The theme for today’s bookish advent is that of Christmas in a village in the heart of rural Suffolk. It describes a much simpler time, a time for sharing and enjoying the fruits of the land and fields for this farming community. The writing is from the first book in Adrian Bell’s memorable and heartwarming rural trilogy described here in ‘Corduroy’ and published by the independent publisher Slightly Foxed.
‘Corduroy’ published in 1920, is the first of Adrian Bell’s trilogy of memoirs, describing his life, adapting to farming life in rural Suffolk, from the perspective of a lifelong city-dweller.
Bell, takes up residence on the large farmstead of a local family by name of Colville. The family live in the small farming village of Benfield and ‘Corduroy’ is a fascinating account of Bell’s year in the life, adapting to a completely new way of life.
The day before Christmas was heralded by the quite gruesome act of killing and plucking the hundred or so turkeys that Mrs Colville had painstakingly reared in order to be sold to a London buyer. Bell describes the painstaking labour and trouble of rearing the birds in the several months prior to Christmas. From March to December, Mrs Colville’s days would be kept busy with these ministrations and I imagine formed a large part of her income.
Though Bell went home to his own family that particular Christmas, he describes many memorable Christmases spent in Benfield and the descriptions contained in Bell’s latest book published by Slightly Foxed – ‘A Countryman’s Winter Notebook’ is a collection of his writings for a column I Suffolk and Norfolk’s long-serving local newspaper – the ‘Eastern Daily Press’.
Bell remembers Christmases of virgin snow with cottage and tower standing out from the pristine landscape. He remembers approaching the village over the pristine whiteness that had been briefly marked by the patterns of birds’ feet.
But mostly he remembers that hive of activity, that gathering place of village souls, only second in busyness to the highly favoured Cock Inn – the village Post Office.
Gifts flowed in and out – from Benfield to the world at large and it was not unusual to see rabbits and game tied, labelled and trussed up on the Post Office countertops. It seems to have been a simpler, less commercial time. A time of giving freely the fruits of land and labour, a time of being with neighbours, friends and family. On Boxing Day the bell ringers serenaded the village houses with chimes from hand bells and they were invited in for a drink to toast the New Year, favourable sun and shower.