title by title. Written by Anne Williamson and utilising rare archive material, it is not a bibliography in the strict sense of the word, but an illustrated description of each book – a synopsis of its plot; the circumstances behind Henry’s writing of it; Henry’s life at that time; and its critical reception. Anne Williamson is uniquely placed to write this, having both such an intimate knowledge of the writings and access to Henry’s journals, diaries and other archive material; we are fortunate indeed in being able to work with her in publishing this work here. It is planned to add her considerations of books, collections, significant essays and other material at relatively frequent intervals, as they are completed – 57 as at March 2018. Anne has now covered the The Flax of Dream, and its four constituent volumes, The Beautiful Years, Dandelion Days, The Dream of Fair Women and The Pathway, together with The Star-born; a short entry on HW's early contributions to The Weekly Dispatch as a novice reporter; and the 'nature' books. She is also working on her consideration of the individual volumes comprising the 15-volume A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight  and has completed the first thirteen books in the series. Other books covered include Henry's best-known work Tarka the Otter, The Wet Flanders Plain, The Patriot's Progress and The Gold Falcon.

 

 


 

 

 FRONT PAGE NEWS:

 

 

June 2018 — 

 

salar the salmon audio small   

Salar the Salmon is released as an audiobook, read by James Murray and published to raise funds for the Atlantic Salmon Trust, an organisation that since 1967 has raised awareness of the plight of salmon both inland and at sea, and encouraged and advocated conservation. All proceeds received by the publishers will go to the Trust: the Henry Williamson Literary Estate has waived its royalties, while reader, producers and studio have all given their services without fee. The audiobook is available either as a 6-disc set of audio CDs from Strathmore Publishing (price £20 including P&P in the UK, £25 overseas), or as a download from audible.co.uk (price £14.99). The run time is 6 hours 52 minutes.

 

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25 May 2018 —  To comply with the General Data Protection Regulation 2018 which has now come into force, we have reviewed and revised the Society's Privacy Notice. Click on the link to read this. There is also a link to the Privacy Notice at the foot of every page on this website.

 

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May 2018 Special Collections at Exeter University Library are currently advertising stipends to cover travel expenses for researchers to use the special collections, in particular the south-west writers’ archives and book collections. External early career and post-doctoral researchers are particularly welcome, but all serious research proposals will be considered. The link to information on how to apply is on the Special Collections homepage, next to the main image. 

 

Special Collections hold one of the largest collections of archives relating to 20th-century south-west writers in any university library. Writers include, in addition to Henry Williamson, Daphne du Maurier; Charles Causley; Agatha Christie; William Golding; A. L. Rowse; Ted Hughes; R. F. Delderfield; Ronald Duncan, Jack Clemo; and the Powys family. Printed collections include Sir John Betjeman's working library; the Chris Brooks library of Victorian literature and studies; Charles Causley's library; the Hypatia collection of books relating to women's studies; and the Sabine Baring-Gould library.

 

A total of six stipends are avilable over a two-year period, four being allocated to UK researchers, up to a maximum of £500 each, and two to researchers outside the UK, up to a maximum of £1,500. The deadline for applications is 18 June 2018.

 

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4 April 2018 — Details of the Henry Williamson Society's 2018 Schools' Writing Competition are now available, either from the menu bar on the left, or by clicking here. The deadline for entries is 22 June 2018.

 

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31 January 2018 Tarka the Otter (Putnam, 1927) is the runner up in a poll organised by the The Arts and Humanities Research Council to find the UK's favourite nature book, the BBC's Winterwatch programme announced this evening. In third place is Rob Cowen's Common Ground (Hutchinson, 2015), the winner being Winterwatch presenter Chris Packham's Fingers in the Sparkle Jar (Ebury Press, 2016). Thanks to all those who voted for Tarka!

 

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12 October 2017  The ninetieth anniversary of the publication of Tarka the Otter. The October 2017 issue of The Countryman carries an illustrated appreciation of the book by Miriam Darlington, acclaimed author of Otter Country, in its 'Country Bookshelf' column.

 

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13 August 2017  It was forty years ago today that Henry Williamson died. The Henry Williamson Society was formed three years later, with the aim of encouraging interest in and a deeper understanding of his life and work.

