On the Trail of Flora Thompson – beyond Candleford Green
John Owen Smith
Heatherley to Peverel – Grayshott to Griggs Green
Availability: Usually despatched by return of post
Front cover: Flora as she describes herself arriving in Grayshott, September 1898, superimposed on a photograph of the post office at that time
Paperback - 144 pages, over 30 illustrations, maps of area & suggestions
John Owen Smith; ISBN: 1-873855-24-9; first published May 1997, reprinted with updates June 2005
Associated titles: Heatherley by Flora Thompson; Grayshott by JH Smith; The Hilltop Writers by WR Trotter; Flora Thompson, The Story of the 'Lark Rise' Writer by Gillian Lindsay; 1925 Guide to Liphook by Flora Thompson; The Peverel Papers by Flora Thompson; Without Education or Encouragement by Ruth Collette Hoffman
Reviews . Description . Publisher's Notes . Inside Flap . Back Cover . Contents . Illustrations . Excerpt . Acknowledgements . About the Author . Further information
Although best known for her evocative description of childhood times in north Oxfordshire during the 1880s and 90s, the author of Lark Rise to Candleford also lived in Hampshire for nearly thirty of her 70 years.
'Dear, warm, tender Hampshire,' as she says in one of her Peverel Papers, 'Very few have praised her, yet she is most worthy; a dark Madonna, with heather-purple robe and deep pine tresses, sitting in the sun with a blessing for all who seek her.' It was, she tells us, a 'falling in love' on her part with those aspects of the county which she found so different from her native soil - the sharp tang of pine trees, hilltop views and endless carpets of purple heather contrasting with the heavy, earthy scents and flat cornfields of her youth.
Beyond Candleford Green
She first arrived in the county in September 1898 to take up the position of sub office assistant to the postmaster of Grayshott for two and a half years, moved to Bournemouth (then in Hampshire) for some fifteen years where her first two children grew up, back to Liphook where her husband was appointed postmaster in August 1916, and finally left the county in the autumn of 1928 to follow, reluctantly, another career move of her husband's to Dartmouth.
It was during her time in Hampshire that she matured, married and became a mother - also the time during which she began seriously to practice the craft of writing. While living in Liphook she had her first book published, a slim volume of poetry entitled Bog Myrtle and Peat, and here also she started to write her regular Peverel Papers for the Catholic Fireside magazine. In the latter, we can see the style developing which was to make Lark Rise such a success towards the end of her life.
Fact or Fiction?
Those of you familiar with Flora Thompson's work will recognise her habit of fictionalising the truth - when she wrote about the life of 'Laura' in Lark Rise, it was of course about herself, Flora. She tells us of her family and the people around her, while changing their names and, to some extent, their history. This technique became an issue for Oxford University Press when they wished to take her work, since they did not normally publish works of fiction. But, recognising the merit of the book, they did accept it - and such was the demand from readers that they soon commissioned the sequels which became Over to Candleford and Candleford Green.
It is perhaps interesting to consider why Flora wove fact with fiction in the way she did. Sometimes it may have been to protect her own feelings, and sometimes to protect the feelings of others. It also allowed her the liberty of putting true events into more readable contexts - we know of several instances where a good yarn was reused in another piece of writing - and on her own admission she sometimes combined the characteristics of two or more people into one for the purposes of making a story.
Forty years on
But we should remember too that she wrote her main works more than forty years after the events she was describing - and who among us can remember precise details over that period of time?
So from the perspective of the historian, her works have to be treated with care if used as sources of factual information. Her descriptions of life, particularly the life of ordinary rural people at the time of her youth, are considered to be some of the best available, and there is little doubt that the flavour and most of the detail which she gives us is entirely accurate. And yet if we try to relate her works to certain known historical facts, we can sometimes find ourselves on shaky ground.
While investigating local history in my own part of the country, that area just west of the Weald where the three counties of Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex all meet, I tried to take Flora's legacy and add it to our other pieces of local knowledge. The work of chief interest to me was Heatherley, which she completed in 1944 and was written as a sequel to Candleford Green. It is the true 'fourth volume' of the Lark Rise trilogy, telling us about her period at Grayshott beginning a year after she left 'Candleford Green,' but for some reason she decided to leave it in typescript form and carried on instead with what was to be her last work, Still Glides the Stream, published posthumously in 1948, which did not continue the story of 'Laura.'
