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Henry Williamson by Charles Tunnicliffe, c. 1935
1 December 1895|
|Died||13 August 1977
|Known for||Ruralist books (Tarka the Otter)|
Henry William Williamson (1 December 1895 – 13 August 1977) was an English naturalist, farmer and prolific ruralist author known for his natural history and social history novels. He won the Hawthornden Prize for literature in 1928 with his book Tarka the Otter.
Henry Williamson was born in Brockley, southeast London, but moved to Ladywell when he was young, and attended Colfe's School. The then semi-rural location provided easy access to the Kent countryside, and he developed a deep love of nature throughout his childhood.
In January 1914 he enlisted in the London Rifle Brigade, the 5th battalion of the London Regiment, part of the Territorial Army, and, after World War I was declared, he was mobilised on 5 August. He was commissioned into the Machine Gun Corps, was promoted Lieutenant and, from 1917, was attached to the Bedfordshire Regiment. The Christmas truce of 1914 affected him greatly. He became disgusted with the pointlessness of the war and was angry at the greed and bigotry he saw as causing it. He became determined that Germany and Britain should never go to war again. Williamson was also strongly influenced by the camaraderie of the trenches and in particular what he saw as the bonds of kinship that existed between the ordinary British and German soldiers, despite their being at war with one another.
Williamson was interviewed, recalling his experiences of the conflict, for a documentary series broadcast in 1964 called The Great War; his interview was shown in March 2014 in I Was There: The Great War Interviews on BBC Four.
He told of his war experiences in The Wet Flanders Plain (1929), The Patriot's Progress (1930) and in many of his books in the semi-autobiographical 15-book series A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (1951-1969).
After the war, he read Richard Jefferies' book The Story of My Heart. This inspired him to begin writing seriously. In 1921, he moved to Georgeham, Devon, living in a small cottage. He married Ida Loetitia Hibbert in 1925. Together they had six children.
In 1927 Williamson published his most acclaimed book, Tarka the Otter; it won him the Hawthornden Prize in 1928, and made him enough money to pay for the wooden hut near Georgeham where he wrote many of his later books, often sitting alone there for 15 hours a day. It also sparked a long-running friendship with T. E. Lawrence with both men sharing similar views about the need for a lasting peace settlement in Europe. The wooden writing hut was granted Grade II listed status by English Heritage in July 2014 because of its "historical interest".
In 1936 he bought a farm in Stiffkey, Norfolk. The Story of a Norfolk Farm (1941) is his account of his first years of farming here.
In 1935, Henry Williamson visited the National Socialist German Workers Party Congress at Nuremberg and was greatly impressed, particularly with the Hitler Youth movement, whose healthy outlook on life he compared with the sickly youth of the London slums. He had a "well-known belief that Hitler was essentially a good man who wanted only to build a new and better Germany." Opposed to war and believing that wars were caused by "usurial moneyed interests", he was attracted to Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, and joined it in 1937.
On the day of the British and French declaration of war on Germany Williamson suggested to friends that he might fly to Germany to speak with Hitler in order to persuade him away from war. Following a meeting with Mosley later that day however he was dissuaded from his plan. At the start of World War II Williamson was briefly held under Defence Regulation 18B for his political views, but was released after only a weekend in police custody. Visiting London in January 1944, he observed with satisfaction that the ugliness and immorality represented by its financial and banking sector had been "relieved a little by a catharsis of high explosive" and somewhat "purified by fire." And, "in The Gale of the World, the last book of his Chronicle, published in 1969, Williamson has his main character Phillip Maddison question the moral and legal validity of the Nuremberg Trials".
Williamson initially retained a close relationship with Mosley in the immediate aftermath of the war, but when he brought Mosley as his guest to the Savage Club, the former BUF leader was promptly ejected by club staff. Williamson refused Mosley's request that he join the newly established Union Movement and indeed his suggestion to Mosley that he should instead join him in abandoning politics altogether led to the two men falling out. Nonetheless Williamson did write for Mosley's theoretical journal The European. He also continued to express admiration for aspects of Nazi Germany after the war.
