And Other Adventures in the Old

and the New World



downs 1934 front     

First edition, Jonathan Cape,



The background


The book


Critical reception


Book covers


HW's 1934 visit to the USA: a timeline: postcards, diary entries and other memorabilia



First published Jonathan Cape, 12 November 1934, 7s 6d


Illustrated with ten photographs taken by HW himself and tipped in the text.


Cape, 1938, reprint in their ‘Life and Letters’ series, no. 92, 4s 6d


Faber, 1944, reprint of first edition, 8s 6d


Alan Sutton Publishing, paperback, reprint of first edition, 1984, £4.95




downs front



The list of illustrations at the front of the book curiously have different captions to those given underneath the photographs. This frontispiece is called there: ‘Author at Home’.





((Mrs. Robert de l’Aigle Reese)








(An explanation of the dedication will be found within text.)






Apart from the opening eponymous (of the title) essay, the book is a collection of short nature essays selected from a series of 52 weekly articles that HW wrote for The Sunday Referee which appeared from May 1933 until early May 1934, but with a central section consisting of longer essays from other sources.


The stories are written in HW’s natural style, simple, and true to life. Eighty years on they are a treasure trove, providing a wealth of information about the countryside as it was then and the life of their author.


The book is divided into three parts:


PART ONE: ‘ENGLAND’ opens with (a slightly revised version of) his story ‘The Linhay on the Downs’ which had been printed as a limited edition in 1929, and continues with a selection of nearly all those short articles which had been written originally for the Sunday Referee in 1933 (though this is not acknowledged here) under the title ‘The Notebook of a Nature-lover’; HW has changed their order, and added one or two new items.


PART TWO: ‘ESSAYS ON BOOKS AND AUTHORS’ consists of five longer essays, which include the very important ‘Reality in War Literature’.


PART THREE: ‘AMERICA’ comprises further articles from the Sunday Referee, covering HW’s (second) visit to America, this time to the southern states of Georgia and Florida in early 1934, where he was the guest of Mrs Louise Reese, the dedicatee of this volume, of whom more anon.


So, starting on Exmoor, we visit a series of scenes and partake in a series of little adventures and feel that we ourselves are wandering the road with the author through Devon and on to London and beyond across the sea to America, to return at the end to the sanctuary of Devon.






The background:


The book has its genesis in early 1933. HW’s diary entry for 29 April states:


Wrote to Pinker accepting Sunday Referee offer of £3/3/- weekly for 52 articles of 300 words each. Good!


James B. Pinker & Son (J. Ralph Pinker) were ‘Literary, Dramatic & Film Agents’ who approached HW on behalf of the Sunday Referee: their original letter is dated 25 April 1933.


The previous day HW had returned from his three-day second visit to the south coast of Devon for his On Foot in Devon book, where he had met and fallen headlong in love with the young girl Ann Edmonds. (For full details see: Anne Williamson, ‘Barleybright or the Torcross Venus’, HWSJ 46, September 2010, pp. 56-70.) This sudden infatuation added to the complications of his private life, with both his wife and his secretary Ann Thomas currently pregnant by him. (Dalliances with other ladies also get mentioned in his diary around this time.)


On Monday 1 May 1933, he recorded: ‘Sent off S. Referee article.’


This newspaper was founded as The Referee in 1877, mainly for sports news, but in the 1930s money was invested to make it competitive with the leading Sunday newspapers; so it became The Sunday Referee, with the slogan ‘The national newspaper for all thinking men and women.’ Contributors included such names as Aldous Huxley, Richard Aldington and Bertrand Russell. In 1939 the newspaper was absorbed into the Sunday Chronicle.


However, on 4 May the diary entry states:


Letter from Pinker saying he hopes he may be able to fix up S. Referee articles!


So evidently there was a little hitch there – but clearly not a significant one.


(Many diary entries at this time also contain details of fishing, and, on 25 February 1933, there is the first mention of ‘salmon book’– these notes are all material to be used in due course for Salar the Salmon.)


Sunday, 14 May: ‘Sunday Referee announce me as a new contributor.’


His articles were to appear under the overall title of ‘The Notebook of a Nature-lover’ (hereafter NNL). John Gregory, in his Editor’s Note for The Notebook of a Nature-lover (HWS, 1996; e-book 2013), which contains later Sunday Referee articles not contained in this present volume, states that:


For the Sunday Referee Henry Williamson, his reputation at its zenith, was a prize catch. The caricature by COIA used as a frontispiece was one of a series which included Aldous Huxley, Richard Aldington and Bertrand Russell. The newspaper stated proudly that ‘week by week this artist will portray in his own unusual style members of that brilliant team of writers who are building up the Sunday Referee’s reputation as the National Newspaper for thinking men and women.



downs coia



Emilio Coia was born in Glasgow on 13 April 1911, the son of Giovanni Coia, an Italian immigrant who owned ice-cream shops and cafés in the city. Coia began studying at the Glasgow School of Art in 1927, and his talents as a caricaturist were quickly recognised. After five years at art school, and in the face of parental opposition to his marrying a protestant, Coia eloped to London with a fellow student. With twelve pounds to his name, Coia touted his drawings around Fleet Street, selling his first caricatures to the Sunday Chronicle. He contributed subsequently to numerous newspapers and magazines, and was hailed as 'the first Cubist caricaturist'. In 1932 his association with the Sunday Chronicle came to a sudden end when the paper's most influential columnist, Beverley Nichols, objected strongly to Coia's drawing of his friend the novelist Ethel Mannin. He demanded that it be removed from the artist's first one-man show, and when Coia refused he was sacked by the Chronicle's editor.


There are no cuttings of the Referee articles in HW’s literary archive. I therefore presume that they were sent off to Ann Thomas for typing up for printing in Linhay on the Downs and never returned. So there is nothing to show how they appeared in the newspaper.


On 29 June 1933 HW’s diary records: ‘£5-7-2 from Pinker, S.R. articles (2)’. That seems a little puzzling, indicating a very high commission of over 9/- deducted from each 3-guinea article. However, this is clarified on 6 July with: ‘£11/13/1d from Pinker, being 4 S.R. articles less 10% commission plus 6/3d credit. To date they have paid for 6 articles.’


Ten per cent commission on £3/3/0 is 6/3d: Pinker had charged for 3 articles in that first payment and rectifies that in this second one. Thus over the year of the original contract the 52 articles earned a total of £163/8/- less 10% commission – around £148.


The Linhay on the Downs essay itself had first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in October 1927 (and is therefore reprinted in Atlantic Tales: Contributions to the Atlantic Monthly 1927-47, compiled and edited by John Gregory (HWS, 2007; e-book 2013). Payment for that story was about £11/8/- (2 stories paid together totalled £22/16/8d). It also appeared in The Fortnightly Review, for which a payment of £7/10/9d was made on 28 November 1927. It was then printed as a limited edition as No. 12 of the Woburn Books series in 1929 for 25 guineas. The essays in the middle section of this present volume had also previously appeared elsewhere and earned their own fees. All in all, the stories appearing in this book had paid their way!


As already stated, HW’s private life at this time was somewhat complicated. He resolved the difficulties of Ann Thomas being pregnant by arranging for her to lodge with his younger sister Biddy (Doris) in London, Biddy’s husband having walked out, leaving her with two young boys to bring up. She was a teacher, but HW gave her sums of money quite regularly to supplement her income, and now he paid for Ann’s lodging, so helping both women.


Meanwhile his infatuation with the young Ann Edmonds increased, and that autumn he drove back and forth to the Edmond’s home in Bickley (Kent) culminating with the whole Edmonds family staying at Shallowford for Christmas.


There is little reference in his diary to the Sunday Referee articles, other than on 12 November: ‘My article Wood Fires (Part I) appeared in S. Referee’. However, from 11 February 1934 he regularly recorded the number and occasionally the title of the article being sent off to Ann Thomas (who was earning her living by typing – she certainly also worked for John Heygate). Shortly after the birth of her daughter (‘To the great joy of her mother’) on 14 September 1933, Ann went to live with her widowed sister, Bronwen, also with a young child, at Tenterden in Kent.