The texts of Heatherley and her other unpublished works were seen by Margaret Lane soon after Flora's death, and mentioned by her in a biographical essay published in the Cornhill Magazine in 1957. But it was not until 1970 that Anne Mallinson, who had a specialist country bookshop in Selborne, Hampshire, visited Flora's birthplace, read a copy of this essay and realised its true significance to the literary heritage of her own part of the country. Here, along with Gilbert White, William Cobbett, George Sturt, WH Hudson and Edward Thomas, was another 'rural writer' describing times gone by in the West Weald area. And when the centenary of Flora's birth came round in 1976, not only were there celebrations in Juniper Hill, but also Anne made sure there were celebrations in Liphook, where a 'literary lunch' was held in the Royal Anchor, attended by Margaret Lane among others.
Alerted by the celebrations on the centenary, the Bramshott & Liphook Preservation Society subsequently worked with Anne to honour Flora's memory in the village more permanently, unveiling in 1978 a plaque on the wall outside the old Liphook post office where she had lived, and in 1981 a sculptured bust by Philip Jackson, which was subsequently moved into the village Library in 1995.
Although the biographical essay was reprinted once more for the centenary, the full text of Heatherley was still lodged in archives which had by that time been deposited at the University of Texas. Margaret Lane was encouraged to retrieve a copy of the typescript and prepare it for publication. This she did, including also some of Flora's poems and extracts from her Peverel Papers nature notes, producing a book called A Country Calendar and other writings, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1979.
Only then did the people of Grayshott begin to realise that, along with Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw and the other eminent writers who had based themselves in and around the village at the turn of the century, there had been yet another literary talent living unknown and quietly among them. These great men of letters had used her post office, and she had sold them stamps and transmitted their telegrams, all the time listening to their conversation and wishing 'that one of those quick, clever remarks they tossed like coloured balls into the air could have come her way.' But it never did so - and not one of them recognised that a kindred spirit stood there behind the counter.
Though she stayed in Grayshott only 2½ years, it was a significant chapter in Flora's life - her 'Sinister Street' years, when she felt she had first became an adult woman - and Heatherley tells us more, perhaps, about her character than her more famous writings do. Could this be one reason why she chose not to publish it herself?
You must judge for yourself as we follow her trail . . .
Graham Collyer - Editor-Surrey Advertiser - all editions 5 Dec 1997 - Searching deep into the soul of Flora Thompson
"This is a delightful book that goes behind the scenes, as it were, of the author of 'Lark Rise to Candleford'. It is aptly sub-titled 'Beyond Candleford Green'.
"John Owen Smith is making something of a name for himself as a local historian in the Surrey-Hampshire border area of Hindhead and beyond. This book will enhance his standing.
"Flora Thompson, who died 50 years ago aged 70, was 21 when she arrived in Grayshott to work in the post office. She took lodgings in the then small village and observed the comings and goings of the populace, which included such eminent people as George Bernard Shaw and Arthur Conan Doyle, who both lived locally.
"And it is the thoroughness of Conan Doyle's alter ego Sherlock Holmes that has enabled John Owen Smith to search deep into the soul of Flora, whose marriage to John Thompson took her away from Grayshott but later brought them back to nearby Liphook, where she remained until her final move to South Devon, in 1928.
"Whether or not you know anything of Flora Thompson, this is a fascinating read with descriptions of some lovely walks amid the heather and the woods of Hindhead and district."
Colin Dunne - Downs Country - January/February 1998 - Lark Rise to Liphook?
"Every country-lover knows (and usually loves) 'Lark Rise to Candleford', that evocative tale of childhood in rural Oxfordshire a century ago. But few of those readers know that Flora Thompson spent much of her life on the Surrey-Hampshire border, initially working in Grayshott post office, and later as a wife and mother in nearby Liphook.
"John Owen Smith, publisher as well as author, has done a marvellous research job in unveiling her life during these years - what makes his story all the more interesting is that he takes his readers with him through his exhaustive enquiries and interviews, so that at times it has the suspense of a 'who-dunnit'.
"Who was the racy big-game hunter with whom she took tea? And Mr Brownlow, the young man who could never marry her? Join Mr Owen Smith on the trail and you find out.
