Down the River by H E Bates (1937-1979)

Having posted about the 1987 (50th) edition of this book, I began to look for earlier versions which I soon realised had wood-engravings for illustrations - I just love wood-cuts. It soon became clear that the first edition of 1937 had been reprinted in 1968 and 1979 and these editions used the same illustrations. Although I prevaricated (I like using that word), when eBay advertised a copy of the 1979 edition for less than £4:00 I couldn't resist buying another copy.

The hardbacked copy came with its original dust jacket complete with a charming illustration. The book boasts 83 wood-engravings; some full page, some included in the text and some decorating the chapter headings.

Lace Making

The book has a much more old-fashioned feel to it than my later edition and this version has paper quality which is surprisingly heavy gauge. It is altogether a better version printed and produced version as long you appreciate, as I do, the black and white engravings.

Title Page

Agnes Miller Parker's illustrations are extraordinary and invoke some of the same atmosphere as the Denys Watkins-Pichford work later had in Tom Rolt's Narrow Boat.

One example of just how "alive" the engravings are is the group of illustrations that accompany the story of Quintus that Bates relates when discussing the characters that lived near his home close to the Nene. It is a story of  the close (and somewhat ambivalent) connection working-people had with their pigs in the early 20th century. Bates' grandfather and his friend Quintus used to spend long periods admiring their pig and discuss her litters. Many in our Northamptonshire village also kept pigs; I bet they had similar discussions. The writing describing the characters and their views of life is first rate, but just add a few wood-cuts and it moves to another plane.

Quintus, pigs and piglets

According to the dust jacket, which contains a reprinted a review from The Observer published in 1937, "Very few modern books  have been so brilliantly illustrated". Over eighty years later I would certainly agree.

 Look out for copies of this edition from the usual on-line sources - you won't be disappointed and they probably won't be expensive.