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Rural culture in Victorian England

Lark Rise to Candleford is Flora Thompson’s classic evocation of a vanished world of agricultural customs and rural culture. The trilogy of Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green tells the story of Flora’s childhood and youth during the 1880s in Lark Rise, in reality Juniper Hill, the hamlet in Oxfordshire where she was born. Through the eyes of Laura, the author’s fictional counterpart, Flora describes the cottages, characters, and way of life of the agricultural labourers and their families with whom she grew up; seasonal celebrations, schooling, church-going, entertainment and story-telling are described in fond and documentary detail. pp. 39-40

Around the farmhouse were grouped the farm buildings; stables for the great stamping shaggy-fetlocked carthorses; barns with doors so wide and high that a load of hay could be driven through; sheds for the yellow-and-blue painted farm wagons; granaries with outdoor staircases; and sheds for storing oilcake, artificial manures, and agricultural implements. In the rickyard, tall, pointed, elaborately thatched ricks stood on stone straddles; the dairy indoors, though small, was a model one there was a profusion of all that was necessary or desirable for good farming.

Labour, too, was lavishly used. Boys leaving school were taken on at the farm as a matter of course, and no time-expired solider or settler on marriage was ever refused a job. As the farmer said, he could always do with an extra hand, for labour was cheap and the land was well tilled up to the last inch.

When the men and the boys from the hamlet reached the farm-yard in the morning, the carter and his assistant had been at work for an hour, feeding and getting ready the horses. After giving any help required, the men and boys would harness and lead out their teams and file off to the field where their day’s work was to be done.

If it rained, they donned sacks, split up one side to form a hood and cloak combined. If it was frosty, they blew upon their nails and thumped their arms across their chest to warm them. If they felt hungry after their bread-and-lard breakfast, they would pare a turnip and munch it, or try a bite or two of the rich, dark brown oilcake provided for the cattle. Some of the boys would sample the tallow candles belonging to the stable lanterns; but that was done more out of devilry than from hunger, for, whoever went short, the mothers took care that their Tom or Dicky should have ‘a bit o’ summat to peck at between meals’ – half a cold pancake or the end of yesterday’s roly-poly.

Flora Thompson was born in 1876 at Juniper Hill, a hamlet on the Oxfordshire-Northamptonshire border described in Lark Rise. After leaving school at the age of fourteen, she was sent to assist the village postmistress, who also kept the smithy, and appears prominently in Candleford Green. After her marriage she moved to Bournemouth, and it was there that she started to write. The trilogy of Lark Rise (1939), Over to Candleford (1941), and Candleford Green (1943) was followed by a fourth autobiographical volume, Still Glides the Stream (1948), published the after Flora Thompson’s death in Devon in May 1947. The introduction to Lark Rise to Candleford is by Phillip Mallett, Lecturer in English at the University of St Andrews.

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