After the war the family left the farm. In 1946 Williamson went to live alone at Ox's Cross, Georgeham in North Devon, where he built a small house in which to write. In 1947 Henry and Loetitia divorced. Williamson fell in love with a young teacher, Christine Duffield and they were married in 1949. He began to write his series of fifteen novels collectively known as A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. In 1950, the year his only child by this marriage Harry Williamson was born, he edited a collection of poems and short stories by James Farrar, a promising young poet who had died, at the age of 20, in the Second World War. From 1951-1969 Williamson produced almost one novel a year, while contributing regularly to the Sunday Express and The European, a magazine edited by Diana Mosley. In 1964 he had a short affair with the novelist Ann Quin, who was nearly forty years younger than Williamson. This all put great strain on his marriage and, in 1968, he and his wife were divorced after years of separation.
In 1974 he began working on a script for a film treatment of Tarka the Otter. but it was not regarded as suitable to film, being 400,000 words long. Filming went on, unknown to him, and the film, narrated by Peter Ustinov, was released in 1979. On his eightieth birthday he hoped for some honour from the British government. After a general anaesthetic for a minor operation, his health failed catastrophically. One day he was walking and chopping wood, the next day he was unrecognisable and had forgotten who his family were. Suffering from senile dementia, he died on the very day the death of Tarka was being filmed, and was buried in the churchyard of Georgeham. The Henry Williamson Society was founded in 1980.
- The Flax of Dream - a tetralogy following the life of Willie Maddison
- The Beautiful Years (1921)
- Dandelion Days (1922)
- The Dream of Fair Women (1924)
- The Pathway (1928)
- A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight - a series of 15 novels following the life of Phillip Maddison from his birth in the late 1890s till the early 1950s, based loosely on Williamson's own life and experiences.
- The Dark Lantern (1951)
- Donkey Boy (1952)
- Young Phillip Maddison (1953)
- How Dear Is Life (1954)
- A Fox Under My Cloak (1955)
- The Golden Virgin (1957)
- Love and the Loveless (1958)
- A Test to Destruction (1960)
- The Innocent Moon (1961)
- It Was the Nightingale (1962)
- The Power of the Dead (1963)
- The Phoenix Generation (1965)
- A Solitary War (1967)
- Lucifer Before Sunrise (1967)
- The Gale of the World (1969)
- Other Works
- The Lone Swallows (1922)
- The Peregrine’s Saga, and Other Stories of the Country Green (1923)
- The Old Stag (1926)
- Tarka the Otter (1927)
- The Linhay on the Downs (1929)
- The Ackymals (1929)
- The Wet Flanders Plain (1929)
- The Patriot’s Progress (1930)
- The Village Book (1930)
- The Labouring Life (1932)
- The Wild Red Deer of Exmoor (1931)
- The Star-born (1933)
- The Gold Falcon or the Haggard of Love (1933)
- On Foot in Devon (1933)
- The Linhay on the Downs and Other Adventures in the Old and New Worlds (1934)
- Devon Holiday (1935)
- Salar the Salmon (1935)
- Goodbye West Country (1937)
- The Children of Shallowford (1939)
- The Story of a Norfolk Farm (1941)
- Genius of Friendship: T.E. Lawrence (1941; reprinted by the Henry Williamson Society 1988; e-book 2014)
- As the Sun Shines (1941)
- The Incoming of Summer (undated)
- Life in A Devon Village (1945)
- Tales of a Devon Village (1945)
- The Sun in the Sands (1945)
- The Phasian Bird (1948)
- The Scribbling Lark (1949)
- Tales of Moorland and Estuary (1953)
- A Clearwater Stream (1958)
