Notes from The Bookshop…

Writing from within the quaint, beamy interior of The Bookshop it is hard to remember that this area, The Ashdown Forest, sat at the heart of the British Modernist movement. In November 1913 WB Yeats rented rooms in Stone Cottage, Coleman’s Hatch, which he described as “on the edge of Ashdown Forest… a most perfect and most lonely place, and only an hour and a half from London”. In Stone Cottage James Longenbach tells the story of Yeats and Ezra Pound’s time developing their modernist ideas, studying Noh drama, Chinese poetry, demonology and folklore.

Modernism was a creeping movement from the mid-1800s seeking to express dissatisfaction with the past and a desire for change. With the outbreak of WW1 development accelerated, fuelled by the despair of frontline soldiers who brought tropes of ugliness and disillusionment into contemporary writing not seen before. At home Yeats and Pound worked to popularise these new ways of writing and thinking.

In 1925 A A Milne bought Cotchford Farm, Hartfield. Already a successful playwright, journalist and with his first collection of poems (When We Were Very Young) doing well, it didn’t take long for the surrounding forest to emerge in Winnie the Pooh (1926). In his new biography of Christopher Milne, Remembering Christopher Robin, Kevin J Last describes Pooh as a form of modernism, breaking with the past and seeking solace from the aftermath of the War, subsequent political turmoil and industrialisation. The stories are also, suggests Last, a form of therapy for A A Milne who suffered badly from shell-shock. However, for Christopher Milne the stories were anything but therapeutic, giving him early and unwanted notoriety only made bearable by the memories of growing up in the rural innocence of the Ashdown Forest, the main form of stability and constancy in his childhood.

The forest of course provides stability and constancy to most of us living within its surrounds. There are many books providing wonderful photographic images of people and places. Last year we were delighted to welcome Craig Payne and James Adler to The Bookshop to talk about climate change on the forest, as shown in their book Through the Seasons on Ashdown Forest. This is a collection of Paynes wonderful photographs taken during the Covid lockdowns. Adler, then CEO of The Ashdown Forest, added beautiful words at the start of each section describing the flora and fauna, as well as the seasonal activities. We were deeply saddened to learn of his’ death in May. He was a visionary, steeped in the environment who brought a sense of optimism with him.

The Bookshop tries to hold a good selection of local titles in stock. One of the quirks of Independent Bookshops is a next day delivery service from our Distributor, so we can always get hold of new titles within 24 hours. We spend some time searching for books which have gone out of print to ensure they don’t disappear from our shelves! So come and have a look – and if you can’t find what you want, just ask – we pride ourselves on being able to find most things for you!
By Helen Scott