The Enchanted Country – Hampshire celebrates Ursula Moray Williams’s
Several generations of children have enjoyed books written – and in many cases illustrated – by Ursula Moray Williams, such as Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and
Adventures of the Little Horse. She wrote 68 books between 1931 and 1987, which can be enjoyed by a wide range of age-groups, and she used a variety of styles of illustrations, from lively figure-drawings to intricate scissor-cuts. The centenary of her birth on 19 April 1911 is being celebrated through a series of events, mainly in herhome county of Hampshire, providing a chance to celebrate her long career, and theways in which her early surroundings inspired the characters and settings in many of her books.
An exhibition, The Enchanted Country: the extraordinary world of Ursula Moray
Williams, is touring venues in Hampshire and elsewhere. Using copies of photographs
and other archive material provided by her family, it tells the story of Ursula’s life and career, and in particular will explore the ways in which her Hampshire childhood influenced her writing. Her early years growing up as a twin near Petersfield, playing with hobby-horses and walking past a shop which sold wooden model horses,influenced such books as The Twins and their Ponies as well as Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse. From the age of 11 until her marriage she lived at North Stoneham Park, between Eastleigh and Southampton, a magnificent, yet unfinished and dilapidated, mansion set in magical grounds, which inspired such books as A Castle for John-Peter, Grandpapa’s Folly and the Woodworm-Bookworm, and
Bogwoppit – which features cuddly yet ferocious animals living beneath a mansion
closely based on North Stoneham. She was a keen member of the local Girl Guides,
and many of her early stories were written for Hampshire Brownies. The exhibition
also covers her later life, showing how her work as a juvenile court magistrate
inspired her to include children from troubled backgrounds in her later writing.
Copies of early editions of many of her books, and translations into other languages
of some popular works, are included in the display, together with two toy Bogwoppits
made by Ursula herself. Browsing copies of a selection of the books are also being
made available for visitors to enjoy.
The exhibition is now on show in the foyer of Hampshire Record Office in
Winchester, where it will remain until 28 June. The foyer is open on Mondays-
Fridays, 9am-5pm, and Saturdays 9am-4pm (closed 22-25 April, 29 April, 2 May and
30 May). It will then tour to Surrey History Centre in Woking from late July until theend of August, returning to Hampshire for showings at Petersfield Museum, 5 Sept-20Oct, and Eastleigh Museum in Nov-Dec, before heading north to Tewkesbury Library
A number of events have been arranged to complement the exhibition. The first
full biography of the author, Through the Magic Door: Ursula Moray Williams,
Gobbolino and the Little Wooden Horse, was published by Northumbria Press on the
same day that the Winchester exhibition opened. Its author, Colin Davison, who has
collected the material for the exhibition, will be giving a number of talks including a free half-hour lunchtime lecture in Hampshire Record Office at 1.15pm on Thursday 28 April, ‘Through the Magic Door: the extraordinary life and work of Ursula Moray Williams’ (no booking required). Colin will also be speaking at Surrey History Centre on 23 July and at Petersfield Museum on 24 October, and a number of children’s events are being planned, including the chance to make a collage, Ursula Moray Williams-style, at Petersfield Museum in half term week, 25-29 October.
A special evening has been arranged at Hampshire Record Office on Wednesday
11 May, 7pm-9pm. Colin Davison will speak in more detail about her links with
Hampshire, including North Stoneham, and Harry Willis Fleming will set this in the
context of the story of this mansion, built for his family in the first half of the 19th century. Light refreshments will be available, there will be a chance to meet two of Ursula Moray Williams’s sons, get copies of the biography signed by Colin Davison,and see an additional display. The evening costs £7.50 per person, and advance booking is essential, on 01962 846154.
More information about the events at Hampshire Record Office can be found
at www3.hants.gov.uk/archives/whatson-hro.htm or by phoning 01962 846154.
Surrey History Centre’s website is at www.surreycc.gov.uk/surreyhistorycentre
and information about Petersfield and Eastleigh Museums can be found at
www.petersfieldmuseum.co.uk and www3.hants.gov.uk/museum/eastleigh-museum
Hampshire Record Office
01962 846146 / 846154