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Critical reception


Book covers


Some family photographs from the Shallowford era


Henry Williamson and Reginald Pound



John's Book



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In Chapter 15 of the first edition of The Children of Shallowford, HW tells us:


Windles was teaching himself to use a typewriter . . . John also learned to type; indeed, during this year, the sixth in the valley of the Bray, when he was away from school for the summer term because the pale thin little boy must live in the sun, he wrote his autobiography. I asked him to write a chapter every day, telling him only that he should write the truth, for that was the best kind of writing. That was the only help he got from me. I've half a mind to publish that book, it is quaint and direct, and terse in style. Perhaps I shall, at the end of this book . . .


And then, in Chapter 20:


I have also got permission from the author of About My Life to print his book, or such selections of it as are deemed fit to be published (and one chapter at least is starkly realistic, with ancient Anglo-Saxon words that are not usually printed). In those pages the reader will notice the laconic calm of John's style, compared with my own nervous, multi-detailed prose: contrast between classic and subjective styles.


John wrote his book when aged 6½: he had had to have a period away from school in order to recover from a ‘debilitating illness’. This was the period following his pneumonia and a burst eardrum (which left him partially and increasingly deaf). During that time, as an occupation to keep him from being bored, it was suggested that he should write a book – like his father. Here we have the result. It is a charming example of childish story telling. However – it is even more charming in his original handwriting, and so that is appended here. Below each chapter is given HW's transcript as given in The Children of Shallowford's penultimate chapter. Henry writes: 'Here it is, exactly as written.' — Well . . . not quite, as will be seen below.


The book itself is a small (4½ x 6½ inches) notebook with dark-green boards, perhaps originally intended for another purpose, as on the inside cover is pencilled: 


Proposed by Mrs W

Seconded Mrs S-R

Carried unanimously


And underneath, in red ink HW has written:


This book was written by John Williamson, at Shallowford, North Devon, during the summer of 1935, while home from school owing to debility. He was 6½ years old.



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Chapter One

by John Williamson


We have one sister and three Brothers and I live at shallow Ford Filligh and my father Does the gardening and we have a gardener. Me Margrate and Windles have a garden to. And Daddy looks after them.


and I like to play trains and there are Four cottages besides ours. And we have three servenses and a big garden and There lots of nests in the path. And I like Choclate biscuits.






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Chapter tow


And we have a river and Daddy has cauthg lots of fish in it. And dad has caught one sea trout and three samons. And we liked them as well. We give them lots of food And we are going to bath to-day. And yesterday when we where bathing I found a candle stick. We thought a fish Jumped up I be-gan to make stones Jump acros the water. And then we sat down in the water. And I sat down in the deep.



Chapter three


And when I first went to school I liked It. But now I don't. And I have to stay home. Because I have a hole in my ear drum.


I don't like sums but I like riting. And Im in standard one. The sums are easy and we have cakes sometimes. I like egg sandwiches.


We say prayers first. And then we must sloot the teacher. I sit be-side charlie Rippon. I go to a village school. And we have Choclate biscuits. And Ginger ones as well. And cheese sandwiches. I don't like them.






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Chapter four


Robert is naughty some times. I like playing with him. He has curly hair. He says Moocow. And all sorts of things.


I read to him. He likes birds. He chaces me with sticks, and chucks things about when the room has been cleaned. He cris when he must come out of the bath. I like him best of the family.


But he Pulls up my plants And I smack him on the hands. And I take him around the garden. And Mr. Ridd chaced me with the buckle strap.



Chapter five


When Daddy feeds the fish—we saw the samans. But they Do not eat the food wich daddy throws in. Only the trout eat that. We saw a big trout there to. They are ever so big theres one called Peter. I tasted some fish food but I didn't like it. The fish do like it. I expect you no that.


Daddy shouted to mummy because she cooked the sea trout wrong.






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Chapter six


Yesterday I and daddy went out fishing. Daddy caught elleven fish. I stayed up for supper. We had the fishes. Me and Windles giggled very much. When daddy was fishing I had a cartridg I picked up some grass. And then put it in the cartridg for Bullits. Daddy saw a salmon. And I played with a thistle. I Best-way stop now for I'm hungry.






