Sunday, 6 July 2008

Villages of the White Horse

A map of the Vale of White Horse (circa 1913) - no motorway and the Wilts & Berks Canal still a working means of transport. [Click on map to enlarge]

This lovely little book, written by Alfred Williams in 1913, recently inspired me to walk around Wanborough, Bishopstone and Little Hinton (Hinton Parva).
How had I managed to overlook this magnificent and historic landscape for so long?
Alfred Williams was a true working class hero - he was brought up in poverty and died in poverty. Born 1877, fifth of eight children, he went to work in Swindon's Railway Factory in 1892 at the age of 15. He loved the Wiltshire countryside, however, and spent his spare walking and writing. Here is an extract from his poem about Liddington Hill in Songs of Wiltshire (published 1909).
The friendship of a hill I know
Above the rising down
Where balmy southern breezes blow
But a mile or two from town;
The budded broom and heather
Are wedded on its breast
And I love to wander tither
When the sun is in the west.
Alfred was self taught, he loved languages teaching himself Greek and French. Whilst still working for GWR in the Railway Factory, he undertook a 4 year English Literature course with Ruskin Hall, Oxford, learning Latin to help his studies.
He was unwilling to publish his seminal work Life in the Railway Factory while still employed there and only after poor health caused him to leave in 1914 was the book published (1915). In spite of his poor health, however, he volunteered as a soldier in World War I and spent some time in India which he loved and where he learnt Sanskrit. Although he would have liked to have settled in India after the war, he returned home to his beloved wife Mary and a life of enduring poverty. He continued to write up until his death in 1930 when he and he wife died within weeks of each other.
Inspired by Villages of the White Horse I have restarted my Hidden Swindon blog at where I have written about the three villages mentioned above.