The complications of HW’s pursuit of Ann Edmonds continued. Her own ambition was to fly aeroplanes and to be an artist. HW did not consider this to be a problem and now decided to divorce his wife and marry Ann. The situation became slightly further complicated by the fact that Barbara Sincere (with whom he had been in love when on visit to America over the winter of 1930-31), having rejected HW because he was already married, presumed that such a divorce meant HW would be free to marry her; HW’s diary comment was: ‘Too late. I waited 2½ years.’


Throughout this period HW was also deeply involved with a flying book planned by his friend of Colfe Grammar School days, Victor Yeates, an ex-scout pilot in the Royal Flying Corps (which became the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918). Yeates, who was suffering from consumption, almost certainly caused by conditions when flying during the war, had contacted him in March 1933, asking for help with the book (see entry for Winged Victory.)


HW was in constant contact too with Charles F. Tunnicliffe over the various editions of his work that the artist was illustrating, Tarka the Otter being the first in 1932; there were matching new editions of The Old Stag in February 1933; The Lone Swallows in November 1933; and The Peregrine’s Saga in February 1934. All these new editions had revisions by HW, and further required considerable time and effort in working with Tunnicliffe, who visited several times to get authentic on-site material. Also in May 1933 the first edition of The Star-born appeared, again involving a great deal of work.


These new editions gave HW much extra publicity, and no doubt a considerable boost to his income. My point here though is to emphasise the intensity of his continuous workload. In addition to all this, he was working on a new ‘autobiographical’ book, ‘Sun in Sands’ (sic).


Within his correspondence with Tunnicliffe HW explained the complications of his love for the young Anne Edmonds. Such shenanigans were meaningless to Tunny (as he was known to many), who really took no notice, but were disapproved of by his rather more puritanical wife. It had been arranged that the artist would paint HW’s portrait. HW duly sat for this at Tunnicliffe’s home in Macclesfield the week beginning 21 January 1934. The finished portrait romantically, if inaccurately, shows HW as a gauntleted falconer with his falcon:



downs portrait



HW actually had a double purpose for this visit: to arrange that Ann Edmonds should become Tunnicliffe’s pupil, which subject he brought up as soon as he arrived. Tunny agreed to this plan. However, while Ann’s mother seemed to enjoy and even encourage this liaison between HW and her daughter, Major Edmonds had become increasingly aware of the situation, and now stipulated that HW must not see his daughter at all under this new arrangement. (Ann duly became Tunnicliffe’s pupil but he soon cancelled this arrangement, as her main interest was in a nearby airfield.)


That such a condition created turmoil in HW’s psyche is possibly an understatement. Totally thwarted, he went to pieces: his diary recording extremes of anguish and despair. What could he do? (Suicidal thoughts often surfaced at such moments – but never developed into action.) Luckily fate now intervened. The next day a letter arrived from:


An American woman Mrs Sheridan, here in London, asking me on behalf of a friend of hers in Georgia, U.S.A., to go and live on her estate and write and make my home there. A God-send, a miracle. I shall go, & never return: the falcon shall tear my breast no more.


(The night before he had read a very powerful short story about a falcon – see Anne Williamson’s biography, Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, p. 165 which reinforced his own feelings expressed in his novel The Gold Falcon.)


The American lady was Mrs Louise Reese, a rich patroness of the Arts (at this point aged 70), who since the death of her husband had opened her home in Georgia as a retreat or sanctuary for writers. Hence the dedication to this present volume. That Mrs Reese knew of HW’s writing is obvious: he had had a great deal of attention in the American press, especially for The Pathway and The Gold Falcon. Her original letter to Sarah Sheridan states: ‘He is cautious, modest and gentle as can be seen from his writing. . . .’


Arrangements for the visit (his fare was paid by Mrs Reese) were made, and HW left aboard the RMS Berengaria at Southampton on 28 February 1934, seen off by his friends John Heygate and T. E. Lawrence, who was currently stationed there and working on air-sea rescue boats.


No sooner had HW left England – seemingly committed for about three months – than he longed to be back there. His diary entry for 2 March (as he recovered from his usual sea-sickness) records:


The sea everlastingly surging past in mindless fury. Why am I going so far away, in such a hateful way? Long to be home in England, up in the field, digging and planting trees. . . .


While aboard, in mid-Atlantic, he noted ‘No. 42 done “Are Rooks Civilised?”’ (this was NNL no. 42, which appeared in the Sunday Referee on 11 March). He docked in New York on 6 March, where he stayed at the Brevoort Hotel for a few days dealing with various business matters with his current American publisher, Harrison Smith (of Smith & Haas, who had published The Gold Falcon), and to whom he handed over John Heygate’s new book Talking Pictures. Harrison Smith also agreed to take Victor Yeates’s book in due course.


HW further recorded that he posted NNL nos 42 (8 March) and 43 ‘Ravens’ (11 March); also on 8 March that he met William Rose Benét (founder of The Saturday Review of Literature in 1924) and other members of his staff at the Biltmore Hotel, where he found Waveney Girvan selling champagne – at which he made a great profit: apparently £20,000!  Benét (1886-1950) was an American poet and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1941 for 'The dust which was God'.


He notes too: ‘Looked around my old apartment location today, saw janitor, drugstore, etc – and the book’s been read there.’ This refers to his previous visit to New York over the winter of 1930-31, when he rented an apartment in Greenwich Village (see HWSJ 45, September 2009, for details of this visit).


Then on Tuesday 13 March he noted:


At 3.30 pm Girvan saw me off on the Empress train to Washington and Augusta. I write this at 8.15 pm E.S. time [Eastern Standard] as the train stands on the lower level of Washington Station. The return fare is 45$30 & the Pullman (one way) 6$75. The usual coloured attendants – pleasant, warm-hearted tranquil negroes.


(Readers must accept here that the term ‘negro’ was in normal usage at that time: there is no derogatory meaning – indeed it is evident that HW thoroughly enjoyed the company of all the black people he met on this visit.)


So began the exciting phase which is reflected in Part Three of Linhay on the Downs – ‘America’, HW recording every Sunday the number and title of his Sunday Referee article, for example, 18 March: ‘No. 44 done – “North Atlantic”’ (printed as NNL 45, 25 March 1934 and appearing in Linhay on the Downs as ‘S.S. Berengaria’). Further detail will appear in the analysis section below.


(For more background to HW’s visit to Georgia see Anne Williamson, Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, pp. 167-170; and in great detail in Tony Jowett, ‘Dixie Days of 1934: Henry Williamson in the Deep South’, HWSJ 45, September 2009, pp. 81-99.)


As HW returned to England, while still on board ship, he recorded on Sunday 13 May:


The last of the Nature-lover Series in the Sunday Referee should appear today. Penultimate day of voyage. Feeling better.


However, he had already negotiated a further series, as a letter from Pinker dated 13 April 1934 reveals, and two days after he docked HW recorded ‘Wrote a S.R. article of the new series.’


On his return to England, having docked at Southampton at dawn on 14 May, HW travelled to London where he was met by John Heygate. After a night in London at the Cafe Royal (exhausted!), HW went first to see Ann Thomas and his daughter at Tenterden, then on to Bickley to see Ann Edmonds; but records in his diary: ‘My Barleybright one thing: and Ann Edmonds is another.’ Eventually travelling by train down to Devon on 22 May, he recorded the next day: ‘Very quiet here in the Bray valley. Nothing doing.’ The longing for home had evaporated as soon as he had returned.


Soon after, Ann Thomas arrived for a visit. Then on taking her back to London he went down to meet Barbara Sincere off the boat from America – a visit which had not been mentioned beforehand, other than a letter before HW left for America, which mentioned almost in passing that she will see him in June. He took Barbara to see Ann Thomas, and the Edmonds, and also down to visit Petre and Jill Mais, before eventually carrying on to Shallowford, where she stayed until 22 June. There appears to have been little rapport between them.


