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 21 December 2016


December requires a Christmas essay. In the back of my somewhat unremembering mind, I recalled seeing an essay of Belloc on Christmas. After looking through a number of Belloc books, I finally located his essay, "A Remaining Christmas", in the Penguin Selected Essays. Somehow, the date of this essay is not given in the list of acknowledgments that J. B. Morton gave about the essays' sources. I have not had time to check further, but that is not so important here when we deal with timeless things that happen in time.

After I began the essay, I realized, of course, that I had read this lovely essay before. In fact, the title of the Chapter on Belloc in my Another Sort of Learning is taken from this essay -- "The Immortality of Mortal Man." Indeed, this curious juxtaposition of mortality and immortality is what Belloc called a "shocking, and intolerable and, even in the fullest sense, abnormal thing." Christmas for Belloc was something that made this thoroughly wrenching situation of immortal beings who still die to become somewhat "explicable, tolerable, and normal." How so?

''A Remaining Christmas" is about a man and his home. It is about a place wherein the things that change, and rapidly change, can find themselves confronted with things that do not change, with things that are. The very first sentence in Belloc's essay alerts us to our condition: "The world is changing very fast, and neither exactly for the better or the worse, but for division." The title of the essay "A Remaining Christmas" gains its wording from the question that people ask, even more at the end of the century than in Belloc's time, "how much remains of the observance and of the feast and its customs?" Belloc's essay is essentially an account of a single traditional Christmas. It takes place in an ancient house, the older parts of which date from the fourteenth Century. It is a mile in the countryside. Off the central upper room of the house is "a chapel where Mass is said." The house is constructed of oak and brick. In the fireplace, only oak is burned.

In this large upper room is a huge oaken table which was originally built for an Oxford college, but looted from there by the Puritans. It was finally purchased from the family that inherited it from the Reformation. This table was made "while Shakespeare was still living, and the whole faith of England still hung in the balance; for one cannot say that England was certain to lose her Catholicism finally till the first quarter of that (17th) century was passed." The room was light with candles, "the proper light for men's eyes", as Belloc rightly put it.

This is how Christmas eve is spent in this house. On the morning of that Eve, large quantities of holly and laurel are collected from nearby trees and lots of the farm. Every room in the house is decorated with fresh smelling leaves, berries, needles, and boughs. A Christmas tree twice the size of a man is set up, to which little candles are affixed. Presents are there for all the children of the village, household members, and guests.

At five o'clock, already dark in England that time of year, the village children come into the house with the candles burning on the tree. There is first a common meal. Next the children come to the tree where each is given a silver coin and a present. Then the children dance and sing game songs. Belloc does not see this as quaint or accidental: "The tradition of Christmas here is what it should be everywhere, knit into the very stuff of the place; so that I fancy the little children, when they think of Bethlehem, see it in their minds as though it were in the winter depths of England, which is as it should be." The coming of Christ to Bethlehem is also His coming to the winter depths of England.

There is a Crib with animals, stars, shepherds, and the Holy Family. The children sing their carol at the Crib -- "the one they know best begins, 'The First Good Joy that Mary had, it was the joy of One.'" I am sorry I do not know that carol. After the carols, all leave except the members of the household. The household dines, and, with the Christmas fast, await Midnight Mass. The Yule log is carried in, so large that it takes two men to carry it. It is put on the great hearth. If it lasts all night and is still shouldering in the morning, this is supposed to be good fortune to the family. At Midnight, there is Mass and all take Communion.

All sleep late the next day to await the great Christmas dinner at midday. There is "turkey; and a plum pudding, with holly in it and everything conventional, and therefore satisfactory." The great feast lasts most of the rest of the day. Of the critics of these things, Belloc says, in an aside, that "they may reprove who will; but for my part I applaud." Then follow the twelve days of Christmas, ending with the Epiphany. All the greenery is to remain till this Day of the Magi, but by the end of that day, nothing is to remain. All the greenery is burned in a coppice reserved for these Christmas trees, "which have done their Christmas duty; and now, after so many years, you might almost call it a little forest, for each tree has lived, bearing witness to the holy vitality of unbroken ritual and inherited things." This unbroken ritual and the inherited things are our defense against meaningless change and our reminder that trees too are living vestiges of the work of God.

On New Year's, the custom was to open all the windows and doors of the house so, they say, that "the old year and its burdens can go out and leave everything new for hope and for the youth of the coming time." Some folks say this is superstition, but, Belloc pointed out, it is as old as Europe and goes back to forgotten times. At Midnight, all go outside to listen hushed for the arrival of the New Year. The people wait the boom of a gun in a distant village to be sure that Midnight has arrived. The bells of the churches ring. When the bells cease, there is a silence. Then all go inside, the doors are shut, and all drink a glass.

