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Born in 1907, John Moore grew up in Tewkesbury at a time when such small English market towns still had a distinct and sturdy life of their own. Mass travel, mass media and the changes brought about by two world wars would gradually destroy this self-contained rural society, but in Portrait of Elmbury, the first book in a trilogy based on his home town, Moore caught and preserved it in captivating detail. Though far from sentimental, it is a joyful hymn to the fullness and variety of small-town life compared to the life he found in the city.
In this second volume of Moore’s interwar trilogy the setting moves from Elmbury – a lightly disguised version of Tewkesbury, where Moore grew up – to a village nearby. It is the 1930s, there is unemployment, and change is creeping in with mannerless weekenders arriving from the city, a shady ‘Syndicate’ of developers, an ugly petrol station and a local cinema. But there is still cricket on the village green, and Moore and his friends still go fishing, ferreting and bird’s-nesting. Moore tenderly evokes the last shadows of an England that was on the very point of vanishing.
‘I am going to tell you the story of a man of Brensham who was so wild and intractable and turbulent that he failed, in the end, to come to terms with our orderly world.’ And so The Blue Field, the last in John Moore’s trilogy of rural life in England, shifts the focus from town and village to a single farm and the life of its owner: William Hart.
Hart is a master wagon-maker, reveller and brewer of parsnip wine; a steadfast defender of small liberties; a self-professed descendant of Shakespeare who grows the finest Brussels sprouts in England. And he’s the man responsible for the field of linseed, grown in defiance of the War Agricultural Executive Committee, which flowers one summer morning on Brensham Hill. In the first volume of the trilogy, Portrait of Elmbury (SFE no. 26), Moore draws a vivid picture of growing up in an English country town when rural society was still self-sufficient. Brensham Village (SFE no. 34) is set in the 1930s, with change creeping in. The Blue Field brings us up to 1948, with the aftermath of the war signalling the end of this very particular way of rural life. In the touching, and often hilarious, stories of William Hart’s wild and intractable nature, Moore captures a very English sense of resistance and resilience. The old ways don’t go without a good deal of fuss.
Hart might well be the last of a dying breed, but there is nothing sentimental about Moore’s treatment of him. There are lusty summer evenings among the hedgerows, of course, but there are also frostbitten days bent double in the sprout fields. The prose is lively and quick-witted, with the glint of humour and pride that one might expect from an old local telling stories in the Horse and Harrow, Brensham’s raucous pub. The Blue Field shows us the richly textured world of which Moore was immensely fond: people with ‘poetry in their hearts and dreams in their heads – and, for much of the time, what feels like half the West Midlands on their boots’.
‘One of the best known and loved writers about the countryside in the twentieth century’ Sir Compton Mackenzie
A New England: Tewkesbury
Once in a while, a special book reaches out through the wisps of time and demands to be read. John Moore’s Portrait of Elmbury was written in 1945 and recalls his corner of England during the first...Read more
‘A warm glow of contentment . . .’
‘I absolutely loved Brensham Village. It is one of those books that gives the reader such a warm glow of contentment, in part because of the characters but also because of the beautiful...Read more
When Brensham Hill puts on his hat . . .
Almost every morning of their lives the weather-wise people of Elmbury lift up their eyes to glance at Brensham Hill which rises solitary out of the vale, four miles away as the crow flies . . .Read more
Shadows on the GreenRead more
There was one day that fell in early December, more exciting than Christmas itself . . .
Always on this occasion my father’s firm provided sandwiches and drinks for all comers: dealers, smallholders, cowmen, shepherds, drovers. (The more substantial farmers were entertained to luncheon...Read more
‘One of the most wonderful books I’ve ever read . . .’
‘I wanted to let you know that I ordered Portrait of Elmbury based on the review and excerpts in SF. I’ve just finished it and have to say that this was one of the most wonderful books I’ve...Read more
Down Tewkesbury Way
‘I have written a book which gives me much pleasure. It is a kind of full-length portrait of a small country town – this small town – between the wars. The sort of life that will never come...Read more
Sprouts and Parsnip Wine
Early one morning, late in July, the villagers of ‘crack-brained Brensham’ woke to a remarkable spectacle. There amid the customary colours of furze and wheat was a seven-acre field that ‘had...Read more