"In addition, it is beautifully illustrated with old photographs and even suggested walks in Flora's footsteps. A lovely book."
Mrs Jean Gaitely - Root & Branch, Magazine of the West Surrey Family History Society, December 1997
"As a resident of Grayshott, until recently, for some twenty-five years I feel rather ashamed to admit that although I have heard of Flora Thompson, I have not read her 'Lark Rise to Candleford'. I am certainly going to read it now.
"May 1997 was the 50th anniversary of Flora's death, and September 1998 will see the centenary of her arrival in Grayshott, so now is an appropriate time to publish this book which gives a further insight into her life, and includes some hitherto unpublished articles and Flora's own drafts of others.
"Mr Smith's fascinating tribute to this lady will be compulsive reading to anyone who has a knowledge of Flora Thompson's writing and also to anyone who knows the lovely corner of East Hampshire of which she writes.
"From the genealogist's point of view it is interesting to see how the author has been able to discover fairly conclusively the real identity of some of the people of whom Flora writes."
Tom Quinn - The Countryman - High Summer Issue, Aug/Sept 1998
"John Owen Smith's self-published 'On the Trail of Flora Thompson' describes, among other things, how Flora Thompson met Conan Doyle and George Bernard Shaw at various stages in her career and used their characters in her work. I'm not sure about the wisdom of breaking the main text of the book up with blocks of unrelated text in boxes, but there is much new material here for Thompson fans."
AW - This England - Summer 1998
"The name Flora Thompson is synonymous with the 'Lark Rise to Candleford' trilogy which vividly describes growing up in a north Oxfordshire village at the end of the 19th century. It is widely assumed that the story of "Laura", Flora's auto-biographical character, ended on the last page of 'Candleford Green'. However, as this book proves, there was a literary life after Candleford for both Flora and Laura.
"Even though it was not published until many years after her death, in 1947, Flora did write a sequel to 'Candleford Green', entitled 'Heatherley', but rather mysteriously did not submit it to a publisher. The abandoned typescript, which she had completed in 1944, was eventually included in the 1979 publication 'A Country Calendar and Other Writings'.
"'Heatherley' follows Laura's experiences after she leaves north Oxfordshire for a new life in Hampshire. Just like her character, Flora had moved to Hampshire - to the village of Grayshott - where she worked as sub-office assistant to the postmaster for two years. During this time, she would have encountered such renowned writers as George Bernard Shaw and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when they came into what was then their local post office.
"The text features a good selection of black and white photographs, illustrations and maps which all bring Flora Thompson's story to life. The author documents village events of Flora's day, which she then went on to weave into Laura's story, and also mentions aspects of life in Grayshott which Flora decided not to feature in 'Heatherley'.
"For the reader who likes the opportunity to seek out literary locations on foot, there are several walks along 'Flora's Trail' which are described in detail.
'On the Trail of Flora Thompson' is an investigation into the life of the author of 'Lark Rise to Candleford' after she left 'Candleford Green' and before she became famous in later life. During this period, she was assistant postmistress at Grayshott where she served both George Bernard Shaw and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and postmaster's wife at Liphook where she 'won the fight to write' as a contemporary put it.
In setting out 'On the Trail of Flora Thompson', we have used as prime sources her published works connected with east Hampshire; these being 'A Country Calendar and other writings' selected and edited by Margaret Lane and published by Oxford University Press in 1979, and extracts from 'The Peverel Papers' selected by Julian Shuckburgh and published in 1986 by Century Hutchinson Ltd. Other published sources used include: the book called 'Grayshott' published by the late J. H. (Jack) Smith in 1978; the various historical booklets published over several years by the Bramshott & Liphook Preservation Society; the 1990 biography 'Flora Thompson' by Gillian Lindsay; and 'The Hilltop Writers' published by the late W.R. (Bob) Trotter in 1996.
But, naturally enough, the most exciting sources were the unexpected and unpublished ones, those that came from ferreting through various public and private archives, hunting for clues, tracking down descendants and others who might have anything to add to the story; writing, phoning, visiting, recording, and finally piecing the jigsaw puzzle together.
The process was enjoyable, and in so many interesting ways the story which emerged was not entirely the one as told by Flora.
