stream 1958 front    
First edition, Faber, 1958  

The background


The book


A note on different editions


Critical reception


Appendix: Mastigouche Photographic Essay


Book covers



First published Faber & Faber, 6 June 1958 (15s)

(5000 copies, which sold out fairly quickly)


The Country Book Club,1959

Reprint of 1st edition. Matthews’ Henry Williamson: A Bibliography states: 'The Country Book club edition was produced for sale to its members only.'


Ives Washburn, Inc. (New York, US), 1959 ($3.50)

Reprint of 1st edition


Verlag Paul Parey (Hamburg and Berlin), 1965, Der Fluss vor meinem Haus (‘The River outside my House’), translated by Burkhard W. Jülkenbeck. Uniquely, this edition is illustrated with photographs.


Macdonald & Jane's, 1975 (£3.25)

New and revised edition, cover and illustrations by Peter Cross


The Henry Williamson Society, 2008 (£13.99); e-book 2013 (£3.50)

Introduction by John Bailey; cover and illustrations by Mick Loates




The first edition was dedicated:



Harry and Mollie Stevenson Balfour


Harry Stevenson Balfour (1901‒1992) and his wife (full maiden name Neva Mary Christina Cameron – known as 'Mollie', born in Mauritius 1901) were currently living in Vale Cottage, Georgeham (where HW had resided in the late 1920s). Harry had moved into Vale House in 1939 with his mother, so would have been well established by the time HW returned to Georgeham in late 1946. He married Mollie in London in 1952 after death of his mother. Related to the Scottish writer Robert Louis (Balfour) Stevenson (whose mother was the sister of Harry Balfour's grandfather), Harry Balfour was a historian and thought to have been a history teacher; he later wrote An Account of the Parish of Georgeham together with an History of It (privately printed, 1965). He was also Chairman of the Cheriton Otter Hunt from 1956‒1973. Both he and his wife are buried in Georgeham churchyard. HW only mentions them once in his personal papers (see below), and no copy of the Georgeham book has been found in his archive, yet he was clearly on friendly terms with them.





A Clear Water Stream is straightforward autobiography covering HW's various fishing exploits during the 'Shallowford' era, but written in HW's uniquely lyrical style which, like the stream – or rather streams – that he describes, ripples, eddies, and flows through one's consciousness with refreshing clarity. The story it tells is at once familiar (think Salar the Salmon, The Children of Shallowford) and yet unfamiliar at the same time. It is a book that tends to have been rather undervalued within HW's total oeuvre, but it needs to be read in order to have full understanding of the background of other books and also to gain insight into HW's meticulous methods: mainly however, one gains understanding of the man himself.



The background:


Although nowhere is it stated, it is surely obvious that HW got the idea for his title, A Clear Water Stream, from Harry Plunket Greene's Where the Bright Waters Meet, which he had recently referenced in Tales of Moorland & Estuary. The very structure of HW's book follows the Plunket Greene pattern, using the home river as a base (for Plunket Greene, the Bourne in Hampshire; for HW, the Bray in North Devon), but with excursions abroad to other rivers, giving a nice diversity. I have not as yet found the words 'clear water stream' in juxtaposition in Plunket Greene’s book, but separately they are sprinkled almost on every page!


A point that needs clarifying here is HW's statement at the very end of the book, giving (as he frequently did) the date and place of writing:


stream colophon


Six months in the writing gives the impression that the book was as easy to prepare as it is easy and lovely to read. However, that does not appear to have been so in actuality, although I have not been able, for lack of primary source material, to tease out the whole story.


The first mention of the book in HW's diary appears within a long entry written over 2‒4 April 1956, which concerns decisions about the structure of the series of novels within the Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. At that point he had published A Fox under My Cloak (no. 5, 1955) and was working on The Golden Virgin (no. 6, 1957). He now, after a lot of agitation, makes a final decision to withhold the Lucifer (Norfolk Farm) material until its proper placing in the chronological time sequence, and so:


went on with The Golden Virgin though I was tired and had planned to REST this year, & write the Bray Stream Book for Faber – most of which is already done.


The implications there are twofold.


Firstly, that the book is already more or less written in April 1956 – a full year before his affirmation at the end of his published text as above. Some small evidence of this is shown in an article printed in the Evening Standard on 26 June 1939, 'I made a trout stream – by accident' (reprinted in Heart of England, ed. John Gregory, HWS, 2008; e-book 2013): which, with various changes appeared in Strand Magazine, June 1943, as 'The Story of a Devon Stream'; which in turn then was printed as 'A Devon Stream' in Countryside Mood, an anthology compiled by Richard Harman (Blandford Press, 1943). The book, with illustrations by Joan Rickarby, is described succinctly on its inside flap of the dust wrapper as ‘A collection of short stories by authors famous for their devotion to the countryside'. The appeal of the book to a war-jaded public was such that it was reprinted five times in the following three years.



stream countryside1     stream countryside2



(This anthologised version of ‘A Devon Stream' was reprinted in HWSJ 46, September 2010, pp 29–33.)


Secondly, that there had obviously been an outstanding arrangement with, or obligation to, his earlier publishers, Faber & Faber: or rather, to Dick de la Mare, for so many years HW’s friend and confidant, but with whom there had been a big falling out over the publishing of the Chronicle series, when HW originally took them to Collins instead of Faber (but then, after Collins turned it down, moved on to Macdonald). At that time he tried to placate de la Mare by stating that he would offer Faber a (or any) nature book in the future. That cannot surely have been legally binding, but HW perhaps felt obligated. In practical terms, however, A Clear Water Stream was probably more suited to Faber's list than to that of Macdonald.


On 11 October 1956 HW noted that he had finished The Golden Virgin, then qualifying that by stating that he had actually finished it some weeks previously but had now finished his final revisions, and posted it off.


Diary entries during the first six months of 1957 are almost non-existent, until Wednesday 27 March:


I posted off pp 79-132 of Stream book to Mrs. Tippett [his typist, living in Cornwall], registered for £400.


