Henry and Richard Williamson

Henry Williamson and children

Henry Williamson, with his children in the onion patch at Shallowford, in about 1936.

Richard is the smallest child, in the centre.

Richard Williamson, writer and naturalist, was born in Barnstaple at Ebberley Nursing Home on 1 August 1935 at the time his father was just finishing the writing of Salar the Salmon. His mother's family lived in Pilton close to Manning's Pit. He told us:

‘I inherited my love of nature from both mother and father. Mother’s Hibbert family, Victorian gentry on both sides (her parents were both Hibberts), had been prolific collectors of bird’s eggs and snail shells, and were landscape water-colour artists of quality in their own right apart from the Frederick Lee connection. Father encouraged my own interest by showing me the nest of rare birds such as terns and wrynecks and taking me camping among the streams to see wild otters and kingfishers. Among several memorable events I particularly remember a walk together round Baggy Point when we watched a peregrine falcon fly down a pigeon over Woolacombe Bay, an absorbing and thrilling sight.

 He also taught all of us children never to drop litter and indeed to clear up other people’s litter. Going for a family bathe at Barricaine Beach at Woolacombe involved first picking up all the rubbish we could find from amongst the urban seaside brigade and burning that in front of them in a large bonfire, much to their amusement and total incomprehension.’

 Tarka the Otter and Salar the Salmon.

These two books of Henry Williamson's are among the most famous and well researched of all books about wild animals. His wife Ida Loetitia Hibbert was Richard Williamson's mother, and Henry met her while researching otter hunting, and described her in the book. She is the young girl on the bank in this excerpt from near the end of the book:

At the beginning of the eighth hour  a scarlet dragon fly whirred and darted over the willow snag, watched by a girl sitting on the bank. Her father, an old man, lank and humped as a heron, was looking out near her. She watched the dragonfly settle on what looked like a piece of bark beside the snag: she heard a sneeze, and saw the otter's whiskers scratch the water. Glancing round, she realised she alone had seen the otter. She flushed, and hid her grey eyes with her lashes. Since childhood she had walked the Devon rivers with her father, looking for flowers and the nests of birds, passing some rocks and treees as old friends, seeing a Spirit everywhere, gentle in thought to all her eyes beheld.

For two minutes the maid sat silent, hardly daring to to look at the river. The dragonfly flew over the pool, seizing flies and tearing them apart in its horny jaws. Her father watched it as it it settled on the snag, rose up, circled and lit on the water, it seemed. Tarka sneezed again, and the dragonfly flew away. A grunt of satisfaction from the old man, a brown hand and wrist holding aloft a hat, a slow intake breath, and,
Tally Ho!

Ida Loetitia's grandmother, Sarah Hibbert, lived in Pilton and was an important person in Henry's life. He called her “Grannie.”

Here is Sarah as a young woman, from a painting done by her father, Frederick R. Lee, R.A. This was sent to us this September by a relative in Australia (a country Sarah's father visited in his yacht, Linda, back in the 1870s.)
Sarah Hibbert
Sarah Hibbert's Cottage
No 2, Bellaire, Pilton
This Cottage was home to Sarah Hibbert in the last years of her life. Henry and Ida would come over by motor bike and side-car to visit her, and Henry would also go down to Manning's Pit to further his researches. He got his inspiration from the many times he walked up and down the rivers of North Devon

Anne Williamson, Henry's daughter in law, says that when Henry received the letter telling him he had won the Hawthornden Prize for “Tarka The Otter,” he was told to keep this news an absolute secret, but he ignored that and wrote straight away to "Grannie," enclosing the very letter. Anne writes:

" She appears to have been unfailingly gracious to him and her experience as an artist's daughter and well travelled woman no doubt gave Henry a sense of empathy. Her letters were always kind and encouraging and would have been very soothing to Henry."

There is more information about Sarah Hibbert and her family at this section of our website.

We would like to thank both Richard and Anne Williamson for their support in both this Exhibition and our general campaign.

For more information about Henry's life and books:
The Henry Williamson Society