Book reviews: John o' London's Weekly



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John o' London's Weekly, published by George Newnes Ltd, was founded in 1919, taking its title from the pen name of one of its early editors. Published every Friday, this literary weekly covered, in the words of its masthead, 'The World of Books: Plays: Music: Arts: Films'. It had a wide appeal, having a circulation of 80,000 at its peak between the two world wars. Contributors included the best-known literary names of the day as well as newer, less well-known writers. The Second World War, with the introduction of newsprint regulations which strictly rationed paper, had a dramatic impact on its circulation. High costs and changing tastes meant that sales did not recover after the war, and publication ceased in 1954, though it was briefly resurrected in 1960.


HW was among the contributors, not just as an occasional reviewer but also of a few short stories and articles.


Some of the reviews below run to three or four columns on the printed page, but for the purposes of legibility these scans are presented two columns at a time.



ADAMSON, Joy: Born Free (Harvill Press & Collins, 1960)

DARBY, H. C.: The Medieval Fenland and The Draining of the Fens (both Cambridge University Press, 1940) (we have no copy of this review, which was headed 'From marsh to meadow')

HEYGATE, John: Motor Tramp (Jonathan Cape, 1935)

JOHN, Augustus: Chiaroscuro: Fragments of an Autobiography (Jonathan Cape, 1952)

[LAWRENCE, T. E.]: The Home Letters of T. E. Lawrence and His Brothers, (Basil Blackwell, 1954)

LIERS, Emil E.: An Otter’s Story (Hodder & Stoughton, 1954)

MATTHIESSEN, Peter: Wildlife in America (André Deutsch, 1960)

MUNNINGS, Sir Alfred: The Second Burst (Museum Press, 1951)

MURRY, John Middleton: Community Farm (Peter Nevill, 1952)

RICHARDS, Frank: Old Soldier Sahib (Faber, 1936)

TOMALIN, Ruth: W. H. Hudson (Witherby, 1954)

TURNER, T. W.: Memoirs of a Gamekeeper (Geoffrey Bles, 1954)

WASHINGTON METCALFE, T.: Memorials of a Military Life (Nicholson & Watson, 1936)




23 November 1935


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 The worn dust wrapper of the copy that John Heygate gave to HW:


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Heygate inscribed the copy as if from his car (an MG Magnette) to HW's Alvis Silver Eagle:


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It reads:


From a Magnette

       to its famous

      older cousin


In memory of many rushes together through Devon – only our damfool drivers would never let us 90.


Well, Silver Eagle, good horizon-eating!






25 April 1936


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30 November 1951


HW's review of Munnings' The Second Burst was given over a page (taken here from a photocopy). This is the full-page layout:


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Munnings' illustration:


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28 March 1952


Augustus John's first volume of autobiography, Chiascuro: Fragments of an Autobiography, was published to great anticipation, given his colourful bohemian life style, and HW's review was given a two-page spread:


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16 May 1952


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This review copy was given to Richard Williamson for his birthday, although his father got a little confused over the date in his inscription!


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19 March 1954


HW was invited to review T. W. Turner's book in this letter from John o' London's, with a caveat and an interest aside about Richard Aldington's controversial book about T. E. Lawrence:


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While there is no press cutting of the published review on file, there is a typescript made from it, together with HW's corrected draft.






The days of the great European shoots appear to be over (despite what one hears of the amusing capers of certain football-pools promoters), and marvellous some of them were. Anyway, they are now part of our social history.


T. W. Turner contributes his part in a book – Memoirs of a Gamekeeper (Bles, 15s.) which would have delighted Richard Jefferies, since it is true in all aspects, written with faultless taste, that is to say factually, simply, with no grudge against others, by one who has worked hard all his life and became a master of his craft. To organise a big shoot, or any human operation involving diverse movements of men to a plan and time-table, requires more than a knowledge of terrain and cultivation of wild and semi-wild poultry.


The author began his working life before he left school at the age of eight, and has continued it to the present day, nearly eighty years afterwards. There he is in a photograph, trim and spare, of hardy East Anglian stock (Nordic) which, in those thin Polar airs drifting down the North Sea to Norfolk and Suffolk on the light or sandy soils, the breck or "scalt" lands, sometimes produces men who live to be a hundred. Why? Whole-grained bread, plenty of cabbage, and some fat bacon.


I have heard my parents talking of the hard times that their parents passed through . . . they had to eat rye bread, dark and sticky inside the loaf. Large families were the rule, maintained chiefly on bread, salt pork and potatoes. Nearly every cottager had a pig, and an allotment divided between potatoes and wheat, the latter hand-dibbled, hand-hoed, and eventually cut with a sickle . . .  threshed with a flail, the grist . . . to the village mill to be ground into flour. No gleaning (of local farmers' fields) could be commenced until after the gleaners' horn (made from a ram's horn) had been sounded.


The scene is the 25,000 acre estate of Elveden, in Suffolk (now part of the U.S.A.A.F. base at Lakenheath). The time, 1868–1953. Mr. Turner served first the Maharajah Duleep Singh, in the (now) fabulous late Victorian era; then the Earls of Iveagh onwards, from 1894, when the estate was purchased by the Guiness Trustees.


These Memoirs will reward the balanced general reader, who will be interested in the times, customs, people, habits of two distinct worlds (the Americans are treated with the author's invariable courtesy). The Victorian–Edwardian period has a museum interest, with its photographs of early motors, of Edward VII and George V, respectively, when Prince of Wales, Joseph Chamberlain in a bowler, etc. To me they are thrilling. The book will go on my shelf beside Colonel Hawker's Shooting and Richard Jefferies's Gamekeeper at Home.




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Some four years later Richard received this review copy as a birthday present (Richard had just completed his first book, The Dawn is My Brother, which was published the following year):


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2 July 1954


This is the full-page layout:


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Oddly, in the review the publisher's name is given mistakenly as 'Basil Blackwood'; correctly, of course, it is Basil Blackwell, the well-known Oxford publisher and bookseller.


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16 July 1954


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Pasted in the back of the book is this:


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10 September 1954


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The review gave rise to comment in the 18 September issue of The Bookseller ('the Organ of the Book Trade', as it likes to describe itself) by their pseudonymous contributor 'Henry Puffmore':


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There is also a carbon copy of a review of the book that is very different in tone to the one that was published; indeed it is somewhat sour. HW has written in the margin: 'Copy of review for John o' London's Weekly: a copy of this review also mailed to TIME magazine in New York.' If this was the case, then John o' London's must have asked him to re-write it. It is not know whether Time carried the review.


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7 April 1960


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The unusual and attractive cover of the first edition underneath the dust wrapper:


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22 September 1960


Taken from a photocopy


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