So work on the book had evidently been ongoing over the winter months. Again little, until suddenly:


Thursday, 4 July 1957: Got a very depressing, alarming, and almost destructive letter from Dick de la Mare, registering his great disappointment, together with all other readers at Faber & Fabers, at the Clear Water Stream book. I wrote at length, asking him if he would use these massed critical opinions constructively, i.e. tell me exactly what pages and lines etc of the TSS were considered poor or despoiling – then I would try & rebuild the book.


Unusually, the correspondence on this matter has not (so far) surfaced within HW's archive: unfortunately filing of papers and letters at this time seems to have become non-existent. Interestingly, HW's diary for the next day does not mention his own book: instead, on impulse – 'sent Dick Part I of Richard W's book'. His son Richard (then in the RAF) was preparing his own first book, The Dawn is My Brother, which HW was 'overseeing'; it was in due course published by Faber. (A new illustrated e-book edition of The Dawn is My Brother was published by the HWS in 2015.)


The following day, 6 July, HW got to work mending the large gate to the Field, noting it had been destroyed by jeeps in 1944 and never repaired. He wanted to get this done before leaving for Ireland on 28 July. He had arranged for Elizabeth Tippett and her children to stay in the Field while he was away, and the day before leaving she arrived he hung the 'rebuilt oak palisade gate'. On the 28th, HW, together with Christine and young Harry, left for a camping holiday in Ireland, noting 'usual tantrums'. A week later they arrived at Bellarena, home of John Heygate, where they were to stay until their return on 11 September.


On 6 September he noted: 'The Golden Virgin published today.' But the following day he was thrown into a frenzy after reading Ken Allsop's review of the book in the Daily Mail, in which Allsop erroneously stated that HW had been awarded the MC. He decided he had to return to England immediately, but could not get tickets changed, and so they spent the last day or two once more camping, before returning as planned on 11 September.


He arrived back in Georgeham at 6 p.m. on 12 September: 'read letters in King's Arms [the 'Lower House']. Then visited Harry & Molly Balfour – delightful people – & got to bed at midnight.' That is the only mention I have found of the Balfours – to whom he dedicated this volume – within his personal papers. But he was clearly on very friendly terms with them.


Friday, 11 October: Posted to ET of new revision of Stream [followed by a list of various page numbers].


Wednesday, 23 October: I motored to Elizabeth Tippett at North Pethermen to get back the Mss/Tss of A Stream, having to recast it (for the 5th time). Got back at midnight. 110 miles.


Tuesday, 29 October: I posted the recast Tss-mss of Stream to Elizabeth Tippett, page 1–179, 14 chapters, ending Migration, where weeds appal me, I try to clear them: let go the parr in Clay Pit (marked fish): & leave for Florida.


Thursday, 21 November: I completed (typed) corrections & revisions of A Clear Water Stream this afternoon & posted the copy to W. J. Crawley of Fabers. [Note: not to Dick de la Mare, as used to be usual.]


On 5 December he travelled up to London. The following day:


Went to see Crawley of Fabers. Agreed £400 advance for A Stream. Pub. April-May 1958. 15% Royalty. Agreed to run through TSS next week & remove a suggestion of author's grievance against the Poacher. Had lunch with Harvey of Macdonalds – 6000 sale of G. Virgin.


(This contract is not present in the archive.)


On 12 December he met Father Brocard Sewell at a dinner at the home of his daughter Margaret. This is the first ever mention of Father Brocard, and would appear to be the first time the two men met; by that time Fr Brocard's plans for his special issue of the Aylesford Review devoted to HW must have been well advanced (Aylesford Review, Winter 195758: Vol. II, No. 2).


Proofs of A Clear Water Stream arrived on Thursday, 27 February 1958. The following day HW noted that they must be returned to Faber 'by tomorrow'. He asked Christine to read one copy while he sorted out another.


I found several slipshod phrases (result of fatigue in the various recastings) but found generally it was a good book, & also a story. If anything, the style is too visual, or “optic nerve”, as M. Elwin criticises in his essay in The Aylesford Review.* But it was meant to be: a style, alas, possibly obsolete now that the camera & the cinema can show such scenes direct. I gave all I had in such books, to be truthful & clear & visual: & feel now that I'm getting very frayed & nervy, all work & little, if any, play.


(* HW was extremely annoyed with Elwin over the content of his essay as he had used information about future books and other subjects which HW had confided to him privately. Several copies of this issue have notes scrawled against them to this effect!)


Saturday, 1 March: Christine finished reading a proof of A Stream, thereby helped much. The TSS & printers proof was posted. . . . Have now got near end of Chapter 15 in A Test.


Thursday, 6 March: [In London]: Went to Fabers in morning & looked over points in proofs of A Stream.


Further notes indicate he continued to work on chapter 15 (of the book at the time provisionally called A Test to Destruction, but eventually titled Love and the Loveless), finally recording on 30 May in his Tablet Diary:


Finished No. 7 Novel (Love & Loveless) today, thank God. Now for a spell of outdoor work.


The publication of A Clear Water Stream on 6 June is not mentioned. But HW notes a few misprints and corrections in his file copy:



stream misprints



He also inscribed a copy to his first wife, which does not appear to have been presented, for it has 'File Copy' written on the cover! The inscription is intriguing, but nothing further is known about the fishing pastor in Scotland; there is nothing in the Archive – was this arranged by Faber perhaps?



stream gypsy



In due course his American agents, Brandt & Brandt, arranged a contract for an. American edition to be published by Ives Washburn, Inc., for which his total advance was $500: $250 on signature, $250 on publication. The contract was signed on 26 December 1958 – Boxing Day – and HW's witness was 'Christine Duffield' (his second wife's maiden name): an easy way to sort the little problem of finding an independent witness! The book was published 1959, exact date not known.


The story does not quite end there, however, as HW's diary note on 25 June 1961 shows:


I gave Professor Herbert West, of Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, the TSS/MSS of A Clear Water Stream for presentation by me, to the Dartmouth College English Library. He said “The Dean will write you a letter of thanks”. (I wonder . . .)


