Lark Rise to Candleford

I live about two miles from Lark Rise – or rather from Juniper Hill, the hamlet where Flora Thompson lived during her late-Victorian childhood. Candleford is Buckingham, about eight miles away. Brackley, the town where I live, is occasionally referred to in Thompson’s trilogy as “the market town”; it’s just over the county border, in the Southern tip of Northamptonshire. It seems unlikely that Brackley will feature in the new BBC series, which is based on the contrast between the two places in the books’ titles – and wants to present Lark Rise as isolated and a long way from any town, not just a couple of miles from a fairly busy place . To simplify the Lark Rise /Candleford contrast, they’ve also smudged over the fact that when Laura first left home, she went not to Candleford itself, but to a village just outside the town – Candleford Green in the book, Fringford in real life. .

It seems that to film the programmes the BBC have built a new village, somewhere over on the other side of the Cotswolds. Well, they couldn’t have filmed at Juniper. When you look over the fields from the village these days, you might just possibly see larks ascending, but you will definitely see the busy A43, and the geodesic domes of the Croughton American airbase, one of the largest satellite tracking stations in the country.

I haven’t visited Juniper for a while, but like most hamlets in the area, it has become less and less of a working village over the years. Picturesque cottages command prices way beyond the descendants of the sturdy peasants who feature in the TV programme, and the average villager these days is likely to commute to work in Milton Keynes, or even to London along the M40; his main interests are likely to be his 4×4 and his burglar alarm. Meanwhile the sturdy peasants seek out less picturesque accommodation, and, with council houses in short supply, many drift away from the area. It’s become very different from the traditional self-contained village culture described in Thompson’s books and sentimentalised in the TV series. The Fox pub (a centre of village life in the programme) closed several years ago. It served Hook Norton beer, but was not a great pub – the very loud jukebox always seemed to be playing rather terrible music whenever I visited.

Thompson’s books are an elegy for the old village life, with very little story but lots of little vignettes and observations. Their lack of narrative drive, which might have seemed to make it a TV non-starter, is actually what the enterprising writers have seized on. As the books meander along, there are plenty of little anecdotes, each one of which can be expanded to fill an episode. Unlike the usual “classic serial”, which moves towards a novelistic ending, this series will be able to go for episodic intensity (playing each episode for all its worth, and not building towards any final destination) like a soap, or one of those heartwarming series like Heartbeat.

In the seventies the trilogy was adapted for the National Theatre as a kind of Leavisite folk musical, designed to show the organic world we have lost. The play ended in 1918 with a gathering at the war memorial; Flora’s brother was among the carved names, and the Great War was represented as the turning point after which the village would never again be itself. The play was dramatically effective, but the music was a sort of generalised folk, and not local to the area. Lots of the tunes had a minor-key Irishness which is pretty but has nothing much to do with this part of the world. Such authentic local folk music as survives seems to be mostly jigs for clod-hopping Morris Men.

The TV series promises to be less subtle than either the books or the play, and is packed with “characters” drawn with soap-story obviousness. Apart from an evangelical postman and Dawn French as a jolly drunk, though, the overacting seems less strained than in the recent Cranford (whose director even managed to get an overdone performance out of Imelda Staunton, whose Vera Drake was a wonder of cinematic subtlety). The first episode set up at least one long-running reticent romance that is likely to keep viewers switching on.

Accents were variable, and some were a bit too West-country, but I liked the way that the first episode centred on a niggling local grievance about telegram charges. That’s very typical of the area. The current grievance in Brackley is about parking provision in the market place. We enjoy a good moan.

An important character in yesterday’s episode was Queenie. Back in the late seventies, I taught English to the actual Queenie’s great-grand-daughter, who was a very nice little girl. When she reached her mid-teens she became a punk, but the sort who kept a sweet nature under the overdone mascara.

Anyway, it’s a pleasant enough TV series for a Sunday evening, and will happily add to the nation’s favourite myths about lovable simple country folk.