 

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19 May 2017 The Eastern Daily Press publishes both on its website and in print a feature on Henry Williamson's Norfolk farm (Old Hall Farm at Stiffkey), using family photographs taken from our own website page 'Life on the Norfolk Farm: an essay in photographs'.

 

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9 April 2017 The centenary of the storming of Vimy Ridge by Canadian forces (the webmaster's grandfather among them), on Easter Monday, 1917. To mark the fiftieth anniversary Henry Williamson wrote 'The Battle of Vimy Ridge', published in the Daily Express over two days, 6/7 April, 1967. Williamson was Transport Officer for 208 Machine Gun Company, situated only a few miles away, at the time of the battle, and the article relates his experiences, vividly recalled.

 

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11 March 2017 A bronze cast statue of Tarka the Otter is unveiled. One and a half times life size, it is sited next to the famous longbridge over the River Torridge at Bideford. See the North Devon Gazette's report.

 

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February 2017 100 YEARS AGO: On 27 February 1917 Lieutenant Henry Williamson, Transport Officer of the newly formed 208 Machine Gun Company, returned to France for his second period of service on the Western Front. 208 MGC joined the 62nd Division on the Somme sector of the British line, and took part in the Arras offensive and the Battle of Bullecourt in April and May 1917. Williamson was invalided home on 18 June after eighteen weeks’ active service in France, after being gassed when caught in a night bombardment while he and his mule teams were taking replacement machine guns and supplies up to the front line. Henry Williamson and 208 Machine Gun Company explores Henry Williamson's experiences and duties as transport officer through his letters, diary entries and other archival material, including original documents, and photographs of 208 MGC officers and men from Williamson's personal album.

 

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November 2016 Announcing a new web page, Henry Williamson and the London Rifle Brigade, 1915-1915: An Illustrated Timeline as a part of the Henry Williamson and the First World War area of the website. In August 1914 Williamson, then an 18-year-old Territorial private with the London Rifle Brigade, volunteered for overseas service. The page looks at his progress – mobilisation, embarkation, introduction to trench warfare at Ploegsteert Wood, and then being invalided home in January 1915 suffering from dysentery and trench foot  through his letters home and the records of the London Rifle Brigade. It is generously illustrated with unique material from the Literary Archive and other sources.

 

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1 July 2016 The centenary of the disastrous opening day of the Battle of the Somme. To mark the fiftieth anniversary Henry Williamson wrote two articles. The first is 'The Somme - just fifty years after', which was published in the Daily Express over three days, on 29 and 30 June and 1 July 1966. This brilliant and moving article, just as relevant today, deserves a wider readership, but regrettably the Express ignored our suggestion that they reprint it to commemorate the centenary. The second, published in the Evening Standard on 4 July 1966, is '7.30 a.m.: a time of hope that became an execution hour'.

 

somme

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 December 2015  We now have a Henry Williamson Society shopping bag, with HW's striking owl colophon printed in dark green on one side, and on the other the first sentence from his well-loved prize-winning novel Tarka the Otter:

 

 

HW bag web

 

The bags are eco-ethically sourced and manufactured at a Fairtrade factory. Just £5.50 each, they are strongly made of natural canvas, with short handles, and measure 42cm high x 37cm wide, with a 10cm gusset. Use one (or two) for your weekly shop, and avoid ever again paying 5p for a plastic bag!

 

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August 2015 The Society is very pleased to announce that it has reprinted as e-books Richard Williamson's first two books: his memoir The Dawn is My Brother, first published in 1959 and runner-up for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize; and his novel Capreol: The Story of a Roebuck, published in 1973. These are available at just £3.50 each directly from the Society, and at approximately that price from Amazon's Kindle Store and other e-book retailers. Please click on the links or the images below for full descriptions and/or to order the e-books.

 

 

dawn cover web               capreol cover web

 

 

Richard Williamson is the fifth child of the author Henry Williamson. Educated at schools in Worcestershire and Devon and self-educated in the local woods and fields, as well as in the marshlands of the North Norfolk coast, he joined the RAF on leaving school and wrote The Dawn is My Brother out of his experiences. He joined the Nature Conservancy in 1963 and became warden of Kingley Vale nature reserve near Chichester in Sussex, where, now retired, he lives with his wife Anne. He has been President of the Henry Williamson Society since its formation in 1980.