HW had met Professor Herbert Faulkner West on his first visit to America in the autumn of 1930 when he had given his lecture 'Hamlet and Modern Life' to the Dartmouth College in February 1931. (See HWSJ 45, September 2009, for full background of this visit.) West visited England the following year and stayed with HW at Shallowford, and then wrote his interesting memoir The Dreamer of Devon. West made various visits to England over the years, and the two men stayed in touch in between by sporadic correspondence. On this particular 1961 visit, West, by then a book dealer, asked if HW would donate a manuscript to the College Library. HW did so, but had private reservations about the affair, especially when no letter of thanks ensued. He decided West might be deceiving him. In the end all was well – but the matter left a rift between the two men. Examination of this manuscript would necessary to establish full details about alterations, cuts and any dates etcetera that it might reveal. It is dated by HW 'Oct. 17, 1961', and annotated:


Probably the Third Revision of


before it was severely


& thus published.

HW. August 1958





The book:


stream contents


The first edition was not illustrated. The heading vignettes to the chapters below are taken from the 1975 edition, drawn by Peter Cross, followed by those in the 2008 HWS edition by Mick Loates, with captions taken from the chapters that they illustrate.


stream 1cross
stream 1loates
'I was back in the summer of boyhood'


HW and family – his first wife, Loetitia, eldest son William (Bill, or 'Windles', born February 1926), and baby John (born October 1928) – moved from Vale House in Georgeham the few miles east to live in the cottage known as Shallowford on the Castle Hill Estate of Lord Fortescue in the village of Filleigh on the southern edge of Exmoor at Michaelmas 1929: Michaelmas being 29 September, and the day when rents and property agreements were traditionally renewed or changed hands.


Here HW describes his first view of the meadow through which the little River Bray flowed, and over which he had two miles of fishing rights that went with the lease, as they:


stood upon an ornamental bridge rising steeply upon three arches.


Below the bridge was a deep and wide pool fed by three streams cascading under the arches. . . . Standing on the ornamental bridge of grey igneous rock, I looked into clear water upstream.


This is the iconic 'Humpy Bridge', which features in several books and articles: a bridge which one might have conjured up out of the imagination – but which was (and still is) just as HW described it:



stream humpy



The cottage lay a little way outside the deer park . . . built of the usual Devon cob washed with lime . . . Sunflowers and hollyhocks grow against the lower casement windows. Behind them. Pear trees were held to the wall by staples. . . .



stream shallowford

Shallowford, probably in Edwardian times from the dress of

the couple in the doorway



We read of that first, very wet, winter; and the problem of the fireplace that gave no heat into the room. Resolving that led to the disastrous loss of the lovely blue slate slab, against his specific instruction: still rankling thirty years after the event!





stream 2cross
stream 2loates
'The fish was jerked into the cowslips of the meadow'


HW remembers his childhood and his first roach, caught in Bedfordshire with his cousin: John Charles (Charlie) Boon, who was killed on 16 November 1916, aged 21, during the Battle of the Ancre in the last phase of the Somme, and buried in Frankfurt Trench Cemetery. (He was portrayed as Percy Pickering in the Chronicle novels; see Anne Williamson (compiler), 'Cousin Charlie: a tribute' in HWSJ 43, September 2007); and also with the ‘Crowstarver' – James Holliman, known as Jim, who became a Lance Corporal in the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and was killed on 1 July 1916, commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. HW immortalised him in his story 'Crowstarver' (The Lone Swallows, Collins’ Kingsway Classics, 1928; the story was renamed 'Boy' in the 1933 illustrated edition). Here, Holliman is given his true background – that of a carter's son, who acted as a 'crowstarver' in his school holidays.


HW then moves on to further boyhood fishing trips in his local 'preserves' with his Thames Roach pole rod – which he hid 'among the rhododendrons' on his last visit before war broke out, and never saw again.





stream 3cross
stream 3loates
'I supposed him to be a curate'


The scene returns to the Bray. HW sets off to buy himself rod and tackle and buys a 'two-piece split cane, nine feet long and weighing four ounces': plus reel, line and flies:


So I rediscovered the delights of water and of fishing.


But mainly he does, indeed, 'survey the river': walking its length, musing thoughts, and describing it minutely, together with other fishing characters that he meets, including his own landlord, 'The Lord of All': in actual fact Lord Fortescue, who graciously offers to share the cost up to £30 of the very necessary restocking of the river.





stream 4cross
stream 4loates
‘Henry and the fishmaster'


So, 'wearing goggles and flying helmets, windscreen flat', HW and companion set off in the Alvis Silver Eagle sports car 'over the border' to a Somerset Fish Farm where:


hundreds of thousands of trout – Rainbow, Loch Leven and Brown – were hatched and reared every year.


And we read some considerable detail of the life of a salmon and the comments of the 'Fishmaster'. HW puts in his order for three hundred yearlings, one hundred two-year-olds, and three large fish: total cost £29 (not commented on in the book, but note – just under the amount Lord Fortescue had agreed to pay!). They will be delivered the next day at half past ten.


We read of this procedure on the following day, as the fish are distributed along the length of HW's stretch of the river, up to the pool below the railway viaduct – the Fireplay Pool, so beloved by HW.


A trip to London allows the purchase of proper clothes suitable for fishing. Then he is given a lesson – or, in fact, two: for as well as a lesson in how to cast a line, he learns that his fish have swum downstream and are being caught by others in large numbers – indeed, the fish which his 'tutor' brings with him for lunch, is one of HW's own!


Then, as he walks his river bank, he sees the fish are having difficulty ascending a weir and so, with some difficulty due to long disuse, he sets to opening a 'fender' to help the fish move up water, and describes the passage of the fish. (Readers who have been following HW's work will realise that this tale has appeared in a previous book.) The chapter ends with HW placating the poachers, whose fishing he has ruined: men out-of-work through no fault of their own – men who had fought in the war. (Note – even in this volume there is a constant, although muted, reference to the First World War.)



salar fender

A salmon fender – note the salmon entering the flume, about

to ascend: a fine photograph by HW





stream 5cross
stream 5loates
'To the south lay the Burrows'


Winter, and no sun reaches above the trees on the hill overlooking Shallowford cottage. HW describes first a walk (in fact partly by train) from Shallowford to the estuary and the coast. By the lighthouse (now long gone) he watches four porpoises playing in the water, but two men in a boat have also spied them and set out with a gun: one of the porpoises is shot. There is a nuance of previous stories here.