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Chapter seven


My father is naughty some times. But I like him. He plays with me. Daddy has a trailer wich he Carrias behind his car. He carrad sand in it. and wood in it as well. Daddy takes us up to Goerge-ham. In the car. And we may go there for Whitsun. Daddy took us up to the turnel one sunday, But there were no trains running it was Dark with warter coming frew the ruth, Then we went on the diaDuck, high above the deer-Park. we found a Daed Pheasent on the rails. Daddy gave it to Dolly Ridd and Mrs. Ridd cooked it.



Chapter eight


I went to the sunday school out-ing Monday. We had tea first. And then the sports. We had the service last. We sang at the service of course. Daddy gave us eightpence each for the tea. And we didn't have to pay after all. I gave the money back to daddy. We had sweets give us and a orange to. I didn't like the sweets. But I likD the orang. Miss pippercot the teecher said that we must always go to sunday school. But I have eat up all my sweets. [Not quite as written, while the last sentence looks suspiciously like HW's handwriting!]






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Chapter Nine


Windles has a stuffed barn owl. And when I went in by car I saw others. One was a heron. I found a dead bird in the Roed. And I took the bird home to Daddy and asked him if I could Have it stuffed. But Dad siad I couldn't have it done like that.






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Chapter ten


Mummy widles and I went to land cross. And when we went to bed. We said ee-ee. And it is near the rail-way line. When we heard the wishle we jump out of bed to watch it. In day time Windles and I go up into the packing room to watch the trains their.






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Chapter 11


Some times I go to look at the farmers yard. And I see pigs. Chickens there. And there are broody hens. And the bigest pig . . .


. . . And keeper tooked to Mrs. Hill a lot about her turkeys And he tooked to Mr. Hill as well. And we stood by watching them.



Chapter 12


Next day we went out spliting wood for winter. And we went up to the viaduct were the oak logs ly. They have been lying there for five years. In one of the logs we found that some dry rot was eating a log. And in another log we found a lizard. And we split the wood with weges. It was raining while we where do-ing that. And Dad was swet. Atie Bass sawd the wood up. And we put the wood in a heap.






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Chapter Thirteen


We went out baving again. Dad was learning us to float. But it was to shallow. so I walked up in the deep. And they all came after me. We went in the deep to. To of us jumped about in it. And I played with my candle stick. [This last sentence does not appear above.] And then we saw that mummy was going home. And after she was in a thunder stoom came. But dad went on Baving. [At the bottom of the page HW has written: '(the laconic calm of the English gentleman after my highly temperamental account)']






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Chapter fourteen


And a long time after that we found out that they were chopping the trees near our house. And on saterday that's when Windles is home from school we always go up there then. And men stiking the Bottom of the tree. Then a crak comes from the tree ever so loud. And after that they have Breakfast. And they have meat sandwiches. I wish I could have one to. so good by till tomorrow.






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Chapter 15


In Augest we went for our holadays. Mage and I went to George-Ham. We went to Miss-Johnson's at the barn. And she has two swings. And no meat in the house onle vegtadles and fruit. I like moton and baked botatos. But Miss-Johnson calls Muton bludy cuops. I like bananas. When in the sun. Daddy and Windles where up in the Hut eat-ing eggs and Bakon and cake. And some times we go to the see-sands. When we went home


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I [told] Mage adout the rain. When the sun shines thays giges up to the clouds the sun sucks the water up in the clouds and fills them and they burst and we have a storm.






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Chapter 16


Mr. Pine is a nice man. He takes Windels out to stage head in the rain. I like him to. He give us jumps us up. My father has gone to garmany to see hitler. We have a new baby called richerd. He is a nice boy. He is not quite 2 monthes old. My mother has to rest to make good milk. He sukcs the milk up until hes had a enuf.






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Chapter 17


Saterday it was roberts bithday. He had two litele candels. My sister is a fool. She wores me when im doing my chapter. We had some nice Poem Bicuits. The next day when we where haveing tea I found a candel un-der my sponge-roll. In September we pick our pairs. Their not eit-ing piars atoll.






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 Chapter 18


My mother has gone to help our uncle to help him pack. (she took the baby whith her.) At the end of September he will be 2 months old. Our uncle is anice-man to. Hes comeing to stay with us next week Im glad. My father is riting a buot a samen.

