Jill Barklem, was the brilliant writer and artist of the Brambly Hedge Books – books that are given the label “children’s books”, but I love them. Tragically Jill died last November . Her passing came so soon after that of David Shepherd, that it was a double blow for the CRT and for me personally. David had been our much loved Patron; Jill was one or our keenest supporters and a “founder trustee”.
When did I first meet her? It was many years ago on a rare holiday in Italy that I met Jill and her older sister Sue – Jill lively, funny and already a gifted artist – later, on visits to London I saw her at her art college and already her talent and her interests were shining through – could Jill become the new Beatrix Potter?
As so often happens with busy lives I did not see Jill for several years until one day she arrived at Bird’s Farm with her husband David. She was pleased with what had happened in her life and had published books. “How many have you sold” I asked in ignorance “Two million” she answered with a smile – the Brambly Hedge books had arrived in style and were immensely popular – sales are now at over seven million.
From her home next to Epping Forest Jill had constructed the world of Brambly Hedge in her mind as she commuted to art college. What a world – a good world of happiness and contentment among the mice of Brambly hedge and their neighbours.
When the Countryside Restoration Trust was launched 25 years ago, Jill, husband David and children Peter and Lizzie all helped to plant a real Brambly Hedge at Lark Rise Farm, a very long hedge – and now a very beautiful hedge of some fourteen species. I hope that the Trustees will agree to name the hedge Brambly Hedge in memory of Jill and her happy planting days.
Sadly Jill’s writing and painting were cut short prematurely by illness and she was unable to work for many years – what a tragic loss – she died aged 66.
Yes she wrote children’s books about mice – but her beautiful words are suitable for non-mice too, as this short extract from The Secret Staircase shows.
When the days are the shortest, the nights are the coldest,
The frost is the sharpest, the year is the oldest,
The sun is the weakest, the wind is the hardest,
The snow is the deepest, the skies are the darkest,
Then polish your whiskers and tidy your nest
And dress in your richest and finest and best,
For winter has brought you the worst it can bring,
And now it will give you the promise of SPRING.
Robin Page – February 2018