Then we shift back to walks by the river, relating the variety of things noticed. As the season improves so he begins to feed his trout again, set around the antics of an old brown trout, which thrives on being hand fed.





stream 6cross
stream 6loates
'Mullheads, or miller's thumbs'


Salmon ova arrive, and HW prepares a pit to make a pond in which to rear them: hard work, helped by his 'man', who talks constantly of Tolstoi, Shelley, and Shakespeare; Dostoevsky, Fielding and Henri Barbusse – and back to Tolstoi. His 'man' is Cecil Bacon, the old reprobate who had once worked for the Rector at Georgeham. Bacon can be found in several books, under the guises of Coneybeare and Rippingall – even those in which he could not possibly have featured in real life! The progress of their work is related in detail.


HW explains his plan of action for the river to an acquaintance – a retired judge, a fisherman. The Judge refers to Plunket Greene's Where the Bright Waters Meet:


'The book is a classic, charming, oh delightful!'


He then continues with a tale about an ironmonger who ruined a river – basically by interfering with nature, which actually has its own rhythm and method of keeping a status quo – its own balance.


Next a little HW gem: a tiny detail of worms collecting up:


the spring feast of apple blossom . . . worms were priests of the soil, the great mother which gave all life.


That night in bed he hears a sound as of flutes playing magically in the air: next morning –


Three trout were left in my pond. Otters had collected some of the royalties from Tarka.





stream 7cross
stream 7loates
'How pleasant it was, to stand on Humpy Bridge'


The instructions HW gives to himself to accommodate a hatchery are recounted in precise detail (as elsewhere there are similar instructions for fireplace making – and Hut construction!). All is to be set on the dining room table, the long dark wooden refectory table so redolent of Shallowford and the Norfolk Farm –



children 20

The Williamson children seated at the refectory table at Shallowford

Left to right: John, Windles, Richard, Margaret and Robert



and involving the children's cumbersome aquarium, in which swam a goldfish. So the story meanders its watery way, telling the song of the river in miniature, ending with an affirmation of the poet's spirit:


So from the abyss, with frailty, but with certainty when inspiration arose, the poets had sung, the Spirit singing through them. . . .


But immediately the chapter ends prosaically with a description of his samlet gorging a pair of shrimps.





stream 8cross
stream 8loates
'Looking over, I saw trout of all sizes'


The Bray valley becomes hot and airless.


The sky was white and hurt the eyes. Hot blasts of air were rising, to churn with other fiery streams and make electricity, which charged the dry air until, able to carry no more, the invisible clouds would release their flashing shocks into the earth.


We are with our author as he fishes: we see what he sees and experience what he experiences. That is one of HW's great strengths. The tale is so immediate and so vivid that the reader is there and takes part in every moment, excitement or disappointment. It is not just fishing of course, but a myriad of detail of the life that abounds around and is sustained by water.


After fishing, a swim – in the pool by Humpy Bridge accompanied by, but separate from, the children. But not just a refreshing dip: HW becomes an element of the water itself and so does the reader. He sees a kingfisher family, but later finds he cannot describe it as he would wish: but of course he has captured the little cameo scene superbly.


The chapter ends with a brief passage about collecting water crowsfoot plants:


One day, motoring from London to Devon, I stopped beside a river bridge . . .


So here the story 'A Devon Stream' (mentioned in the 'Background' section above) appears on a single page; although it does get a reprise later in the book.





stream 9cross
stream 9loates
'I began to throw out my line'


This chapter relates HW's trip in the autumn of 1930 at the invitation of his American publisher, John Macrae (not named until nearly at the end of the chapter) to join an annual fishing trip to a Fish and Game Club in Quebec Province, at (again not named here) Mastigouche. It is a very faithful account of that holiday.


HW sailed from Southampton on 6 September 1930, arriving at Montreal on 13 September, where he was met by Macrae's son Elliott (known as 'Jimmy'). The fishing trip, accompanied by a French-Canadian guide, René, lasted until 30 September, when the club closed down for the winter, upon which they all travelled down to New York, where HW then lived until the beginning of February. Then, having been joined by his wife Loetitia, the two travelled down to New Hampshire, where HW gave a lecture entitled 'Hamlet and Modern Life' at Dartmouth College, and also at Harvard and Yale. It was this visit to America that gave rise to his book The Gold Falcon, a most interesting novel with a vivid account of life in 1930s New York.


(The full background can be found in the entry for The Gold Falcon and in HWSJ 45, September 2009, which is devoted to HW's American visits.)


This chapter is the only time that HW writes of this fishing expedition to Mastigouche. A number of photographs were taken on the trip, and these form the core of the Appendix: Mastigouche Photographic Record. He received a truly great treasure from the trip, a drinking cup, the gift of his guide René, who carved it. This is the upturned cup:



stream ottercup



It really is the most beautiful object, combining practical use and high artistic merit: the otter's five tiny claws on each paw marked in black ink, as also the eyes, nostrils, and mouth. The short thin leather strap has a wooden toggle (to hang from – what? Button-hole, perhaps? Or fishing bag?) attached by a tiny hole drilled right through the neck and burred off flat on the forehead: still intact these many years later.





stream 10cross
stream 10loates
'It was a creeper of the March Brown'


HW watches his river – preparing his mind for writing a book on the life of a salmon (Salar the Salmon, 1935) – and relates all the details he sees. 'The water itself and all the life therein . . .'  and especially the emergence of a 'March Brown', which he touches, upon which it flies away; to the great disappointment of his young son (Bill), hidden in shrub next to the bridge, who had also been watching it. He tells too of the birds that live there: lesser spotted woodpeckers (rare even then, it seems – endangered now) and the joyful dippers. Then he sets about:


a job I had long meditated, of making dams of concrete across suitable places in the river, to raise the river level behind the barriers, and provide better holding for fish.


It was, of course, hard work in winter weather in bitterly cold water – gravel and cement mixed into old potato sacks obtained from the farmer, but:


At last several petrified jute sacks, each about five feet long, lay in fixed bulgings upon the gravel . . .


We made four dams altogether.


