Eleanor Helme was a witty and vivid writer, and an early contributor to the development of the pony book. She started her writing career as a golfing correspondent in 1910 for the Yorkshire Post: she was an excellent golfer herself and played for England in 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1920. Reporting on golf gave her time to indulge her other interests. She said:
'... I enlivened a dull day’s reporting by watching, and describing, a butcher bird in a thorn bush. He was much more engaging than watching the golf. One of the weaker counties was holding a meeting; nobody could hit the ball more than 160 yards; if there was a bunker they made straight for it, when they arrived at the hole they carefully avoided it. The course was of the depressing kind which goes up and down (generally up) a field which, not so very long ago, was undoubtedly being plodded over by patient plough-horses. For a time I plodded with equal patience. Then I caught sight of my feathered friend. The lure was too strong.'
Eleanor Helme wrote four books on golf (all of them hard to find), and seven children’s books (one a compilation) on wildlife. If you can find them, these are beautifully illustrated and very attractive books, published by the Religious Tract Society, who also published her titles on Jesus. Again, these are rare. Much easier to find are her pony and farming stories. The majority of these are based on Exmoor, which she loved, and where she often holidayed. She and her sister, Vera, moved to Luccombe, on Exmoor, permanently after World War II, and here she built a house, 'Three Gates.'
Her books have a very vivid sense of place. White Winter is a wonderful evocation of the sheer hard slog of living through the long and vicious winter of 1947 on Exmoor, and should be more widely read. It is part of the only series she wrote, about an Exmoor pony called Adam. All the titles are well worth finding. She wrote (with Nance Paul) a pair of books about an Exmoor pony, Jerry, which have considerable charm. One of my own favourites is Furlong Farm. The pony element is minimal, but it is a wonderful story of farming life.
Eleanor Helme was blessed with her illustrators: Lionel Edwards illustrated the Adam series, and Cecil Aldin Jerry. Her books are very attractive in their own right, and if you like the Country Life style of pony book, you will like these.
Bibliography (pony books only)
Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony (with Nance Paul), 1930
The Joker and Jerry Again (with Nance Paul), 1932
Mayfly the Grey Pony, 1935
Runaway Mike, 1936
Shank's Pony, 1946
Suitable Owners, 1948
White Winter, 1949
Dear Busybody, 1950
Finding the books
All the books are fairly easy to find, and generally reasonably priced. The early editions of Jerry and The Joker and Jerry Again can be hard to find in their earlier printing styles. The one really tricky book to find is Mayfly with its dustjacket. Without its dj, it’s very common.
Eric Rowlands: Eleanor Helme: Columnist, Golfer, Author, Reporter, Naturalist and Lover of Exmoor (Horner Mill Services, 2002)
Correspondence with Eric Rowlands
Many thanks to Amanda Dolby, Dawn Harrison. Jacquie Aucott and Alison MacCallum for their help with the pictures.