H. E. Bates

Local Author

Herbert Ernest Bates CBE, who wrote as H. E. Bates, was an English writer and author

‘Higham Ferrers has a very special place in my affections: not because I was born there, but because all the really golden days of my childhood seem in retrospect to have been in and about it.’…

‘So deeply ingrained is this ancient little borough in my mind that at least half-a-dozen of my novels and many more of my stories are set wholly or partly in it.’

He wrote this about his love of Higham Ferrers in the foreword of Rushden Rotary Club’s publication ‘Higham Ferrers: A Pictorial History’ of 1984.

His life

Herbert Ernest Bates, was born in Rushden, Northamptonshire on 16 May 1905. Educated at Kettering Grammar School, he left school at sixteen to work as a junior reporter at the Wellingborough office of the Northampton Chronicle. His disaffection with management and his journalistic role, which gave little scope to develop his aspirations as an author, led him to leave and take employment in a local warehouse.

While there, his workload allowed him the freedom to spend much of his office time on personal writing, and at the age of twenty-one, he completed his first successful novel The Two Sisters. Edward Garnett, reader for publishers Jonathan Cape, encouraged Bates as he began his prolific writing career.

The influence of time spent with his grandfather Lucas, in Higham Ferrers, during his childhood inspired many of his later publications related to local characters and country life. His disaffection with the increasing industrialisation of Rushden is also evident in his later writing.

He married Madge Cox in 1931 and moved to The Granary in Little Chart, Kent. They brought up their four children there. As an enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener, he devoted much time to the development and cultivation of the gardens surrounding their home. Throughout his life, he wrote many books and articles on the subject of horticulture.

During the war he was commissioned by the Air Ministry to write short stories related to the exploits and lives of the men and women of the Royal Air Force. During this time he was known as ‘Flying Officer X’. His first story in this role was published in The News Chronicle in February 1942.

Many poems, and articles related to the war followed; notably the novel, Fair Stood the Wind for France published in 1944.

51 Grove Road, Rushden – his birthplace

His autobiographies

Bates wrote three autobiographies:

  • The Vanished World (1969), which explores the influences on his early years. He tells of rambles from Higham Ferrers into surrounding countryside with his grandfather, who on these occasions would regale the child with stories of local heroes, one of whom was Henry Chichele, in his grandfather’s words, ‘a masterpiece of a man’. He also reflects on the changes in society, recalling the inspiration for, Love for Lydia (1952)and Sleepless Moon (1956), which offer very recognisable descriptions of Rushden and Higham Ferrers, the surroundings of his childhood and youth, now incorporated into his adult viewpoint and imagination.
  • The Blossoming World (1971) covers the period 1926–1941. Here he recalls the influence of Garnett, his wife and son David and other influential people related to his literary life; his marriage and move to Kent and his work as Flying Officer X. He also details inspiration and intentions for the novel Spella Ho (1938), based on Rushden, as ‘a piece of social history, a segment of the late Industrial Revolution that had marked my native landscape with so many soulless, hideous red-brick scars’.
  • The World in Ripeness (1972) covering the period 1941 to about 1958, this third volume of autobiography covers Bates's war-time experiences, his travels in the South Sea islands, and his late literary works including, the Larkin family series, beginning with The Darling Buds of May, in 1958, inspired by characters of the Kentish countryside, which became a popular TV series, despite critics’ poor reviews.

His three autobiographies


H.E. Bates by Peter Eads, published by Northamptonshire Libraries and Information Services

For more information:

  • H.E. Bates Companion – A guide to the works of English author Herbert Ernest Bates (1905–1974).
  • H.E. Bates Collection – Rushden Library, Newton Road, Rushden