 

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May 2015 On Saturday, 16 May, Anne Williamson, the Manager of the Henry Williamson Literary Estate, presented the Literary Archive to Exeter University Library, Heritage Collections. The presentation was attended by other members of the Williamson family, members of the Society and officials of Exeter University, and formed the centrepiece of the Henry Williamson Society's spring meeting.

 

 

exeter presentation150516 web

Left to right: Robert Williamson, Richard Williamson, Anne Williamson, Dr Christine

Faunch (Head of Heritage Collections) and Michele Shoebridge (Deputy COO, Exeter

University). Anne is holding an original poem and sketch by the Cornish poet Charles

Causley, presented to her and Richard by the University as a token of thanks.

(Photograph courtesy of Robert Walker)

 

 

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February 2015 The Society is pleased to announce the publication, as an e-book only, of Anne Williamson's Following in Henry Williamson's Footsteps, an explanatory commentary on Williamson's On Foot in Devon, the quirky mock travel guide that he published in 1933. A detailed knowledge or prior reading of On Foot in Devon is not a prerequisite, for the numerous and sometimes lengthy quotations mean that the commentary can be read and enjoyed independently of the book itself. The price is £2.50. See our online shop for further details.

 

 

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OUT OF PRINT JOURNALS: The contents of journals now out of print (nos 1 to 30) have been scanned. Articles are available as PDFs from either the Journal Contents page or the Author and Article Title indexes, and may be downloaded or printed as desired. While this service is free of charge, those availing themselves of it may wish to make an appropriate donation by using the Donate button above. 

 

 

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Members of the Society are invited to submit their favourite passage (200–750 words) from any of Henry Williamson's books for inclusion in the new webpage that we are developing of extracts from his works.

 

 


 

 

Henry Williamson and his work: a selection of the views of writers and critics, in no particular order:–

 

 

Richard Williamson 'Portrait of an author in North Devon', Western Morning News, 24 May 1963. Click on link for the full article.
   

Ted Hughes, in his address at the memorial service for Henry Williamson, 1 December 1977, on Tarka the Otter

In the confrontations of creature and creature, of creature and object, of creature and fate – he made me feel the pathos of actuality in the natural world . . . I now know that only the finest writers are ever able to evoke it . . . It is not usual to consider [Henry Williamson] as a poet. But I believe he was one of the truest English poets of his generation.
Michael Morpurgo, Introduction to Salar the Salmon, 2010 It is a rare gift indeed for a storyteller to be poet as much as a storyteller, to tell a tale so deeply engaging that the reader wants to know what will happen and never want it to end, and yet at the same time tells it in such a way as to leave a reader wide-eyed with amazement at the sheer intensity of feeling that can be induced by the word-magic of a poet. Henry Williamson is just such a story-maker poet.
Charles Causley, letter to Henry Williamson, 1959 

Well, now – LOVE AND THE LOVELESS really is something.  I admire the rest of the novels in this series greatly – but, for me, this one is the finest so far of a fine bunch. . . . I haven’t come across anything that captures with such a magnificent fusion of straight fact and burning poetic imagination and sensibility and sensitivity the extraordinary climate of the times. I put the book with the very best of the first world-war stories: with Siegfried's Infantry Officer, the Graves autobiography, Aldington's Hero.  Grasping the sheer muck of fact as you have I'm not sure you haven’t out of it created a greater work of art then the lot of ’em.  It's ahead of Blunden's Undertones (this has always seemed to me muted, muffled) and up there with the very best, and with Owen's poems. 

George D. Painter

Here is an unrolling map of the labyrinth of three generations, our fathers, ourselves and our children, and the thread leading to the mystery - monster or divinity? - at the centre. In my belief ... the whole cycle [of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight] will ultimately be recognized as the great historical novel of our time, its subject as the total experience of twentieth-century man. 

John Middleton Murry

This will be in its entirety one of the most remarkable English novels of our time ... It is amazingly rich in all the living detail of a swiftly changing society; the characters are drawn with such loving sympathy and such firmness of imaginative outline that we are entirely absorbed by their vicissitudes. We are apprehensive for them, we are relieved; we rejoice and are sorrowful; we are angry and we understand and we laugh and laugh again. To be able to do this with us is the novelist's supreme gift ... I believe it is high time we awoke to the splendour and scope of his effort and achievement in A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. Begin with The Dark Lantern and read on; you will be the richer for it. 

