A second compendium of HW's early nature stories, comprising:


The Peregrine's Saga and other wild tales

The Old Stag and other hunting stories

Tales of Moorland and Estuary


With illustrations from the original editions by C. F. Tunnicliffe and James Broom Lynne



naturestories 1970front    
First edition, Macdonald, 1970  

The background


The book


Critical reception


Book covers


First published Macdonald, May 1970 (Matthews, Henry Williamson: A Bibliography, states 7000 copies) (£2.00)


2nd impression (reprint), with new dust jacket, Macdonald and Jane's, 1976 (£3.95) (Matthews also gives a Book Club reprint for 1976)


3rd impression (reprint), Macdonald & Jane's, 1980 (£6.95)


Little, Brown and Co., paperback, 1995, with an Introduction by HW's son, Richard Williamson




The background:


There is very little background to be found within HW's personal papers. In October 1968 he had just finished dealing with the galley proofs of the last Chronicle volume, The Gale of the World, which proved difficult, and for various reasons was feeling very depressed – not least because of an obvious reaction to exhaustion, together with problems over a young female who was extremely crafty in manipulating his emotions. He was also at this time involved in trying to organise his affairs and property at the Field at Ox's Cross (the Writing Hut, Studio etcetera) into a Family Trust. This was all hugely complicated, drained him emotionally, and was mainly disastrous, although it was eventually achieved. Whereupon he promptly regretted it – realising he was no longer in charge of his own affairs! (This Trust was so complicated that after his death it was legally rescinded.)


On 20 December 1968 he noted in his 'Appointments' diary (the main diary is more or less blank):


I feel less melancholy, having at last started the Introduction & prefaces for the 3 phases, or books, of the HW Animal Stories. It comes easier & fresh as one alters, records, & finally simplifies.


But I have found nothing to indicate any discussion as to how this volume came about, although it is obviously a companion volume to The Henry Williamson Animal Saga, albeit published a full ten years after that omnibus.


The 1969 diary opens with a reflective passage with notes about the problems over The Gale of the World and reflections on life in general; it then continues on 2 January:



naturestories 4 diary 2169



At the end of March HW was in London. This is the time of the showing of the Oh! What a Lovely War film and the subsequent problem over his review of it being turned down by the Daily Express – for further details about this episode, see the page for ‘Reflections on the Death of a Field Marshal’. On 31 March he recorded:


I spent some time at Macdonald's office, re how to reproduce Tunnicliffe woodcut 'pulls' – he gave me a set – without damage by block-making. Decided to have them photographed by Oswald Jones.


Those who have read the entry on The Henry Williamson Animal Saga will be aware that the original Tunnicliffe illustrations for those stories had not been included, and several reviewers noted and regretted this. No doubt a part of the reason for this decision was the difficulty in reproducing them. The original blocks would have been returned to Tunny – and possibly were past their useful life anyway, for the quality and sharpness of reproduction decreases with use and they had survived many reprints. HW's mention of 'pulls' concerns a set of very early printings on what was virtually tissue paper: very clear, but very fragile. One deduces here that Macdonald, aware of the previous criticism, had decided to reproduce the illustrations in the new volume. But this created its own problems. HW came up with what seemed an obvious solution. However the end result was not altogether successful – some of the illustrations are fine, others tend to be rather dark and lacking in the original superb detail.


It is evident that this photographic work by Ossie Jones is the reason behind his mistakenly being credited with taking the photograph on the back cover of HW on his Norton in 1921. Someone managed to muddle up the information!


HW returned to Devon on 3 April. That evening Ossie phoned to say he would bring 'the finished photographs of woodcut (for Collected Country Stories) tomorrow.' That was Good Friday that year.


4 April 1969: Ossie & friend arrived at 8.30 am, from London, after 3 AM start.


Also staying at that time were two sisters, who feature frequently in his diary entries at this period, and with both of whom he thought himself in love – despite others at the same time! All these young girls were understandably flattered at the attention for a short while: but very few of them had any real feeling for HW in return.


On Easter Sunday he recorded:


I invited a reader, John Gregory, to call: (apparently I gave him tea in the hut last year). He has collected many bits of my early (1920) Fleet Street articles & news items in the Weekly Dispatch – period June–Sept 1920. He had them all typed & neatly filed: I was surprised at my firm style & humour of those far-off days.


