Brian Alderson is bidding a fond farewell to books from his collection, which is being presented to Seven Stories. Here he packs up some essential reading for the hols.
Mr Tootleoo, (see BfK 250) was not the only Nonesuch book that was issued in an unnumbered edition. A year earlier there had been published the first of what was to be the company’s most successful venture The Week-End Book. That would eventually run to eight main editions, plus spin-offs, including one from the revived firm in 1955. One effect of its success was to inspire a host of near-imitations, ostensibly catering for those readers who followed the metropolitan fashion of escaping from office-life on a Saturday morning to ‘Sussex-by-the-Sea’ or other such watering places. The single volume would provide a sufficiency of entertainment – poetry, songs, games, recipes for eating and drinking etc all fitted in the (by our standards) very short week-end break.
It started a fashion which in the case of children’s books extended to a more varied and didactic miscellany for those who had no office from which to flee but schools of one sort or another with term- rather than week-endings (‘No more Latin, no more French / No more sitting on the old school bench’ ran the probably now forgotten chant).
In both title and textual references Gollancz’s Junior Week-End Book of 1937 makes an instant example. Its 576 pages were edited by one J.R. Evans – perhaps Victor’s workhorse, Jon Evans – with numerous helpers (Tony and Bob…Kathleen and Jocelyn…etc).
It was a cross between an anthology and something of a variegated Pear’s Cyclopaedia with articles first on outdoor and second on indoor ‘week-ends’. The dozen or so snippety excerpts from children’s fiction that start the book are mere tokens that do not bear repeated reading unlike the poetry, songs and anonymous rhymes that intersperse all sections. These have an unexpected originality with the surprising presence of the MacSpaundays (bar WH Auden) reminding us that Gollancz was the first to publish (disastrously) Louis MacNeice.
Much of the editorial tone is that of a friendly schoolmaster (a Fabian?) which contrasts strikingly with that of a competing miscellany published in the same year by George Routledge, In and Out of Doors – 500 pages which with a few exceptions, were the product of the Williams-Ellis family, Clough, the father (1883-1974), being the architect creator of the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales. He and his wife, Amabel, were contributors but the substance of the text comes from their three children, Susan, Charlotte, and Christopher, two of whom were still at school. Thus, as they say in their blurb, ‘it is written by the young for the young’ so that the text becomes almost a conversation among contemporaries: ‘Our advice [on looking after animals] is not to keep most kinds of wild birds. Again and again we have tried to look after wounded birds or lost fledglings. They have only survived for a few weeks and have always seemed unhappy. By the way, in a family it is wise to come to an understanding about pets…’
The air of learned experience gives character to much of the book which is both handsome and remarkable in its production. Susan is responsible for black and white decorations and drawings of exceptional quality (though she does acknowledge help from Graham Sutherland and Brian Rob [sic]) while, most unusually, the back board of its yellow cloth binding has been slit to form a pocket which takes folded sheets for use in two of the games that are described – one has pencil drawings by Clough for colouring.
Contemporary child readers of both books would have found the literary and advisory matter complementary to the extent that the ‘week-end’ camper or tramper would be justified in lumbering a double weight of literature in their knapsacks.
For today’s reader though both compendia cannot help bringing alive a vanished world. It’s not just that you find that feeding yourself economically on your hike should cost about 9½d. a day or buying a reliable new bicycle that need not cost more than £5 but rather that siblings, friends, and family were offered resources for developing an individual lifestyle. Applicable though many of the practical considerations and suggestions still remain, one wonders what advice Mr Evans and the Williams-Ellis family would have to offer readers now blessed with not just a week-end opportunity but an all-day one sitting beside their lap-top or i-pad.
Brian Alderson is a long-time and much-valued contributor to Books for Keeps, founder of the Children’s Books History Society and a former Children’s Books Editor for The Times. His book The 100 Best Children’s Books is published by Galileo Publishing, 978-1903385982, £14.99 hbk.
In and Out of Doors. By Susan, Charlotte and Christopher and their Parents, Amabel and Clough Williams-Ellis [within a stage setting] [London] George Routledge and Sons, Ltd 1937. 185x130mm,492pp. Incl. 15 dec. headpieces and two tailpieces by Susan with many drawings in text by her and others, including Edward Lear’s drawings for his story of ‘How Four Little Children Went around the World’. Smooth yellow cloth over boards, the back board slit as described; front endpaper col. design for use in a game, rear a col. map of England and Scotland with a description of games etc. Dust jacket richly dec. all round in four colours incorporating two drawings from the text.
My well-used copy lacks its title-page but was an updated 1938 edition with Hutton’s 364 at the Oval included.
She would later become foundress of the famous range of ‘Botanic Garden’ ceramics.