Not merely death, but many things die and change all the time, and we can hardly bear this reality -- "all the bitterness of living." And yet in this ritual, it all becomes "part of a large business which may lead to Beatitude." All these events of life are connected "holy day after holy day, year after year, binding the generations together."

In this house that celebrates what remains of Christmas, all the tragedies and joys of life have occurred within its rooms and halls. "But its Christmas binds it to its own past and promises its future; making the house an undying thing of which those subject to mortality within it are members, sharing in its continuous survival." The immortality of mortal men -- Belloc sees in this ancient house with its tradition, with its yearly celebration of Christmas, a way to bear the our lot, with the beloved things that change and pass. "There is this great quality in the unchanging practice of Holy Seasons, that it makes explicable, tolerable and normal what is otherwise a shocking and intolerable and even in the fullest sense, abnormal thing. I mean the mortality of immortal man."

Without these rituals of Christmas, their unchanging practice, we see that what is in fact shocking and intolerable and abnormal becomes inexplicable, becomes our lot and our culture. This is the nature of our times. We can no longer explain ourselves to ourselves. In failing to understand our immortality, we do not understand our mortality. And at Christmas, which we should see, as Belloc did, in our family tradition, such that Christ could also have come to the wintery depths of England, or to anywhere, we find in the Nativity the response to both our mortality and our immortality, in the Child with His parents, while the neighboring children sing, the carol I do not know, "The First Good Joy that Mary had; it was the joy of One."

From Schall on Belloc, Generally Speaking, December, 1996.

Sunday 20 November 2016

Secret Shore Project: Smuggling, Folklore, South Coast Songs and Shanties. CD and book...

There have been two very interesting Secret Shore Project developments recently...

Firstly, Chris Hare will be launching his book Smuggling and Folklore in Sussex and Hampshire on the 30th of November at the Beechwood Hall Hotel at 7.30pm in Worthing.

Chris will be giving an illustrated talk about the book and also about how the research was undertaken. He will introduce some of the researchers and explain how important their work was in the writing of the book.

Two hundred years ago the coast of Sussex and Hampshire were alive with the illegal activities of local smuggling gangs. In this book, Chris recounts the real events of those days including the bloody confrontations that frequently took place between the smugglers and the authorities.

This book also delves into the folklore of the south coast and contrasts a survey of local superstitions carried out by pioneering folklorist, Charlotte Latham in Sussex in 1868, with the findings of the Secret Shore folklore survey carried out in 2015.

The book is lavishly illustrated and will make ideal Christmas gift. Copies can be ordered from here 

Secondly, the Project has launched a CD of Traditional songs & shanties of the South Coast towns. They are brought to life by local singers who learnt them at workshops run by Emily Longhurst and Chris Hare, as part of the Secret Shore project managed by the South Downs Society. The words to all the songs are included inside, so that you can learn them yourself.

The Secret Shore project, managed by the South Downs Society, was funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund and this CD is the culmination of the project.

Copies of the book can be ordered here.

Well done Chris!

Sunday 23 October 2016

BBC footage of the recent Belloc walk in Sussex...

Further to the last post you can watch the BBC South programme which, amongst other things, contains footage of the recent Belloc Walk here.

Monday 10 October 2016

BBC Programme this Sunday: Craig Henderson celebrates the remarkable Sussex landscapes that have inspired generations of writers...

This Sunday at 3.45 'Craig Henderson celebrates the remarkable Sussex landscapes that have inspired generations of writers, as he journeys from the mud and unpredictable tides of Chichester harbour to the South Downs national park. Among the authors offering unique insights into how writers capture a sense of place are best-selling novelists Kate Mosse and Jane Rusbridge.'
The programme can be viewed on BBC 1 in the 'South'. 

During the programme there will be footage of the recent Belloc inspired Walk to the Devil's Jumps which was filmed by the BBC. According to them, and as previously mentioned, 'the whole event gave a real ‘sense of place’ – that’s a BBC desire at the moment – local programming that delivers for local people… '.

Among the authors offering unique insights into how writers capture a sense of place are best-selling novelists Kate Mosse and Jane Rusbridge.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

The recent Walk. Film footage on You Tube...

I'm sorry to mention the recent Walk, again, but some You Tube footage of the event has emerged. Full marks to Chris Evans of Redwood TV for a first class standard of production.

Further footage will be shown by the BBC during the slot before 'Songs of Praise' (on Sunday the 16th of October). According to them 'the whole event gave a real ‘sense of place’ – that’s a BBC desire at the moment – local programming that delivers for local people… ' So there we have it.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

The Walk around the Devil's Jump in Sussex...

The Walk around the Devil's Jump in Sussex, on Sunday the 31st of July, was a great success.

We met at the Royal Oak pub at Hooksway just north of Chichester. A Real Pub with Real Ale located on the South Downs Way. You could easily miss it, secluded as it is in a small valley down a dead end. The pub is the only remaining part of a small village which existed on this site but was wiped out by plague as were, it seems, several other small villages in this area.

