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THE PRIVATE DIARIES OF ALISON UTTLEY

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The Private Diaries of

Alison Uttley

Author of Little Grey Rabbit and Sam Pig

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The Taylor Family Henry Taylor m. (2nd wife) Hannah Dickens b. 1853 b. 1842 (m. 1884) d. 1930 d. 1926 James Uttley m. Alice (later Alison) b. 1884 b. 1883 d. 1976 d. 1930

Harry m. (1st) Frances m. (2nd) Hilda b. 1887 d. 1943 b. 1912 d. 1964 (m. 1944)

m. 1911 John m. Helen Paine b. 1914 b. 1917 d. 1978 d. 1984

Ronnie

m. 1947

 The Uttley Family George Harry Uttley m. Katherine Uttley d. 1926 d. 1923

Emily m. Alfred Uttley Byers b. 1878 d. 1944 d. 1942

Alice m. ‘Sonny’ Uttley Tolson b. 1881 d. 1933 d. 1956

James m. Alice Uttley Taylor b. 1883 b. 1884 d. 1930 d. 1976 m. 1911

Roger Godfrey Martin Anthony Nigel April John m. Helen Paine m. b. 1914 b. 1917 Rosemary d. 1978 d. 1984 m. 1947 Catherine

Robin

Gertrude m. Harold Uttley Armfield b. 1884

George m. Doris Uttley b. 1887

Katherine (Kay) Diana Joan m. Watson m. Dunstan m. Marlowe

David Adrian

Alice Uttley, nee Taylor, changed her name to Alison to avoid confusion with her sister-in-law, Alice.


THE PRIVATE DIARIES OF ALISON UTTLEY

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Dedication



To Alison Uttley Prolific Author Compulsive Housekeeper Inquiring Mind Spinner of Tales

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Thanks, Permissions and Acknowledgements

 y first thanks go to the Society of Authors, the Trustees of Alison Uttley’s Literary Estate and Fiona Shoop of Remember When Books for their belief in this project and for their support as it developed. I am especially grateful to Elizabeth Haylett-Clark, of the Society of Authors, for her friendship and wise counsel at a number of points. I also owe much to the helpful staff of the Manuscripts Reading Room at John Rylands University Library, Manchester; to the Ashburne Association, Manchester University, for some important financial assistance; to my skilful and extraordinarily accurate typist, Malini Maxwell-Hyslop, and to all those who have given encouragement and help in any fashion as this project has unfolded – especially my wife Dorothy, who not merely kept reacting with enthusiasm to every extract from the Diaries shown to her, but who also helped me solve most of the word processing problems I encountered. I am particularly grateful to Mrs. Sheila Griffiths, of the Ashburne Association, for acting in effect as an invaluable Assistant Editor when it came to checking the Diary entries – a task in which Dr. Elizabeth Healey also played an invaluable role. Both gave me important moral support as I laboured from the foot hills of the project to the summit. It was, after all, a matter of reducing the Diaries’ total word length of over six million to a compact single volume of some 120,000 words – enough to give the sanest of editors some sleepless nights. The text is reproduced with the permission of the Uttley Trustees and of John Rylands Library. The pictures in the book are reproduced with the kind consent of the John Rylands Library, Faber, Denis Judd, Ben Judd, Dorothy Judd, Antony Paton, the Trustees of Margaret Tempest’s Literary Estate, Giles de la Mare and the Estate of C.F. Tunnicliffe.

