The variety of research that visitors to the Record Office are doing, and the questions they have are always fascinating, whether it’s local or family history related. This week, one of the online enquiries we received generated childhood reading memories for a few of the staff. The question was whether we knew of any fictional accounts featuring the Cromford Canal. The local Cromford author, Alison Uttley, immediately sprang to mind (although you could argue that as her work was based so closely on her life, that a lot of her writing was autobiographical, rather than fictional!)
Alice Jane Uttley (1884-1976) was born Alice Taylor at Castle Top Farm, near Cromford, Derbyshire, and was educated at the Lea School in Holloway and the Lady Manners School in Bakewell. She is most well known for her children’s books, set in the countryside, featuring the popular characters Sam Pig, Grey Rabbit and Fuzzypeg and always beautifully illustrated. Many of her books were based on memories of her life in the Derbyshire countryside.
She started writing after her husband, James Uttley, the brother of an old university friend, Gertrude, took his own life. James’ mental health had been permanently impaired by his service in the first World War. They had a son together, John Corin Uttley (1914-1978), and Alison needed to support herself and her son. This she did by writing.
Her delightful animal characters and descriptions of nature made her a successful writer and later in her life, she wrote for older children and adults. She also wrote recipe books, all based on her incredible ability to remember the details of her country life in Derbyshire. Her writing describes in colourful detail what life was like living on a farm in Cromford around the turn of the 20th century.
If you would like to find our more about Alison, The Alison Uttley Society website is full of information about her life and works There is also some information related to her life detailed in our archives on our online catalogue
Here are a selection of Alison’s books from our Local Studies Library (there are two whole shelves worth!) which show the variety and scope of her writing. Does anyone have a favourite, or remember reading some of her books as a child?