We’ve come across some fascinating stories of local people while researching our new school workshop, Local Legends.
Did you know that Jill Barklem, author of the popular Brambly Hedge children’s books, was from Epping? She grew up surrounded by the gently rolling patchwork of fields and forest we are so lucky to have in the District. Jill loved this countryside and enjoyed nature watching.
While Jill was at Loughton High School, now the site of Roding Valley, she developed a serious eye condition and was advised not to take part in games lessons to avoid this getting worse. Instead, she spent her time in the school art studio, allowing Jill to focus her efforts on honing her artistic talent.
Jill went on to study at St Martin’s School of Art in London. Each day she travelled there and back on a packed Central Line train, passing the time by imagining what the small animals of the fields and hedgerows around Epping might be doing while away from watchful human eyes. Something Jill didn’t imagine on these long commutes was that she would one day turn these fantasies into books, and become a celebrated children’s author. Jill said later, “I did not have a very clear idea of my future but assumed I would earn my living by illustrating other people’s books. I certainly never imagined that one day I would write my own.”
After getting married, Jill put pen to paper and started work on her first story about a resourceful family of mice and their animal friends, and the Tales of Brambly Hedge were born. Each book took Jill up to two years to craft, and was filled with extraordinarily detailed illustrations which have an enduring appeal to this day. Jill was fastidious in her research, even trying out recipes at home to check the food featuring in her stories!
Jill’s stories have sold millions of copies, and in 1996 were made into a television series featuring the voices of Jim Broadbent and June Whitfield. Jill died in 2017, but her stories continue to be enjoyed around the world today.