('We . . . a friend most willing to help' was Ann Thomas, who came to live at Shallowford in the autumn of 1931. See AW, Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, p. 145; Sutton Publishing, 1995.)


Hard work, certainly, but note HW's thoughts:


This was no Passchendaele winter; half a mile away was a room with a fire and dry clothes.


Thoughts of the war are ever present. The following spring shows the work has paid off, for the minute water creatures, the food so necessary for the fish, are in abundance.





stream 11cross
stream 11loates
'She leapt and smacked down on her side'


'Improvements' to the dams are made with posts and wire-netting. Then he watches a five-pound grilse and manages to get some photographs (which appeared in Goodbye West Country). It was a long hot summer, with no rain for weeks.


One of HW's lyrical phrases here is spoiled (certainly for him) by a rather glaring misprint. The sun sets, and we read:



stream mussel



Presumably his writing of 'exterior' was misread, and then went unnoticed in proof reading. This was printed correctly in the USA Washburn edition, but still incorrectly in subsequent English editions, including the most recent one published by the HWS in 2008, much to the chagrin of its editor.


 A few lines further on, we read:Death would surely come to the maiden . . .’


This is an almost unnoticeable reference to his own quite extraordinary short story 'The Maiden Salmon' (the last chapter of Devon Holiday), but also to the poignant music 'Death and the Maiden' by Schubert, which must surely have been in his mind when writing that story. Here we read of the mating of 'his' grilse with a male sea-trout of many seasons – so ensuring immortality, although she herself must die.


But not all is well: a sheep is dying from an infestation of blow-fly and is being worried by wasps. Author and son make a visit at night to burn out the wasps’ nest. Next morning the remaining grubs – several thousand of them – are fed to his Loch Leven trout, and especially to the sickly-looking 'Clown', who then recovers. But HW longs for rain to freshen the sluggish water, dead for want of enlivening oxygen.





stream 12cross
stream 12loates


Our author wakes in the middle of the night and hears rain falling: but the initial 'spate' is road-water run-off. At breakfast his second son (John) announces it is a spate: father demurs, to the child's fury. But father is wrong. It is indeed a spate (a flood-run of water in the river from hills above). HW mentions:


an eddy in which bubbles revolved about a corked and empty medicine bottle.


(Hence Peter Cross's illustration above.)


When the spate and its accompanying meadow flooding have abated HW decides to fish, but nothing rises to the special 'yellow-bodied' fly. Indeed – there are no fish. He discovers to his consternation that the reason for this is that the fish-pass fender has been nailed shut (with six-inch nails!). After some nervous hesitation and brute force, and then appropriate tools, he solves the problem.


When I left, the water was pouring under the bridge.





stream 13cross
stream 13loates
'Salmon endured for a purpose'


'At the beginning of September' HW and Loetitia (known as Gipsy) pack the Alvis Silver Eagle with camping and fishing gear and head north en route for their destination: Islay, southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. This was in fact in 1931, six months after their return from the visit to North America. They had been invited to partake in a holiday organised by 'friends': these are actually Gipsy's cousins from Instow, Sir Stephen and Lady Renshaw and family (Maurice and Margot – 'Melissa' of the Chronicle), and others, certainly including another glamorous cousin, 'Fan' Chichester (see AW, Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, p. 143‒4 for brief facts about this holiday). On the journey up, he writes, 'the next morning we left for Lancaster and Kendall, and the long road rising to Shap Fell, entering a high wild land where the curlew glided on hooped wings . . . A stop for some beer and postcards sent to the children in Devon . . .' This is the postcard that he sent to Windles:



stream hebrides1


stream hebrides2



When they reached Islay,


We lived on venison, black-necked pheasants and an occasional ptarmigan. We walked far over the heather . . .


It was grand, body-hardening country.


Unfortunately, due to dry weather the fishing is non-existent: instead HW ruminates about salmon, their lives, and the meaning of their lives. The passage ends: '. . . the purpose of life, as shown



stream hebrides quote



Rain finally occurs on the last day of their holiday, so instead of leaving HW decides to stay on and fish, using 'a moth-spoiled Black Dog' from my grandfather's japanned circular iron case' (possibly that was a Hibbert relic rather than a Williamson!). HW describes the playing and finally catching of his first salmon: 'a summer grilse, which turned the pointer of the kitchen scales to 5lb'.


Due to this delay he had to drive the 550 miles home in one exhausting fell swoop, feeling himself to be a salmon enduring its hazardous journey back 'home'. All experience, at this time fine-tuned to preparation for his future salmon book. There actually appears no reason why he did this mammoth drive other than that he decided so to do!


A number of photographs survive from the Hebrides holiday:



stream hebrides3

Gipsy and HW on Islay

(photo probably taken by Fan Campbell at the picnic below)

stream hebrides4
HW, Fan (Chichester) Cambell, Gipsy, and Fan's dog
stream hebrides5
HW, Gipsy, Fan (in front of Gipsy) and Sir Stephen Renshaw





stream 14cross
stream 14loates
'What parental curses had come from yellow beaks'


Nog – 'Old Nog' – features in many of HW's earlier books, particuarly Tarka the Otter, and the heron is a firm favourite with HW readers. HW remarks here that for him Nog brings 'memories of five hundred dollars' (presumably for the sale of the story to the American magazine Collier's Weekly, in 1925). But there seems to be an invasion of them: all bent on catching HW's trout, his 'Loch Levens', and the 'Clown' was vulnerable. 'That would never do.' Indeed the trout is slashed at, but HW is able to provide him with a safe refuge.


HW watches and describes: the reader imbibes and learns. But action needs to be taken: 'I bought a box of No. 4 shot cartridges.' With crafty stealth he manages to shoot one of the herons: its flesh is boiled up and minced and made into fish pellets to feed the sick Clown with. Another is shot and treated similarly. The Clown recovers!


Two otters appear, together with four youngsters. Our author watches them play in a sinuous follow-my-leader – the origin of ‘the fabulous Loch Ness Monster’? And HW tells us here the origin of the name 'Tarka':



stream tarka



This leads to a long and kindly reminiscence about Arthur Heinemann:


One of several old-type Bohemian sporting characters. . . . He died, a poor man, in Taunton Infirmary.