Added Feb 17th: Anyone interested in the topography and history of the area should take a look at The Lark Rise Loop , a pamphlet by my old friend and colleague, Jim Adams. He has just brought out a second edition to tie in with the TV series. This is a guide to an eleven-mile walk around the Lark Rise country – Brackley, Mixbury, Shelswell, Cottisford, Juniper Hill, Evenley and back to Brackley. Jim has always been a very sturdy walker, and eleven miles are nothing to him, but you don’t have to do the whole loop, of course; my recommendation would be to go from Cottisford to Juniper, over to Evenley for a pint at the Red Lion (where if you sit outside on a summer Saturday you can watch cricket on the village green) and then back again.The pamphlet is full of interesting detail, and profits go to Dogs for the Disabled, an excellent charity based in Banbury. It costs £1 and you can obtain a copy (post free) from:

Brackley Tourist Information,
2, Bridge Street,
NN13 7 EPTel:01280 700111



  1. sharon richards
    Posted January 20, 2008 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    We live in South Warwickshire and thought the countryside looked familiar on Lark Rise to Candleford and having asked the question on a search engine, was pleased to read your very informative and not unnecessarily negative report.Good English too – as opposed to mine!

  2. jasper
    Posted January 27, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Morris Men are not clod-hopping.

  3. Meggly
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I would like to know a bit more about this writers understanding of folk music.

    The creators of the ’79 folk opera were some of the stalwarts of the English Folk sceen at the time and for many years after. And whilst it may not be that easy to pinpoint the exact geographical origins of the songs used in the play they are most definitely English in feel and subject.

    It is common to hear a good English morris tune described as Irish by the uninitiated. Which is a real shame as we have a great and healthy tradition (albeit a little more hidden than that of our neighbours over the Irish sea) that could do with a little more credit where it is due.

  4. Posted February 14, 2008 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    My farily originate from Fringford as well as Chetwode and Preston Bissett in these parts as well.

    It great to see the BBC series and what life was like in them times.

  5. Angus
    Posted March 14, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I love this series on TV. It is rather sad that the real part of the world where this story is set (Oxon/ Bucks) has all but lost its ruralness. At least the lovely West Country (Gloucestershire and Wiltshire) where the TV series was filmed has still got some rural beauty about it! Then again, pretty much all of the West Country is pretty lovely compared to the eye-sore that is the South East! Maybe this series on TV will make you all realise what you have lost forever.

    • Jeremy Young
      Posted January 24, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      eyesore that is the south east? visit kent and sussex

      • Posted January 25, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        Parts of Kent are spoilt too, these days. I was appalled by Rochester a few years ago.
        Actually, the countryside around Juniper Hill is very pleasant, once one gets away from the big roads.

    • Anonymous
      Posted July 18, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      The south east is lovely – parts of London have a lot of character and the coastline is very pretty.

      The area Lark Rise is set in is beautiful and I believe your comment was quite offensive to the residents of the region.

      • Sally Wardrop
        Posted January 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        I quite agree George. And what gives you Angus, the right to sleight the South East. IT IS BEAUTIFUL!!!

    • Peter Hicks
      Posted December 6, 2011 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      I suppose I can understand your pig-ignorance because you’ve never walked the length of the South Downs Way, had lunch at the Cricketers at Berwick, swam in the beautifully warm sea at Cuckmere Haven beneath the Seven Sisters, walked across the Ashdown Forest in Autumn, or canoed up the Arun from Littlehampton to Arundel…Fancy making an ‘eye-sore’ a National Park! Ridiculous!

      • Angus
        Posted October 21, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        Oh Dear! Lets be honest, the South Downs only became a National Park in a rather deperate attempt to protect them from the main roads and urban development that’s ruined pretty much all of the rest of that oh-so-tired-and vandalised-South East region! There is nowhere I can think of where your can’t hear a main road or see a chav-tastick housing development. The West Country has its areas of grott too, but this is the exception; not the rule (Cotswolds, Cornwall coast, Wiltshire Downs, Dorset cliffs, Somerset Moors and devon coombes – I could go on…………….