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Foreword

by Ronald Blythe

 enis Judd’s perceptive, but sparing, use of Alison Uttley’s Diary in his memorable biography made me long to read more of it. For what lay outside or beyond that beautiful prose of her books? When Virginia Woolf wrote her diary, usually just after tea when the day’s work was done, she dropped her artistry, so to speak, and scrawled the day’s happenings with no thought of spelling and punctuation, letting the pen rip. Alison Uttley, however, does no such thing. These private pages have a similar elegance to that finely constructed autobiography in many volumes, which was her life’s work – that is why parts of the Diary are so disturbing. Her pen was not made for some of these happenings. So many years have passed since I read her books and wrote about them, that I had to go to them again to discover if my admiration had been justified. Was she a gentle rural belletrist of her time and nothing more? That is not to denigrate this kind of country writing, for it has its genuine place in literature and continues to give pleasure – and information. However, these small narratives which stretch from the Thirties to the Seventies, whilst packed with the social attitudes of the period, are still wonderfully readable. She meant to last. In Wild Honey (1962) she wrote:

D

The artistic quality which is called style is a gift of the gods, a birthright which will come into being without extraneous help, although that help may quicken the seed and bring forth the flower earlier. The seed may whither if the art is never put into practice or it may stay alive as a power of appreciation, a critical faculty with no practical expression. Style cannot be taught, but it can be influenced and assisted at its birth. When it comes into being it is a personal attribute of the writer’s, unique as his own character. Thus, Alison Uttley speaks for herself, both in that miniature output of big ideas and in her toil as a diarist. Her books are inventories of small much-loved possessions. Many of these ‘small things’, such as her father’s farm, are also great things. Her often-returned-to account of Castle Top Farm in the Peak District,

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The Private Diaries of Alison Uttley belongs to the best English rural writing. For example, although she was born into the agricultural depression, she was able to write about those years with neither a false lyricism nor the black realism of a Mary Mann. She is saying, ‘This is how it was when I was a little girl’ or how it was when she was a growing girl, i.e. the arrival of the handsome Irish mowers. The published Diary will make the reader return to, or discover anew, these scenes. They are where cultivated plants and ‘wildings’ grew together in the high windy garden, and where most of the furnishings in the old farmhouse were ‘hand-ons’ and not purchases. It was not so much her university education – though rare for a woman then – that cut Alison Uttley off from her traditional farming roots, but what she read – science. This was the time when a scientist could know all science, or most of it. The discipline and the ‘poetry’ of this learning, created in her, qualities which prevented any kind of woolliness when she was writing about The World of Animals, Country Crafts or The Village Shop – topics which only a first-rate writer could deal with, if slush was to be avoided. She is a kind of hard or tough sentimentalist, ever anxious that the little things which come together to constitute the great things in life, do not fall from sight. This understanding, of course, came from her knowledge of science in which it is the atom that rules. It was something much talked about in her youth. A popular novel of her childhood was Marie Corelli’s The Mighty Atom (1896). Whilst praising ‘style’, Alison Uttley’s work is about the true nature of often minute possessions. It is evangelistic in wanting the reader to recognise and love the minutiae which are his and his alone, and the real basis of his existence. In a marvellous essay in Secret Places (1972) she describes ‘Fal1ing in Love with Mathematics and Physics’, and how she thought of nothing e1se . Although she was to think of many other things – some of them tiny – the intellectual discipline of the exciting Edwardian lecture-room remained with her. It gave her delicate writing body and space, taking it out of the good, if conventional, essay-writing of her time, and lending it something special and difficult to describe. She never sought to return to her native countryside. She listed what she could remember of it. Instead, she lived in villas in small towns after student digs in Che1sea. Like most women writers – and few men – both her books and her Diary are fascinating about the pounds, shillings and pence of domestic existence. For years, she was an author of slender means, and the social historian will have much to go by. It was early in her career that Little Grey Rabbit appeared, joining that adored, humanised animal population of the first half of the twentieth century; Peter Rabbit, Ratty, Mole, Mr. Toad, Winnie-the-Pooh, Tiger Tim, Orlando the Marmalade Cat, and many other beloved creatures. Alison Uttley seemed not to share their warmth, and indeed, appeared to be chilly and difficult even. She had a kind of genius and such people are complex. But never in a thousand years, could one have imagined her tragedy, or rather the tragic fate of the two men closest to her. Thomas Hardy allowed for  10 


