23 Jan 2012

Book Foraging

When I am on book foraging trips, mainly in charity shops, I always keep my eye open for any books by H.E.Bates.

I first came across his work in the 70's after watching a series on the television called Country Matters or was it Country Tales followed later by Love for Lydia, both of which I loved and remember to this day.  My collection is small at the moment, some half dozen books - I have a long way to go in collecting all his books as he was a prolific writer, mainly of short stories.

Herbert Ernest Bates was born in 1905-74 and his most famous books include The Darling Buds of May, My Uncle Silas (my personal favourite) and Love for Lydia.  He was born in Rushden, Northamptonshire and many of his stories depict life in the rural Midlands of England.  He was partial to taking long midnight walks around the Northamptonshire countryside and this often provided inspiration for his stories.

The Lily - from My Uncle Silas
"My Great-uncle Silas used to live in a small stone reed-thatched cottage on the edge of a pine-wood, where nightingales sang passionately in great numbers through early summer nights and on into the mornings and often still in the afternoons.  On summer days after rain the air was sweetly saturated with the fragrance of the pines, which mingled subtly with the exquisite honeysuckle scent, the strange vanilla heaviness from the creamy elder-flowers in the garden hedge and the perfume of old pink and white crimped-double roses of forgotten names.  It was very quiet there except for the soft, water-whispering sound of leaves and boughs, and the squabbling and singing of birds in the house-thatch and the trees.  The house itself was soaked with years of scents, half-sweet, half-dimly-sour with the smell of wood smoke, the curious odour of mauve and milk-coloured and red geraniums, of old wine and tea and the earth smell of my Uncle Silas himself".

Albert Finney as Uncle Silas
David Jason as Pop Larkin

His love of the countryside is exemplified in two volumes of essays entitled 'Through the Woods' and 'Down the River'.

He was 20 when his first novel was published and his most popular creation was the Larkin family in the Darling Buds of May who were inspired by a colourful character seen whilst he was on holiday in Kent.

In 1931 he married Madge Cox and they moved to the village of Little Chart in Kent and bought an old granary and this, together with an acre of garden, they turned into a home.

Bates was a keen gardener and wrote many books on flowers.  He and Madge had two sons and two daughters.  Bates died in 1974 a prolific and successful author.

The Fallow Land
"Abraham Mortimer and his son Jess were setting snares under the old hawthorn hedge that bounded their land on the north.  Haws were hanging in heavy crimson clusters among the shrivelling leaves and the pale October sun was dropping behind the line of willows skirting the west of the field.  ....
In winter the rains steamed down the slope, washing out the stones and silting the earth across the hollow in a smooth yellowish drift, and in summer the sun baked the drift to a white crust impressed with the iron-hard footprints of horses and men."


  1. I must look out for some H.E.Bates books, The Darling Buds of May I'm familiar with but as the TV series rather than the book and many years ago I've read some of his books though I'd be hard pushed to tell you which - Fair Stood The Wind For France' comes to mind though. I definitely fancy Through The Woods and Down the River - must certainly look for those especially since they have those lovely woodcuts in.

  2. I've read a couple of those - a long time ago. I remember borrowing "The Purple Plain" from my Dad,and he died in 1991...
    Writers these days seldom describe natrural events and features (e.g. scenery) like H.E. Bates did.You can imagine the view with your eyes shut when he describes it.

  3. I remember reading one of his books when I was quite young I think it was about the Larkins going to France. I too remember 'Love for Lydia' as a television series with Peter Davidson and Jeremy Irons in it, maybe it was the same one you remember?:)

  4. I loved reading bates,this is a really interesting post. After "love for Lydia" people copied the hairstyle and imagined themselves as her!I wish they would repeat that series.

  5. You can see clips of Love for Lydia on You Tube - but I think I will check out if you can get it on DVD. I would love to see it again.

  6. What a lovely post Elaine, I loved reading the plotted history of H.E.Bates and seeing all of his books. I don't think I've read any although I loved The Darling Buds of May on the tv.

  7. Always a good read. I'm presuming you must also be a fan of Cold Comfort Farm!.


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