Heatherley by Flora Thompson is the ‘lost sequel’ to Lark Rise to Candleford and I’m really surprised it is not better known.
Having moved to Haslemere on the Surrey/Hampshire/Sussex border three years ago, I’ve been enjoying walking through the woods, up the many hills, across the heather filled commons and over the downs every since. We are lucky enough to be surrounded by National Trust land (in part thanks to Robert Hunter, co-founder of the National Trust, who lived in Haslemere) and it really is beautiful.
I’ve also been interested in getting to know the local history of the place and have been surprised to find that neighbouring Hindhead and Grayshott, or Little Switzerland as it was known in the late 1800s, was home to a community of writers and artists, including George Bernard Shaw and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle amongst others. That’s why I went along to an exhibition at the fabulous Haslemere Museum in April, which chronicled the rise and fall of the area as a tourist destination from the 1880s until the advent of the motorcar turned it into a place for day trippers rather than distinguished long-term guests. It was here that I discovered that the author of Lark Rise to Candleford, which I read about twenty years ago, had written another book based on her time at ‘Heatherley’, otherwise known as Grayshott.
Heatherley is as charming as I remember Lark Rise to Candleford being. It chronicles a very different and more modern way of life, despite picking up in time where Lark Rise left off in 1898. Heatherley is a village thriving on the fashionable visits of London’s elite and on the cusp of further social changes brought by the Boer War and the death of Queen Victoria.
Set against this backdrop, chronicling a fascinating period in history, are a range of richly drawn characters in the village and Laura herself as a young woman experiencing her first taste of freedom through her job in the local post office. She spends her free time tramping across this glorious countryside and describing many places where I go regularly that are little changed from as she described them over a hundred years ago. She also manages to almost get caught up in a gruesome murder and to find and then lose her first potential suitor.
It is written with the benefit of hindsight and I really enjoyed the older Laura looking back on her young self. It also really gives you a feeling of what it was like to live in Little Switzerland in its heyday. For anyone who enjoyed Lark Rise to Candleford, you are missing out if you don’t read this lost and little known sequel.