Ferguson, Ruby

About the author

Ruby Ferguson (1899–1966) wrote the Jill books, which have remained in print longer than any other pony series, only going out of print for a brief period in the first years of this century.

Go to finding the books

Although the first Jill book appeared in 1949, they are still popular today, because Jill herself is such a wonderfully vivid character. Ruby Ferguson observed children, and particularly horsy children, brilliantly. The Jill sitting in a beautiful dream oblivious to all as she jumps round Harringay in her mind, or sending the coffee pot flying by resting a letter on it; or dreading the visit of her much cleaner, much better behaved Cousin Cecilia, is entirely believable.

The Black Boy Question

Yes, Black Boy’s name was changed in one reprint, but it was one single, solitary reprint out of over 100. In the Knight 1968 printing of Jill’s Gymkhana, Black Boy became Danny Boy. He went back to being Black Boy in the 1968 A Stable for Jill, and has remained Black Boy in every single edition since. As for why the change happened, I do not know. Perhaps it was an early example of political correctness. Perhaps an editor preferred the name Danny Boy. Perhaps it was simply a mistake, corrected in the next title.

I’ve now added in some of the extras from my old site in the Jill-opedia, which you can find on the menu above, as well as here:

The Jill books – publishing history

Jill books in other languages

Ruby Ferguson – adult novels

Food in the Jill books

Were the Jill books abridged?

Finding the books

Go to the Ruby Ferguson titles available from the Jane Badger Books shop

Finding the originals

The original hardbacks with the Caney covers can be difficult to find. The Hampton reprints are slightly less so, but be aware there is a big difference in quality between the Hampton Library/Brockhampton Press editions and the originals.

The Armada originals with Caney/Archer/Gernat covers are hard to find. Quality is very variable. The 1960s Knight editions and Fidra editions can be tricky to track down. Later Knight editions are much easier.

Links and sources
Alison Haymonds: ‘The Search for Ruby’, Children’s Book History Society, vol 69, April 2001, 7–11
Hilary Clare: Ruby Ferguson, in Folly Magazine, vol 42
Liz Thiel: The Dark Horse: Ruby Ferguson and the Jill Pony Stories, The Lion and the Unicorn 26.1 (2002) 112-122
Jane Badger: Heroines on Horseback (JBB, 2019) has a chapter on Jill: The Beautiful Golden Dream
Wikipedia on Ruby Ferguson
The excellent Persephone Books have reprinted Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary (one of Ruby Ferguson’s books for adults) and it is still in print. It is absolutely nothing like the Jill books, and lacks their humour but it is a poignant read. Persephone have a short biography of Ruby Ferguson
Clarissa Cridland: Collecting Pony Books

Jill now has her own Facebook group.

Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Birte Scheel, John Rees, Alison Rushby, Vanessa Robertson, Dawn Harrison, Diane Janes, Kayt, and Claire Noble for providing cover shots I didn’t have; and particular thanks to Hazelhunter and Birte for their sterling work on what’s abridged and where. Thanks to Tracy Goodson for detective work on the USA printing, and to Matilda Lawless and Roy Clarke for cover shots.

Series

The Jill Series
Jill’s Gymkhana, 1949
A Stable for Jill, 1951
Jill Has Two Ponies, 1952
Jill Enjoys Her Ponies, 1954 (Jill & The Runaway)
Jill’s Riding Club, 1956
Rosettes for Jill, 1957
Jill and the Perfect Pony, 1959
Pony Jobs for Jill, 1960 (Challenges for Jill)
Jill’s Pony Trek, 1962

The Books
There are nine Jill books. There is sometimes some confusion about exactly how many Jill titles there were: two were re-titled by Knight in the 1980s, when Jill Enjoys Her Ponies became Jill and the Runaway, and Pony Jobs for Jill became Challenges for Jill. The books are still the same underneath the title change. The reading order was also changed when Knight began publishing the paperbacks.






Bibliography (pony books only)


Jill’s Gymkhana

Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1949, illus Caney
Dodd Mead, New York, 1950, illus Caney
Hampton Library, Brockhampton, illus Caney
Armada, London, 1963, illus Caney
Knight, 1968, illus Bonar Dunlop
Knight, 1974, cover W D Underwood, illus Bonar Dunlop
Knight, 1983, illus Bonar Dunlop
Knight, 1990s
Hodder, 1991, compilation illus Bonar Dunlop
Knight, 1993, not illustrated
Hodder, 1996, not illustrated
Fidra, Edinburgh, 2009, illus Caney
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2022, eBook, cover Anne Bullen

Jill’s Gymkhana is the first of the Jill books. Published in 1949, it was illustrated by Caney and published by Hodder and Stoughton.

Jill Crewe is eleven, and she and her mother have just moved to Pool Cottage, Chatton. Jill’s father has died, and her mother supports them by writing whimsical children’s books (The Little House of Smiles is the first to be mentioned). It is the summer holidays, and having just moved Jill doesn’t have a great deal to do, so makes friends with a pony down the road. This is Black Boy, and after Mrs Crewe sells the serial rights of The Little House of Smiles, Jill buys him.

At first Jill is completely clueless, unlike the initial hero figure of the book, Susan Pyke, but she meets Martin Lowe at a local show, and he sorts her out. Jill learns to groom, and to tack up Black Boy without mangling both the bridle and her pony. At school, Jill meets Ann Derry and at last finds a horsey friend.

Susan Pyke rapidly falls off her pedestal, as she is bought vastly expensive ponies with which she cannot cope. Jill stays with the Lowe family, who petrify her (though it later turns out she has them equally scared), goes on a riding weekend, and finishes up by taking three firsts, three seconds and a third at Chatton Show, and dropping the ebony base of the Challenge Cup at the steward’s feet.