There is very little information about the actual preparation of Linhay on the Downs, though he began work fairly quickly, as an entry for 15 June records:


At Filleigh [i.e. Shallowford] working on the sketches for Linhay. [Despite having Barbara Sincere as a guest there!]


Another entry on 24 June states: ‘. . . working until midnight, revising old reviews of books for the Linhay. . . .’


The book was destined for Cape, as part of his 1928 contract (as will have been gathered from the problems which had arisen over HW’s previous book On Foot in Devon, which I have described in my discussion of that book). Unfortunately the details must have been arranged face to face with Jonathan Cape, as there is very little information available in the archive. A letter from Jonathan Cape dated 10 August 1934 indicates that he has received the manuscript (surely in typescript form).


The next letter, dated 14 September, indicates a problem. Cape notes that their contract with HW (via his agent Andrew Dakers), dated August 1928, was for three continuous prose works of not less than 60,000 words which would command an advance of £250 each – and that they have published The Labouring Life under that contract, but that he does not consider that The Linhay on the Downs is a continuous prose work. In his opinion it is a collection of articles which have already appeared in print, and should therefore have a separate contract with lower advance.


HW’s diary entry for 19 September notes:


Went to London and at night to Tenterden [i.e., to see Ann Thomas]. Got Cape to agree that Linhay was a continuous prose work, but I would accept £200 advance instead of £250.


A letter from Cape dated 27 September confirms this agreement.


HW had also suggested using some photographs as illustrations, as a letter dated 18 September 1934 from G. Wren Howard (another director, who dealt with the actual preparation of the books for publication) says that he likes them and hopes to use them – but that they will have to be tipped in as paging is already set up. Wren Howard mentions the ‘Nevinson picture’ – so evidently HW had suggested it be used, presumably for the ‘Reality in War Literature’ essay in the central section. In the event this was not used.


Then there is no information until HW’s diary entry for 12 November stating:


The Linhay on the Downs published today.






The book:





The background to the opening short story ‘The Linhay on the Downs’ has already been dealt with (see link) and so needs no further comment here, other than that this story certainly deserved this wider readership.


The other articles that make up this first section of Linhay on the Downs (most of them well over the stipulated 300 words of the Sunday Referee contract) have that simplicity of style that is HW’s true hallmark. The author speaks directly to the reader, involving him through the author’s eyes and words in every variety of country scene and activity encompassed. Although these are all separate stories, they do, as HW insisted, actually seem like one continuous tale. There are about forty short chapters in this section, of which about half a dozen would seem to be fresh material (i.e. not already printed in the Sunday Referee). Many of the characters and places described have been met in earlier stories, but here with fresh details and a different approach we learn more of these familiar friends. It is not possible to give details of every story but hopefully the overall ambiance will emerge.


It is, however, very noticeable that the First World War is still prominently to the fore, and never far from his thoughts.


The first of the chapters (seemingly new material not previously in the Sunday Referee) tells us of the hope that spring brings, A Fresh Start: ‘It is sweet to live and see the earth grow young again.’


Just as his diary entries show HW’s absorption with the details of his fishing occupation on his stretch of the River Bray at Shallowford, so this is reflected in many of the articles as is seen in the next story Salmon Fishers (again a new item).


My Partridges (p. 38): This story about partridge chicks also tells us how HW came to purchase his field above Georgeham, known as Ox’s Park: one of the few (the only?) places he ever mentions its original name as it appears on early maps and as he marked it on his own sketch map, drawn on a large sheet of blotting paper when he first bought it, to plan out where to plant trees to make the best wind-breaks.


The actual building of his Writing Hut is found in another story, Rise of a Village (p. 51), which covers a series of what might be termed ‘yarns’, ranging from the impossibility of buying thin rashers of bacon for Edward Garnett, the esteemed critic for whom HW found holiday lodgings locally (he was persistently offered very thick rashers), to the problems of being measured for breeches (too short in the thigh and far too big around the waist), to the more serious problem of hammering nails into the oak wood for the door of his hut which split the wood, despite all his pleas to bore holes first.



downs hut1
List of illustrations caption: ‘Windwhistle Hut’



In Stag Hunting (NNL 12, printed in the Sunday Referee on 6 August 1933) a new paragraph tell us of the death of the author of The Story of a Red Deer, although HW does not tell us the date. Sir John Fortescue, who also wrote the ‘Introduction’ to Tarka the Otter, died on 22 October 1933.


Harold (p. 98), originally printed as NNL 19 (24 September 1933) as ‘A Modern Boy’, has his own photograph, listed as ‘The Age of Innocence’ and again with its far more illuminating caption.



downs harold



If you are an ardent HW reader you may have wondered whom Harold actually was, or even have worked it out. There are clues: HW met this thirteen-year-old lad with a mind of his own in South Devon, his father is an army major, and we find another clue later in ‘The Yule Log’, where ‘Harold is of the party’, i.e. staying for Christmas. Young Harold is none other than Ann Edmonds’ younger brother John – though whether that photo is actually of John when younger might be debatable! How did HW come to choose the name 'Harold' for the boy? It happened to be the first name of their father, Major Edmonds! The Edmonds family spent Christmas 1933 at Shallowford.


The Wane of Summer (p. 103) also has its own clues: ‘O nymph in white bathing dress with eyes of speedwell and barley-bright hair’ with the ‘small and bullet-head brother’, printed the week before the former article, is none other than Ann and her brother John. HW is still at Torcross, but:


Swallows in thousands are wheeling over the ley, or clinging to the reeds: for day and night are nearly equal: the lantern star Formalhaut lights the way to the Southern Cross and the palms of Africa: we pack our suitcases and say good-bye.


Moonlight (p. 110) is a lyrical essay but with enough sharpness to stop it being sentimental (one of HW’s great strengths).


Potwalloper’s Marsh (p. 114) is equally descriptive of that area of marsh to be found behind the famous Pebble Ridge at Westward Ho! – and you learn why it is called ‘Potwalloper’s’. Alas, today the marsh is a caravan park.


In The Spate (p. 117) we fully appreciate the meaning of rain to HW’s little river and to the fish that lived in it; it was a paradise for the young children.



downs river1
'River Scenes in Summer'



The Harmony of Summer (p. 122) tells of the natural balance played out among the creatures that inhabit HW’s Field, including rats that had got into his Writing Hut and created havoc, only to be caught by a tawny owl.


Hill of Winds (p. 125): HW is happily planting beech and thorn hedge in his Field at Ox’s Cross (often referred to as ‘Windwhistle Cross’) – set between Dartmoor and Exmoor, the estuary and the sea – and thinking about his original plantings five years previously: a peaceful ‘spirit of place’ essay.


A Night on Salisbury Plain (p. 128): Travelling from London to Devon in his Alvis Silver Eagle (bought second-hand on return from his first visit to America in June 1931) HW, due to low petrol, is forced to spend a night in the open on Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge, and muses on the history of the great ‘Sun Temple’. Thoughts of the fighting that had once occurred there, reinforced by the fact that the area was an army practice range, inevitably turn his thoughts to war and in particular the death of Edward Thomas so close to his own position in April 1917. (He was, almost certainly I feel, returning from a visit to Ann Thomas and perhaps the new baby – his daughter; Edward’s granddaughter.) He also thinks about the badges cut into the chalk hillsides by


those youths who went from the rolling chalklands of the Great Plain to the rolling chalklands of the Somme.


Those iconic badges cut at nearby Fovant include that of the London Rifle Brigade, and was where his cousin Charlie Boon had trained before leaving for the Somme and death.


Still the drought (p. 133) is more musing on the fate of salmon. These fish essays reflect HW’s constant preoccupation with fishing details at this time – preparatory to his eventual book.


The River Freezes (p. 139) is very reminiscent of Tarka the Otter. The gradual process is described in detail, ending:


At night the Dogstar is green above the South-eastern horizon: water-sounds are dulled, except where the falls roar. A mist moved over the water, becoming denser and pressing nearer the surface towards midnight. . . . and then, in one moment, the splayed glittering of the Dogstar on the water is gone. Ice lies from bank to bank.