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Foreword happenings of what he called ‘Sophoclean properties’ to occur in his small world, and was blamed for it. What happened to Alison’s husband and son, throws all our concepts of her out of kilter. Thus, one reads her Diary with a renewed admiration for her work, and a tense interest in her personality. It has been impeccably edited by Denis Judd. Only he could have balanced her brilliance as an essayist with her ‘nature’. It will join the ranks of writers’ confessions, the tale of a cool and philosophical woman, who for the most part didn’t get on with many people; who was highly professional, intensely dedicated to her craft, but far more complex than those who read her – young or grown-up – could ever have imagined. We are what we are, is what her Diary says. It is eloquent, and of course, stylishly written. Yet, a great sadness runs through it, like one of those Derbyshire streams which reflect the visitor’s mood.

Ronald Blythe Dr Blythe is one of our most distinguished and best loved writers about country life, the British countryside and English literature. His books include Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village, The Pleasures of Diaries, Private Words: Letters and Diaries from the Second World War, Word from Wormingford, Talking About John Clare and Out of the Valley. His latest books are Field Work and Outsiders.

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I always felt I was a changeling child, a bit of fairy got into me at Castle Top. Alison Uttley, Diary, 7 April, 1963

 1932  15th January We cycled to Dunham Massey. The beech trees were silver against the pale blue sky. Sunshine and light flickers of cloud. It was four o’clock, and a dimness was rising, dusk coming slowly up. An old woman in a blue shawl leaned over a cottage gate and watched us. A little girl with fair curls and blue eyes, holding a box which said ‘Somebody’s sausages’ in her hand stood staring on the cobbled road. Chaffinches and robins flitted along the bare hedges. The great leafless trees in the middle of the village. Dusk came and we hastened back. Up the path nearer home we saw four black old women, witches with strange umbrellas on their shoulders, waddling silently along. They were roadsweepers, ancient men with long coats, and brooms on their backs. 17th January We stood under the great beech trees in the park and watched a procession of deer thread their way across the paths from the deep wood on the left to the open space on the right, where hay lay scattered by the domed barn. Antlered stags led, in single file, and after them came the does with little baby fawns, all about the same distance apart, about sixty of them. Their shadows drifted on each others’ mottled sides, their steps were light, and the sound like the moving of leaves by a little wind. I tried to feel like one of those little wild creatures, to imagine its thoughts as it moved so gracefully and unconsciously along; but all I could get was a feeling of comfort in the presence of the other animals, a sense of comradeship, no loneliness where others were so near. 20th January We have been to see ‘Helen’. Exquisite and delicate, with the absurdities of Menelaus thrown in for laughter. Helen was beautiful in her gossamer dress and blue cloak and her little quaint hat studded with gold, when she ran off with Paris. Menelaus was at his most nonsensical when he went to Knossos in his bowler hat, with, a big patterned ribbon,  18 


