Stories from the Barn

A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands

Richard Jefferies Natural Historian

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Richard Jefferies natural historian, was a close observer of nature and prosaic writer.

The writing of Richard Jefferies, natural historian, deserves a special place on everyones book shelf. His lyrical, almost poetic account of the British countryside and rural life has a magic all of its own.

Richard Jefferies was born in 1842 at Coate Farm in North Wiltshire. In character he was rather remote and reserved and as a young man, his neighbours had little good to say about him. Jefferies father was a farmer but Richard had little aptitude for farming, preferring solitary walks in his beloved Wiltshire Downs.

However Richard was a voracious reader and with an aptitude for words, began writing descriptive articles for the North Wilts Advertiser. He soon acquired great popularity with his local readership with articles of an agricultural and historical bent. Richard moved to London and made a name for himself writing books and magazine articles. The books he wrote were redolent with the air of the countryside. The picturesque and graphic style in which he wrote charmed city dwellers and drew them to the rural settings.

Richard Jefferies natural historian

The Wiltshire Downs

Richard Jefferies books.

Jefferies moved to London in 1877, three years after he married Miss Jessie Baden of Day House Farm in Coate. His writing began to mature and develop. Early works and observations made in the rural setting began as observations down the barrel of a sports mans gun. This changed and observation of animals and plants became the focal purpose of the activity. By 1877 he had written The Gamekeeper at Home, Wild Life in a Southern County, The Amateur Poacher, Round About a Great Estate and Hodge and His Masters. These books showed him to be a brilliant observer of nature and detail and have a pure delight in nature.

His observation and writing is so intense, it becomes compelling to think that Jefferies was writing seeking deeper meanings to the life he saw around him. It seems that although he is interested in scientific discovery and process he is forming ideas of a deeper influence. Not necessarily religious but more Mother Earth. It is interesting to note that he rejected the Darwinian theory of evolution, denouncing it as ‘a modern superstition’. In this he is almost saying nothing can explain that which I am observing.


From the essay ‘Clematis Lane’.

Richard Jefferies essays contain some of his beautiful work, from ‘Clematis Lane’ he writes this observation of the Sussex Downs.

“Here it was pleasant to look back upon the beech woods at the foot of the great Downs, and far over the endless fields of the Weald or plain. Thirty fields could be counted in succession, one after the other, like irregular chess-squares, some corn, some grass, and these only extended to the first undulation, where the woods hid the fields behind them. But beyond these, in reality, succeeded another series of fields to the second undulation, and still a third series to the farthest undulation visible. Yet farther there was a faint line of hills, a dark cloud-like bank in the extreme distance. “

Richard Jefferies downland

Downland Scenery

Wild Life in a Southern County a beautiful Richard Jefferies book of the Downlands.

Not only does he write about landscape and the natural world, he writes about rural life and communities. His book, Wild Life in a Southern County follows the course of a stream from the chalk uplands.  Jefferies describes the scene as it winds its way through the countryside before it breaks into the rural community below. He is as much an observer of rural life as he is of the natural world. He is perceptive as he turns his keen eye to detail the lives of people living there. Therefore for us now it is a historical reference for a lifestyle that has all but disappeared.

Reading a Jefferies book is a never ending journey of discovery into nature. This is why we have included Wild Life in a Southern County as one of the books in the Country Ways Book Box. Unsurpassed writing of the British landscape and countryside.

A place to go, the Richard Jefferies Museum.

Visit the Richard Jefferies Museum in Coate in Wiltshire. Immerse yourself in the landscape of Richard Jefferies. Find out more about what made him such an observer of the natural world and rural life.