The Yule Log (p. 142): First HW pays homage to Christmas Past – mainly a memory of the


strange and beautiful Christmas of 1914, when we made friends with the Saxons of the 133rd Regiment opposite us under Messines Hill, when in the frosty moonlight of Christmas Eve we strolled about in No-man’s-land, talking and listening to the carols sung in German, only forty yards away . . .


Then his thoughts turn to the coming Christmas, and he describes with great anticipation what a wonderful Christmas it is to be, with guests arriving (the Edmonds family), stockings to be hung, walks, church, turkey cooked on the jack-spit by the hearth, different logs on the open fire for different effects, more food than anyone can eat, and much fun and games. Windles, his eldest son, excitedly announces that he has just seen Father Christmas’s reindeer entering Bremridge Wood!


This essay was not part of the original NNL series, so it was presumably written when the book was being prepared in 1934; which is interesting, for that Christmas in reality was not quite so joyous as this essay leads us to believe. HW’s diary reveals:


Turkey was overcooked, but everyone appeared to enjoy the meal, except me. Very natural that I should be miserable.


Mrs Edmonds thwarted his plan to be alone with Ann at every move: then ‘Bb’ (Ann) and John Heygate (also spending Christmas there) got on rather too well – to the point that Ann took a photo of John H. in the doorway of the sacrosanct Writing Hut, leaving HW prey to the misery of jealousy.


The next essay, Sea and Wind: North Devon (p. 149), describes a walk by the Estuary, watching the waves breaking on the South Tail shoal:


But it was on the shoals of the South Tail that the sea was most grand. The blind force of the wind-harried sea was beautiful to watch from the shore, as the invisible sun suffused a pale pink hue to the surges. Never before have I seen such a colouring, more delicate than the pink of apple blossom: the more lovely and life-giving, for that it was also in the face of one walking beside me.


HW’s diary for 28 December 1933 records that they had all gone to Appledore and lunched in the pub: ‘I walked with Ann . . . Great seas on the South Tail (see Sunday Ref. Article) . . .’


On 29 December HW drove the Edmonds family down to their holiday cottage at Torcross in South Devon, and we have the second half of the equation.


The Glory of the Gale: South Devon (p. 151): The title says it all: opening with a powerful description of gannets fishing with the wind and sea, so different in behaviour from North Devon.


The sounds of the storm were pure Schönberg [composer noted for his discordant music]: the snoring suck of shingle, the jangle and chimmer of old iron, the crash of irregular, unrhythmic waves.


The whole is a magnificent description of a storm on the sea-shore – and HW’s words echo the discordancies of Schönberg exactly!


High Peak Canal (p. 156) is in two parts, originally printed as ‘Hill-Top Meditations’ (NNL 39 & 40). This is the canal in Macclesfield where HW stayed with Charles Tunnicliffe to sit for his portrait in January 1934. The first part here describes a walk along the canal, seeing a heron and a barge – and a dead dog. HW’s diary entry for 26 January includes:


Saw barge go by. Horse keeping rope out of water – mincing gate [sic]. Experienced horse. Bottom of narrow boat stirring up mud. . . .


The second part is a walk on the nearby hill-top around Macclesfield overlooking an industrial poisoned landscape, and is a self-argument about pollution. Up there HW would have been in sight of Alderley Edge, the convalescent home he was sent to from Ancoats Hospital, Manchester, in January 1915. This is not mentioned (he probably did not realise this, else I am sure it would have been!), but he does mention passing Birtles Hall where his wife’s grandfather used to live (actually a great-grandfather).


HW was by then in great emotional turmoil, as he realised that his fantasy dream of life with Ann Edmonds (who appears in his diaries as ‘Bb’ – short for Barleybright – or ACE, from her initials) is not going to happen. The invitation to Georgia arrived at this point. None of that turmoil is apparent here.


Wood Fires (p. 160; NNL 26 and 27, which appeared on 12 and 19 November 1933): HW had a total fascination with fire, with very strict rules about how they should be lit, and here he shares his expertise and philosophy with his readers. In the first part we learn that:


wood stacks should be put down to mature like wine [and] the good fire likewise is made only with love and forethought . . . The wood should consume itself almost with the gravity and surety of a good cigar.


A perfect encapsulation of thought.


The second part is more philosophical. Even sitting in front of this perfect fire ‘one feels a phantasm of anxiety, of insecurity, of unreality’, and as the rain and wind lash outside this snug edifice:


so once the wind and the rain drove across the battlefields of Somme and Passchendaele.


Laced among his own thoughts, he quotes a Wilfred Owen poem (not named, but it is from ‘Exposure’, which relates a winter night in the trenches waiting for death – or has death already occurred?):


[quotes 3rd verse]

The young soldier poet, Wilfred Owen, has been dead these many years; the rain falls now, as it fell then.

[6th verse]

He was killed in the last week of the War, on the banks of the Sambre Canal – and that was only a moment or two ago.

[7th & 8th verse]

Always there were wood fires flickering among the ruins of the Somme villages.


(HW had originally quoted this poem in the 1929 London Mercury version of his essay ‘Reality in War Literature’, but in the revised version of the essay in Linhay on the Downs (see Section Two) reference to Owen is drastically pared down, presumably because of the reference here.)


HW goes on to describe fires during the war, especially the scene in Ploegsteert (‘Plugstreet’) Wood in the autumn of 1914,


. . . the balaclava helmets, the bearded faces, the buttonless tunics, myself, who had not yet shaved . . .


It was a long time ago, and yet it was yesterday. Nothing has happened since . . . Or is that wraith but waiting to drive again across the helmeted fields of Europe?


Here he repeats Owen’s phrase ‘For love of God seems dying’, going on to say, ‘The love of God as interpreted by the Church in war-time, seems to imply or involve the death of youth, says the voice of the lost poet.’


He moves on to memories of the friend of his early days, the Julian Warbeck of his novels (Frank Davis in real life), who had been a pilot in the First World War and had had a very tough time, which caused him to become an alcoholic to escape his trauma. HW, dealing with his own trauma, had been unable to help his friend.


Then he states that it has just been announced on the wireless that John Galsworthy has died, and pens here his own tribute, remembering how he had read his novels while at Shorncliffe, where he was stationed just after the war had ended, and the subsequent support Galsworthy had given him. Galsworthy had actually died on 31 January 1933 (HW attended his funeral) – at the point when he was involved in the muddle over On Foot in Devon, well before he wrote this article in November. The two men had known each other fairly well but, as HW states, they ‘were never friends’. (And I will repeat here that they were, unknown to either, actually related through a forebear – see HWSJ 32, September 1996, pp. 50-55.)


From “The Sun In The Sands” (p. 168 – Part I otherwise unpublished; part 2 includes NNL 29 ‘The Last Swallows’, 3 December 1933; whether this piece was ever a part of The Sun in the Sands is debatable.) This is a long piece, nearly 16 pages of print. It opens with a description of a picture over the mantelpiece of his writing-room: a picture depicting ‘four soldiers standing at rest, during a march up the line, on a winter afternoon’.



downs nevinson1



downs nevinson2



This is the etching (or preparatory sketch – some small details are different from the actual painting) entitled ‘A Group of Soldiers’ by C. R. W. Nevinson, and given to HW by the artist (probably at a party HW attended at his flat in May 1929 – see The Wet Flanders Plain entry). HW returned this extremely generous gesture by dedicating The Wet Flanders Plain (published in June 1929) to the artist.


The writer’s eldest son (Bill, known as Windles) enters and, noticing the picture, asks if the man is dead. The boy discusses death quite cheerfully, but when he has gone to bed our author’s thoughts become more sombre. He reads William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell (a philosophical work combining poem and prose, on the meaning of, or difference between, truth and religion). This work was obviously very important to him. It is also mentioned in The Gold Falcon (see HWSJ 45, September 2009, pp. 12-14, for explanatory text).


