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Ronald Blythe, ‘rather bookish’, dies aged 100

16 January 2023

Church Times

Ronald Blythe at Bottengoms in 2017

Ronald Blythe at Bottengoms in 2017

RONALD BLYTHE, one of the Church Times’s most distinguished contributors, has died, aged 100.

Blythe, best known for his 1969 account of village life, Akenfield, was commissioned in 1993 to write a weekly column by John Whale, then Church Times editor. For the next 24 years, until short-term memory loss took hold, Blythe filed a meticulous piece of prose, “Word from Wormingford”, typed faultlessly on his manual typewriter (he made sure that he had a lifetime of ribbons stored away).

The success of the column was down to an endlessly varied combination of acute observation from around his farmhouse, Bottengoms, in the depths of the north Essex countryside, bequeathed to him by the painter John Nash; anecdotes from his wide acquaintance; treasures from his encyclopaedic knowledge of English writers; and wise reflections from his explorations of faith as a Church of England Reader.

Compilations of his columns were published regularly by Canterbury Press; and a compilation of the compilations appeared in November last year: Next to Nature, published by John Murray to mark Blythe’s 100th birthday (Books, 25 November).

The Canterbury Press Wormingford compilations are: Word from Wormingford: A parish year; Out of the Valley; Borderland; A Year at Bottengoms Farm; River Diary; The Bookman’s Tale; Village Hours; Under a Broad Sky; In the Artist’s Garden; and Stour Seasons. All are available from the Church House Bookshop.

In earlier life, he had worked as Benjamin Britten’s secretary, and described his life in an austere Aldeburgh in the late 1950s in The Time by The Sea (2013). Other notable works were A View in Winter (1979), in which he recounted the experiences of old age, and Divine Landscapes (1986). He was appointed CBE in 2017 (News, 23 June 2017).

In an interview in 2017, then aged 94, he described himself as “a naturalist and a poet; rather bookish. I’m essentially a contemplative. If you live alone, you become meditative, especially as you read and write.”

Read our obituary here

From our archives: Ronald Blythe at 90

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