Several generations of children have enjoyed books written – and in many cases illustrated – by Ursula Moray Williams, such as Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse. She wrote 68 books between 1931 and 1987 and she used a variety of styles of illustrations, from lively figure-drawings to intricate scissor-cuts. The centenary of her birth on 19 April 1911 is being celebrated through a series of events, mainly in her home county of Hampshire, providing a chance to celebrate her long career, and the ways in which her early surroundings inspired the characters and settings in many of her books.
An exhibition, ‘The Enchanted Country: the extraordinary world of Ursula Moray Williams’, is touring venues in Hampshire and elsewhere. Using copies of photographs and other archive material provided by her family, it tells the story of Ursula’s life and career, and in particular will explore the ways in which her Hampshire childhood influenced her writing. Her early years growing up as a twin near Petersfield, playing with hobby-horses and walking past a shop which sold wooden model horses, influenced such books as The Twins and their Ponies as well as Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse.
From the age of 11 until her marriage, she lived at North Stoneham Park, between Eastleigh and Southampton, a magnificent, yet unfinished, mansion set in magical grounds, which inspired such books as A Castle for John-Peter, Grandpapa’s Folly and the Woodworm-Bookworm, and Bogwoppit recently reissued by Jane Nissen Books (read the BfK review of Bogwoppit).
The exhibition also covers her later life, showing how her work as a juvenile court magistrate inspired her to include children from troubled backgrounds in her later writing.
Copies of early editions of many of her books, and translations into other languages of some popular works, are included in the display, together with two toy Bogwoppits made by Ursula herself.
The exhibition is now on show in the foyer of Hampshire Record Office in Winchester, where it will remain until 28 June. It will then tour to Surrey History Centre in Woking from late July until the end of August, returning to Hampshire for showings at Petersfield Museum, 5 September-20 October, and Eastleigh Museum in November-December, before heading north to Tewkesbury Library in 2012.
A number of events have been arranged to complement the exhibition. Colin Davison, author of the first full biography of the author, Through the Magic Door: Ursula Moray Williams, Gobbolino and the Little Wooden Horse (published by Northumbria Press, £18.99 hbk), will be speaking at Surrey History Centre on 23 July and at Petersfield Museum on 24 October, and a number of children’s events are planned.
There will also be a special evening at Hampshire Record Office on Wednesday 11 May, 7pm-9pm when Colin Davison will speak about Williams’ links with Hampshire, including North Stoneham, and Harry Willis Fleming will set this in the context of the story of this mansion, built for his family in the first half of the 19th century. The evening costs £7.50 per person, and advance booking is essential, on 01962 846154.
More information about the events at Hampshire Record Office can be found at www.hants.gov.uk/archives/whatson-hro by phoning 01962 846154.
Surrey History Centre’s website is at www.surreycc.gov.uk/surreyhistorycentre and information about Petersfield and Eastleigh Museums can be found at www.petersfieldmuseum.co.uk and www.hants.gov.uk/museum/eastleigh-museum