The second part opens with a description of a late swallow being chased by a hobby falcon inevitably to the kill. It depresses him. The swallow should have flown weeks before to follow the warm sun.


If only one could follow the sun as a swallow!


But he had a book to finish before he could ‘follow the sun to Florida of my dreams’ (certainly added in later, as he did not know he was to go to Florida until 27 January 1934): so many things to do, but


To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow. [quoted from Macbeth]


Years ago a youth came to Devon . . . [an eager youth who walked all day and night searching out the delights of nature.]


That was ended abruptly in August, 1914.


Using ‘wheels’ as a metaphor he further explores the idea of searching – to find a life companion who produced a son, and then the Hawthornden Prize allowed him to buy a ‘second-hand six h.p. Peugeot’; but then he got a better set of wheels – and then an even better set which turned at a great rate.


The allegory is that the author is caught up in the grinding wheels of life and now can do, and does, nothing. The message of The Gold Falcon has fallen on stony ground. A photograph of himself and his wife Gipsy in his sailing boat Pinta illustrates a time and a world now lost:



downs pinta
‘August in the Estuary of the Two Rivers’



He needs a new stimulus:


Gather up the papers, and lock the door; beyond the Atlantic lie the orange groves of the South, the sun in the sands of Florida.








(not quite true of course!)


From our point of view, now looking back, this section is full of interest; however I rather suspect it made a stumbling block at the time of publication. It sits a little awkwardly between the two main sections either side. Jonathan Cape was certainly not happy about it. It should perhaps be viewed as containing further extended articles following straight on from the previous section.


On Otters (p. 187). This is a continuous prose version of a review and the ensuing correspondence about Tarka the Otter that had appeared previously in The Nation in November 1927. (See the Critical reception part of the entry on Tarka the Otter.)


The ‘lady writer’ reviewing Tarka was actually Frances Pitt, author of many ‘nature’ books and particularly Moses, My Otter, also published in 1927 (Tarka the Otter was obviously the competition!). Her review, though not quoted in full in this piece, was extremely critical:


Well, slips of omission and commission that leave one with the impression that the author has never known an otter intimately and personally . . .


[Ms. Pitt particularly objects, at length, to Tarka having skinned a frog before eating – and the noise, ‘yinner-yikker’, made by otters. Ms Pitt refers to her own otter, ‘Madame Moses’ as example of true otter behaviour.]


But after all these comments we must give Mr. Williamson credit for his sincere endeavour to paint the life of an otter, and for making his hero a happy, joyful creature, which indeed the otter is; also for his vivid description of water-life, the countryside, and a pack of otter hounds, to say nothing of the otter hunt. The last is the most vivid and lifelike, though to the reviewer the most unpleasant, of his many vivid descriptions.


HW sent a very reasonable letter to the paper in reply, dated 7 November 1927, pointing out he has actually seen an otter skin a frog for her cubs, and on other occasions; that different otters have different characters and habits. He relates the story of the cub rescued in 1921. Below his letter was printed Frances Pitt’s reply:


Mr. Williamson’s belief that he saw one doing so [skin a frog] is probably based on a misapprehension of what he actually observed . . . [and asks] would he kindly say how far he was from her, and give us full particulars of her actions.


Into the fray then stepped Arthur Heinemann. Heinemann (1871-1930) was quite an 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 sold them again in 1905 due to financial problems. He bred the famous ‘Parson Jack Russell’ terriers, founding The ‘Parson Jack Russell’ Terrier club. Heinemann wrote under the pen-name of ‘Peep-out’. His housekeeper and kennel maid was Annie Rawle, who after Heinemann died in 1930 became housekeeper to the Williamson family.


Heinemann had written to HW in June 1927, introducing himself and asking for a review copy of the forthcoming otter book as he was ‘Hunting Ed., The Shooting Times & British Sportsman’. After Frances Pitt’s letter was published, Heinemann wrote (in his habitual rather wild-looking red ink) to HW:


She is too cock sure. She is Miss Knowall or thinks she is. I have put her right – if the Nation publishes my letter . . .


His letter was printed, headed ‘OTTERS AND FROGS’:


. . . This lady ridicules Mr. Williamson [re skinning frogs; and he goes on to describe how he had witnessed such a happening, or the effects of, when out otter-hunting]. To dogmatize on their behaviour is dangerous work and often leads to one’s undoing.


He points out he had also reviewed the book himself in the Shooting Times and in which he takes issue on various points. His letter is very clear and to the point and well put together – very different from the wandering scrawl (both in style and content) of his letters to HW.


HW refers to him here in this essay as:


An original sporting ‘character’ – a cider-making, midnight-hornblowing, badger-digging and cub-training fellow, a bohemian of wild life, a sage of Exmoor, good-hearted, poetical, misjudged, generous spendthrift, and a charming writer who was never really appreciated.


Heinemann objected to the various names HW gives his creatures (for example, ‘Garbagee’; for him that is anthropomorphism), and to HW fathering strange words on the Devon dialect; and he makes HW’s descriptions of hounds and huntsmen sound like caricatures. He also thought HW had not appreciated an otter’s love of playing with running water. (A further letter from HW soon put that right!)


Reading in Bed (p. 194): ‘in bed’ being apparently ‘ill in bed’ and reading four books about ‘Nature’ given to him on his thirtieth birthday – which would have been back in December 1925. (He notes that he was ‘writing the ninth version of a wearisome book about an otter’ – so that date would fit, though only seven actual versions of Tarka the Otter exist.) I have found no evidence of any previous printing of the items here, but these are all books HW had reviewed at some point.


The first book, by a French professor, irritated him dreadfully – too scientific, no soul. The second, in two heavy volumes by a Swiss authority on ants, has four printed pages of HW’s caustic wit to describe it. He states that he gave this tome to Dr Elliston Wright, but with no explanation as to whom that gentleman might be (see later).


The third book was about Gilbert White, renowned naturalist of Selborne, Hampshire, which he thought more hopeful; but was immediately alarmed because the writer states that White ‘was self-centred and took no interest in national or international events’ – and neither does his own story of the otter ‘lying in loose sheets all over the counterpane’. Two pages further on HW comments that ‘everything that White ever mentioned in his writings was commented on and explained.’ [Note to self: Ought I to be feeling a little uncomfortable at this point?]


The fourth book was given to him by the Doctor mentioned earlier: ‘He had written, illustrated, and paid for the book’s publication himself.’ HW had reviewed this book for the Western Morning News and reprints the review here. The book is: Braunton: A Few Nature Notes by F. R. Elliston Wright. (4s 6d). Elliston Wright was the local well-known Braunton doctor; HW had known him since his arrival in Georgeham and he had delivered the Williamson offspring. HW waxes lyrical about what was also his own favourite area:


that wide and beautiful region of sandhills bound by marram grasses, of mossy hillocks and level plains, of dykes and marshes, which lies, with its low ragged outline, a ruddy-purple in the Atlantic sunsets, between Taw and Torridge estuary and the hills sloping up to Exmoor.


HW ends: ‘there are sixty pages (I wish there were sixty more). . . . The frontispiece of a convolvulous hawk moth, appears almost to be walking across the glossy surface of the art-paper.’



downs braunton



This 1932 revised edition has over 150 pages so HW’s wish was fulfilled. Today this little book is much sought after and still considered a standard work on the area.


Izaak Walton (p. 210): this is HW’s ‘Introduction’ to a new edition of Walton’s famous book The Compleat Angler (1931), illustrated by Arthur Rackham, and has already been examined (see link). However there are a couple of HW’s comments here that are worth including:


I do not care very much for otter-hunting myself . . . the natural world of hunters and hunted is better than our civilized world. . . .


. . . When I am in good form, that is well and happy, and fishing in the Bray, I enter another world – the natural world – where senses and instincts are harmonious and co-ordinated in one purpose . . .


