Knutsford Literary Festival, October 2018

As a prelude to the main festival this year, Knutsford launched a series of “Proms”, supporting their theme of ‘Outstanding Women’. Mrs. Gaskell, the novelist and Alison Uttley had both lived in Knutsford and were the chosen women. As an echo of Alison’s novel, “Traveller in Time”, a train travelling from Chester to Manchester surprised and charmed the passengers with actresses representing the two writers, reading from their works. Local dignitaries joined the train at several stops, culminating in the train being met in Manchester by the Lord Mayor.

Another event saw Cheshire Public Records department giving talks and displaying portraits drawn by C.F.Tunnicliffe, one of Alison Uttley’s favourite illustrators. He drew pictures for Alison’s books of country essays. Sadly, these are not in print at present but available as second hand copies on the internet. We hope that some enterprising publisher will re-issue them soon.

Finally, Manchester Airport sponsored a summer tea party at Tabley Hall, owned by Alison’s old university, Manchester. It was a beautiful warm afternoon and the airport was very generous, also giving everyone a copy of one of the Little Grey Rabbit books. I gave a lecture on AU’s life and work, endeavouring to show what modern research has high lighted in her work,  a 21st century reappraisal. Today, we find her picture of late nineteenth century agricultural life not only delightful but also historically important, as it was disappearing even in her lifetime. The country festivals and folk lore are all there in her essays and stories. Her belief in the value of dreams and imagination bring her into modern psychology. She was also a pioneering single parent after her husband’s suicide and proved herself to be an acute business woman.

A lively discussion followed my talk with those present showing an eager interest in the  ecological themes raised in her work.

The sun was setting over the Cheshire countryside as we made our way down the unlit narrow tracks, back to the main road and Knutsford. A memorable evening!

Sheila Griffiths

Ashburne Hall Archivist, University of Manchester