Kate Worsley explains the inspiration behind her latest novel, Foxash, set in Foxash Land Settlement Association in Lawford. In 1936, 1,000 unemployed miners and shipbuilders were relocated to 20 locations across England to begin new lives as market gardeners.
Where did the idea come from?
I tripped over it, so to speak. This settlement, Foxash, is practically on my doorstep. I drive through it every time I do a big shop. The look of the place is so distinctive – dozens of these neat little semi-detached brick cottages fronting huge glasshouses with orchards behind – I had to find out more.
How did you research the book?
Initially, I asked local people what they knew about the place. Peter Gant at Manningtree Museum was particularly helpful. I spent a long time at the LSA archive, and a year of Tuesday afternoons shadowing a Foxash smallholder who produced fruit and veg, livestock and flowers, just like my characters do, in order to find out what is involved day to day (I was secretly hoping I’d discover my own green fingers but sadly that didn’t happen). I also spent a lot of time in the British Library. Eventually, I was lucky enough to meet two Foxash residents who had grown up on the estate, who kindly shared their reminiscences with me.
What was the inspiration for Jean and Adam Dell?
Do you know the old saw: when Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? I wanted to reference this in their names, as they represent a life from the time before enclosures, when common land still existed. They are people steeped in rural know-how and superstition; Jean plants and crops by the moon, Adam tests whether the soil is warm enough to sow by lowering his breeches and pressing his buttocks against it. They were to be the absolute opposite of their new neighbours, Lettie and Tommy Radley, who arrive knowing little of the land and caring less.
How has writing the book had an impact on your own relationship to the land, and to Essex?
In some ways I am grateful this book took a ridiculously long time to finish, because it meant I had many, many years of paying close attention to the seasons, the flora and fauna around me. As a previously immune urbanite, I now find myself almost tearfully excited when a season comes around again, the chick weed comes up or the June drop happens. I have a renewed and massive respect for the men and women who work the land, the resilience and optimism required. And I have to say, a more nuanced and darker awareness of how bad things can get between people when times are hard and you are in the middle of nowhere.
Kate Worsley featured in Essex Book Festival 2023, talking about Foxash at Manningtree
Library on June 27. This article was first featured in Essex Life magazine May 2023.