A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

They say that some books just have a lasting and timeless appeal. For me, one of those books is A Traveller in Time by Derbyshire born author, Alison Uttley. The book, first published in 1939, tells the story of teenage girl, Penelope, who is sent to live on her aunt and uncle’s farm, once owned by Anthony Babington, an important Derbyshire landowner, who became embroiled in a plot to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. The girl manages to move between her own time and the 1580s and even meets Anthony Babington himself. As Derbyshire is the setting for both times, the book does have a wonderfully local feel. If you are familiar with Derbyshire, it does add a certain feel to be able to imagine what the county was like, in the 1930s and 1580s, when you read the book as a twenty-first century reader.

Cover of the 1977 edition of A Traveller in Time

As a child, Alison’s other books about Little Grey Rabbit were a keen favourite, but when I was older, my mum introduced me to A Traveller in Time, saying that when she was at school, it was her favourite book. Some of you may ask what appeal does a children’s book have to adults? It’s one of those children’s books that I think you can enjoy reading and rereading at any age. I think for anyone of us who has dreamed of being able to time travel, this book easily satisfies that desire. The way Alison writes certainly does transport the reader on the same journey as Penelope. To keep this style, it does at times feel slow going, so if you prefer your novels to be action packed, this book may not be for you. This does suit the idea of the reader following Penelope as she discovers the intrigues of the Babington family and how she wishes to warn them of what the consequences of such intrigues may be. Alison Uttley has always been a great storyteller in my opinion, but I found that the way she describes both the 1930s, when Penelope lives, and the 1580s, is portrayed really well. This is probably why at times the story feels a little ‘slow’. If you do give this book a go, I would really recommend sticking with it as the further you get into it, the more you become emotionally involved with it.

The houses of Wingfield Manor and Thackers farm are written as though they were characters themselves. These are essential parts to the plot as they not only provide context to the historical narrative, but they are also the portals through which the time travel happens. Wingfield Manor was originally built by Ralph, Lord Cromwell, the Treasurer of England in the 1400s. By the time that A Traveller in Time is set, it was opened by Bess of Hardwick and her fourth husband, George Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury. The pair were jailers of Mary, Queen of Scots and whilst she was moved around the various estates owned by them, Wingfield was one of them. Nearby was Thackers, a manor and farm owned by the Babington family. Whilst Thackers doesn’t really exist, it was based on the Babingtons’ real home at Dethick Manor, five or so miles away from Wingfield Manor. The name Thackers was used instead as Uttley had brought a house of that name in Buckinghamshire the year before A Traveller in Time was published.

Print of Thackers Farm from the 1977 edition

Whether you choose to read this book for yourself or to share with children, the novel does have a good historical basis to Elizabethan times. Hopefully this would spark an interest in history and the Babington Plot, which has somewhat been forgotten in recent years. It is easy to follow whether you know a bit about the plot or not, so people with any amount of knowledge on the subject shouldn’t find this difficult. As someone who did know the outcome, I did feel the same urgency that Penelope had in hoping that she could warn about what would happen to those involved. Whether or not you do know the outcome, it does become quite the emotional read, which may hit you unexpectedly.

All in all, this book, once you get into it, is somewhat all consuming. You can feel a whole range of emotions, whilst not wishing to reach the end of the story. Yet, as all stories must, it does reach the end. I will not give anything away about how it ends, as that would be unfair. Instead, I want to say that A Traveller in Time is one of those rare books that takes the reader on a personal journey and one which I know many people haven’t forgotten. If this was a book you read as a child, I would recommend rereading it in later life. Whilst this is ultimately a children’s story, the broad range of complex emotions it portrays feels very adult, which is why younger readers may struggle initially with this book.

If you do read A Traveller in Time, or have read it previously, please let us know what your experience was like, we’d really like to know.

One thought on “A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

  1. Thank you for this article – you jogged my memory because it reminded me that I’d read this – a very long time ago! I might have to track down a copy and read it again! 👍😃

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