Heinemann (1871–1930) was a quite extraordinary character. Born in Sussex, educated Eton and Trinity, Cambridge, he had been involved with hounds first in Essex, then buying the Cheriton Otter Hounds from William Cheriton in 1902; but selling them again in 1905 due to financial problems. He bred the famous ‘Parson Jack Russell’ terriers, founding The Parson Jack Russell Terrier club. His main interest was in badger hunting. Well-known in sporting circles, he wrote in The Field and similar magazines under the pen-name of ‘Peep-out’, and was often very outspoken. His housekeeper and kennel maid was Annie Rawle, who, after Heinemann died in 1930, became housekeeper to the Williamson family, then living at Shallowford (see the entry for The Children of Shallowford).


To offset the otters HW decides to fish, but this makes him discontented and he decides to present the catch to the 'Lord of All', even though it is very late in the evening. HW then feels, despite a gracious reception, that he has committed a grave social error (one is reminded of his various faux-pas in his early officer training days at Newmarket in 1915). However, later, lying in bed with a sore throat, he hears his 'old landlord' ride up to the door, bringing some jelly together with a note asking if HW would teach his grandson, home for the holidays, 'to fish with a dry fly'.


And so he does: but neither the fish nor the boys are interested, and his instruction ends in throwing stones at a rusty tin and other objects, 'a miniature Battle of Jutland’. In return for this 'service' HW is given six fishing slots in the saw-mills water, but catches nothing: this is where the otters had their holt in a hollow tree, and the fish are elsewhere!


(It is sad to record that this lad, Hugh Peter Fortescue, Viscount Ebrington, born in 1921, son of the 5th Earl and the Fortescue heir, as a lieutenant in the Royal Scots Guards (Royal Armoured Corps) was killed in action in the first Battle of El Alamein, on 17 July 1942, aged 21, and is buried in El Alamein Cemetery. HW's 'Old Lord' (the 'Lord of All': the 4th Earl Fortescue) died in 1932 – see following chapter. The 5th Earl died (heir-less) in 1958, just as this book was published. The title passed to his younger brother Denzil. The cousin mentioned by HW who also came for the fishing teach-in was Wentworth Beaumont, the heir to the Viscount Allendale title. The 5th Earl Fortescue's wife, Margaret Beaumont, was the daughter of the 1st Viscount Allendale (Wentworth was the son of her brother). The Castle Hill Estate was left to the 5th Earl and Lady Margaret's daughter, Eleanor, Countess Arran, who is Patron of the Henry Williamson Society (together with the Hon. James Buxton, who currently owns Old Hall Farm – the ‘Norfolk Farm’ – inherited from his father, Aubrey, Lord Buxton, and our original patron). It makes two interesting 'HW' connections for our Society.)


This is a fairly complicated but adroit chapter. One that invites academic analysis of its apparent random 'stream of consciousness' meandering.





stream 15cross
stream 15loates
'I hauled armfuls of dripping weed'


It is very clear that HW feels himself to be guardian of his river and its occupants. The fish are migrating, and so are the elvers (young eels). HW ponders the science behind that amazingly intuitive behaviour with the 'fishing' Judge on his annual week's visit to the Fisherman's Arms.


The Judge suggests he marks the fish with a silver tag attached to the adipose fin. (This is a big feature within HW's superb story 'The Maiden Salmon', the last chapter of Devon Holiday, and originally written in 1934 – the period of this present passage.)


Now the Judge sees the mass of white flowers of the water-crowsfoot (Ranunculus flavens) which HW had so excitedly procured from the Wiltshire chalk stream early in this book – and which has flourished amazingly well. The Judge is not amused! Such a plant has no place in an acid water stream. There are hints at criminal negligence and damage. HW's imagination runs riot – fines and imprisonment will ensue to atone for this gross sin. At 3 a.m. the following morning HW gets up and:


went forth into the water-dim dawn to begin a task of removing all traces of my weed from the river.


A Herculean task! HW's comparison is to Tregeagle of Cornish legend, condemned to empty Dosmaré Pool on Bodmin Moor – a task begun in prehistoric time and still not yet completed.


Now the death of the 'Lord of All' – goodness personified – is announced. Hugh, 4th Earl Fortescue, died in the autumn of 1932, a few days after the death of his wife. HW and his wife attended his funeral service at Filleigh on All Saints Day (1 November).


HW is afraid to start the salmon book which he has contracted to write. But rescue, or rather distraction, arrives in the form of an invitation to visit the Southern States of America. His wife urges him to go. So, marking the salmon parr, soon to be smolt, with silver wire, he, and they, leave for an adventure across the sea.





stream 16cross
stream 16loates
‘"Yes captin, raised and born on dis here ribber"’


This chapter relates HW's visit to Georgia to stay with Mrs (Miss Louisa) Reese in the spring of 1934. It is a recasting of material found in Part 3, 'America', of The Linhay on the Downs & Other Adventures in the Old and New World (1934), in itself a reprint of his article series 'Southern Sun', written for the Sunday Referee while he was out there. (Full background for this visit can be found in Tony Jowett, 'Dixie Days of 1934', HWSJ 45, September 2009, illustrated with material from HW's archive, pp. 81–99.) The invitation came at a time of deep emotional crisis in HW's life, his total infatuation for the young Ann Edmonds ('Barleybright') being frustrated by her parents and indeed because of  Ann's own motive, which lay in her very different ambitions. (See Anne Williamson, 'Barleybright, or the Tor Cross Venus', HWSJ 46, September 2010, pp.56–70.) Basically, and fortuitously, HW was now provided with an escape from his own turmoil.


The main thrust here is a short fishing trip HW made from Georgia to the Everglades of Florida with an ebullient American writer and journalist, Edison Marshall. It gives a very true picture of this exciting foray into quite exotic tropical country, and gives an exact flavour of life there in the mid-1930s: buses crowded with negroes (not then a derogatory term – that was the common name for black people then, and HW uses it with much affection); alligators and poisonous snakes in the water, as well as unknown fish and birds.


