How can you become so famous that they name two schools, the wing of a hospital, a museum and a pub after you ... and then be totally forgotten? That’s the puzzle surrounding John Moore, novelist and countryman. He was born in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, seven years before the Great War, and he remained out of the limelight following rural pursuits all his life. However, he was one of the best known and loved writers about the countryside in the 20th century, and was widely published in America, Australia and New Zealand.
Moore was described as the finest countryside writer of his generation by Sir Compton Mackenzie, gaining a reputation for his best-selling trilogy of novels published after 1945, Portrait of Elmbury (a lightly fictionalised biography of Tewkesbury), followed by Brensham Village (based largely on the village of Bredon) and The Blue Field. About these, he said: “Like Elmbury, Brensham is real in the sense that I have built upon a ground-plan and framework of truth: but I have purposely played fast and loose with chronology and topography.”
Authors of this period were often reluctant to name real places in what seems to be an extension of the Victorian habit of writing “I lately visited the town of L---- in the West Midlands”, presumably on the grounds of respect and privacy.
Moore had been a Fleet Air Arm pilot during the Second World War but after being grounded by injury, was still able to take part in the D-Day landings as a press attaché. His works included novels, short stories, studies of topography and language, country essays and calendars, and a history of the naval aircraft service. His other novels such as the jolly September Moon (about Hereford hop-picking) and Waters Under the Earth (about social changes in the countryside) are snapshots of times that now seem unimaginably distant. In the latter, Doddington Manor stands for England in much the same way that Howard’s End symbolised the same for E M Forster.
It was inevitable that Moore would become concerned with conservation issues. He turned media attention on to the effect of technological advances on the countryside, especially the use of pesticides and, presciently, the end of natural pollination. He worked toward the preservation of historic architecture in his native town and helped to inaugurate the Cheltenham Festival of Literature in 1949. As his novels have the atmosphere of bygone times, it’s easy – but wrong – to write him off as a nostalgist.