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 father, who was news editor of the Observer, to get a proper job. He was, he says, ‘flying from the threat of office life’ when he first presented himself for work on the farm of an old-established farming family in the countryside near Bury St Edmunds.
At first Bell made the townie’s mistake of assuming that country people were a fairly simple lot, but he soon thought differently. In this new world, he was the one who seemed unfit and incompetent. But he was a quick learner and a passion for the land took hold of him. He settled in Suffolk, and farmed there for the rest of his life, recording those early days almost as he lived them in a trilogy of lightly fictionalized memoirs, the first two, Corduroy and Silver Ley published in 1930 and 1931 (see SF nos. 22 and 46) and the third, The Cherry Tree, in 1932.
Bell may never have been recognized as a poet, but in these books his keen and sympathetic eye combined with the practicality of the farmer to create some of the most poetic yet down-to-earth accounts ever written of life in the English countryside in those last days of an old order, before mechanization took over completely. They were the books that soldiers slipped into their packs when they went to war in 1939 to remind them of home and the life that many of them had left behind. They have been favourites of mine since I read the first of them in a cottage looking out on to the same flat East Anglian fields and wide horizons that Adrian Bell came to love – a countryside which for me has always felt like home.
By the time The Cherry Tree opens Bell is established on his own small farm, Silver Ley, not far from Bury St Edmunds (which he calls Stambury). But although by this time he has grown to enjoy the life a
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