The Adrian Bell Collection brings together the best of Adrian Bell’s writing.
‘Bell writes always of the ordinary things, of the seasons, of memories, of rain and laughter. Gentleness fits him naturally, just as the purity of his words opens our eyes to a life all around us which we might otherwise never have seen.’
So wrote the journalist Clement Court of his contemporary, the farmer-cum-writer Adrian Bell, best known for his rural trilogy, Corduroy, Silver Ley and The Cherry Tree, which vividly describe a time before machinery took over much of the work of men and beasts, altering the landscape and the face of farming forever.
Adrian Bell was a rather frail young man of 20 when, in 1920, he left London to learn agriculture on a Suffolk farm. He arrived one autumn day on an old motorbike feeling all wrong for the part. Like many townies, he assumed at first that the locals were somewhat simple, but soon his own ignorance and initial inability to do the most basic physical tasks taught him a new respect.
A farmer, he discovered, stored away in his head thousands of facts about animals, crops and fodder, while his eye for a pig was ‘as subtle as an artist’s’.
Bell’s eye was subtle too. He grew to love the land, and Corduroy is filled with precise and poetic descriptions of the countryside and of farming life. It is not simply a period piece – it captures what is unchanging about the lives of those who live from, rather than simply on, the land.
The Cherry Tree
When the rather delicate would-be poet Adrian Bell left public school at Uppingham, his father, like fathers the world over, urged him to ‘get a proper job’. And perhaps no one was more surprised than his father when the 19-year-old Bell elected to leave home in Chelsea to work on a Suffolk farm. But that decision was the making of him. He farmed for the rest of his life, and out of that experience came a trilogy of lightly fictionalized memoirs: Corduroy and Silver Ley published in 1930 and 1931, and The Cherry Tree in 1932. In this final volume Bell makes a happy marriage and settles down with his wife Nora on their own small farm. But behind this cheerful picture lurks the shadow of the growing agricultural depression and the passing of an old rural order, which Bell, with his poet’s eye and farmer’s knowledge, records in poignant detail.
A Countryman’s Winter Notebook
In addition to the books that followed his famous trilogy, from 1950 to 1980 Bell wrote a weekly column called ‘A Countryman’s Notebook’ for Suffolk and Norfolk’s long-serving local paper, the Eastern Daily Press. His columns were, as his son Martin Bell says in his preface, ‘not really journalism but prose poems about the natural life around him’, and these essays share that which is common to all his writing – a deep appreciation of the small moments of each passing day. Now a selection of these beautifully crafted essays has been gathered together and introduced by Richard Hawking to form the first, we hope, of a quartet of Bell’s writings on the seasons.
Winter, properly, begins the series. In those days the weeks after harvest were a peaceful time for seeing out the old year and planning for the new. With microscopic concentration, Bell watches as a dead leaf performs an exuberant dance on a single thread of gossamer; he plucks the very last rose from his garden; and he delights in stirring up, in a pot pourri, all the fragrances of summers past. As the first frost snuffs out the showy fireworks of dahlias, he rejoices in the emergence of the splendour of chrysanthemums in cottage gardens. No detail escapes his watchful eye.
A Countryman’s Spring Notebook
Another treat for lovers of Adrian Bell to put alongside A Countryman’s Winter Notebook, which we published last year. This second seasonal selection from the weekly column Bell wrote from 1950 to 1980 for the Eastern Daily Press catches beautifully the arrival of Spring in the East Anglian landscape he loved and knew so well. Each essay is a little masterpiece, a fleeting moment captured with a painterly eye and the down-to-earth observation of the farmer Bell became after he left his fashionable life in Chelsea shortly after the First World War. Read one every morning and it will set you up for the day.
A Countryman’s Winter Notebook | Winter Noon
This is December; everything proclaims it: that glimmering sun that can hardly climb the sky, the hawthorn hedges all red with berries, running from the red roofs in one village to the red roofs of...Read more
A Countryman’s Notebook: Adrian Bell and the Loss of Rural Culture
Adrian Bell, most well-known for Corduroy and his ‘Rural Trilogy’, was a farmer-writer whose work reflects the changes in farming between 1920 and 1980. In the second half of his life,...Read more
‘What makes Corduroy such an enjoyable book is the way he writes about the experience.’
The majority of the book is Bell being introduced to a task, doing it badly, and getting better. What makes Corduroy such an enjoyable book is the way he writes about the experience. He is never...Read more
Bell’s first book has the virtues which allow it to transcend its times: acute observation, sincerity and that simplicity of style which does not date. Published in 1930, it portrays a way of life...Read more
How long had I been standing here under the old cherry tree?
How long had I been standing here under the old cherry tree? Minutes or years? While the storm with its batteries of thunder deployed across the sky, letting fall but a few drops – for all its...Read more
The writer Adrian Bell first arrived in Suffolk in 1920 – a delicate young would-be poet, fresh from public school at Uppingham and the polite drawing-rooms of Chelsea, under pressure from his...Read more
From the Farmhouse Window
The middle volume of Adrian Bell’s inter-war farming trilogy, Silver Ley (1931), is, in its quiet, unassuming way, the most poignant memoir I think I have ever read. Picking up where his first book...Read more