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Henry Williamson and the Richard Jefferies Society




The Richard Jefferies Society was founded in 1950, following the success of the 1948 Centenary celebrations in Swindon; it was instigated by Harold Adams. Samuel Looker, who had produced several anthologies of Jefferies' writing (in the same manner as had HW) and transcribed some of the 'Notebooks', was made President.


HW was probably a member from the beginning, but his first actual participation seems to have been in 1959, when a letter from Mrs Frances Gay, 'Secretary/Chairman', reveals that a talk by HW was being planned for that year's meeting.



jeff soc gay59



A further letter reveals that the date set for HW's talk was 7 November, and it ends:


You will find a big difference in Swindon – new estates nearly to the doors of Coate Farm.


Mrs Gay also notes that she had sat behind HW and Helen Thomas (widow of Edward Thomas) and their daughter Ann, at the 1948 Centenary celebrations.


HW's talk was a reading of his Wedmore Memorial Lecture 'Some Nature Writers and Civilisation', which he had recently given to the Royal Society of Literature.



jeff soc lecture



The next letter included a note concerning the fact, arising from HW's talk, that RJ had indeed met Thomas Hardy on 2 February 1880 – which note HW added as a postscript to the printed version of his Wedmore Lecture.



jeff soc postscript



On the death of Samuel Looker on 11 January 1965 at the age of 76, after several years of illness, the Richard Jefferies Society nominated HW to be the next President. There is nothing in his archive relating to this, but a letter from Mrs Gay, dated 8 September 1965, states that Mrs Looker has said that she was sure Looker would have approved HW's nomination, although she reveals that Looker had disliked HW by reputation until he had met him in 1948, when the two men had become friendly.


On 6 November 1967 HW gave the 'Richard Jefferies Birthday Lecture' to members, as the society programme shows:



jeff soc prog67



However, other than a report in the local paper given below (Mrs Gay posted cuttings the next day) the actual content is not known.



jeff soc gay67



jeff soc cutting2 67


jeff soc cutting1 67



In 1969 HW was the guest on Roy Plumley's Desert Island Discs programme, broadcast on 18 October. Apart from the choice of eight records, each guest was always allowed a luxury item and one book to take to the island. There was no question about HW's choice of book: Richard Jefferies' The Story of My Heart.


HW again attended the Richard Jefferies Society Birthday Lecture in 1970; it is not known for sure, but from the photocopied photograph below it seems likely from his presence there that it was Rolf Gardiner:



jeff soc lecture70



The Society celebrated its 21st anniversary in 1971. A booklet giving the history of the Society was prepared, for which HW wrote a 'Foreword' in the form of a most charming and gracious letter to Mrs Frances Gay:



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The occasion was noted in the local press:



jeff soc 21e




Another photograph was also taken at the time of HW with members of the society:



jeff hw jefferies



In addition, HW sent a donation of £50 to the society, as acknowledged by Mrs Gay:



jeff soc gay71



Mrs Gay was actually resigning at this point (hence HW's praise), due to failing health. HW would miss her – she made plum jam for him every time he visited (quite often I think!) AND a fruit cake.


Then, towards the end of 1974, and with his own health beginning to fail (he was approaching his 79th birthday), HW resigned as President. The Society kindly sent me a copy of his note a few years ago:



jeff soc resignation 



That he addressed the postcard to Mrs Gay at her own home address shows that he was becoming forgetful and muddled.


The summer of 1975 saw a marked change in the affairs of the Richard Jefferies Society, including several new names at the helm. HW is noted as a Vice-President (Mrs Gay had sadly died by this time). The new President was Professor W. J. Keith, Professor of English at Toronto University, Canada, who had written a critical study of Jefferies and also The Rural Tradition (University of Toronto Press, 1974), a study of eleven 'country' writers, which included a chapter each on Jefferies and HW.


That same summer an appeal to save Coate Farm was launched, Mark Daniel, the society's Public Relations Officer, writing to HW:



jeff soc daniels75



jeff soc coate



As can be seen, HW sent £50, but he seems to have made rather a muddle and sent the cheque to his bank by mistake, and he then asked them to send it back. Whether this money ever reached the appeal is not known – but it is evident from his poignant note that he was still aware of how much Richard Jefferies had meant to him. Shortly after this HW came to live for a short while with us (his son Richard and myself), but was then taken into care with the monks at Twyford Abbey, on the outskirts of London, until his death in August 1977.


Soon after HW's death the Richard Jefferies Society produced an A4 booklet of 'Tributes' which was put together by Brian Fullagar (a member of the society and to be a founder member and stalwart of the HW Society when it was formed in 1980). The various contributions show the warmth and high regard held for HW as a man and great respect for his writings.


In 1987 the Richard Jefferies Society produced A Centenary Symposium:



jeff cent symposium



This contains an interesting mix of material, and includes an article by Dr J. Wheatley Blench: 'The Influence of Richard Jefferies upon Henry Williamson', adapted from an article which had appeared first in the Durham University Journal and later reprinted, in two parts, in the HWSJ 25, March 1992, and HWSJ 26, September 1992 (this latter part scanned in two sections: section 1; and section 2)


The story continued in its own fashion. In 1989 Richard and Anne Williamson were invited to attend a ceremony at the Worthing Broadwater Cemetery to celebrate the refurbishment of the graves of Richard Jefferies and W. H. Hudson. Mark Daniels, of the Richard Jefferies Society, is the man second from the left. Brian and Beryl Fullagar (Brian being a vice-chair of both the RJ and the HW Societies) were also present, but sadly not visible in this photograph.



jeff grave 1989



The grave is currently looked after, together with that of W. H. Hudson, with considerable dedication by Michael Parrott, a member of both the Richard Jefferies and Henry Williamson Societies.







Further information about the Richard Jefferies Society can be found at their website.







Review by HW of Richard Jefferies: Man of the Fields. A Biography and Letters, by Samuel J. Looker and Crichton Porteous (John Baker, 43s.)



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This review was printed in The Spectator, 20 August 1965 (Samuel Looker had sadly died before his book was actually published).



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jeff spec review



After the review appeared HW informed Mrs Gay of it, who wrote to him on 8 September (the opening to the sentence at the top of the page is 'Thank you for telling me of your review in the Spectator. I received a copy of it from . . .'):



jeff soc gay65



There is another review in the archive, source and reviewer unknown, with HW's annotation:



jeff looker2








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