Im six years old and in october Ill be 7.

Auntybess went in the river to get the eal-trap.

Mrs Ridd gave to mushrooms the smorning.






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 Chapter 19


when it was our other babys* bithday we didnt have a partey becois we had one last week. We had races in-stead I wone in jumping and ti-leg so I had 2 prises. our ante gave the prises. Dolly Ridd wonn five prisses. John Slee won free prises and sodid my brother. We slept in the  caravan last night and so we did we coident go to have brakfast so we had to go home in the rain.


* Rosemary, who being born a week after Robert, had to share the party.






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Capter 20


Robbert went to soth-molton last-niget and came back when we was in bed and fast asleep. Phyllis brother gave robert a wothe and a lillte man. I thinck its a go-ing to rain to day and it may wash our home a-way.






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Chapter 21


When they kill pig's they cut it's throit I now it's cruel to do that itnst it.


When they kill sheep they nock them down and cut it in hatf I think thay do.


Their is a tree crashed neir our house. Uncle came with his lugege yester-day and we wiar glad. he has made my sister a dolls houes the best you'v ever seen I bet you.



Chapter 22


(We are go-ing to barnstable fair to-morrow.)






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Chapter 23


When we went to barnstap fair I and my brother went on a thing called the cake-walk and the nowers ark twice. Our uncle took my sister on the dodgers. I did not go in them be-cause I dont like them. We went on the horeses onec. We went on the hellter scellter onec. My mother did'nt buy any rock. rock is what I like it's hot. Margaret was the only one to buy any-thing. She bought some sweets. I had one of them. we bought 5 huge balloons with big noses. A man wanted to have a thoto taken. But we would not let him.



Chapter 24 [though not headed as such]


I loved the Fair. Circuses are Better still I love those funny clowns. And once I went to one, and a litlle pony had to jump over a big Horse. But it only ran under it. HA. HA. HA. Well when I did that Ha Ha Ha I didn't raely mean it. I like rite-ing be-caese It makes me lathe.


I like fancy mixed bisciets. To-morrow i must write my last chapter. To-morrow I will be rite-ing some more funny things in my book.






Here HW inserts a totally fictitious entry, perhaps for dramatic effect, in which John describes how he pulled Robert out of the river when he fell in. In The Children of Shallowford, Chapter 20, 'River in Flood', he states that 'something happened that I learned of only when I read About My Life. When I questioned Loetitia and John about it, I pieced the facts together . . .' How HW did learn about the accident, and indeed what Loetitia and John thought about his fiction, is not recorded. In The Children of Shallowford the entry is given as follows:


Chapter 25


In January

when I was tak-ing

our two babys down

by the river. We came

to a little bridge by the

saw-mills. I thought I would

go across and get some

saw-dust. Then one

of the babys thuoght that the

water would hold him

so he stepped in. Then with cries

of terror I ran over the bridge and

tried to pull him out at last I managed

to by pulling him to the bank. Then we

started for hom I had two carry the baby

over the boggy parts be-cause he had lost

his wellingtons.






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Chapter 26 [though not headed as such]


Here we are a-gaen. Today I will write to say that I am very sorry to leave this book.


My father wants to be a farmer. We will be leave-ing Devon soon we dont know where we are go-ing yet. Im go-ing to say good by to all the villige-people. And the silver fish in the river. And the dear old house which has kept us safe. I wont be-adle to write any more of this book be-cause I am going back to school in six and a Half days time


Daddy is go-ing away. To by a farm. [These two sentences do not appear in John's Book. Instead, more poignantly, he writes, 'It is new yeares eve to-nighte.'] Daddy and I and all the others will have a bottle of shampain.


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The true Chapter 25 above, the last chapter in John's Book, is not quoted by HW in The Children of Shallowford. It reads:



Now it wasnt realy the end be-cause my let me do my last one now.


I am telling you about the fish and how we go feeding them.








John made a false start to his book, beginning at the back of the notebook, where the last few pages have been cut out, before starting again at the front:



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Back to The Children of Shallowford main page


Critical reception


Book covers


Some family photographs from the Shallowford era


Henry Williamson and Reginald Pound





Back to 'A Life's Work'