But although excited by all he sees, HW feels quite haunted by an invisible past almost already totally obliterated. (He perhaps felt it vanishing fast.) This is underlined by his thoughts about Frederic Delius (one of his favourite composers), sent into exile there by his family to oversee the family orange groves: the rhythms of the indigenous music enhanced his own compositions. This feeling is further personified 'by the ghosts of great trees brutally logged off' during the nineteenth century.





stream 17cross
stream 17loates
'The water, so beautiful with its pellucid flow'


As explained in the preliminary paragraphs, the chapter title is taken from the poem Mistress of Vision by Francis Thompson. The influence of this poet on HW from a very early stage cannot be over-estimated: discussion can be found in the entry for Francis Thompson. It will suffice here to note that, for HW, the concept 'all things linkèd are' was a part of his life ethos.


'My visit was over . . .' But it has created memories: memories for HW and, through his writing, also for his readers. We have had set out before us nature and social history: English nature, the Canadian outback and the Everglades of Florida, all imparted with sensitive awareness – and lyrical ability.


HW prepares to return to England, taking the train to Montreal and embarking from there. (Not without problems, but these are not mentioned here.) The voyage is made enjoyable by the presence of students, with whom he roams the out-of-bounds upper decks (social class being still much in evidence in the 1930s). Back at Shallowford, his excited children vie to tell him that the fish are fine.


HW walks beside his river: heron are evident, the air cold, the water clear and


had a bluish tint, very cold and clear, the spirit of salmon.


He recognises and stalks Old Nog, who finally cornered turns and flies defiantly over him as he takes the photograph of his life. Only he had forgotten to take off the lens cap!


The mood and tone changes. We have moved into a new year: 'The Sun has entered the constellation of Taurus. (Taurus is the period from mid-April to mid-May.) We read a passage that is truly HW. He likens the writing of a book to the daily passage of the sun through the curve of the sky, and on into the night.


All things have life, even the dead. I could feel these presences, of the elements that composed me; but they would not take form. Shaken by feeling, I moved about the room, knowing that I must wait for the influence of truth.


The outdoors calls him to fish, and we now read the details of his catching his first salmon, weight nine pounds. His diary records the event as 27 April 1935. (Except that it wasn't actually his first salmon: apart from the small one caught on the Hebrides visit, he had caught an eight-pounder the previous autumn; but of course the drama of the story here demands it to be the first!)



stream salmon

HW and his 'first' salmon,

outside Shallowford



At last he begins to write the salmon book, finding it very difficult. Again he is tempted out to his river. This time it is a mayfly which comes under his mind's and pen's scrutiny of the mystery of its life.


Death and transfiguration – or transfiguration and death: which was the order?


However, the book does get written, although:



stream end



His work is done. Shallowford and the valley of the Bray have served their purpose. It is time to move on:


. . . autumn came and we were packing up to go to Norfolk, where I had bought a derelict farm in order to reclaim it . . .


One last excitement, or satisfaction. On his last walk he sees a salmon with 'a twist of silver wire upon its adipose fin'. His grilse has returned to its home river to spawn. (The knowledgeable reader is surely expected to feel the power of 'The Maiden Salmon' hovering here.)


The reader will also know that the move to the Norfolk Farm did not happen quite like it reads here; but this is an optimistic book – an affirmation of faith in the purpose of life.





A note on different editions:


The Country Book Club: Reprint of 1st edition, 1959.


This reprint uses the same typeset pages as the first edition, but with reduced margins, with a new title page which bears the imprint ‘The Country Book Club, London 1959’. On the verso it states ‘This Country Book Club edition was produced in 1959 for sale to its members only by The Country Book Club Ltd at 38 William IV Street, Charing Cross, W.C.2, and at Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordhire.’





Ives Washburn, Inc. (New York, US), 1959 ($3.50).


This is essentially a reprint of the UK edition, although there are some small revisions, as marked in HW’s file copy – for example:



stream corrections



Perhaps oddly, these revisions were not incorporated the 1975 Macdonald edition.





Verlag Paul Parey (Hamburg and Berlin), 1965, Der Fluss vor meinem Haus (‘The River outside my House’).


The book was translated into German by Burkhard W. Jülkenbeck. Uniquely, this edition is illustrated with six photographs. Five of them are by HW, three of which had previously appeared in Goodbye West Country and two in the first edition of The Children of Shallowford. The remaining photograph is similar to that of a salmon taken by HW which appears opposite p. 166 of Goodbye West Country, but is of a brown trout; the photograph is credited to Walther Rohdich. Perhaps the publishers felt that HW's photograph, while remarkable, was just not good enough.


While no detailed textual analysis of the differences between the German and English editions has been made, the book has certainly been pruned and edited, having only twelve chapters compared to the original seventeen. The following table shows the omissions:


1 Fishing Cottage   1

Das Haus am Fluss

'The House by the River'

2 The Boy Who Loved Fishing   2

Der Junge, der das Angeln liebte

'The Boy who Loved Fishing'

3 I Survey the River   3

Ich besichtige mein Reich

'I Inspect my Domain'

4 I Visit a Fish Farm, and Meet Poachers   4

Ohne Lehrgeld geht es nicht

'Without Paying to Learn it's Not Going to Work'

5 Dark Months    

Most of this chapter omitted, the last few pages

being incorporated into the following chapter

6 The Judge's Warning   5

Die Warnung

'The Warning'

7 I Make a Hatchery   6

Eine idee nimmt Gestalt an

'An Idea Takes Shape'

8 At Last, a Dry-fly Purist!     Omitted

Canadian Backwoodsman


Zwischendurch in Kanada

'Between Times in Canada'

10 I Stare at Water and Make Dams   8

Wieder am Fluss

'By the River Again'

11 Water Play   9

Kritische Sommertage

'Critical Summer Days'

12 Spate     Included in Ch. 9 above
13 I Behold the Hebrides     Omitted
14 Nog & Co.   10 Old Nog & Co.
15 Migration   11



16 In the Deep South     Omitted
17 All Things Linkèd Are   12

Abschied vom Fluss

'Farewell to the River'

This chapter has been severely cut - even allowing

for the smaller print in the German edition, it has

only 8 pages compared to 22 in the English edition.






Macdonald & Jane's, 1975 (£3.25).


