Hilaire Belloc bought King's Land (in Shipley, Sussex), 5 acres and a working windmill for £1000 in 1907 and it was his home for the rest of his life. Belloc loved Sussex as few other writers have loved her: he lived there for most of his 83 years, he tramped the length and breadth of the county, slept under her hedgerows, drank in her inns, sailed her coast and her rivers and wrote several incomparable books about her. "He does not die that can bequeath Some influence to the land he knows, Or dares, persistent, interwreath Love permanent with the wild hedgerows; He does not die, but still remains Substantiate with his darling plains."

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Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Monday 25th September at West Worthing Baptist Church, 45 South St, Worthing BN14 7LU.

Chris Hare will be giving the following free talk on the evening of Monday 25th September at West Worthing Baptist Church, 45 South St, Worthing BN14 7LU.

Hilaire Belloc: the paradox of belief -

'Hilaire Belloc is not much remembered today, and when he is, it is usually for his comic verse for children, or his outspoken views, many of which are now very unfashionable. In this talk I will look at Belloc's religious, spiritual, and mystical beliefs. He was a devout Roman Catholic, who would broach no compromise with 'modernism.' Yet he also wrote movingly about the elemental power of the natural world, in particular, the sea and the moon. He regarded the finding of springs from which great rivers flow to the sea as a 'holy' experience. He was greatly concerned with both the decline of Christianity, as he saw it, and the threat posed by materialist lifetstyles on creation. A modern audience may be surprised to find Belloc less archaic than they expect, but instead speaking to very modern concerns about social justice, the environment, but most of all, on the safe passage of the human soul.'

The talk starts at 7.45pm.

Monday, 31 July 2023

'Hilaire Belloc: the politics of living' by Chris Hare (published by History People UK) - reviewed by Mike Hennessy (the Chairman of the Hilaire Belloc Society)...


Chris Hare has done us all a great service by writing on Belloc.  His book, Hilaire Belloc: the politics of living, which came out late last year, ought to serve as a welcome invitation to those readers of today who have not yet taken up any of Belloc’s works. For reasons quite complex and largely unjustified, Belloc’s reputation has fallen significantly below that of his Catholic and other contemporaries over the last few decades.  We have just passed the seventieth anniversary of Belloc’s death (on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 16 July 1953) and there was no discernible murmur of recognition or commemoration.  Apart from an ongoing general rustle of appreciation among those who recall with affection his comic verse (mainly the Cautionary Tales for Children), and especially among younger generations, he is almost unknown.  Thankfully, he is probably still well enough known among the people of his beloved County of Sussex, more so than anywhere else in the UK (which would please him), in large part because of the enthusiastic endeavours of Chris Hare and his friends who keep his memory alive there; and his name can still be found bruited about online among fervent co-religionists (especially in the US) who cling to some of his more political and polemical works with avidity.  But outside these groups he is but a dimly remembered name.

Perhaps this is the fate of most of those men who are greater than any one of their books, or even greater than the sum of all their writings. Sublime works often live on, carrying their creator in their wake as something more than just a name. In Belloc’s case, it is impossible to point to any of his books and say: “Here is the entire man!”.  Even placing perhaps his three greatest single works on top of each other – The Path to Rome, The Four Men and The Cruise of the Nona – I would assert that the pile reaches barely to Belloc’s waist.  One finds the real Belloc through a wide reading of his variegated works and then becomes enchanted by him, perhaps even more so than with his writings; those books then remain one of the best ways to keep company with him and to hear him speak. There is wisdom, humour, beauty, wit and understanding in his books; but behind all of these things, giving them spirit and substance is the figure, the personality: Belloc himself – a man, with faults of course, but with great gifts, who lived a life of travel, tragedy, some disillusionment and much intellectual combat, and who met with exhaustion at the end.  Belloc is why we read Belloc (which makes him stand out from many other authors, whose writings I may admire or feel deeply about, for whom I feel only a gentle warmth at best).

And Chris Hare has done a particular service by showing us this man – Ecce homo! – in a personal and affectionate way that I believe no-one has done so well since the superb memoir written by J B Morton only a few years after Belloc’s death. For he has weaved a very personal note through Belloc’s life and writings and delivered a candid exposition of the man which should charm even the sceptic and quite possibly the foe.

For Chris Hare, whom I must here admit to having known for pretty much 20 years through membership of the Hilaire Belloc Society, sets out in his short introduction to the book some of his own circumstances which echo Belloc’s – his disillusionment with party politics and, more importantly his own family’s tragedy – and how through the latter in particular he has been drawn closer to Belloc whose writings helped support and sustain him at critical times.  In many ways, the introduction sets the tone for the book as a whole – it is an admirable precis of the author’s intentions and is both candid and clear.  Given the way in which some of Belloc’s works (often not his best, and ironically some of his most dated) are considered close to Holy Writ by that aforementioned clique of Catholic controversialists – and given how disparaged he has been by many of those who ought to have loved him most (other co-religionists, now rather liberal and priggish), Chris Hare’s admission that he has come not to apologise for Belloc but to write of him “warts and all” is very welcome and – frankly, in the context – disarming.

