Down The River

The English author, H. E. Bates (1905 – 1974) is best known for his novels, in particular those embracing the escapades of the Larkin family, starting with “The Darling Buds of May”. Peter J. Conradi, in his Guardian obituary, offers the quotation that Bates had the gift of putting the English countryside down on paper.

This gift is amply demonstrated  in

which I finished reading last night. The work predates, by just 3 years, “Sweet Thames Run Softly”, Robert Gibbings’s first celebration of his riverine peregrinations.

Bates’s first such wanderings were guided by his beloved grandfather along East Anglia’s Rivers Nene and Ouse. We are taken on these rambles and more as the writer develops into manhood. River is, however, his main character. The waterways and their denizens – flora and fauna – are described in such exemplary prose that comparison with Gibbings is inevitable. In my view the latter has the lighter touch and wanders off down periodic tributaries, often involving myth and legend, as his spirit moves him. Bates, equally as eloquent, is more organised and offers observations on contemporary issues such as killing otters for sport.

A product of Glasgow School of Art, Agnes Miller Parker (1895-1980) was described by me in my eponymous post of December 14th 2015 as ‘one of the best illustrators of her day’.

I trust her wood engravings will bear this out. The above illustration is the title page.

Here is the book jacket, still intact after not far off 100 years.

Because of the number of engravings in this volume I present here a first selection,

and will add a few more at intervals to my normal ramblings.

This evening we dined on succulent roast gammon; roast potatoes: Jackie’s piquant cauliflower cheese; firm carrots and broccoli; tangy red cabbage; and tender green cabbage with leeks. I drank Patrick Chodot Fleurie 2018. The Culinary Queen had enjoyed her Heineken whilst cooking.




  1. I think I’d like to read that, if for no other reason than to see the wood carvings! A lost art these days.

  2. I think I read everything that fell from HE Bates pen half a century ago. Including this one, though I don’t recall the illustrations – probably because I was so in love with the prose.

  3. my father used to re-read Bates regularly and read us snippets that made him laugh or brought back some memory of his pre war holidays in Cambridgeshire. And the illustrations are very fine

  4. Thanks for sharing these – they are wonderful illustrations. I think this type of illustration really adds to the reading experience. Also, back in the 90s I used to listen to a band called The Darling Buds. Now I know where their name came from!

  5. The engravings are exquisite, and of course I’m wondering how Parker was able to achieve such fineness of detail in the wood engraving medium. I’m on my wave to check out your post about her to see if I can find the answer there.

    1. I have done so all my life – stopped buying altogether 10 years ago since I’ll never have time to read all those I have šŸ™‚ Thanks a lot Sheree.

          1. I am seriously jealous! Iā€™m always looking for ways to add more bookshelves. I have two massive bookcases just outside the kitchen, groaning with cookery books, another in the entrance hall full of books about sport(largely cycling), the office bookshelves have all manner of books on different languages, economics, accounting and dentistry. Fiction and travel books are in the large bookcase in the lounge and in tastefully arranged piles. I need more shelves, not less books!

  6. I, too, love woodcut prints. Will see if this book is available as an ebook. Alas, our library is closed, and most of my reading is on a tablet. Sigh.

  7. Another good selection, Derrick, and the engravings are well done! That “Bates had the gift of putting the English countryside down on paper” is a lovely way for him to be described and remembered.

  8. It’s so nice to know there are so many books in the world and I won’t run out of reading. I’ve never read H.E. Bates and must make a notation to my reading list.

  9. That is a riveting introduction. I loved the touch of logic mixed with humour. I am grateful to you for rekindling my interest in the authors of yore. The illustrations are priceless.

  10. The first paragraph on p. 11 describes the river valley where I was born. Not the second paragraph for my river valley does not have a second river unless one counts the numerous creeks. Reading that paragraph on p. 11 gives me a better understanding and appreciation of the place where I grew up. The river that flows through it, the Skagit, is wide and fast. It can be dangerous. It feeds a wide area of extremely fertile land. The foothills are at a proper distance, so one can look straight across. The snow-capped mountains are visible but also at a proper distance.

  11. What a pleasure to read his prose and to turn each page to see the beautiful illustrations – a real treasure.

  12. Just pulled down “Fair stood the wind for France”. Was deciding whether to read it again or not. Now I will. Thanks for that Derrick. But it hasn’t got woodcuts in it.

      1. I did a Peter Rabbit talking book a couple of years ago for my younger grandchildren. Three of mine are about to use it on their school learning sites. We had all forgotten Iā€™d done it. I might put it on the blog again. Perhaps now is the time to do more!

          1. Derrick, I liked it very much, such a beautiful gift and so lovingly made. What a wonderful Daddy your children had… Still have!

            I scanned the Peter Rabbit book, recorded my voice and turned it into a page-turning talking book. I think I might just blog it on it’s own.

  13. I love those piglets, but even better is the Grey Heron on the left and the magpie, always ready for an altercation. Thanks for sharing those, Derrick. They must have taken a good while to get them on a computer screen.

  14. Thank you Derrick for this glorious article Derrick…. I’ve been out working again today….. I’ve copied this post’s link into my Notebook file, and study later after dinner….

  15. They don’t write OR make books like they used to! This is a beautiful book in words and in illustrations! Both possess details that have me hooked!
    (((HUGS))) šŸ™‚

  16. What an lovely post Derrick… Such a wonderful treasure of a book.. and those engraving drawings are just beautiful … Thank you so much for sharing .. We could all do well to travel down the river right now..
    Many thanks Derrick…. Love and Blessings to you and Jackie.. ?

  17. I have never read Bates, and now I will, thanks to you, Derrick. The illustrations are fabulous – precise and dynamic at the same time, with a sure flowing line. Very enjoyable.

  18. I love Bates – have never read this. I remember reading Love for Lydia when I was about sixteen and wearing black for days afterwards because the ending made me so sad!

  19. Glorious woodcuts! They are exquisite with so much detail. I also enjoy reading H E Bates though I haven’t read this one. Thank you, Derrick.

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