This new and revised edition has a dust wrapper and illustrations drawn by Peter Cross. It has a new dedication – to HW's first wife Loetitia, who had supported him through the period herein covered.


To Loetitia who said,

'Thank you for giving me

such beautiful children.'


The revisions were actually minimal. As stated above, some that had appeared in the earlier US edition are not present here.


Peter Cross drew vignettes as headings for each chapter: the most truly evocative being that of 'Humpy Bridge' adorning Chapter One. The attractive dust wrapper illustration is also by Cross.


There are two typewritten versions of HW's blurb (they can be classed as 'Introductions), the first, based on this 1975 edition, has been heavily, and somewhat confusingly, revised:



stream hwblurb1



The opening of the second is based on the US Washburn edition; when it was written is not known:



stream hwblurb2a


stream hwblurb2b



Two points of interest here: the 'Golf Tournament' mentioned in the penultimate paragraph was no less than the very first Masters, founded by the legendary amateur golfer Bobby Jones and held at Augusta, Georgia, in 1934. Today it remains one of the premier golf tournaments, and one of the four 'Grand Slam' events. And, of course, he did not fly 'by air to New York'  – commercial trans-Atlantic flights did not begin until 1939 – but crossed the Atlantic by passenger liner.




Henry Williamson Society, 2008 (13.99; e-book 2013, £3.50)


This new edition, revised to incorporate revisions in other editions, has an Introduction by John Bailey, with the dust wrapper design, coloured frontispiece and line drawing vignettes by Mick Loates.


The book is charmingly dedicated by the Society:


In honour of Henry and Loetitia

and the Shallowford family.


This edition is still in print, and can be purchased via the Online Bookshop in this website; there is also an e-book edition. This edition is the result of a happy combination of HW Society members John Gregory, as Publications Manager and Editor, and Mick Loates, noted artist and long-standing member of the HWS, whose work has included painting the illustrations for The Illustrated Salar the Salmon (Webb & Bower, 1987).


John Bailey's Introduction is a percipient essay into HW's writing, his life and, in fact, his principles: 'none who have felt as much, or as deeply . . . so driven by [nature's] life force, its power and its dignity’.


John Gregory explains here that the heading used for the final chapter, 'All things linkèd are . . .' is taken from Francis Thompson’s The Mistress of Vision (New Poems, 1897):


All things by immortal power,

Near or far,


To each other linkèd are,

That thou canst not stir a flower

Without troubling of a star.


The visionary metaphysical poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907) was one of HW's first great influences and, like Richard Jefferies, another nature mystic, remained so throughout his life.





Go to Critical reception.





Book covers:



First edition, Faber & Faber, 1958. This featured Faber's classic typographical dust wrapper design of the period:


stream 1958 cover


stream 1958 back





The Country Book Club, 1959:


stream 1959 cover


stream 1959 back





Ives Washburn, Inc. (New York), 1959:


stream US1959 front


stream US1959 back





Verlag Paul Parey (Hamburg and Berlin), 1965. This rather pleasing sketch of Humpy Bridge is apparently drawn with a felt-tip pen, with a light-blue watercolour wash:


stream 1965 cover


stream 1965 back



The blurb on the front and back flaps translates as:


Henry Williamson, author of the now world famous books ‘’Tarka the Otter’’ and ‘’Salar the Salmon’’, is regarded in England, America and Germany as a master of nature writing. As a young volunteer in the First World War he fought at Ypres. As he says of himself, the Christmas Truce in no man’s land in 1914 changed his whole life. Not only did he become a lasting promoter of English-German friendship, he preferred the solitude and open air in the natural world to the turbulent and unnatural life in the concrete jungles of the cities. After the war he lived as a recluse in a simple cottage in Devon, roamed far and wide and slept in the open air, observing and enjoying nature. From this time in his life his book ‘’Tarka the Otter’’ came about, which immediately made him known to the world.


Later, when he had married, he lived with his wife and children for seven years in an isolated thatched house, located in a game park in a valley in the Devon moors. Near the house flowed a river on which he had leased a few miles of fishing.  This book describes life in this countryside and on this river in masterly fashion. His other world famous book ‘’Salar the Salmon’’ was also written here.


Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War he left Devon and bought a farm in East Anglia in order to live by the work of his own hands. This was also a time of fulfilment for him. After the war he returned to Devon and began the main book of his life, a novel in several volumes. For ten years, now that his children have grown up and moved out into their own lives, he has been living alone again in a hut on Exmoor, concentrating entirely on his writing, which has remained free of any literary fashion.


The back cover is an edited extract from Chapter 8, 'Wieder am Fluss', pp. 97–7 (English first edition, pp. 129–31), and translates as:


As the sunlight drove the shadows of the cumulus clouds over the grass I felt life arising again everywhere. The water mirror of the river glittered in emulation of the sky. The birds sang loudly and swooped in play, buzzards  rose  into the air in tiers, the nymphs of the olive mayflies broke through the silvery skin of the water. From their hiding places by the stones and overhangs of the bank the trout came out, and took up their positions in the water flow. Each position was chosen so that the food swirling past was easily seen, and also that in spite of the water pressure the body could be held in balance with the minimum of effort. 


The course of the river scarcely changed from year to year. I knew every deep pool, scour, eddy and rapids, the oaks, ashes, alders, beeches, hazelnut bushes and whitethorns that stood on the river banks. They had all become familiar companions in my life, like the animals of the valley. I knew where the birds had their nests; where the fish lay, the strongest in the best places; where in autumn, when the leaves on the trees by the deep pools were changing colour, the herons lurked, waiting to take the young trout, which leapt one after another, a few centimetres from the bank. The river was my friend, sometimes even my tyrannous master. There was not an hour that I did not feel myself drawn to it.


(Our thanks to HWS member Bill Eccles for providing translations of the chapter headings and the above.)





Macdonald & Jane's, 1975 (this copy with sun-faded spine):


stream 1975 front


stream 1975 back





 The Henry Williamson Society, 2008. The painting on the dust wrapper is repeated as the frontispiece, and uses a quotation from the book as its title: 'Dippers were resident in the valley'.


stream 2008 front


stream 2008 back








Back to 'A Life's Work'