Second-hand book find: the amazing Alison Uttley

Alison Uttley: 'A Traveller in Time' & 'The Country Child'

I have written previously about some of my favourite books that I will keep onto no matter what. One of these is the semi-autobiographical tale ‘The Country Child’ written by the author Alison Uttley. You may not be familiar with her writing for older children but Alison Uttley was the creator of the Little Grey Rabbit Series. I loved these tales of woodland animals, such as Fuzzypeg the hedgehog and Moldy Warp the mole, when I was small. The books were  illustrated by Margaret Tempest and I believe they are as beautiful as Beatrix Potter’s work.

When I was older I came across a copy of ‘The Country Child’ in the school library and read it over and over again. A few years ago I was lucky enough to pick up a second-hand copy and, even now, I find myself dipping into chapters as Uttley describes a farming childhood from over a hundred years ago.

Another book of hers that I read as a child was ‘A Traveller in Time’. I also have vague memories of it being turned into a BBC series in the 1970s. The protagonist, Penelope, goes to stay with an aunt and uncle who own a farm in Derbyshire. The farm is very old and she finds herself being transported back in time to the Elizabethan era when the owner, Anthony Babington, is plotting to free Mary Queen of Scots. I loved this book as a child, partly because I was heavily into Tudor history. Imagine my delight last week when I found a second-hand copy in the Oxfam bookshop! Upon re-reading it’s still as good as I remember.

As well as being a fan of Alison Uttley’s prose I am also fascinated by her life. Like the protagonist, Susan from ‘The Country Child’ she grew up on a farm in Derbyshire towards the end of the 19th Century. Unusually for the time she went on to study science at Manchester University and became the second woman to graduate in 1906. She later became a science teacher and married. However her husband, having served in the First World War, committed suicide in 1930. Alison was left to bring up their small son, John. Out of financial necessity as a widow she began to write and in the 1930s published ‘The Little Grey Rabbit’ series, ‘The Country Child’ (1931) and ‘A Traveller in Time’ (1939). She died in 1976, at the age of 91. Sadly her only child, John, killed himself two years later.

Her personal diaries, published a few years ago, reveal a very different side to the author loved by children. However I find her personal story, and her writing, to be inspirational and I personally believe her to be an underrated children’s author.

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