  6. Posted April 4, 2008 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Good point about the ‘episodic’ nature of the books being an advantage for television. I couldn’t stand the books – I forced myself to finish, but hated their boring, moralistic tone – but am liking the series quite a bit, much to my surprise. (Of course, Julia Sawalha will improve almost anything, so that’s helping.)

  7. Kevin A
    Posted January 25, 2009 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    I was lucky enough to see Lark Rise at the National Theatre back in ’78 or so, and it has stayed with me ever since. Like Meggly I’d question the author’s understanding of folk music, (I’ve still got the album of the cast recording from 1980 somewhere), but otherwise I think this is an interesting and fair piece. I’ve often passed Juniper Hill on the A43 and been tempted to visit, but a quick satellite view on Google Maps suggests its just another commuter dormitory now. Not sure the TV series does the stories any favours, but it’s reasonable sunday night telly, I suppose.

  8. G Brown
    Posted March 8, 2009 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    What a fine piece of soft voiced, stinging sarcasm. Bravo. One almost misses the sneering altogether.

  9. Pete S
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I had to read “Lark Rise” for GCE “O” Level in 1964. Not exactly exciting stuff for a 15 year old about to embark on a career in the Navy! However, comparisons with my local surroundings (rural Surrey), the gradual changes with the passing of time etc., were easily made, and I like to think for that reason some impressions from the book remained with me. The BBC productions, in particular the second series, have reawakened that interest in days gone by and I have once again taken up “Lark Rise” – this time voluntarily!

  10. BigFan
    Posted April 2, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I especially look forward towards watching Lark Rise on tv. The seies is enjoyable in a similar fashin to Little house on the prairie, a show which promoted good wholesome family and community life, old fashioned values, and a looking glass into our past. I only wish the BBC would film a greater number of episodes each year. I could easilly watch an episode every Sunday throughout the year.
    Lark Rise

    • Sylvia
      Posted March 31, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      I totally agree with you, we really could do with more of this kind of television, looking forward to the next series of Larkrise to Candleford.

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 3:04 am | Permalink

      I was happy to see someone else saw the similarity between Little House and Lark Rise. Yes! yes! absolutely! I would love to watch the two series side by side. What a neat comparison that would be, of England and America at the same moment in time.

      Laura Ingalls Wilder – 1867 – 1957
      Flora Timms (Thompson) 1879 – 1947

      First publication of “Little house in the big woods” – 1931

      First publication of “Lark Rise” – 1939

      Both girls are “Laura” in the stories.
      Both dads are the best dads in town.

      Both series did the same thing in that they captured a moment in time that was about to dissappear very soon.

      On a different note – I just found out that the season we just finished watching is the last and that it was cancelled last year *sob sniffle sob* I wanted to go to Laura’s and Dorcas’ and Minnie’s weddings! NO FAIR

  11. The Shadow
    Posted April 3, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Although we missed the first series, both myself and the wife have seen and enjoyed most of season 2. It’s more of a rural soap than an attempt to adapt the books (as can be seen by the fact that they they don’t reveal the author’s name until some way into the titles). It’s none the worse for that, though.

    Olivia Hallinan is very good, although it seems that in almost all of the later episodes she drops into her ‘highly upset’ expression (eyes bulging,mouth open, bottom lip trembling). For some reason I find this hilarious, and have to hold my mirth in check in case my better half gives me a good kick!

    • Sylvia
      Posted March 31, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      Hello there,

      I have just bought series 1 and 2 as a box set from HMV.
      A friend bought it over to me here in Spain, we absolutely love watching it, look forward to the 4th series.

  12. Posted April 3, 2009 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    I gave up on the series after a couple of episodes, as it veered further and further away from the atmosphere of the books. There was a Christmas special, I think, with a corny ghost story, after which I said, “Never again.”

  13. The Shadow
    Posted April 4, 2009 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    I know a number of people who watch the show. When I asked them, none were aware that there was any literary original. You do wonder why they called it LARK RISE… at all, since it seems to have had no influence at all on whether people watched it.