The book is set out thematically – it is not intended as a biography, as Chris Hare makes clear at the outset – and deals with the personality of Belloc, his faith and early founding in classical literature, history and myth, his love and evocation of landscape and the importance to him of sacred places, his engagement with world of politics, as an MP and as a writer, speaker and thinker, his widely-held reputation as an anti-Semite, his experience of and response to the conflicts of the Boer War, Great War and Second World War, and finally his declining years and how he foresaw so vividly in his writings as a young man the loss and waning of powers that accompanies the journey into old age.  Almost every page carries at least one, often extended, citation either from one of Belloc’s books or letters, or a description of an encounter with Belloc from a contemporary.  When I would give a talk on Belloc, I would similarly festoon my speech with extensive excerpts: there is no better encounter with the man now than through the medium of his prose and verse and through the reminiscences of those who met him in life. We are not just our own narratives, we are our voice and thoughts, our aspect and our gait; and our words and the recounting of our encounters with others will reveal more about ourselves than any summary of biographical details can.

And Chris Hare has chosen these excepts with care and with an eye – and ear (Belloc’s own writings can read beautifully) – for how well they reflect upon the themes he has set out, and in particular for how, even within something as dry as Belloc’s political thinking, there is still a man, feeling and breathing and giving life to what might otherwise seem at times but dusty words. 

His chapter on landscape and place, which focuses on The Four Men, was one in which I particularly delighted – not least because of all of Belloc’s single works it is the one which most captured my sensibilities while a young man at university and to this day remains that which is most imprinted upon my spirit.  This fictional, almost dream-like, narrative of an autumnal walk across Sussex by the four men of the title, Grizzlebeard, the Sailor, the Poet and Myself (an Everyman of sorts) is deeply embedded in that blessed County’s countryside in the years just before the Great War – to such an extent that, as Chris Hare rightly points out, its landscape is in many ways the fifth companion of the book: such is the evocation of place in this story by turns whimsical, melancholic, riotous, satirical, elegiac, comic and poetic, that the reader feels in a very particular way that he is accompanying the four men across the fields, through the woods and down the lanes (and into the inns!) of the story with a vividness that very few other books can give.

And this rootedness in place allows all the discursive twists and turns of the conversation between the characters to somehow remain tethered to the real – so that, just as the reader can feel the chill drizzle of the evening or smell the woodfires, he can also feel the emotions that are poured out in the companions’ tales together.  As Chris Hare points out elsewhere in the book, while Sussex was a very special place for Belloc – from his childhood memories of Nomansland near Slindon to his dozen-or-so married then more numerous widowed years at Kingsland, Shipley, many of Belloc’s essays feature a sacred or holy or blessed place sometimes reached only in dreams – an adumbration, or foreshadowing, of Paradise: of that patria of final peace and rest and happiness, reference to which in those last lines of the Benediction hymn, O Salutaris Hostia, would bring Belloc to the point of tears.  Place, its evocation and suggestiveness, features prominently in another chapter of this book, entitled “An enduring faith”, which intelligently explores the tensions within and nuances of Belloc’s faith and spiritual temperament.

Whereas significant attention has been given to Belloc’s political, social, economic and to some extent historical thought, less has been written about his other works.  In so many ways, there is a lot still to unpack from these less didactic writings, material that often seems casual (like his essays) but into which he poured himself and his thoughts and feelings in a very intense way.  And, more suggestively than explicitly, Chris Hare’s book opens up that possibility of new avenues of approach to Belloc the man – renewing, or revivifying the knowledge and memory of him and his works, to try and explain how they can sustain and feed the spirit and mind, of how a man now seventy years dead can yet still keep us company along a road much of which will have been familiar to him, through the pangs of youth, the quiet joys of settled life, and towards our final end, a journey with all of its accompanying joys, frustrations, small triumphs and sometimes deep tragedies.


Mike Hennessy

July 2023

In order to purchase a copy of this book please go to:  www.historypeople.co.uk 

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Interview: “The Politics of Living”

Richard Vobes interviews Chris Hare about his new book, ‘Hilaire Belloc, the politics of living.

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Historian Chris Hare will offer a talk 'Hilaire Belloc, The Man, His Writings and His Legacy' at the Coronation Hall, Reynolds Lane, Slindon, BN18 0QZ on Saturday, November 19 at 2pm.

Historian Chris Hare will offer a talk 'Hilaire Belloc, The Man, His Writings and His Legacy' at the Coronation Hall, Reynolds Lane, Slindon, BN18 0QZ on Saturday, November 19 at 2pm.
Leigh Lawson, vice-chairman West Sussex Archives Society, said: “Hilaire Belloc spent his boyhood in Slindon and the last 48 years of his life in Shipley. His Sussex connections are very strong as was his enduring love for the county. 

