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'The Home of Flora Thompson' at
Flora Thompson, the writer of the semi-autobiographical trilogy, 'Lark Rise to Candleford', died in Brixham, Devon, aged 70, in May 1947. Although the book for which she is best remembered, her evocation of life as a child growing up in the Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire countryside in the late nineteenth century, was written and published only in the last ten years of her life, she wrote prodigiously for most of her adult life and published many hundreds of stories, articles and poems, most of them unknown to the general public.
In the book she chronicles the daily lives of farm workers and craftsmen, friends and relations alike and is a precise and enduring portrayal of country life long since vanished. She used real life villages and communities as her inspiration and freely admitted that 'Candleford' was based on Buckingham, Brackley and Banbury and, of course, 'Lark Rise' and 'Fordlow' are Juniper Hill and Cottisford. She clearly enjoyed her numerous trips to Buckingham visiting her father's relatives, the Timms family, who have been continuously associated with the town for hundreds of years.
Flora's younger sister, Ethel Elizabeth (Betty) Timms, shared her love of writing and Betty's success with a children's book, 'The Little Grey Men of the Moor', which was published in 1926, encouraged Flora to write her books.
It is fitting, therefore, that the Old Gaol Museum of Buckingham should mount a permanent exhibition of her life and works, as a themed museum, 'The Home of Flora Thompson'. The exhibition, which the Museum Development Service called, 'of national importance', was formally opened on May 25th 2007 to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of her death. The exhibition, which is the only permanent, viewable exhibition of Flora Thompson memorabilia in the world, comprises photographs, pamphlets, early and first edition books, letters written by Flora, together with a number of personal items. The typewriter on which Flora and Betty composed much of their work is a major attraction.
The display features two life-sized display 'dioramas', one showing Flora at home in Dartmouth, in her office, in front of her typewriter and books, where she wrote most of her best known works
whilst the other portrays a scene from her early life as a child in the poor rural hamlet of Juniper Hill (the 'Lark Rise' of the book) illustrating, with agricultural artefacts and model animals, what life was like for a poor country family in Oxfordshire in the late eighteen hundreds, with particular emphasis on accessibility to the artefacts, and 'touchability', especially for children.
Also on display is an extremely fine collection of books (including audio books, music, records, magazines, plays, articles, etc.) and other ephemera by, about and connected with Flora from the 1920s to present day, comprising to date of over one hundred and sixty items, which is acknowledged to be the largest collection of Flora Thompson memorabilia on permanent display in the world. Our working bibliography of over two hundred and thirty items has been said to be 'the most comprehensive listing of Flora Thompson books ever produced', and which, together with the books and other items in our collection, is available, on application, for social historian and bona fide student research. The latest addition to the collection is a translation of 'Lark Rise' into Japanese by Mrs Hideko Isheda, to be followed up in due course by similar translations of 'Candleford Green' and 'Over to Candleford'. The translation is an interpretation of the content and style of the book with, for example, English country idioms being replaced with the nearest appropriate Japanese idiom. It is well recognised that there are close similarities between English and Japanese social history, particularly in respect of rural life and the countryside in general, albeit at slightly different time periods. Japanese visitors are often to be found during the summer months walking the lanes and byways of what has now become known as 'Flora Country'.
Theatregoers may also recall the National Theatre productions of 'Lark Rise' and 'Candleford' in the late seventies. We have been fortunate in obtaining signed 'handbills' and programmes of these productions from a local Buckingham lady who is a direct descendent of Flora's sister, May Timms.
We have been fortunate in having the help and
support of very many prominent people from the 'Flora Thompson world', but
are particularly indebted to Henry Westbury, who has loaned us items from
the collection of Leslie Castle (the son of Flora's sister, Annie) for our
preliminary display in 2002 and without whom the exhibition as it is today
would not exist. A list of donors and supporters is given in the Flora Thompson
room at the Old Gaol Museum
Production of 'Lark Rise to Candleford'
As Flora Thompson enthusiasts will know well, the area north-east of Bicester and the nearby villages of Fringford, Cottisford and the hamlet of Juniper Hill are immortalised in the acclaimed trilogy Lark Rise to Candleford. This unique account of traditional rural life at the turn of the 19th century has been adapted by BBC1 Television, with an all-star cast, including Dawn French, Brendan Coyle and Liz Smith. Their stated intention is to produce a series of like episodes, based on 'vignettes' from the books, over the next five years.
In Floras time, long before the advent of television, radio or even the gramophone, the music they made themselves was part of everyday life and was certainly integral with, and was profoundly influenced by, the changing seasons in the late Victorian countryside of her childhood.
Although we all now lead much busier and more
complicated lives, music still continues to inspire us, uplift us, and raise
our spirits. A brand new folk album by the 'Lark Rise Band', Lark Rise
Revisited, almost thirty years after the original productions at the
National Theatre, consisting of unpublished songs from the original productions,
several brand new songs and music especially written by Ashley Hutchings,
plus the theme tune from the BBC television production, is one such album.
Traditional English folk music, which had its heyday in the sixties and seventies
of our youth, is now experiencing a resurgence of interest and
The band has since performed all over the UK, carrying Ashleys familiar and evocative music of the original Keith Dewhurst Lark Rise and Candleford plays to parts that ordinary bands cannot reach. However many times one hears this music, it is still possible to feel profoundly moved and uplifted by the stirring music and the mind pictures they continue to conjure up.
Further information on Flora Thompson may be obtained from the following dedicated web sites.
The Flora Thompson Home Page by John Owen Smith (contains a wealth of information on her life and work, but is dedicated in particular to her time at Grayshott (1898 - 1901) and Liphook (1916 - 1928)). An extensive range of books about Flora life and works are available for purchase in the online store, including Gillian Lindsay's 2007 biography of Flora, which has been extensively updated and revised since the original first edition (and full first biography) in 1990.
The Harry Ransom 'Flora Thompson' archives at the University of Texas. This contains the bulk of the papers purchased in 1967 from the estate of Winifred (Diana) Thompson, Flora's daughter
Flora Thompson Papers at the University of Exeter (small collection of papers).
Other small collections of papers can be found at the Banbury Museum, the Centre for Oxfordshire Studies (COS), Oxfordshire Museums Store, Standlake, the University of Exeter Library, plus others deposited at the Bodleian Library.
The two plays by Keith Dewhurst are performed annually at many locations every summer, mainly in the south of England. The plays of John Owen Smith are also performed regularly in the Grayshott/Liphook area.
A selection of books by, about and connected with Flora Thompson, together with a range of associated traditional folk music CDs, including the 2006 and 2008 reissues of the Albion Band/Keith Dewhurst folk music recording at the National Theatre productions of 'Lark Rise to Candleford' in 1978/79, are available for purchase in the Museum 'Cell' shop. 'Keynote' publications, available in the Old Gaol Museum shop and TIC include Gillian Lindsay's 2007 revision of her book, 'Flora Thompson - The Story of the Lark Rise Writer' and Christine Bloxham's 2008 book, 'The World of Flora Thompson Revisited'.
This website can only convey a brief two dimensional impression of the exhibition. We could easily have filled the website full of coloured pictures and hundreds more descriptive words, but we didn't want to do that. We wanted YOU to come along to the Old Gaol Museum and see for yourself, for only then would you be able to fully appreciate the scale and depth of the research contributing to this unique audio-visual exhibition of this unique social history writer's life and works in
'The Home of Flora Thompson'.