HW chose to enliven this section with a photograph of his 12 lb sea trout, caught on his stretch of the Bray at Shallowford:



downs fish
‘Loetitia and John Williamson with Fish’



A Brave Book (p. 219): A review of Chief Buffalo Child’s autobiography Long Lance, neatly put together and worth reading for its own sake (any original source unknown). It ends by relating the appalling tale of the death of ‘Almighty Voice’ and two young boys after two days of shelling by an army of Mounties. The place they fell is marked in Cree language: ‘Here died three Braves.’ HW is bitterly reminded of his own war: ‘No wonder the Great War occurred in Europe twenty years later.’


Reality in War Literature (p. 224): This important essay (38 pages) was first published in The London Mercury in 1929 and is revised here to include about fifty titles of books written about the First World War by men who had taken part in it.


It opens with some paragraphs very reminiscent of his ‘Apologia’ introduction to The Wet Flanders Plain. Here it is the sound of a motor-car braking hard in the lane outside that throws his mind back into the horror of war. It is 1917: HW is a transport officer in charge of mules, horses, and limbers of his unit, charged with taking rations and ammunition to the Front Line every night.


This powerful description, written in the first person, relates HW’s own experience on the night of 7/8 June 1917 at Bullecourt when, on one of those nightly forays, a shell killed his driver (Driver Frith) and his mule, and HW himself was badly gassed. The next day he was taken to the Field Hospital, then to 44CCS (Casualty Clearing Station) at Colincamps, and by 18 June was in the Sussex Lodge Hospital in London. He did not return to duty (and then Home Service Light Duty only) until 15 October, three months later.


That passage is an account of a real event told by the man who experienced it. So that you may read it for yourselves this passage can be found on the First World War page, where background on Driver Frith is posted.  


The remainder of the text of this important essay concerns books written by men who had their own actual experiences of the First World War – or Great War as it was known at the time (only ‘First’ after the ‘Second’).


For a detailed analysis of this essay and background explanation see: Anne Williamson, ‘Witness to War: an examination of HW’s ‘Reality in War Literature’, HWSJ 50, September 2014, pp. 4-26. HW’s original manuscript, dated 12 December 1926, was reprinted facsimile in HWSJ 34, September 1998, pp. 6-16, with editorial comment (pp. 4-5).


The main thrust of HW’s essay is that the standard against which one should compare books about the war is War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. He does not find one he considers measures up to that standard (though two come near it): that book was still to be written. The inference is that it will be his own book that will one day meet that standard: that book being his 15-volume A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. That analysis and comparison is yet to be made.


To mark the moment of departure for America HW adds in at the end of this section a photograph of his Writing Hut in what was in those days an almost empty open field; listed as ‘Last Glimpse’, there is no further caption.



downs hut2






(For full background to HW’s visit to the south of the United States in spring 1934 see: AW, Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, pp. 167-171, and Tony Jowett, ‘Dixie Days of 1934: Henry Williamson in the Deep South’, HWSJ 45, September 2009, pp. 81-99)


For illustrations of letters, postcards and other memorabilia from HW's visit to the United States please follow the link.


S.S. Berengaria (p. 265; printed as NNL 45 in the Sunday Referee, ‘North Atlantic’, 25 March 1934). HW’s diary records, 18 March: ‘No. 44 done – North Atlantic.’ He was by then in residence at Le Manoir Fleuri, home of Mrs Louise Reese in Augusta.


The piece is written in impressionistic style (as are most of this section):


Sunlight and grey clouds and grey sea by day; darkness and unfamiliar star-groupings above great funnels at night – and always the wastes of the sea.


There is no hint of the severe sea-sickness he suffered, or the bitter and unhappy thoughts about his ‘Bb’ (Ann Edmonds) that dominated his psyche. While on board the Berengaria his diary records on 2 March:


The sea everlastingly surging past in mindless fury. Why am I going so far away, in such a hateful way? Longed to be home in England, up in the field, digging and planting trees. . . .


The article records sightings of whale spouts and feeling empathy: they are ‘sprung from the same flame-writhing power of creation’ – an echo of association to Roy Campbell’s The Terrapin that is threaded into his later book It Was The Nightingale (1962).


He also sees a peregrine falcon ‘tired but resolute’, possibly travelling to Lundy Island, ‘which one had left, perhaps for ever?’ Then the bird is ‘a speck flying towards the sun, and England, sweeping the skies for a wing-flicker like its own, scorning all others.’


(HW in mid-Atlantic, this is Gold Falcon thought from his previous visit to the USA in 1930/31, where the hero, Manfred, drowns in mid-Atlantic when his plane is forced down.)


Manhattan (p. 267): in two parts, originally printed under a new heading in the Sunday Referee: ‘Nature Lover in the New World’ (NLNW I, ‘Here is New York’, 1 April 1934, and II, ‘Now That April is Here’, 8 April 1934). (HW’s diary numbering of articles here is a little haywire; having made an error his numbers tend to be one out.)


This was an island once; wolves lived here. Salmon . . . Trees grew among grey rocks . . . Silence, birds piping . . . An island! There is a never-ceasing roar; night is day; peaks of buildings stir the clouds. Droves of metallic wolves prowl swiftly on wheels . . . Three thousand miles away to eastwards the hills of Exmoor lie under the quiet sky.


HW arrived in New York at 2 p.m. on 6 March 1934, where he was met by his current publisher Harrison Smith (of Haas and Smith who had published The Gold Falcon). He stayed at the Brevoort Hotel, feeling a little lonely, but had quite a hectic few days sorting out business – he had taken over with him John Heygate’s new book and also Victor Yeates’s manuscript, both of which were accepted – and seeing previous friends, including his old publisher John Macrae, who expressed hurt and disapproval of his portrayal in The Gold Falcon (as did others), but was friendly. He found Waveney Girvan (who was to be an important figure in due course with The West Country Magazine and The West Country Writers’ Association) selling champagne at the Biltmore Hotel (and who apparently made £20,000 over this lucrative deal).


He notes he revisited ‘my old apartment location’ (where he lived over the winter of 1930-’31), recording New York as ‘a HORRIBLE place’; the article describes several small scenes that all add to that impression, interspersed with thoughts of Devon: that original NLNW title ‘Now That April is Here’ referring to the thought behind the poem by Robert Browning ‘Oh to be in England’! – the article itself was written on 1 April. (It was quite a trait of HW’s that wherever he was, he wanted to be somewhere else: in this particular case the longing for England is very dominant throughout his visit.)


Southern Sun (p. 271): NLNW III – actually twelve articles, recording his visit to the Southern states, first to Georgia and the home of his hostess and benefactor, Mrs Louise Reese.


The first story records how he flew down in an open cockpit monoplane – exciting stuff:


Mile after mile we haared over swamps and derelict cotton and tobacco fields, where among pine trees stood bleached wooden shacks where negro families dwelt. We flew sometimes only a few feet above the ground . . .


HW certainly saw the scenery he describes – but actually from a train window! His diary records that Waveney Girvan saw him off on 13 March at 3.30pm ‘on the Empress train to Washington and Augusta [an 800-mile journey]'. I rather suspect that the idea of ‘flying’ down came from the very suggestive name of the train known as ‘The Dixie Flyer’, which he certainly took on the return journey.


On arrival he found:


The tempo slow and restful. Strange birds singing: cardinals with flush of terra-cotta red, robins like thrushes, all unknown and unfamiliar.


He found Mrs Reese, his hostess and the dedicatee of this book, rather ominously ‘reminiscent of Miss Emma Mills & Mrs. Dawson Scott’. The former lady ran the Literary (or Poetry) Society in New York whom he had met on his previous visit; the latter founded The Tomorrow Club (subsequently P.E.N.) in 1920: both were formidable women who (from HW’s point of view) talked too much and were extremely bossy.


Southern Sun 2 (NLNW IV, ‘Always the Sun’, 24 April 1934): ‘Here one sits in the sun of Georgia . . . writing.’ As indeed he did, working on the ‘autobiography’ - ‘Sun in the Sands’ – playing tennis etc., and being made a big fuss of by everyone. He particularly noted the maturity of the schoolchildren. At this stage he recorded, ‘I am of course in my element – the egoist’s paradise.’