That reader – John Gregory – is today a stalwart of the Henry Williamson Society, and is the webmaster of this website, without whom none of this material would be online. John duly edited those articles into a privately published booklet, which was later reprinted by the HWS (see The Weekly Dispatch); he went on to collect and publish under the Society’s imprint the main part of HW's very numerous articles and similar writings, running into a considerable number of volumes. Without his dedication over many years none of these writings, which make up an important part of HW's total writing oeuvre, would be known or available.


The contract for the book was signed in early May 1969. HW's advance payment was £1,000: £500 on signing, £500 on publication – with a royalty of 10% on first 5000 copies sold, rising to 12% on the next 5000 and 15% after that.


HW now became engrossed in another see-saw relationship (with Annabel Cash – his letters to her are lodged at Exeter University), and there is no further mention of the new volume until 29 August 1969, when


I corrected galley proofs of the H.W. Collected Nature Stories. Found them very firm & austere style.


2 September: Finished 47 galley proofs of Collected Nature Stories this p.m. & posted at 5 p.m.


4 September: More galleys arrived this morning. I read six or seven in the evening.


5 September: Am correcting galley proofs of … They surprize me how good they are, or were.


He continued the next day, while also cutting grass at Ox's Cross; and on 7 September:


Made a fair copy of galleys 41-83 & posted it to Macdonalds to catch afternoon (4 p.m.) post to London.


The book was published in May 1970 – the actual date is not recorded by HW. But on 7 May he travelled to London to make a 15-minute recording:


on my 'new' Collected Nature Stories and also A Chronicle. The interviewer is Clive Jenkins who (he mentioned over the telephone) reviewed The Gale in New Statesman. . . .


3pm meeting with Jenkins, a nice fellow, 2 lovely young helpers – one a secretary, t'other sound adjuster, & his questions all about my work & not about me. I enjoyed it & so did he and the girls.


Later that evening he met up with Ossie Jones at Finch's pub (THE pub for artistic clientele) in Fulham Road, where he met Denis Val Baker's 'charming' daughter and they all had a good time – no doubt a celebration for the new volume. On this visit he met up with Ralph Leaver, his 'unseen' cousin back from South Africa, who features in the early Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight novels: 'an intelligent brown-faced man'.




The book:


Of the three titles involved in the collection the stories printed consist of:


10 (out of 15) titles from the 1934 edition of The Peregrine's Saga (illustrated by C. F. Tunnicliffe)


8 (out of 9) titles from the 1933 edition of The Old Stag (again illustrated by Tunnicliffe)


11 of the 12 titles from Tales of Moorland and Estuary (1953; illustrated by James Broom Lynne); the twelfth title is actually put into the first section, The Peregrine's Saga, as the opening story.


Full details of the original publications can be found under the individual title entries at the links above.


I would reiterate here the comment that the element of 'death', so prominent in all this early writing, is surely connected to the trauma of the First World War.


naturestories 6a contents


naturestories 6b contents


Richard Williamson's introduction to the Little, Brown & Co. 1995 paperback edition:


naturestories 5a RLCW intro


naturestories 5b RLCW intro


naturestories 5c RLCW intro


naturestories 5d RLCW intro


HW's General Introduction:


naturestories 7a HW intro


naturestories 7b HW intro


naturestories 7c HWintro


naturestories 7d HW intro


naturestories 7e HW intro



naturestories 8PS

naturestories 8PSPreface


(HW's statement is not strictly true – his early books sold far better than he ever admitted to!)


There is a big problem here – not seemingly acknowledged by anyone anywhere! For the five titles that comprise the tale of Chakchek the Peregrine, the actual saga of the peregrine, are not present. They had already been printed as a unit under the title 'Chakchek the Peregrine' in the earlier Henry Williamson Animal Saga volume. So there are no peregrine stories present under this title here. This led to the 1982 Macdonald Futura paperback edition of The Peregrine's Saga – very evidently set from this present text – being printed without containing any actual peregrine stories, making a nonsense of the title. Readers must have been puzzled and perhaps disappointed and annoyed. (In my own defence, as signee on behalf of the HW Literary Estate, I was confronted here with a fait accompli, and did not have the knowledge then to appreciate what had happened.)