From the Inside Flap
Flora Jane Thompson was born (neé Timms) in 1876 at Juniper Hill on the Oxfordshire/Northamptonshire border. She started work in a neighbouring post office at the age of fourteen, thus beginning a long connection with the Post Office. At the age of twenty-one, she took a position as sub-office assistant to the postmaster in Grayshott, Hampshire, and was to stay in Hampshire, more or less, for the next thirty years of her life. On leaving Grayshott she moved to Bournemouth and in January 1903 married John Thompson. Their daughter Winifred (called Diana) was born in October of that year, and their first son Basil in 1909. In 1916, a month after Flora's favourite brother Edwin was killed in action in Belgium, John Thompson applied for the position of postmaster at Liphook.
The family thus moved back to within three miles of Grayshott, and Flora was able to renew her acquaintance with the area. Easier times followed the end of the First World War and, despite the arrival of a third child, Peter, in 1918, Flora began writing more industriously during this period than at any other time. Here she wrote her nature notes, 'The Peverel Papers', from her own observations during her long and frequent walks in the area, and here in 1926 the family bought a house of their own for the first time, having previously been forced to live in rented Post Office accommodation. But hardly had they settled in than John Thompson applied for promotion again, and moved to Dartmouth in November 1927. Flora stayed in her beloved Liphook for nearly a year more while the house was sold, and then followed, never to return to Hampshire.
During the next ten years she revised some of the notes she had written about her early childhood and developed them into the book Lark Rise which was to bring her fame late in life. The success of this book led to the publication of two more, and their eventual appearance as the trilogy 'Lark Rise to Candleford'. She wrote a fourth book, 'Heatherley', a sequel following on from 'Candleford Green' and telling of her time in Grayshott, but chose not to publish it. Instead, she wrote 'Still Glides the Stream' - her final publication.
Flora Thompson died at Brixham, Devon, on 21st May 1947.
On the Back Cover
The author has turned detective. In this book, he discovers the true identities behind the pseudonyms which Flora Thompson employed within her writing to hide the identity of the people and places she encountered 'beyond Candleford Green.'
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Bernard Shaw were two among many eminent people who were regular customers in her post office at Grayshott-unaware that the shy young lady sending their telegrams would one day rank alongside themselves on literary shelves.
But the lesser-known characters also lend their own interest to the story. Who was 'Mr Foreshaw', the retired big-game hunter with whom she had tea on Sunday afternoons? And 'Richard Brownlow', the young man who met her often, then told her he 'could never marry her'? And 'Bob Pikesley' who taught her how to keep dry in a rainstorm? And the bright-eyed 'Alma Stedman' who kept Flora from 'brooding'?
And who was the unfortunate 'Mr Hertford', her employer at Grayshott, who eventually stabbed his wife to death shortly after Flora left the village?
These and other riddles are answered. There is also a 'lost' chapter of Flora's own work published here for the first time, and the opportunity to follow literally in Flora's footsteps by taking the suggested 'trails' through the Hampshire countryside she came to love so well.
Cover illustration: Sketch by Hester Whittle shows Flora as she describes herself arriving in Grayshott, September 1898, superimposed on a photograph of the post office at the time.
Table of Contents
Plus one important picture which has been uncovered since publication, that of Flora's employer, the unfortunate Walter Chapman himself.