From the Royal Oak we walked the two miles or so to the Devil's Jumps. The Jumps are a series of Bronze Age burial mounds that are aligned to face the setting Sun on the Summer solstice. In fact only one of the mounds contains a burial, so the other mounds are probably ceremonial markers. This part of the Downs is steeped in folklore and literary associations: Hilaire Belloc, W.H.Hudson and Arthur Beckett all walked this way.

After a brief Talk, by the veteran Bellocian and Sussex Folk Singer Chris Hare, we recited some of Belloc's poems and sang a few Ditties. Many thanks go to Nick Flint, who is the Vicar of Rusper and author of Cautionary Pilgrim - Walking Backwards with Belloc, for weighing in with some of his own favourites from the writings of the great man. Nick is Sussex born and bred and grew up with The Four Men. During the course of writing Cautionary Pilgrim Nick discovered that he was distantly related to Mad Jack Fuller. An interesting forbear!

On our return to the pub we attempted to get served (not far shy of a hundred people) sang a few songs, exchanged stories and, amongst other things, talked about Belloc under the watchful eye of the BBC. They filmed everything and will be including some of the footage during a Programme due to be broadcast during the slot before 'Songs of Praise' (on Sunday the 16th of October). According to them 'the whole event gave a real ‘sense of place’ – that’s a BBC desire at the moment – local programming that delivers for local people… ' So there we have it.

It should be added that we blasted the Royal Oak with music and so now it's time to unashamedly plug Chris Hare's South Downs Folk Singers. Without them Sussex would be a poorer place...

Thursday 7 July 2016

The next walk in Belloc's Sussex...

An invitation from the veteran Bellocian Chris Hare:

''How would you like to come on a walk to one of the most beautiful, remote and mystical points on the South Downs and then end our ramble with some songs in a real country pub?

I am hoping that your answer to these questions is a rousing 'yes'!

This is my plan: we meet in the car park of the Royal Oak pub at Hooksway north of Chichester at 4pm on Sunday 31st July.

From here we walk the two miles or so to the Devil's Jumps. And what, I hear you ask, are the Devil's Jumps? They are a series of Bronze Age burial mounds that are aligned to face the setting sun on the summer solstice. I say they are burial mounds, but actually only one of the mounds contains a burial, so the other mounds are probably ceremonial markers. This part of the Downs is steeped in folklore and literary associations. Hilaire Belloc, W.H.Hudson and Arthur Beckett all walked this way.

Although the walk is not long in distance it is steep in places, so please bear this in mind before taking part!

On our return to the pub car park we can sing songs, have a drink or two and even enjoy a meal. Dave at the Royal Oak is kindly opening just for us (they do not normally open on Sunday or Monday evenings).

If you have been to Hooksway and the Devil's Jumps before you will know how glorious the Downs are at this point. If it is your first visit you will be in for a treat I promise you! I will talk about the history and folklore at various points on the walk. The Rev. Nick Flint, Vicar of Rusper, who has written a book following in the footsteps of Hilaire Belloc will also be joining us.

If you would like to book a table and order a meal, please contact Dave at the Royal Oak. Their menu is on the pub website - www.royaloakhooksway.co.uk and you can call the pub on 01243 535257.

I would expect us to be back at the pub by 6/ 6.30pm. Some people may like to go home at this point or stay for convivial company - the choice is yours!

I do hope you can join us. Late afternoon/ early evening is the most atmospheric time to visit the Devil's Jumps. Keep an eye out for gamboling fairies!''

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Another Review for Jim Malia's book 'In Belloc's Steps'...

Grimsell Pass

Jim Malia read Hilaire Belloc's Path to Rome under the desk at school aged 16 and decided that one day he would follow Belloc's own pilgrimage of a century earlier. Unlike Belloc, who managed this feat in 29 days - including wheeled transport  when desperate - Malia took four years, starting in the year 2000, breaking off for a funeral back in Britain and then resuming in 2003. Anyone who has undertaken a similar project will recognise the blisters, the rain, the pleasure of good wine, the rigours of tent life and the relief of an occasional lift by car. Malia is an entertaining writer. He includes maps and details of welcoming hostelries along the way for those who want to emulate him.

Francis Phillips - Catholic Herald April the 8th 2016.

Monday 18 April 2016

'An Audience With Belloc in Words, Song and Music' at his home Village of Shipley...

SUNDAY 1ST MAY 6.30pm Shipley Church RH13 8PH 

‘An Audience with Hilaire Belloc in Words, Song and Music’. 

