I’ve already documented my love for George’s book Where Beards Wag All, which he wrote fifteen years later and is far more concentrated on the role of the oral tradition in rural settings.
I’ve been meaning to write up about this book for ages and now I come to do so, what I learnt from it has quite slipped my mind… but just looking at the contents pages is more than enough to wet the intellectual appetite. I mean it has chapters called ‘Beer’, ‘Field Names’ and ‘Bacon and Ham Curing’ and a whole section titled ‘Various Old People’. Ha!
As climate change starts to bite and we continue looking for ways to work the land with nature rather than by fighting against her, books like this will be valuable resources indeed.
The Economist review on the inside cover just about sums it up: ‘Original, arresting and always human… The book is a mine of information, but this is offered so unpretentiously that it reads as easily as a quiet book of memoirs’
We get sent, given and recommended a lot of books by people who’ve seen the show. They are nearly always very useful and often even get read. Every so often one comes along that wins. This is such a book. What a title! And full of lovely maps and considered prose too. Copies come up 2nd hand for about the £20 mark fairly often, well worth it.
Needless to say this book is a glorious source of academically thorough research into peasant struggles against the greed and tyranny of the aristocracy.
In this BBC Archive On Four, historian Alan Dein celebrates the centenary of his mentor George Ewart Evans, collector of Suffolk farming tales. Evans began by chatting to his neighbours over the fireside in the 1950’s and transcribing stories about poaching, shepherding, smuggling and ditching.
The talk was of a hardscrabble life, of leaky roofs and meals of pea soup and pollard dumplings and beef only at Christmas with occasional festivities like the Whitsun fair.
Evans came from a Welsh mining village and he sympathised with the labourers’ stories about the tyranny of the trinity of the parson, squire and farmer. He was a sympathetic listener who asked allowed his community to speak for itself and he captured the stories of people whose traditions had been unbroken for generations, who worked on the land before mechanisation and who believed in magic and folk wisdom and had intuitive understanding of working with animals.
Evans’ eleven books about the working lives and folk stories of Blaxhall are a portrait of every facet of his village and paved the way for books and programmes, both fiction and not fiction, about British agricultural life.