    It’s quite fun as a series, although it has never convinced me that the stories are set in 1895. The characters feel like modern people.

  14. katie
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    The book is shitty as it it too desriptive and too moralistic

    • Peter Hicks
      Posted September 5, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      Dead from the neck upwards…

      • Christine Downey
        Posted September 14, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        As can be seen from the erudite language and precise spelling!

  15. Peter Hicks
    Posted September 5, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    My God, if Ashley Hutchings read your blog he’d kill you!! “Minor key Irish” ?! There wasn’t a single Irish tune in either plays. Ashley and the other members of The Albion Band (esp. John tams) were great champions of English folk music and wouldn’t dream of using Irish music for plays set in 19th century Oxfordshire. One Scottish pipe tune was used, the “Battle of the Somme”, movingly played after Edward’s name is read out from the War Memorial…”E.Timms, that’s me”.
    I saw both plays in ’78 and ’79 at the National, and a revival at the Almeida in ’85. On all occassions the Albion Band’s Music made the plays.
    A good piece of writing was spoilt because of ignorance of the music!

    • Posted September 6, 2009 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      Thanks for setting me right. I’ll take your word for it about the Englishness of the music – but I’ll still maintain that it is mostly not music local to this area.

      • Peter Hicks
        Posted September 8, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        Hello, nice to hear from you.Can I quote to you from, I think, Ashley Hutching’s notes from the album? ‘In LARK RISE the music has a deliberate period flavour, and there are many traditional melodies. Both plays have hymn tunes and music-hall elements, and both have newly-written songs for particualr scenes and characters’.
        Obviously not all the traditional songs were exclusive to Oxfordshire, but I know a lot of the Morris Tunes they used were. Of the new songs, try and hear ‘Snow Falls’ written by John Tams. Exceptional! All the best, Pete Hicks, Brighton.

  16. Jili
    Posted August 29, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Having read the books 30 years ago and having been moved to tears by Lark Rise at the NT in 1978, I settled down happily to watch the DVDs. What a disappointment; these were just country romps with everyone talking BBC yokel. Nothing like the books on which they were supposed to be based.

  17. Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Obviously not all the traditional songs were exclusive to Oxfordshire, but I know a lot of the Morris Tunes they used were. Of the new songs, try and hear ‘Snow Falls’ written by John Tams. Exceptional! All the best, Pete Hicks, Brighton.

  18. Sharmini
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Liked the detail in this commentary

  19. Kari Melisaa John
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    I love the tv series- so sad they are not making any more- the people were so caring, willing to help each other and loved the land and had a strong community – loved Queenie and her folk wisdom. The series has me in tears for what has been lost.

  20. Barbara Daniels
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    I grew up in that same kind of environment in the 1940’s and 1950’s with parents very much like the old English way of thinking. Do you honestly think that a classroom of children would behave so badly? Or that a mother would tell her son that a Finch doesn’t have feelings because her son just destroyed a Finch nest with eggs in it? Or that a woman would have shacked with a man for 40 years before they married? Get real! I was born 150 years later but I still know better than to think that the English people would have behaved so badly. I attended grade school in a 1 room country schoolhouse and the classes, grades 1 through 6 were very well-behaved. Emma Timmins seems not to know that to spare the rod is to spoil the child and they are supposed to be such God-fearing people. What a complete work of horrible fiction this is.

  21. Birgit Annelore Brub
    Posted May 25, 2020 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Dear Sir, I’m really glad to have found this site. At the moment I’m reading “Lark Rise to Candleford”. I am German, living in Kerzenheim, that’s near Ludwigshafen.I lived 10 years in South Africa where I went to English Schools. There I studied at the University of South Africa English, Spanish, German, the Culture of the Ancient Greeks and Philosophy. (Bachelor of Science) After having studied the great masters of literature, I became interested in colloquial literature.Please do note that I am not a snob ! I am a normal person, very much interested in literature. Thanks so much for this blog. Faithfully yours Birgit Annelore Brubacher

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