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 1932 

carrying a carpet bag and a hot-water bottle with the monogram M.. The stolid audience gaped and clapped feebly. 21st January John is having breakfast in bed. He sits, or rather leans, against a pillow with his head on the top rail, just under the two little Raphael angels. His top button is undone, his sleeves up, and he contentedly nibbles the toast, tea, ham, porridge, and toast, in the pale blue breakfast things on the fresh blue cloth. Books and a little carved bear, a mouse and a wristwatch lie by the bedside. A crumpled blue collar, and a soiled handkerchief are on the chest of drawers. He glances at me, with whimsical twitches of his mouth, and loving amused eyes. Professor Alexander at tea. Kind brown eyes and a great forehead, soft long beard. Grey shirt and tie. He looks rather tired, his cheeks pale, but they get more colour as he kindles in conversation!.... We feel refreshed and vivified by his presence, and before he went I suddenly leant forward and gave him a kiss. I felt touched by his tiredness and his greatness. ‘How sweet of you to feel so affectionately towards me’ he murmured. 24th January [A description of the violinist Kreisler]: Greying hair, firm tread, erect carriage, eyes looking straight ahead, brave and proud. Whilst waiting to begin, he moved his head and body in unison with the music, so that he was one with the rhythm even before he put the violin to his shoulder, and brought out the lovely notes. He was cheered and encored, and returned again and again, bowing stiffly, walking smartly.... Four times he played to us... in deep notes like a cello, then higher, then so high that it was like the music of the stars, ethereal, exquisitely fine. 29th January In Dunham Park. The elm trees have lavender in their trunks, presaging the purple flowers so soon to burst from their twigs. The silver birches are rosy-pink, twigs and trunks alike. There is nothing more lovely than a grove of silver birches in winter. The company, the intimately talking company of rose-silver trunks, slender and straight, with tiny delicate twigs, so fine that beyond them all a massive beech trunk shines out through the mist of all those boughs like a green and grey light from beyond. I leaned against my oak tree, and had a little prayer. I felt its affection and its strength. I put my lips to a warm red bud of a lime tree, it seemed humanly alive. It was so lovely in the winter sunshine. Nature seemed to speak to me. There was a smell of growth, a smell of Mimosa, which filled me with happiness. This is the first day I have felt that vitality and joy of living which I possess so intensely. It seemed to wake up with the sun in the wood. 1st February St. Bridget’s Day. As I walked along the misty road tonight, the lamplighter came with his long wand to light the lamps. I asked him how he did it, and he showed me a trigger which  19 


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The Private Diaries of Alison Uttley he pressed, which compressed the air in the long hollow wand and sent a little petrol up with the oil flame at the top, so that a jet of flame came out and lighted the gas. The wand looked very fascinating, bright and shining, with the little cage of fire at the end. 3rd February I am listening to Mussorgsky’s St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain. He never heard it, and I feel that his wraith is leaning slantwise in the air, hearkening to it, far away. Tiny wild dances spin up and down, twirls of the witches, with little cries, and all the time there is the steady rhythmic pulse of motion, unceasing, troubled! The whinnies of the witches’ mares. 5th February [Alison mourns her dead husband on his birthday]: My darling’s birthday. I took flowers, snowdrops, violets, and scarlet anemones to his grave. It was all very still, and I could hear him speak to me. ‘Little Bimbo, I love you. I’m all right, dear,’ and I told him too that we are ‘going on’, loving him always. I told him John was a lance corporal [in the school cadet corps]. I put a few snowdrops from my drawing room bunch among his, telling him about the room, the sounds and the scents and the feel of the writing table; and I brought back a few violets which had lain on his cross. 7th February Prints of heavy horseshoes on the soil by the plough land, freshly turned up. The path is covered with the ovals, with the nail marks deep in the soil. Piles of hedge trimmings lie in the fields, the faint pale green parallel curves where the roller had been. A flock of peewits wheels in the air and settles on the field. I sit under an oak tree with a tangle of branches of wild rose by me. A little thorn tree grows by my side, with an oak leaf impaled on one of its thorns, swinging like a little weathercock. Why is there something rather frightening about a torn ragged coat hanging on a hedge in winter? It always startles me. 10th February Snow today, a fine covering of gleaming white over the trees and gardens and roofs. When I ran downstairs in my bedroom slippers and dressing gown to open the door I saw it through the little window, and I shouted with joy. It is lovely and fresh, and I felt full of energy. I wrote again part of the fairy tale for My Magazine. 11th February Last night I dreamed that the Queen [Queen Mary] and little Princess Elizabeth came to stay at Castle Top. The Queen sat quietly in a chair, looking about her, and I remembered to call her Your Majesty. Little Elizabeth ran about the farmyard asking questions, holding my hand, as I showed her where the hens slept. Grannie was there – so delighted and honoured, and I tried to stop her from telling long family histories, but to treat the Queen simply. They came for the night.

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The Private Diaries of Alison Uttley  

Popular children’s author, Alison Uttley (Little Grey Rabbit and Sam Pig) spent over 40 years writing diaries. Professor Denis Judd, who kne...