Tuesday, 9 April 2013

John Moore of Tewkesbury

Last weekend I was in the lovely Gloucestershire town of Tewkesbury on what was almost a warm spring day. I'm not complaining as the sky was blue and even the odd bumblebee flitted about the town.

I was there however for 2 unconnected reasons other than the location. Planning to be in the town's Roses Theatre that evening to see a concert of top folk fiddlers, in a rare moment of rash forward planning, I instead arrived at the town with the nearest and dearest to  make a pilgrimage to a place I've wanted to visit for a long time; the John Moore Museum. 


I can see heads being scratched and furrowed brows in place. John who? Well yes, you may well ask that, so I shall elucidate, all in good time; as like you until a few years back I'd not heard of this wonderful author, who like Edward Thomas in a previous posting was ahead of his time.

But before I chat about John Moore, let me roll back time to my 15th birthday. I've always been fascinated by agricultural history, how people worked the land long before I was born. And so it was (unlike I suspect many 15 year old boys craving pop music and their first taste of beer) that on that April day in 1979 my parents bought me a book by someone called Fred Archer, entitled By Hook and By Crook. It was an inspired choice; chosen by my mother purely because of the title, as she welcomed and nurtured my developing interest in agricultural and rural history even as a schoolboy.

In 1979, neither she nor I knew who Fred Archer (1915-1999) was.

I suspect for many the name Fred Archer means just one thing, the top Victorian jockey, but for this 15 year old boy about to leave school and begin full time work in farming this book by this unknown author was a perfect gift. I devoured this agri-historical book and immediately became fascinated by the Vale of Evesham where all of Fred Archers books are based, centred on that Cotswold outlier near Tewkesbury, Bredon Hill. It is no coincidence our next family holiday in the summer of 1979 was to Evesham. I was a child of iron willed persuasion.

And there is my connection, Bredon Hill, and my reason for mentioning Fred Archer in a commentary about John Moore. Aged 15 I had no idea who Fred Archer was but immediately became a devotee of his quasi-fiction-documentary writing. Similarly at the age of 45 I had no idea who John Moore was until I ventured into a second hand bookshop and purchased Seasons of the Year. And I was once again gripped by his observation of the English countryside through the seasons.

I then discovered both authors lived on Bredon Hill at the same time.


John Moore (1907-1967) was a different writer to Archer, as he not only wrote nature essays but war stories and fiction. He also broadcast on the radio and had a very eclectic professional life. My developing interest in him however is mostly that he was a very early campaigner for the preservation of the rural landscape he knew. Writing after World War Two he could see the effect that the post war need to feed the nation was having on the countryside and more importantly its wildlife.

But today how many conservationists or devotees of nature writers like Edward Thomas, Richard Jefferies or W.H.Hudson have heard of John Moore? Very few; and I suspect this is because Moore was writing at a time of media change when the radio and then the television dominated our leisure-time activities. His observations and writings were possibly seen as old fashioned and harked back to a Halcyon World, at a time when British Society as a whole was looking forward, not back, to that bright new world of consumerism, we are now so enmeshed in.

I hope the John Moore Trust will forgive me copying this quote I read on Saturday on their flier, but it perfectly encapsulates his way of writing.

‘It is not entirely out of the question that despite man's ingenuity the insects might beat us in the end. If they do it will be because we haven't used our biological knowledge, but instead have employed chemists as our hired assassins to kill our fellow creatures in their cave-man fashion, ignorantly, wantonly, wastefully.'(The Year of the Pigeons 1963)

That was written 50 years ago, yet we are still in a perilous state and today there is real concern that diminishing bee and insect populations in our countryside will ultimately bring about the decline in plant productivity, and yes, may one day have a serious effect on our ability to feed the World. I was reliably told a few years ago by a close friend of mine working in the Global agri-chemical business that in 2005, the European (not British, European) stockpile of milling wheat was estimated to be just 3 weeks at the time the Russian harvests began. It was touch and go and Governments across Europe discussed rationing cereal based products if the weather prevented those harvests coming in. Add in the effect that a decline in pollinators may further affect productivity of our arable farmland and you can see where this can lead.


My visit to the museum on Saturday met with all my expectations. Although the sun shone,being outside the tourist season the town and museum were quiet. We were the only visitors to the Museum in the afternoon which was perfect as it gave us time to wander around this countryside emporium in peace and quiet. It is a small museum, on a couple of floors, but what I loved about it was they use stuffed animals to represent wildlife in cases. These animals in case you are wondering are from natural deaths but chatting to the lady on the reception desk she said school visits love coming here because it allows children access to these animals close up. Something many don’t have a chance to experience in normal life. The museum also has a topical wildlife display section which on my visit was “What to see in the countryside in April”

Having wandered around the rooms for 20 minutes a chance remark about Fred Archer to the lady volunteer (behind John Moore’s own desk) led me to be introduced to the Museum’s curator, Simon Lawton, who had been working away unseen in his office. What a lovely knowledgeable guy, completely unruffled that I’d dragged him away from his work. We must have chatted for over an hour about John Moore, Fred Archer, countryside, writing and the sad knowledge that someone as important as John Moore is almost forgotten now. I came away from my visit feeling elated and that there really are people who passionately care about the state of our rural landscape and are running a gold-mine of a museum to do their bit.

And so, in a very small way, as a follow-on from my previous posts about nature writers who have influenced the next generation, I’d like to publicise the writing of John Moore and Tewkesbury’s wonderful little museum dedicated to him and the nature he loved. It’s easy to find it, it is right next to Tewkesbury Abbey.

I also learnt something from Simon Lawton I didn’t know of whilst making the Edward Thomas programme for Radio 4 recently, that John Moore had written a biography of his nature mentor, Edward Thomas (The Life and Letters of Edward Thomas, Heinemann 1939). Had I known that I think I’d have made a pilgrimage there with the microphone to include John Moore in the programme, he deserves to be known by a wider audience, and audience who also appreciate Thomas.


And so I leave you with this thought.

Much as Richard Jefferies influenced Edward Thomas, so did Thomas influence John Moore. Moore himself is now almost forgotten, but dare I predict that in a few years his legacy will rise again for the next generation to be inspired and guided, much as I have recently been guided? Maybe we need a television programme about John Moore…… now where are my programme commissioning notes of whom to send an idea to in London?

Fred Archer – Farmer and author: http://www.fredarcher.co.uk/

The John Moore Museum: http://www.johnmooremuseum.org/

In Pursuit of Spring – Radio 4: Easter 2013:


1 comment:

  1. Another wonderful inspirational post Andrew :) I will be looking out for books by these 2 authors as well as "BB" :)

    By sheer coincidence Tewkesbury Abbey is high on my list of places to visit (Green Man) so I was really pleased to hear that the John Moore Museum is so close. I will check opening hours and make sure the Museum is open when I do eventually go.

    I hope you enjoyed your Folk Concert too.