However, the plan of placing 'A Winter's Tale' as the opening story – somewhat chilling though the tale might be – was an excellent decision, as it puts the writer setting out from London en route to Devon on his writing career (even though we know that he did not ever walk down to Devon!). The stage is set – and is followed with all those lovely early, poignant, stories, as fresh as ever.


naturestories 8a

Bluemantle & his mate skimming the brook –

note the church reflected in the water



naturestories 9 OS title

naturestories 9a OS1


naturestories 9b OS2


naturestories 9c OS3


naturestories 9d OS4


naturestories 9e OS5


Eight stories from the 1933 edition are included, but HW moves the last story in that book, 'Stumberleap', to the opening here, for this is the major story: Stumberleap is the 'Old Stag'.


Again, three parts from the 1933 edition are omitted: those stories that make up 'The Epic of Brock the Badger' had already appeared in the Henry Williamson Animal Saga; but here that doesn't present a problem.


naturestories 9f

Stumberleap braves the fast swirling water of the

deep cleave beyond Hunter's Inn



Fed by a hundred torrents, the river rose many feet, and when the storm ceased an hour later a muddy stain was spread in the sea at its mouth. Beyond the stain, swimming in the rolling waves, was Stumberleap, and after him, fifteen and a half couple of stag-hounds.



naturestories 10 ME


naturestories 10a ME


naturestories 10b ME


naturestories 10c ME


HW includes eleven of the twelve original stories in this section; the twelfth, 'A Winter's Tale', having being moved to become the opening story of the book. That he changed the running order is hardly material. The dedication of the original edition to 'Miss Imogen Mais' (daughter of his great friend, Petre Mais) is not included here. James Broom Lynne only provided chapter-heading vignettes as illustrations. (They are all reproduced in the page for Tales of Moorland and Estuary.) The stories include the marvellous tales 'A Crown of Life' – tragic both in its portrayal of Clibbit Klift and his faithful dog; the superb, surreal 'The Maiden Salmon', and the ghostly 'Where the Bright Waters Meet'; and so Collected Nature Stories ends with that story's poignant closing words:


We sat by the river, in the shade of the beeches near the waterfall. We did not need to speak. It was so peaceful, watching the shallow stream rippling over the ford, where the white flowers of crow's-foot on long green bines were ever waving in the current seeking to drown those slender lengths. The grey wagtail flitted from stone to stone, the dipper sang its rillets of song. The bright waters flowed to the sea and the sky, I with them.


As an aside, HW objected to the original illustration that Broom Lynne had produced for this last story, and asked something more pertinent to the unearthly theme of the tale; this is the vignette finally decided upon:


naturestories 10d





Critical reception:


Rather surprisingly after the huge amount of attention given to the previous compendium, there is only a handful of notices for this volume, all short ones. That is a pity, but the titles were of course rather less known, although there is no doubt that the book sold well. It may be that at this stage HW just put the reviews to one side and they became lost.


Sunday Times, 17 May 1970:


naturestories 11 Sunday Times


Express and Star (Wolverhampton), 30 June 1970:


naturestories 12 Express Star


The Times Literary Supplement, 2 July 1970:


naturestories 13


To which HW responded in riposte:


naturestories 13b


(The TLS published this in its issue for 16 July; as almost always happened, HW's attempts to explain himself unfortunately just seemed to make matters worse.)


The Yorkshire Post (Barbara Hardcastle), 30 July 1970:


naturestories 14 Yorks Post


Daily Telegraph, 26 August 1970:


naturestories 15 Daily Telegraph


Contemporary Review, September 1970:


naturestories 16 Contemporary Review


The Countryman, Winter 1970:


naturestories 17 countryman






Book covers:



The first edition, Macdonald, 1970, front cover designed by Barrie Carr and based on a woodcut by Charles Tunnicliffe (found on p. 137), depicting cunning Reynard drinking thirstily after being holed up for four days and nights.


naturestories 1970cover


The back cover (here turned on its side) featured a photograph of HW on his Norton Brooklands Road Special motorcycle outside Vale House in Georgeham in 1921. (But not, as credited, taken by Oswald Jones, whom HW did not meet until the 1950s.)


naturestories 1970back


Front and back flaps:


naturestories 1970frontflap          naturestories 1970backflap





2nd impression (reprint), with new dust jacket, Macdonald and Jane's, 1976, front cover:


naturestories 1976cover


The back cover featured a photograph of HW taken by or for Macdonald at the time of publication of The Scandaroon, published in 1972:


naturestories 1976back


Front and back flaps:


naturestories 1976frontflap          naturestories 1976backflap





Little, Brown and Co., paperback, 1995, front and back covers; the superb front cover drawing is by David Frankland:


naturestories 1995cover      naturestories 1995backcover  


And title page to this edition:


naturestories 1995title








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