- In The Woods, a biographical fragment (1960)
- The Scandaroon (1972)
- Writings published posthumously by the Henry Williamson Society
- Days of Wonder (1987; e-book 2013)
- From a Country Hilltop (1988; e-book 2013)
- A Breath of Country Air (2 vols, 1990–91; e-book 2013)
- Spring Days in Devon, and other Broadcasts (1992; e-book 2013)
- Pen and Plough: Further Broadcasts (1993; e-book 2014)
- Threnos for T.E. Lawrence and Other Writings (1994; e-book 2014)
- Green Fields and Pavements (1995; e-book 2013)
- The Notebook of a Nature-lover (1996; e-book 2013)
- Words on the West Wind: Selected Essays from The Adelphi (2000; e-book 2013)
- Indian Summer Notebook: A Writer's Miscellany (2001; e-book 2013)
- Heart of England: Contributions to the Evening Standard, 1939-41 (2003; e-book 2013)
- Chronicles of a Norfolk Farmer: Contributions to the Daily Express, 1937-39 (2004; e-book 2013)
- Stumberleap, and other Devon Writings: Contributions to the Daily Express and Sunday Express, 1915-1935 (2005; e-book 2013)
- Atlantic Tales: Contributions to the Atlantic Monthly, 1927-1947 (2007; e-book 2013)
Books about Williamson
- Farson, Daniel, Henry: An Appreciation of Henry Williamson. London, Michael Joseph. 1982. ISBN 0-7181-2122-8
- Higginbottom, Melvyn David, Intellectuals and British Fascism: A Study of Henry Williamson. London, Janus Publishing Co. 1992. ISBN 1-85756-085-X
- Lamplugh, Lois, A Shadowed Man: Henry Williamson 1895-1977. 2nd revised ed., Dulverton, Somerset, Exmoor Press, 1991. ISBN 0-900131-70-5
- Matthews, Hugoe, Henry Williamson. A Bibliography. London, Halsgrove. 2004. ISBN 1-84114-364-2
- Murry, John Middleton, ‘The Novels of Henry Williamson’, in Katherine Mansfield, and other Literary Studies. London, Constable. 1959.
- Sewell, Fr. Brocard Henry Williamson: The Man, The Writings: A Symposium. Padstow, Tabb House. 1980. ISBN 0-907018-00-9
- West, Herbert Faulkner, The Dreamer of Dreams: An Essay on Henry Williamson, Ulysses Press, 1932.
- Williamson, Anne, Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, Sutton Publishing (1995) ISBN 0-7509-0639-1. Paperback edition (1997) ISBN 0-7509-1492-0
- Williamson, Anne, A Patriot's Progress: Henry Williamson and the First World War, Sutton Publishing (1998) ISBN 0-7509-1339-8
- Wilson, Peter (ed), T. E. Lawrence. Correspondence with Henry Williamson. Fordingbridge, Hants, Castle Hill Press. 2000. (Volume IX of T. E. Lawrence Letters, edited by Jeremy Wilson)
- Deavin, Mark "Henry Williamson: Nature's Visionary" in National Vanguard Magazine No. 117 (March–April 1997)
- Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1933-39, Oxford University Press, 1983, ISBN 0192851160, pp. 135, 179
- Parry, Lizzie (27 March 2014). "Moorland hut where Tarka the Otter author penned some of his greatest works is for sale - after lying empty for nearly 40 years". Daily Mail. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
- Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right, pp. 134-137
- "Tarka the Otter writer's hut granted Grade II status" BBC News, 29 July 2014
- Williamson, Henry (1965). The Phoenix Generation.
- The Norfolk Farm at The Henry Williamson Society
- Robert Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley, Macmillan, 1981, p. 350
- Bolton, K., Henry Williamson at OswaldMosley.com
- Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley, p. 442
- Graham Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the Resurrection of British Fascism After 1945, I.B. Tauris, 2007, p. 51
- Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, p. 158
- Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley, p. 493
- Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right, p. 372