Monday 28 September 2020

Mary Webb

Mary Webb (1881-1927) is now considered to be the Shropshire novelist. She loved and knew the county intimately. In her novels and poems, she created a timeless landscape peopled with vivid characters whose wisdom illustrates many well observed truths. Her name is synonymous with the landscapes of south-west Shropshire, and in particular the hill country surrounding the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones, of which Pulverbatch is a part.

Mary had always been a lover of the natural world and had a particular affinity for her native Shropshire landscapes. This is a very strong theme in her novels, and her love of nature is exemplified by her detailed and perceptive writings. She was writing poems and essays by the age of 21, but her first novel was The Golden Arrow, published in 1916 while she was living at nearby Pontesbury. It is set in the Church Stretton area, and captures the brooding essence of the Long Mynd, which she named the Wilderhope.

Her novels became best sellers for a number of years up to the outbreak of the Second World War but after the war Mary Webb's name was largely forgotten and only in the last ten years has it begun to emerge and her work to be reassessed.

Most of the towns and villages mentioned in her novels under fictitious names are easily identifiable. For example Silverton is Shrewsbury, Mallard's Keep is Bishop's Castle and Slepe is Ratlinghope. Pulverbatch was called Polrebec in her last, unfinished novel Armour wherein he trusted (1926) in which the hero is Gilbert of Polrebec; also Pulverbatch is the ‘Wolfbatch’ of Mary Webb’s novel Gone to Earth, where Jack Reddin, the squire, has a pew in the church.

There are four Mary Webb trails devised to guide you to the places Mary Webb loved, along walks she did many times and to locations she wrote about. There was little that Mary Webb didn't know about the Shropshire countryside, its lanes, hills, valleys and meres, its wildlife and vegetation, its legends and folklore - and its people.