by James Prior
Well-off Kentish man Arthur Skrene adjusts to his newly-inherited farmstead in Blidworth, Nottinghamshire, by Sherwood Forest – and the locals adjust to him! On their first meeting, his neighbour Nell Rideout appraises him to her family, “He looks keen an’ all, but just not our sort o’ keen.”
Arthur’s initial pleasantries accentuate his strangeness amongst those born and bred in the Notts village, but by-and-by his is accepted as part of the community, proving to be an able manager of the High Farm and sergeant of the local Yeomanry. His proximity to the Rideouts frequently implicates him in their business, and traps him in an awkward relationship with Nell, young horsewoman and – some say – witch. Compelled to protect her brother Tant who, with Luddite purpose, goes machine-breaking, Nell’s terse behaviour towards Arthur throws the brakes on the reader’s early expectation of romance between the two. However, through a number of encounters and curious relationships, by the end of the tale the two families are closer than ever.
Thirty-five chapters of “Yo gret sawny!” and “Why hae yer done that?” later, the Blidworth turn of phrase becomes quite familiar. One early edition of the text included glossary notes, useful but not under; where some ambiguous terms were unglossed, usually the context was enough to understand. The prose deserves special mention, purely because the dialogue is such a joy that it runs the risk of eclipsing all else. Prior’s narrative style is uncommonly enjoyable, rich and effortless. His Forest Folk fully deserves its new audience.