The Summer People
by Roy Alan Preece
The Summer People: Life on the Somerset Levels is a charming memoir of life and work in a Somerset village as experienced by a boy in the 1940s and '50s, a time when children could roam freely and safely over fields, farms and workshops of the secret countryside of the Levels. For centuries the fertile Somerset Levels flooded each winter, forcing the people to migrate to higher land and surrounding hills; hence the ancient county name, Somerset, meaning 'land of the summer people.’ The 50s were a short and unique period when the English countryside was flourishing after the war, but destructive modern farming was still mostly in the future. Farm practice in fact had many of the characteristics of what is now called Regenerative Farming, with use of grassland and traditional resilient breeds of cattle.
The author introduces local customs and festivals, the impact of the war, the rich variety of characters who passed along the village street in those days, how vestiges of the annual migrations still linger, how he learned traditional farming skills as he grew older, and the fascinating histories of the ingenious machines used in haymaking and harvesting, now obsolete and unfamiliar. While expressing the interest, satisfaction and beauty of rural life, the author is realistic about the hard labour involved, the ever present danger from water and floods and the impact of mechanisation on the rhythms of life.
Roy Preece grew up in the secret countryside of the Somerset Moors at a time when children could roam freely and safely over fields, farms and workshops. At age eleven he could put in a ten-hour day driving a tractor at hay-making, and learned many other skills, now largely redundant. He was fascinated by the ingenious farm machinery of the period and considers himself fortunate that his grandfather took him to see many traditional, but dying, activities such as the wheel-wright’s and wagon builder’s
In the years of austerity and rationing after the war, the brilliant headmaster of Roy’ traditional country grammar school, who had worked on radar research but had grown up on a farm too, was happy after school to put on overalls and feed the pigs which he kept to supplement the pupils’ diet. The boys marked out the games pitches, put up the goal posts and even stoked the school boilers. Roy trained first as a scientist and then as an environmental designer with a particular interest in the history of ideas in landscape design. He has spent most of his working life as a tutor, producing several books and a variety of articles, but he still believes in a self-reliant life and maintains this deeply felt practical side to his life by inventing, building, making furniture, and maintaining and sailing an old sail boat. Now retired, he lives in Oxfordshire with his wife and two cats.
Publication date: March 2023
Format: 12 x 2 x 18 cm, 242pp, hardcover, 24 greyscale and line drawn illustrations, including 11 original drawings by Taiwanese
illustrator Jian Zhi Qiu.
Note. The Summer People is a complementary companion volume to the author's previously published work, The World is a Bundle of Hay, whose first print run has sold out and which is currently being reprinted. Summer People deals mainly with summer activities on the Somerset Levels while the previous volume describes more winter activities; but each volume is complete in itself in terms of context and background.