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La Manoir Fleuri, home of Miss Louise


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Part of the grounds at La Manoir Fleuri



Southern Sun 3 (No equivalent NLNW article):


I spent all this mid-March day under an incandescent sky, at the National Golf Course, watching the tournament.


The whole of the first paragraph is directly quoted from HW’s diary entry for 22 March 1934. The article covers several days from the diary, including the little item about being bitten by a ‘white Finnish Spitz dog in the right calf’.


Golfing aficionados will be interested to learn that the tournament that HW watched was actually the first day of the inaugural Masters Tournament held at Augusta National Golf Club, the course designed by Clifford Jones and the legendary amateur American golfer Bobby Jones. This first Masters was won by the American Horton Smith. The Masters is now one of the four ‘majors’, the most prestigious annual tournaments in professional golf, and perhaps the major that professional golfers would most like to win. HW, not a golfer, never did appreciate that he had witnessed golfing history!



downs augusta

The 4th hole at Augusta in 1934, with the notorious hazard of Rae's Creek

running down the left side of the fairway and across the front of the green –

today it now plays as the 13th hole, as pictured below


 downs augusta3



Southern Sun 4 (NLNW V, ‘An American Cameo’, 29 April 1934 – marked in HW’s diary on 22 April as ‘No. 50 “Mocking Bird” – this to appear 29 April’):


It is past midnight, and the Easter moon shines over the magnolia trees . . . It is one of those nights, mysterious and warm, which seems a suspension of time, happiness, sorrow. The small life within oneself is released into the life of the night-suns.


HW’s diary shows a full moon for 31 March 1934. The next day was Easter Sunday. The article relates hearing a bird which sounded first like a thrush, then a jay, or a blackbird, even a nightingale, to discover that it was a mocking bird (as his original title), ending:


Fancifully speaking, under this semi-tropical moon, it is a mocking-bird life down here. Here sit I, under semi-tropical moon, listening to a bird whose song is a mixture of other birds’ songs, a veritable American product. . . . So here I end a rootless, mocking-bird bit of writing under the false heat of the moon.


Southern Sun 5 (this appeared as ‘A Prison in Augusta’, 3 June 1934, thus actually after the series of 52 had ended): ‘One of my new friends asked me if I would care to see the prison. . . .’ HW’s diary for 5 April records: ‘Went out with Dick Allen. . . [who] took me to see the local jail.’ The printed story is a fleshed-out version of the diary notes.


Southern Sun 6 (NLNW VI, ‘De Swanee Ribber’, 6 April 1934: HW’s diary 29 April: ‘No. 51 “River in Dixie” to appear May 6’): Two days after he had arrived in Georgia, HW had met at a party an American writer, Edison Marshall, who invited him on a short fishing trip to Yemassee, South Carolina (90 miles from Augusta) on 9 April. This article describes that short visit. HW’s diary records:


Hut in swampy wood, negros, bateaus, tidal brown water, Amazon-looking, ospreys, buzzards, grey and white herons, alligators, snakes, rabbits, lynxes, eagles, turtles, “fiddlers” [one-clawed crabs found on muddy roots of trees]. Fished from 4pm – 7pm but I got nothing.


They fished all the next day ‘with my new steel rod’ casting ‘painted wooden plug’: the article shows his frustration – so he rests and watches the birds. This little article gives a perfect cameo of this short visit to a strange river, including the sight of that almost mystical bird – a loon.


A strange black bird passes overhead, with webbed feet stretching out behind more than its neck and sharp head project in front. It is like a shaped and streamlined splinter of black glass.


His paddler states it (more than once!) to be a ‘water turkey’.


Southern Sun 7 (parts of ‘Bus Ride to Florida’, printed in the Sunday Referee on 27 May 1934 – again extra to the 52 stipulated in the contract): Further to that short fishing trip, HW arranged to go with Edison Marshall to Florida the following week (16 April). He was already getting bored with the life at Le Manoir Fleuri and with Mrs Reese herself, who tended to ‘organise’ him! Indeed they had begun to quarrel. He found her tedious and insensitive to his need to think out his work. There was a quite hectic social life, with continuous bridge and cocktail parties, which soon bored our writer. She in turn found HW rude and boorish, and had probably expected some suave Englishman whom she could parade around her constant social engagements. They liked each other when apart, but not when in close company.


On Monday 16 April HW (after his usual to-do about packing etc.) boarded a bus for Valdosta, the home of the Marshalls. He managed to catch the slow bus instead of the faster one a quarter of an hour later – but this probably gave him a more interesting ride! This article is more general than the actual bus-ride. It is more a description of cars he saw and drove in, and incidents concerning them. He ends:


Now I know the origin of the so-called hot negroid music: surely it comes not from the swamps, ancient slavery, and nostalgia for the Africas, but from the noises emitted by their crazy automobiles.


(Perhaps it is pertinent to state here again that HW’s use of the term ‘negro’ is in no way racist. That was the term in use at that time – and it is evident that he enjoyed their company wherever he went, and had a quite obvious affection for them. ‘I enjoyed being with the negroes; deep contentment flowed from them into myself.’)


Southern Sun 8 (this continues the ‘Bus Ride to Florida’ article of 27 May): After an opening and interesting paragraph on the US Civil War, HW continues exactly reflecting and expanding on his diary notes. He called the trip ‘an out of time experience’. He particularly noted that he was in the land of Delius:


We passed groves of orange trees, and thoughts arose of Delius, who in youth came to Florida to grow oranges – Delius who loved the sun, and dreamed of sunshine, and those sun-fruits which came from whitest bridal bloom – Delius whose music is love and dream and serenity and impersonal heart-ache for starry beauty in life.


This is a poignant passage of total empathy for the composer whose music meant a lot to HW (one of his Desert Island Discs choices was ‘A Walk in the Paradise Garden’), and whose death had been announced on 23 February 1934 – a few days before HW left England for this visit.


Southern Sun 9 (NLNW VII, ‘A Florida Wilderness’, 13 May 1934 – the 52nd and last of the actual Sunday Referee contract. HW’s diary entry for 13 May states ‘The last of The Nature Lover Series in the Sunday Referee should appear today.’ He was by then actually on his way home: ‘Penultimate day of voyage. Feeling better.'


On this extended trip the two men went first to the Hopkiss Hotel (Madison), but over two days made their way to the once famous Hampton Springs Hotel which is the scene of this section:


this semi-ruinous hotel, standing in a clearing at the edge of the Floridan swamp.


HW’s diary 18 April records:


Arrived after rain at Hampton Springs Hotel, Perry. Semi-ruinous, edge of swamp, once a fashionable sulphur-cure place, now deserted. Poor food. A joke-haunted. Went to river . . . saw chain-gang working on railway. In river, snakes, gars, gaiters, mullet etc. Whippoorwill & fireflies & frogs at night.


HW gives us a very good description of his sojourn in this hotel, with its ghostly atmosphere of out of time and place (see memorabilia page for the hotel brochure and other literature). But he reminds himself (reassuringly) that this is the place where ‘the youthful Delius dreamed and planted his orange trees.’ (It is apparent that HW was unaware that Delius had not gone to Florida of his own accord – nor that he had left the orange industry as soon as he could in order to devote himself to music!)


Southern Sun 10 (‘By the Gulf of Mexico’, 20 May 1934): An interestingly philosophical piece, well worth reading, questioning ‘why’ the atmosphere is


of vacancy, of something lost under the sky, a haunting silence in the midst of the sunshine . . . there is a remote sadness, a vacancy in the sunshine.


Thinking it might just be his own morbidity, he asks his cheery companion Edison Marshall, successful writer and native American, if he feels anything of this.


To my relieved surprise he replied that he always felt the sunshine of Northern Florida held the ghosts of great trees ‘brutally logged off’ during the last century. . . . this country still bears the wounds and death feelings of those trees . . . the Tree spirit . . . just ceased to be. Trees won’t grow here again for a long, long time. [Even under the then current afforestation scheme under Roosevelt.] Well . . . perhaps we’ll be forgiven, and trees will grow again down here once more.’


