The story started here: while undertaking the cataloguing of the Edward Thomas archive – the slow and careful process of examining, describing and categorising one man’s belongings – I came across a small, slightly battered envelope marked ’53 prints, Edward Thomas’.
The photos were of locations Thomas had visited over 100 years ago, taken during a cycle ride from London to Somerset, via the cathedral towns of Winchester, Salisbury and Wells over Easter weekend, 1913. The journey was to provide inspiration for his prose work, In Pursuit of Spring – a celebration of nature, Spring and the English landscape in the months prior to the devastation of the First World War.
It is not yet spring. Spring is being dreamed and the dream is more wonderful and more blessed than ever was spring. What the hour of waking will bring forth is not known, catch at the dreams as they hover.
Landscape photographer Rob Hudson visited Special Collections and Archives this time last year, with a general interest in finding out more about the contents of Edward Thomas archive. I showed him notebooks, poems drafts, and letters from the poet, which are the usual objects of interest, and as an afterthought, considering his interest in photography, brought out the little packet of photos. Some had locations pencilled on the reverse, and as we peered and puzzled over the names, I could tell Rob had been struck by inspiration. He placed an order for the photos to be digitised, and produced this fantastic blog post. The post was shared widely across his network on Twitter, and the photos were introduced to the world.
Later that year, Little Toller, described by The Independent as ‘a small but discerning press’, were trying to make a decision. Edward Thomas’ centenary was approaching: should they publish The Icknield Way or In Pursuit of Spring? Stumbling across Rob’s blog post while researching online, an idea grew. What if In Pursuit of Spring could be reprinted, fully illustrated with the snapshots which had inspired its author? Images of a lost, almost car-less England, full of empty roads and paths, speaking of travel, motion and hope.
Following discussions with the Edward Thomas Estate, permission was granted to publish the photos in print for the first time, in a brand new edition of the work. Little Toller’s handsome edition of In Pursuit of Spring went on sale on 3 March, Edward Thomas’ birthday, and sold out in just four weeks. Another print run has just taken place, and it is just as well, given that the work has caught the attention of the national media. The Guardian has run an excellent feature which compares the historic images with photos taken in the same locations in the modern day – readers can use the blue sliders on each image to compare then and now.
In Pursuit of Spring was to be one of Thomas’ last prose works. He is now better remembered for his poetry, such as In Memoriam, written only two years later, at yet another Easter, in 1915:
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
In his post, Rob Hudson writes:
That is the final connection with Easter for this story; the Easter 1913 when he set out, in pursuit of Spring; the Easter Monday 1915 of In Memoriam; and Easter Monday 1917, at Arras where he died. Easter, of course, is when we traditionally celebrate the Resurrection, and it is perhaps fitting that Edward Thomas’ words and now his photographs outlive him.
Special Collections and Archives would like to thank Rob Hudson and Little Toller for their role in enabling these images, and Thomas’ work, to reach and be enjoyed by a new generation of readers. All photographs can be viewed on our Pinterest board.