The programme will include Shipley 2016 commission ‘Goodwood by the Sea,’ past Shipley Arts commission Cecilia McDowall’s ‘Great Hills,’ J.S.Bach Brandenburgh Concerto no.4, Stephanie Cant’s ‘Wedding Songs’ performed by the composer, and Belloc’s poems and readings recited by actor David Stephens in a theatrical interpretation directed by Ann Feloy.

The price is £18 but there are a limited number of discounted tickets. I may, also, be able to give a few people a lift from London. Please e-mail me to find out more:

On a personal note Ann Feloy writes:

''I have chosen poems and songs that reflect the diverse character of Belloc and his passions - from his love of the Sussex countryside and the sea to his witty verses and humorous 'folk' songs and his deep spirituality.

I collaborated with Andrew Bernardi, who himself is a virtuoso violinist and will be playing his Stradivarius during the evening, when choosing the musical pieces we felt reflected Belloc - Vaughan William, Elgar etc. 

We hope we have crafted a magical and unforgettable evening that will summon the spirit of Belloc.''

Thursday 10 March 2016

"In Belloc's Steps" by Jim Malia...

Château de Joux in the Juras

Hilaire Belloc set off for Rome at the turn of the nineteenth century from the garrison town of Toul on the banks of the Moselle, determined to reach the Eternal City within one month, in time that is, for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. He succeeded and wrote up the experience in his beloved 'Path to Rome'. Jim Malia, a devoted literary disciple of Hilaire, followed in his master's steps from Toul to Rome and wrote up the experience in his recently published work: 'In Belloc's Steps'. Therein Jim describes in some detail the various towns, villages, mountain heights and valleys he passed through in the imagined company of his literary friend, over the Vosges, the Juras, the Alps, by the Lakes, across the Apennines to Rome. A major difference in the two books is that whereas Belloc took twenty nine days to complete the walk, Jim took four years - whereby hangs a tale.

Both pilgrims suffered severe setbacks on the walk. Driven back by Arctic blizzards, raging winds and whirling snow, Belloc was denied the Gries Pass. Forced off the direct line to Rome he made his way sullenly along the Furka Pass into Italy - 'as easy as going up Saint James's Street and down Picadilly'. Jim on the other hand conquered the Gries Pass in glorious sunshine and entered Italy triumphantly by the Formazza Valley. That however was as far as the Fates would allow. Misfortune followed misfortune climaxing in the freezing chill of the Apennines forcing Jim to take wheeled transport and to enter Rome like a common tourist.

The weather however favoured him. Whereas Belloc plodded in mud and rain Jim made his way along the mountain range in continuing sunshine, Viterbo, Siena, Piza, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. It was not the cities or even the villages however that interested Jim so much as the people he met on his odyssey: the fisherman of Villey le Sec, the young reporter at Charmes, the pious people of Undervelier, the kindly innkeeper at Riale, the friendly villagers of Castagne, the delightful family of Viterbo.

Interesting, exciting even dangerous at times though his path to Rome had been, it was the last episode which provided a fitting climax: Jim's visit to La Celle Saint Cloud, the village church and the statue of Our Lady, one of such beauty, Hilaire remarked, that it had moved him to go on pilgrimage to Rome and see all Europe which the Christian faith had saved. Which he did.

"In Belloc's Steps" by Jim Malia. Obtainable at:

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Belloc and His World - November/December issue of STAR...

I highly recommend the November/December 2015 edition of STAR. It's pretty much a feast for Bellocian eyes. Full marks to the Editor Joe Pearce. Here is an extract from an article, by Tod Worner, entitled “On Pilgrimage and Sacramentality: Hilaire Belloc’s The Four Men” (and the rest follows below):

''Recently, upon reading Hilaire Belloc’s classic The Four Men, I came to a new appreciation: the virtue of “re-reading”. The first read, I have learned, always tells you what happened, but each subsequent read tells you what it means. There is no better work to re-read than a book about a pilgrimage. Especially one described by Hilaire Belloc. We care where the pilgrimage takes us. But we care even more what the pilgrimage means.

Belloc opens his extraordinary journey having found himself in a state—a funk—in which we all may find ourselves sooner or later. It is the bittersweet position of taking stock in our life when, in a moment of naked honesty and true poignancy, we find we have strayed from our intended path. Belloc’s moment came on the twenty-ninth of October, 1902 to be exact. He was in an English inn known as the “George” at Robertsbridge. Nursing port and staring at the fire, the intense, brooding Belloc arrived at a harsh conclusion: You are missing what matters...''

Tuesday 5 January 2016

When Jesus Christ was four years old...

Set to music by Peter Warlock...

When Jesus Christ was four years old,
The angels brought Him toys of gold,
Which no man ever had bought or sold.

And yet with these He would not play.
He made Him small fowl out of clay,
And blessed them till they flew away:
Tu creasti Domine

Jesus Christ, Thou child so wise,
Bless mine hands and fill mine eyes,
And bring my soul to Paradise.

From Songs - 1923