T. E. Lawrence, letter to Edward Garnett, 1928

If I'd known he was so practiced I wouldn't have dared write him.
Malcolm Elwin, 1957 He emerges as one of the most impressively gifted and lavishly creative among writers of modern fiction.
James Hanley, on Young Phillip Maddison How well Mr Williamson conveys all the secret thoughts and doings of boys, living lives that are all heights and depths. Magically he suggests the era by subtle description.
Allan Wykes, review of The Innocent Moon in the Sunday Times To follow Mr Williamson through all the tones and tempers of his chronicle is to emerge with a sense – insistent and triumphant – of having been brushed by experience.
Michael Bradbury, review of The Power Of The Dead in Punch What emerges is a deep sense of truthfulness and accuracy and a complexity of experience.
Walter de la Mare, letter to Putnams, 1926 I have always thought that Williamson had a tinge of that very rare quality, or whatever it may be, called genius; and I feel convinced that in time it will be more fully recognised . . .
George D. Painter, 1959 It will be among the accepted facts of English literary history that our only two great novelists writing in the second quarter of the twentieth century, after the deaths of Lawrence and Joyce, were John Cowper Powys and Henry Williamson.
L. A. G. Strong, 1945 Few writers hold so surely the balance between outer and inner truth; fewer so generously share their vision with their reader.
John Galsworthy, letter to Edward Garnett, 1926 Do you know the work of Henry Williamson? It's uneven but at it's best extraordinarily good I think.
John Betjeman, review of The Dark Lantern in the Daily Telegraph There is a magic about this book . . . this excursion into a late Victorian suburb and merchant materialism is unexpected and it is as genuine and affectionate as it is accomplished.
General Sir Hubert Gough, letter to Henry Williamson I have re-read your story of our Fifth Army [A Test to Destruction], and was greatly moved. It made me realise once again what a wonderful people the British are.
Times Literary Supplement review of The Golden Virgin It is difficult to know which to admire the more, the skill of the characterisation or the art by which the character is subordinated to the theme without contrivance and without loss of humanity . . . The contrast between the tenderness of youth and the cruelty of war is most effectively described.
George D. Painter, review of How Dear is Life in The Listener Mr Williamson's prose is like sunlight and clear air; and then, when necessary, it has the taste of fear in the mouth, the terrible beauty of life on the edge of the abyss.
Kenneth Allsop, review of It Was The Nightgale in the Daily Mail The sad beauty of the love story laces a huge exquisitely worked tapestry of period and people.
Ernest Wycherley, review of A Solitary War in the Daily Express This astonishing sequence [A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight]. It is a major mark he is making on the modern novel.
Frank Swinnerton, 1937 Henry Williamson . . . seems to spend his days up to his waist or neck in a Devonshire river, watching the habits of otters, salmon and other wild creatures.
Cecil Beaton, diary entry, July 1970 The long days of reading are perhaps at an end (I have bitten into so many varied books, E. M. Forster, Thackeray, Henry Williamson and a 'How to Learn Italian) for we have personalities and places to cope with from now on. Then reading H. Williamson's 'Donkey Boy' filled me with adoration and unexpected tears.
 
Paul Scofield, in Castaways' Choice: 50 Castaways choose their Desert Island Book, Folio Society J. W. Fortescue, in his introduction to Henry Williamson's story [Tarka the Otter], wrote that 'our powers of observation are necessarily limited' and that 'our powers of imagination are always confined within the bounds of our human experience'. Nevertheless observation and imagination are still our only means of entering the daily life of the creatures of the wild, and such qualities are possessed in abundance by Williamson. The hero of Williamson's book is an otter, but other forms of life in the wild – insects, fish, flowers, grasses and birds – also claim his attentive devotion. Every sentence in this extraordinary book either summons the remembrance of something seen and known, or dazzles with a fresh observation; the perceptions are ceaseless, the longing for a natural order of things is unforgettably moving. It is both a celebration and a threnody.
 

We will add to these opinions from time to time. Submissions to the webmaster of further examples are welcomed.

 


 

 

Please note: Work is ongoing on the Research Centre pages. This site is actively maintained, and new content is added regularly, in the form of full-text articles from journals now out of print. Links to these can be found on the Research Centre Author and Title pages, and the Journal Contents page for nos. 1–30.

Your comments and suggestions are valued, please email the webmaster.

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