"Reuben's Corner" is one of those tatty little paperbacks that has hung around for a long time, has been picked up on countless occasions and is now looking rather the worse for wear. It's a simple story of Spike Mays' childhood in the early part of the twentieth century. The reviewer from The Sunday Times, no less, thought it a better book than 'Cider with Rosie', so it's a mystery why it has so long been out of print; though second-hand copies are available at very reasonable prices. And Mr Mays just happened to grow up in Ashdon, in Steventon End, Ashdon to be precise. I've long wanted to pay a visit to see if anything remained of Reuben's Corner.
I don't usually take much notice of Anonymous but I was glad to receive this information:
If you weren't aware, Mays's book has recently been republished (by Abacus) with a 'Misery Lit'-style cover and cringeworthy renaming: "The Only Way Was Essex". Available now from all good booksellers, tax-dodging online retailers and doubtless an aisle in Tesco, alongside all those other identically-marketed "We was poor but happy" memoirs.
(non-British readers may need to know that The Only Way IS Essex is the name of a TV programme in the UK - no, you don't want to see it!)
Walton's Park was where Spike Mays worked as a houseboy on leaving school. By poking a camera over the top of the wall I was able to get a view of the house.
This moved Penelope to share this snippet:
I walked on past Place Farm, where he worked later. In the prologue he remembers the farmhands walking to work in the early morning - Toe-Rag Smith, Walt Stalley, Poddy Coote, Wuddy Smith - their cheerful voices and the plod of their hobnailed boots on the gravel road. No sound of boots now; everyone had driven off in their cars to work in town. Instead a woman jogged by in pink running shoes!
More recently, 14 July 2015, Jan Pearson added a comment:
I have just discovered this - albeit a bit late in the day - and was delighted to see Toe-Rag Smith get a mention. He was my Great-Grandfather!
Kathy Bowry commented on 16 December 2013
My mother Marion Weir 'found' Spike for Eyre Methuen when general book editor there and editing Colonel A D Wintle's diaries. (Spike was his batman in the Royal Dragoons). All Spike's books are still a brilliant read and it is marvellous that he is still in print.
Kathy Bowry was back again on 2 April 2015 to give a further recommendation:
Spike also co-wrote a book with his best friend Chris Ketteridge 'Five miles from Bunkum: a village and its crafts' also published by Eyre Methuen, published 1 January 1972.
Chris Cornwell added on 19 January 2014
I also bought a copy of "The Only Way Was Essex" only to find it was a reprint of "Reuben's Way", itself (presumably) a reprint of "Reuben's Corner". I also googled Mays to find your excellent account of your "pilgrimage". I will be following in your footsteps . . . Richard Church in the Foreword mentions S L Bensusan who wrote about estuary life in Essex..... Finally may I recommend Out of Essex by James Canton, particularly the chapters on Shakespeare and J A Baker.
Thanks again to everyone who has visited and commented.
Interesting to re-read this with the extra comments. It still looks like a place I'd love to visit and I now realise that in the mid 1970s I only lived 4 miles away in Saffron Walden! My time was occupied with two small boys then though so exploring local villages wasn't high on my list of priorities:)ReplyDelete
John, as usual your post is a mine of information with photographs to back it up. Looks such a fascinating place. (and book)ReplyDelete
The English countryside is really an incredibly attractive. Your photos are lovely.ReplyDelete
Great photos of the countryside and interesting buildings.ReplyDelete
Now I want to try to find the book. Your post has sparked my curiosity.ReplyDelete
I bet those books are good books, specially for people from that area. I had seen Cider with Rosie, but had not heard of the other one. Checked my library for both and it has neither one. They are the type of books I like to read.ReplyDelete
Oh, how I love that Place Farm...and would love to see a thatched roof for myself.
I love to visit a place connected with a book and look for familiar things. Even just look out at the landscape that the characters saw. It was really fun to read the comments interspersed.ReplyDelete
Ashdon Halt is my favorite -- barbaraReplyDelete
John, you have such intelligent commenters! From now on I am going to be afraid to add any of my own drivel to your comments.ReplyDelete
My first time reading this post. I found it very interesting and I too would like to read the book. It must have been fun to visit the places mentioned in the book. We like doing that with TV series and visit the villages where they were filmed.ReplyDelete
What a fun postReplyDelete
I have just finished reading this lovely book and discovered your web-site via Google. What a wonderful article and such lovely photos!ReplyDelete
Out of curiosity I was looking up house prices in Ashdon, my home village,Spike Mays was my uncle, and Poppy in the book was my Mother,the delight of hearing of the people I new well, Wuddy,Poddy Coote,and not forgetting Walt Stally,such memories,the book is available on Amazon.ReplyDelete