Honouring the county’s favourite writer son

New blue plaque unveiled
New blue plaque unveiled

WRITER H E Bates may have left Northamptonshire not long after he was married, but there are references to his home town throughout his works of fiction.

The author took inspiration from the countryside around his home in Rushden, which he would explore on long walks with his grandfather.

His love for the county was repaid last week with a new blue plaque unveiled on his former home in Essex Road, Rushden.

Herbert Ernest Bates was born on May 16, 1905, to parents Albert and Lucy Bates, who lived at 51 Grove Road.

He was the first boy to be christened at the new Wesleyan Methodist Church, built alongside the old one, in Park Road.

He started school at Newton Road and went on to Kettering Grammar School, where his English teacher Edmund Kirby would become a huge influence on his literature and poetry.

Another key role model in Bates’s young life was his grandfather Charles Lucas, a shoemaker, who would take him on long walks into the countryside around Rushden.

He would also entertain his grandson with tales as they walked, and this would sow the seed for his love of storytelling.

Bates left school at 16 and got a job as a junior reporter on the Northampton Chronicle, based at the Wellingborough office.

He quickly discovered this wasn’t for him and started work as a clerk for a leather merchant in Rushden. It was there that he wrote his first novel The Two Sisters.

The book was rejected by nine publishers. The 10th agreed to publish it. H E Bates was just 21.

H E married Majorie Cox in 1931 and the couple moved to Kent where they bought an old granary and renovated it.

He enlisted in the RAF and during the Second World War he continued to write using the pseudonym Flying Officer X.

But his childhood in Northamptonshire would continue to influence his writing.

Love For Lydia, for example, was inspired by a visit to Rushden Hall and the town was renamed Evensford in the novel.

His real life uncle Joseph Betts is also thought to have been the inspiration for the character Uncle Silas, who appeared in a series of stories.

Local historian Eric Fowell has done a great deal of research on H E Bates and put together an exhibition about the author earlier this year.

He said: “H E Bates really has put Rushden on the map.

“Some of his stories, particularly his country stories, are very nice and have lots of references to this area. He talks about shops on the High Street at the time.

“There are also references with some of his characters, which some people didn’t think much of! He knew so many people.

“It is just amazing, you see his stories around the town. He had a real gift for it.”

H E went on to publish three autobiographies, The Vanished World, The Blossoming World and The World In Ripeness.

He also wrote a book about gardening and had a second published posthumously.

He died in 1973, just six months after receiving a CBE.

He never got to see the success of the TV series The Darling Buds of May, based on the first of Bates’s Larkin novels and starring David Jason, produced by his son Richard.