“Chris is a popular local historian and singer of folk songs. He also sings with Littlehampton- based shantymen, The Duck Pond Sailors. Throughout 2018-19 Chris, assisted by Emily Longhurst, led a Heritage Lottery Funded project Belloc, Broadwood and Beyond, a series of workshops which included learning some of the songs written by Hilaire Belloc and which culminated in a concert in Rusper Church. Chris will be reading some of Belloc’s poems and singing at least a couple of his songs during the talk.
“The talk has been arranged by West Sussex Archives Society, which supports the work of West Sussex Record Office. Non-members are welcome to attend the talk, which costs £6 and includes tea or coffee and biscuits. Email inquiries to contact@wsas.co.uk.”

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

The Duck Pond Sailors in Slindon...

On Thursday 16th June 2022 – The Duck Pond Sailors gave a ‘moving concert’ around the little streets and woodlands of Slindon. In this video, they sing the ‘Sussex Song’, written by Chris Hare, as a sort of national anthem for the county, including all it’s great moments in history and folklore. The other song is G.K.Chesterton’s poem ‘The Rolling English Road’ put to the tune of ‘The Farmer’s Boy.’ Chesterton was a lifelong friend of Belloc, and the two men frequently met for walks in the South Downs. Belloc spent his boyhood in Slindon and wrote many essays about the village and its hinterland.

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

An interesting find at a flea market in Chicago...

Matthew Ennis contacted me from America with some interesting information. He has come into the possession of some very interesting hand written poems accompanied by intriguing drawings. This is his story:

'I got them at a flea market in the Chicago area that were amongst a bunch of other ephemera from the very early 1900s. I saw the elephant poem and connected it to Belloc, so I thought it may be his work since it's very professionally done and there's a whole book of the same, 24 pages and the fun simple poems are extraordinary.'

Now the opinion of the Chairman is that the drawings are probably by Basil Blackwood. He writes:

'I still don’t feel able to say definitely HB. Still not found any examples of his writing in capitals. Some of the verses seem almost too whimsical/sentimental..I’m almost tempted to say (given that the drawings seem to be by Basil Blackwood) that they might have been composed by Elodie. At least some of them inspired by her. Not that I am conscious of her writing *anything* (other than letters to HB).'

Mike did go on to say that the drawings were definitely by Basil Blackwood. 

Basil Temple Blackwood was the third son and fifth child of the first Marquess of Duffering and Ava (and Governor General of Canada). He was born in Clandeboye, Ireland.Which I suppose, given his background, made him Anglo-Irish. Strangely enough, he later went on to become Private secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1916 (a poignant year in Irish history). Before this, he went up to Balliol College - Oxford.This was Belloc's college as well. Whilst at Oxford, he became friends with Belloc.

In 1896, Belloc approached Blackwood to illustrate his book of humorous children's verse, The Bad Child's Book Of Beasts. The book was an immediate success. Blackwood went on to illustrate several more of Belloc's books, including: The Modern Traveller (1898), A Moral Alphabet (1899), More Peers (1900), Cautionary Tales for Children (1907) and More Beasts for Worse Children (1910).

Blackwood died in the trenches in 1917. 

The manuscript is available for purchase. However, we cannot say for certain who wrote the poems (except for the Elephant which is definitely by Belloc) or who is responsible for the illustrations. 

Thursday, 31 March 2022

This year we are celebrating Sussex Day with walk & song in the village of Slindon with South Downs historian Chris Hare...


About this event: Thu, 16 June 2022 – 7:00pm – 8:30pm

What better way to spend a summer's evening than walking around a beautiful South Downs village listening to old English sea shanties and folk songs?

This year the Friends of the South Downs are celebrating Sussex Day in style, with a walk around the historic village of Slindon, in the company of South Downs historian, Chris Hare, and the ever popular Duck Pond Sailors. You will hear all about one thousand years of downland and village history and learn about the life and work of Slindon's most famous son - Hilaire Belloc. Belloc spent his boyhood in Slindon in the 1870s and 80s, but he also returned briefly to live in Slindon with his wife Elodie and their children from 1904 - 1905. His vivid essays and moving poetry will be referred to by Chris during the walk.

The Duck Pond Sailors are renowned for 'putting some welly' into their singing and they will include many songs appropriate to the time of year and the setting. They will even be singing one of their songs by a duck pond!

Get your complimentary CD

To help celebrate Sussex Day, the Friends of the South Downs will be giving a copy of the CD and booklet 'South Coast Songs and Shanties' to everyone who attends the walk (usual price £6.50). This is a one-off promotion and is available only for this event. CDs cannot be posted to those who register and don't attend.

A fundraiser for two good causes.

The money raised from this event will be shared between the Friends of the South Downs and Olly's Future, a suicide-prevention charity.

A Gallery of Slindon photographs

During the walk, Chris will be talking about all the buildings and places seen in these photographs, some of which have the strangest and most unexpected explanations. There will even be a ghost story!

Public transport

No buses run to Slindon at this time. Barnham is the nearest mainline railway station (a distance of 3.5 miles). There is a taxi rank at Barnham Station. The journey takes about ten minutes.

Book now on Eventbrite