Richard Hillyer was the pseudonym used by Charles Stranks, a farmworker’s son who grew up in great poverty in a remote Buckinghamshire village in the years before the First World War. Country Boy describes how, against all the odds, he managed to educate himself and get to university. It is an extraordinary and moving story.
Hardwick (which Richard Hillyer calls Byfield) was a village virtually unchanged since Saxon times, where life moved to the rhythm of the seasons. The squire ruled the roost, and for families like the Hillyers, tied to the land and to the farmers who had owned it for many generations, there was no way out of poverty, no room for self-advancement. Boys like Richard left the village school at an early age and became labourers like their fathers.
Yet the snatches of literature he picked up in the classroom set this young boy’s imagination on fire. With battered volumes of Scott’s novels he had found thrown out for burning and books he managed to buy for a few pennies at a rundown market stall, he built up a small library. Among them were some textbooks, from which he taught himself Latin. When the Rector discovered this by chance, he could hardly believe it. It was he who helped Richard make his escape.
Country Boy is a touching and unforgettable book on many levels. Written with almost painful honesty but without bitterness, it is both an unsentimental picture of rural life in the early years of the last century, and a deeply poetic evocation of the unspoilt English countryside and its effect on the imagination of a sensitive boy. Above all it is a story of a fight against incredible odds which is totally absorbing to the end.
‘A fascinating book . . .’
‘I was thrilled to read Country Boy as I have been researching my family in Hardwick-cum-Weedon for about forty years – and had no idea that the book existed! I enjoyed the book hugely . . .’Read more
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