Jonathan Keates, John Moore, SF 70

England, Their England

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At the time of writing, the town of Tewkesbury, in the north-west corner of Gloucestershire, has been cut off by the flooding of its four rivers: the Severn and Avon, at whose confluence it stands, and smaller streams named Swilgate and Carrant. Only the great Norman abbey, with its necklace of Gothic chapels, rises above the turbid brown tides that surge across the meadows. England is more richly watered than elsewhere in northern Europe, but now this very same element seems thoroughly hostile to the humans who planted the woods, ploughed the fields and staked the hedges enclosing them.

This sense of nature reasserting herself would have appealed to Tewkesbury’s greatest writer. I’m not talking about Dinah Maria Mulock, author, as Mrs Craik, of the once-popular John Halifax Gentleman (1856), or of Henry Yorke, scion of the local gentry, who wrote under the pen-name Henry Green. The talent I’d like to celebrate is less blatantly moralizing than Craik’s and not quite so aesthetically self-conscious as Green’s. A Tewkesburian middle ground between them belongs firmly to John Moore, whose best books are rooted, as theirs for whatever reason are not, in the changing rural scene around him. Moore’s passionate absorption is understandable. It’s hard not to see this area of England, where the three counties of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire converge, as enchanted ground, the more so for me since I grew up there. My remembered hills are the pink granite Malverns and my land of lost content is that rolling terrain of pastures, cornlands and orchards stretching eastwards to Bredon and south to the Severn estuary.

Moore was, in whatever sense, all over this country. His family’s auctioneering business, based in Tewkesbury, sold the livestock, har- vests and machinery of local farmers. He knew about heifers, steers and store cattle, the difference between a wether and a tup, and just how a Fordson Major compared with a Ma

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About the contributor

Jonathan Keates grew up not far from Tewkesbury and his first published book, The Companion Guide to the Shakespeare Country, included chapters on many places familiar to John Moore.

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