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The Brensham Trilogy: Portrait of Elmbury, Brensham Village & The Blue Field

John Moore

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Buy all three volumes of The Brensham Trilogy together for a small discount.

SFE No. 26 • John Moore, Portrait of Elmbury

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.

SFE No. 34 • John Moore, Brensham Village

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.

SFE No. 42 • John Moore, The Blue Field

‘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...

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‘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...

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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 . . .

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Shadows on the Green

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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...

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‘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...

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  1. How can you become so famous that they name two schools, the wing of a hospital, a museum and a pub after you … and then be totally forgotten? That’s the puzzle surrounding John Moore, novelist and countryman. He was born in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, seven years before the Great War, and he remained out of the limelight following rural pursuits all his life. However, he was one of the best known and loved writers about the countryside in the 20th century, and was widely published in America, Australia and New Zealand.

    Moore was described as the finest countryside writer of his generation by Sir Compton Mackenzie, gaining a reputation for his best-selling trilogy of novels published after 1945, Portrait of Elmbury (a lightly fictionalised biography of Tewkesbury), followed by Brensham Village (based largely on the village of Bredon) and The Blue Field. About these, he said: “Like Elmbury, Brensham is real in the sense that I have built upon a ground-plan and framework of truth: but I have purposely played fast and loose with chronology and topography.”

    Authors of this period were often reluctant to name real places in what seems to be an extension of the Victorian habit of writing “I lately visited the town of L—- in the West Midlands”, presumably on the grounds of respect and privacy.

    Moore had been a Fleet Air Arm pilot during the Second World War but after being grounded by injury, was still able to take part in the D-Day landings as a press attaché. His works included novels, short stories, studies of topography and language, country essays and calendars, and a history of the naval aircraft service. His other novels such as the jolly September Moon (about Hereford hop-picking) and Waters Under the Earth (about social changes in the countryside) are snapshots of times that now seem unimaginably distant. In the latter, Doddington Manor stands for England in much the same way that Howard’s End symbolised the same for E M Forster.

    It was inevitable that Moore would become concerned with conservation issues. He turned media attention on to the effect of technological advances on the countryside, especially the use of pesticides and, presciently, the end of natural pollination. He worked toward the preservation of historic architecture in his native town and helped to inaugurate the Cheltenham Festival of Literature in 1949. As his novels have the atmosphere of bygone times, it’s easy – but wrong – to write him off as a nostalgist.

  2. […] of lesser-known English classics (typically memoirs) that capture a bygone era. Titles include the Brensham Village series by John Moore that highlight life in a small countryside town after the First World War, complete with humorous […]

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