Southern Sun 11: The visit to Florida ended on 23 April, the two men motoring back to Valdosta, and HW on back to Augusta by train, an 8-hour journey, and staying in a hotel. The next day after a pleasant lunch with Mrs Reese he took the afternoon train to New York. This section looks forward with excitement to eventual return to England, but encompasses the casket of memories engendered during this visit and the sacks of 200 oranges and pecans, which he planned to tip out on the lawn at Shallowford to the delight of his children. (He had sent a small bag of pecans to T. E. Lawrence while there and TEL, in thanking him, wrote that he ate one a week when he made his weekly visit to Cloud’s Hill.)


Southern Sun 12 describes in some detail the train journey on the ‘Dixie Flyer’ back to New York. His diary for 25 April reads:


To the 2.15 pm train to New York, expectantly, for the mail awaiting me & also Harrison Smith’s offer for the book which I gave A.T. to type 2 months ago & asked to be sent to him. Before entraining, bought two bags with zippers & also [Ms? Word difficult to read] case, for presents, & 6 straw sunhats. Tired at 7.30 pm, after writing 1000 words, & went to bed at 9 pm.


The article notes his (almost childlike) amazement at the transformation of seats into beds with various accoutrements (‘but never a film star’s leg’), all appearing by a pull and a click: the efficiency and quiet courtesy of the black attendant greatly impressive.


To England (p. 306): When HW arrived back in New York he was actually faced with several problems. He had been supposed to travel to Chicago (and had indeed sent his luggage on there in advance before leaving for Florida), to meet up with Barbara Sincere, with whom a cat and mouse game had been going on all during the entire visit – she supposed to be meeting up with him and then cancelling; and now he had cancelled this last chance of meeting. [I note here an error in my HW biography, Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, where somehow I managed to state this meeting was to be in Washington.] He was no doubt very wary of getting involved with her again, though he had by then got over his total anguish for Ann Edmonds. He notes in his diary at this point that he was ‘born solitary’, and ‘this trip has done me immense good’.


He found his luggage had not yet arrived, nor his mail; nor, more importantly, the promised typescript from Ann Thomas (although apparently it did the next day). He was now expecting to hear from Harrison Smith whether the firm had decided to take this new book (the ‘autobiography’), which in fact they turned down, greatly upsetting him. But none of this shows in this last section of The Linhay on the Downs.


The essay opens with a description of May Day processions by Communists, but oddly does not mention what his diary records – and which makes the story quite amusing:


Wore my red shirt today, because it happened to be a clean one handy in the drawer & found myself on 5th Avenue in the midst of the May Day Communist procession.


All his impressions of the present happenings of his last few days in America are intertwined with his longing thoughts of scenes at home in England. He decided to travel from Montreal so he could have two days going down the St Lawrence River.


There is a description of the huge Radio City music-hall (7,000 people) where he was moved to tears by a Wagner piece, where interestingly he must have gone with William Rose Benét, as he mentions saying goodbye to him afterwards.


Then he has a brief visit to Connecticut, taken by Harrison Smith to the home of the other publishing partner, Robert Haas, ‘about 25 miles out in the country’, which was not very successful. HW was waiting with some anxiety for their decision on the new book (i.e. the ‘autobiography), but Smith insisted that they wait until the last day, a pointer that this would be negative, as indeed it was. No hint of that in the printed essay.


Then after a most frenzied session of packing – or rather unpacking and repacking (his diary entry reads like a French farce reflecting his frenzy of mind: he was greatly upset about the refusal of his book).


The friend he says goodbye to on Eighty-sixth Street is John Macrae: their differences forgotten in greater bond of friendship. Then HW caught the 9.30 p.m. train from New York to Montreal, arriving at 7.30 a.m. next morning. In Linhay on the Downs he relates that on the train he read the proofs of Victor Yeates’s Winged Victory, and gives it a good ‘puff’ (as such praise is known). (Though I suspect he didn’t see those proofs until after he had arrived back in England – they are not mentioned in his diary and it seems unlikely that they would have been posted to him at that late stage in his trip.)


He boarded the Canadian Pacific-owned liner SS Montcalm, recording in his diary but not in the book, ‘Horrified by the cabin, right aft, C deck’. Someone had been supposed to telephone and have this changed this to a better berth – but it obviously did not happen.


His diary notes the usual battle with sea-sickness, and that he was ‘bored as hell’; but reading ‘Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a very fine novel of character.’ (This is Ernest Hemingway’s second novel, published in 1926, which made him famous: it was entitled Fiesta in England as the action moves from decadent Paris to the famous fiesta and bullfight of Pamplona in Spain.)


The printed story here reflects the diary entries (omitting the morbid depressed thoughts about the chaos he will find on return), but looking forward to meeting Ann Thomas who was to meet him (except it was actually John Heygate, as Ann was delayed).


Sadly: ‘Singly and in twos and threes the large oranges of Florida were lobbed through the porthole as they went rotten.’


Once he had found his sea-legs, he met up with some friendly Canadian students on board and enjoyed their company. But his thoughts are now focused on home:


While mine [thoughts] were only rearing trout eggs . . . while standing hour after hour on a small eighteenth-century ornamental bridge over a small West Country stream . . . sheltering from a storm in a linhay on the downs [a nice return to his opening and title story] and listening to the river sounds at night.


That bridge is of course the famous ‘Humpy Bridge’ at Shallowford, not featured in the photograph added at this point, shown below. The caption names only take on meaning when related to the later Salar the Salmon.



downs river2
‘River Scenes in Winter’



And so eventually and with great excitement they pass the Bishop Light, and can see the first lights of England in the far distance. (Bishop Rock Lighthouse is to the south-west of the Isles of Scilly.)






Critical reception:


There is only one review in the archive file, although there were certainly others: Matthews mentions in his Henry Williamson: A Bibliography that the critics were unimpressed.


As related earlier, Cape had been upset about the book, and it did not get a great deal of attention in their Winter 1934 house magazine Now and Then; although a full-page reproduction of the Linhay frontispiece photograph of HW was printed, the book itself got only a very small mention – one sixth of a page, under heading ‘Notes’, plus another slot among other titles:



downs nowandthen1         downs nowandthen2



HW’s previous books had attracted a great deal of excited critical attention; possibly expectations for a new HW book were for more of the same, and so The Linhay on the Downs appeared rather tame. However, whatever they thought of it then, today it has an intrinsic value in its own right.


HW was comforted by a letter from T. E. Lawrence, dated 11 December 1934, as from the ‘Ozone Hotel, Bridlington, Yorkshire’, who, wanting to read an HW book, wrote:


Yesterday I had to go to York and lay out three days pay on The Linhay which I have been dipping into with satisfaction. . . . What a sentence for No. 1. [‘On the high down above the sea, in the corner of the last rough grazing field, stands a linhay, half fallen into ruin.’ TEL then quotes two bad sentences to balance this!]


. . . Don’t vex yourself over Walpole or Shanks or Hanks or Banks: . . . You write almost disarmingly well. You write better than Richard Jefferies, splendid fellow though he was. . . .


The full correspondence between HW and TEL is published in: T. E. Lawrence: Correspondence with Henry Williamson (T. E. Lawrence Letters, Volume IX) , limited edition, Castle Hill Press, 2000.


The one review in the archive is from the Shooting Times and is worth reading in full as it shows how the book appeared to a specialist.



downs shooting






Book covers:



The first edition has one of Jonathan Cape's classic typographical designs of the late 1920s and 1930s:



downs 1934 cover



Jonathan Cape's reprint in their Life and Letters Series (1938) used their standard cover design for the series:



downs 1938 cover



Alan Sutton's 1984 paperback reprint of the first edition used a detail from 'Winter Sunset with Barn Owl' by Raymond Booth, making an attractive cover:



downs 1984 cover





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