1. County boundary stone in Crossways Road, Grayshott
2. Crossways Road, Grayshott, about 1900
3. Walter Chapman's children in Grayshott, March 1902
4. Annie Symonds ('Alma Stedman') aged about 17
5. Flora in her early twenties
6. Single-needle telegraph instrument
7. Fox & Pelican in Headley Road, Grayshott, about 1900
8. Pub sign designed and painted by Walter Crane RA
9. St Luke's Church, Grayshott - built 1898-1900
10. Authors who used Flora's post office in Grayshott
11. The Gibbet Cross on Hindhead Common
12. Waggoners Wells, near Grayshott
13. Wishing Well at Waggoners Wells
14. William Austen Sillick, reporter at Grayshott
15. William Burton Elwes OBE, in retirement
16. Dodder on heather and gorse
17. London Road, Liphook, about 1914
18. The Square, Liphook in the early 1920s
19. Haslemere Natural History Society list (part), 1917
20. Louise Woods in her GPO uniform
21. Louise Woods as sketched by her granddaughter
22. John Mumford's signing-on papers
23. Part of 'Tin Town,' at Bramshott Camp, about 1917
24. Pictures of Flora on back page of Daily Mirror, 1921
25. Report on 'postmistress poet' in Daily Chronicle, 1921
26. Samples of Flora's work in The Catholic Fireside
27. Part of 'Gates of Eden' in The Peverel Monthly, 1928
28. 'Woolmer Gate,' Griggs Green, Liphook
29. Thompsons' sale details of 'Woolmer Gate' in 1927/28
30. Weavers Down ('Peverel Down'), Liphook
31. Signatures of John and Flora Thompson
32. A typical sunken lane near Bramshott
33. Flora's sculpture in Liphook
M1. Centre of Grayshott about 1895
M2. Centre of Grayshott about 1909
M3. Grayshott/Liphook area - general map
M4. Centre of Liphook about 1909
M5. Flora's Trail - Grayshott to Griggs Green
M6. Other walks from Grayshott
Flora Thompson wrote a minor classic in the last years of her life, describing evocatively her childhood days in north Oxfordshire during the 1880s and 1890s. Her three books, best known now in their trilogy form as 'Lark Rise to Candleford', give a unique and personal view of a cottage child growing up at a time when 'many of the old village ways of living still remained, and those who cherished the old customs were much as country people had been for generations.'
But these works were not completed until she was over sixty years old. She had been 'a great spoiler of paper,' to use her own words, for as long as she could remember, but public acclaim late in her life came only after many years of less successful authorship-years during which she left her Oxfordshire roots and moved to other parts of the country.
Starting work, she tells us, as a 'learner' in the 'Candleford Green' post office at the age of fourteen, still within walking distance of her home, Flora gained enough confidence over the next six years to think about looking for a job further afield. At the age of twenty she took 'an opportunity,' and 'driven on by well-meant advice from without, and from within by the restless longing of youth to see and experience the whole of life, she disappeared from the country scene,' as she puts it.
Then we lose track of her for about a year. She tells us she took 'short holiday-relief engagements' at various post offices, and that her people at home began to speak of her as a 'rolling stone.' We also know that at least part of this 'lost' year was spent in Essex, but in September 1898 we find her taking a position which she hoped would become a 'permanency,' as sub office assistant to the postmaster in the Hampshire village of Grayshott.
Though she stayed in Grayshott for only two years or so, it was a significant chapter in Flora's life-her 'Sinister Street' years, when she felt she had first become an adult woman-and perhaps 'Heatherley' tells us more about the character of the author than do her more famous writings. Could this be one reason why she chose not to publish the work herself?
You must judge for yourself as we follow in her trail....
In setting out On the Trail of Flora Thompson, I have used as my prime sources her now-published works connected with east Hampshire, these being A Country Calendar mentioned above, and further extracts from The Peverel Papers selected by Julian Shuckburgh and published in 1986 by Century Hutchinson Ltd. Other published sources used include: the book called Grayshott published by the late J. H. (Jack) Smith in 1978 (republished by John Owen Smith in 2002); the various historical booklets published over several years by the Bramshott & Liphook Preservation Society; the 1990 biography Flora Thompson by Gillian Lindsay; and The Hilltop Writers published by the late W. R. (Bob) Trotter in 1996.
But, naturally enough, the most exciting sources were the unexpected and unpublished ones, those that came from ferreting through various public and private archives, hunting for clues, tracking down descendants and others who might have anything to add to the story, writing, phoning, visiting, recording, and finally piecing the jigsaw puzzle together.
The process was enjoyable - and in so many interesting ways, the story which emerged was not entirely the one as told by Flora.
If you are interested in the processes involved in tracing genealogy or local historical sources, as well as giving an insight into the mind of this much-loved author, then this is a book for you
About the Author
John Owen Smith was born in 1942 and trained as a Chemical Engineer at London University, but spent most of his working life designing commercial Information Systems for the paper-making industry. Following redundancy, he 'fell' into researching and recording the local history of east Hampshire, where he now lives. His output of historical community plays, lectures, articles and books includes:-
See also information on two new plays about Flora Thompson's life in Hampshire
and Heatherley, her own book telling about this period of her life.
Visit the web site dedicated to the memory of Flora Thompson and her time in east Hampshire
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to share information on the life and works of Flora Thompson. See address details on Home Page