Voices of Akenfield – Ronald Blythe

I took this on the plane as I was on hand luggage only and it is very slim at only 125 pages.  This is an edited version of Blythe’s interviews with various residents of ‘Akenfield’ in Suffolk.  During the 1960s he travelled around interviewing residents of Suffolk villages in order to record accounts of a country life that was now disappearing.  Akenfield is a fictional village based on a composite of the villages he visited.

This is a book full of interesting oral history accounts with farmers, teachers, district nurses and the village gravedigger, amongst others.  It is easy to imagine a country idyll but this book makes it clear that country living was extremely difficult.  One man talks of his desire to sign up for the army during World War I due to the fact that it was less strenuous and you had a better diet; “village people in my day were literally worked to death.  It literally happened… I am not complaining about it.   It is what happened to me ” , (well, presumably he wasn’t literally worked to death but it makes you think).   During that time church bells tolled to announce a  death, there were a certain number for a man or woman, then their age.  Seventeen pints of beer were also available per day for those who brought the harvest in, although I think that it might have been difficult after that amount.  Lambs were castrated with aid of the shepherd’s teeth.One gardener recounted working for the Lord and Lady of the manor who would rather run them over than have to speak to them to say “get out of the way” and how their maids had to turn and face the wall when they walked past. The district nurse also has some tales of disease and malnutrition.

It may sound a bit gloomy but it is an interesting overview of life in the first part of the 20th century and this version is probably much easier that his fully book Akenfield.

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