Lark Rise to Candleford

Lark Rise to Candleford is a trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels about the countryside of north-east Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, England, at the end of the 19th century. They were written by Flora Thompson and first published together in 1945. The stories were previously published separately as Lark Rise in 1939, Over to Candleford in 1941 and Candleford Green in 1943.

Lark Rise to Candleford: a trilogy
First edition cover
AuthorFlora Thompson
Cover artistJulie Neild
PublisherOxford University Press[1]
Publication date
Media typePrint

The stories relate to three communities: the hamlet of Juniper Hill (Lark Rise), where Flora grew up; Buckingham (Candleford), one of the nearest towns (which include both Brackley and Bicester) and the nearby village of Fringford (Candleford Green),[2] where Flora got her first job in the Post Office.


Critical analysis

According to Richard Mabey in his 2014 book Dreams of the Good Life, Thompson "was a sophisticated and imaginative writer, involved in a more complicated business than straightforward autobiography". The stories are told in the third person by 'Laura' (a version of the author's childhood self) who observes events directly, while the adult author is also present as a second narrator, commenting and reflecting on past events. Mabey comments that the counterpoint between these dual viewpoints "is part of what gives Lark Rise its unique voice".[3]

Because Thompson wrote her account some forty years after the events she describes she was able to identify the period as a pivotal point in rural history: the time when the quiet, close-knit and peaceful rural culture, governed by the seasons, began a transformation, through agricultural mechanisation, better communications and urban expansion, into the homogenised society of today.[2] The transformation is not explicitly described. It appears as allegory, for example in Laura's first visit to Candleford without her parents: the journey from her tiny village to the sophisticated town representing the temporal changes that would affect her whole community.[2] Although the works are autobiographical, Thompson distances herself from her childhood persona by telling the tale in the third person; she appears in the book as "Laura Timmins", rather than her real maiden name of Flora Timms. This device allows Thompson to comment on the action, using the voice of "Laura" as the child she was and as the adult narrator, without imposing herself into the work.[2]


Thompson wrote a sequel, Heatherley, set in Grayshott, Hampshire, describing her life working in the Post Office at the turn of the century, but the period lacked the changing social significance described in her earlier works and she did not seek to have it published.[2] It appeared posthumously, in 1979.


The television scriptwriter and playwright Keith Dewhurst adapted Thompson's trilogy into two plays, Lark Rise and Candleford, which were performed in the Cottesloe auditorium of London's National Theatre in 1978–9. Dewhurst's concept was to reflect the familiarity, one for another, of the village inhabitants by staging the plays as a promenade, with the theatre seats removed and the actors, musicians and audience intermingling.[4]

The books describe village life through the seasons of the year, but for the plays Dewhurst selected just two days: the first day of harvest for Lark Rise and the first hunt meet of the new year, a winter's day in January, for Candleford. For both plays he drew on Thompson's own introductions to set the scene and, movingly, her reflections on the fates of her characters from the perspective of the future – a future in which many of the boys just depicted had died in war – as a coda.[4] As the plays ended the audience, suddenly torn from their participation in the re-created world, recognised the value of a way of life, close to the land and countryside, that they could never know for themselves. In Dewhurst's words, his audience was to recognise the “common humanity” linking the nineteenth-century villagers and the contemporary audience.[5] “It is a most extraordinary event...It will send most spectators out wiser and happier human of those rare theatrical occasions with a genuine healing quality”, wrote theatre critic Michael Billington of The Guardian.[6]

In the same way as Dewhurst was able to draw on Thompson's words for his text, the musical directors for the productions, John Tams and Ashley Hutchings, made use of traditional songs as the basis for the score.[7][8] In their arrangements the tunes, by turns stirring, atmospheric and poignant, allowed the audience to move (both literally and figuratively) between scenes. The performers were the Albion Band. A cast recording was released in 1980 and reissued in 2006.

The joint directors of the productions were Bill Bryden and Sebastian Graham-Jones and Flora Thompson (“Laura” in the plays) was played by Valerie Whittington.[9][10] In the 1978 Olivier Awards Lark Rise was nominated for "Best Play" and "Best Director", but won in neither category.[11]

In October 2005 the plays were revived by the Shapeshifter company at the Finborough Theatre in London, directed by Mike Bartlett and John Terry.[12]


A BBC adaptation, starring Julia Sawalha, Olivia Hallinan, Brendan Coyle and Dawn French, began on BBC One in the UK on 13 January 2008. The series was adapted by screenwriter Bill Gallagher and directed by Charles Palmer.[13] The show ended on 13 February 2011.


  1. "British Library Item details". Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  2. Mabey, Richard (13 December 2008). "Diary of a country woman". The Guardian: Review 1–4. Retrieved 15 December 2008.
  3. Mabey, Richard (2014). Dreams of the Good Life. London: Allen Lane. Prologue xvii-xviii. ISBN 978-1846142789.
  4. Dewhurst, Keith (14 November 1979). Programme notes: Lark Rise to Candleford. London: National Theatre.
  5. Poore, Benjamin (2011). Heritage, Nostalgia and Modern British Theatre Staging the Victorians. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 43. ISBN 0230360149.
  6. Billington, Michael (31 March 1978). "Lark Rise". The Guardian. p. 10.
  7. Winkler, Elizabeth Hale (1990). "Keith Dewhurst". The Function of Song in Contemporary British Drama. Newark DE: University of Delaware Press. p. 286. ISBN 0-87413-358-0.
  8. Zierke, Reinhard (14 April 2007). "Keith Dewhurst & The Albion Band: Lark Rise to Candleford". Retrieved 3 September 2007.
  9. "Obituary: Sebastian Graham-Jones". The Daily Telegraph. 24 July 2004. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  10. Chaillet, Ned (21 September 1978). "Exercising the mind: Lark Rise Cottesloe". The Times. London. p. 9.
  11. "Olivier Winners 1978". The Official London Theatre Guide. Society of London Theatre. Archived from the original on 28 November 2010. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
  12. Taggart, Bronagh. "Candleford". British Theatre Guide. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  13. The series began airing on PBS in the US in spring 2009. Lark Rise to Candleford (2008) on IMDb
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