A STABLE FOR JILL

Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1951, illus Caney
Dodd Mead, 1952, illus Caney
Hampton Library, illus Caney
Foyles Children’s Book Club, illus Caney
Armada, 1960s, cover Mary Gernat, illus Caney
Knight, 1968, illus Bonar Dunlop
Knight 1974, cover W D Underwood, illus Bonar Dunloop
Knight 1982, illus Bonar Dunlop
Knight 1991, illus Bonar Dunlop
Hodder 1991, illus Bonar Dunlop
Knight, 1993
Hodder, 1994
Hodder, 1996
Fidra, Edinburgh, 2009, illus Caney
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2022, eBook, cover Anne Bullen

Jill has plans for the summer holidays, but her mother has been invited to go to America for three months to read her children’s books to summer camps: this means Jill has to go to stay with her Aunt Primrose and her cousin Cecilia, both of them resolutely unhorsey.

Out on a walk, Jill meets Bar, Mike and Pat Walters, children of the vicarage, and in despair because their father wants to sell their pony, Ballerina, as they can’t afford to keep her. Jill decides the only way they can keep Ballerina is to earn money with her. There are plenty of empty stables at the vicarage, so why not start a stable?

The Walters borrow three horses from their uncle, who is away. Their first clients are a mixed bag – one disappears without paying the bill – but at least there are clients. Jill’s mother has given her some money to buy a second pony, but she uses it to buy a 15hh grey mare, Begorrah, at the local horse sale.

There is some money left over, and they buy the wretchedly mistreated Pedro. Cecilia has her birthday and Jill gives her Fair Isle gloves she has knitted herself – a girl of many talents. The stables go well, and they decide to put on an Open Day. The Walters’ father arrives back during the Open Day, and is rather stunned to find his vicarage turned into a stable. It has to stop (they cannot run a commercial enterprise from a vicarage).

The stable’s best client, Major Foster, buys Begorrah and Pedro. He decides to give a gymkhana and tea,  Ballerina does not have to be sold, and Jill’s mother arrives back early. She has met people on the boat who have a showjumper for sale…..

JILL HAS TWO PONIES

Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1952, illus Caney
Hampton Library, illus Caney
Armada, 1960s, cover Mary Gernat, illus Caney
Knight 1960s, illus Bonar Dunlop
Knight 1973, cover W D Underwood, illus Bonar Dunlop
Hodder, 1974, frontis Elisabeth Grant
Knight, 1983, illus Bonar Dunlop
Knight 1980s, illus Bonar Dunlop
Knight, 1990s, not illustrated
Hodder, 1996, cover Adrian Lascom
Fidra Books, Edinburgh, 2013, illus Caney
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2022, eBook, cover Anne Bullen

Jill and her mother come to see the Penberthys, who own Rapide, whom Jill’s mother hopes will be her promised new pony. However, Rapide seems to take an instant dislike to Jill, and the feeling is mutual. Jill also can’t bear his jumping action; she describes him as “the rocking-horse fly”.

However, Jill doesn’t want to be beaten by Rapide so they buy him. She is completely unenthusiastic when he arrives, to the extent of stabling him at Mrs Darcy’s. Once Mrs Darcy points out Rapide’s behaviour is probably due to being ill-treated at his previous home Jill has a change of heart.

Jill and Ann find, and lose, a hound; Jill and Diana have a duck hunt when they try and ring Diana’s aunt’s ducks (helped by Mercy Dulbottle). Mrs Darcy’s stables are going through a hard time because of competition from the new Lime Farm, so Jill and her friends start a club to Boost Mrs Darcy. The club withers fairly soon, but then Mrs Darcy has to go and look after her brother’s horses, so Jill and her friends help at the stables.

There is a wobble when Mrs Darcy’s Blue Smoke has a fit of the vapours and convinces Wendy and Jill that she is dying, but otherwise all goes well:  Jill succeeds in teaching the three Cholly-Sawcutt girls to ride, and their famous father, Captain Cholly-Sawcutt does an open day for the stables. The Lime Farm Stables close, owing money everywhere, and the book ends with Jill coming second on Rapide in the Hunter Trials.

Abridgements:  a small section at the beginning of Chapter Two where Jill’s mother buys cigarettes is cut in the Knight version. Interestingly, this is also cut from the Hampton Library hardback – early political correctness?  It’s difficult to see that including it would have made much difference to the length.

JILL ENJOYS HER PONIES

Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1954, illus Caney
Super Hampton Library, illus Caney
Hodder 1970s, frontis Elisabeth Grant
Armada, 1963, illus Caney
Armada, 1970/71, cover uncredited, illus Caney
Knight, 1973, cover W H Underwood, not illus
Knight 1980s, not illus
Knight 1990s, not illus
Hodder Children’s Books, 1993, not illus
Hodder Children’s Books, 1996, cover Adrian Lascom
Fidra, Edinburgh, 2013, illus Caney
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2022, cover Anne Bullen

Jill has hurt her wrist, and cannot ride in Chatton Show. She decides not to go at all, and has a thoroughly miserable day. When the Lowes drop Mrs Crewe off from the show, Mrs Lowe tells Jill a friend of hers will be in touch: the letter duly arrives, and is propped on the coffee pot, which spreads its contents over the table. Jill is invited to Blossom Hall.

She goes to Mrs Darcy’s to practise, and meets Dinah Dean when she gives her a lesson, for which Dinah cannot pay. After being initially horrified, Jill feels sorry for Dinah, who has to keep house for her father, and gives her her outgrown riding gear.

Mrs Whirtley wants Jill and various horsey others to organise a fete and gymkhana at her home, Blossom Hall. At the next meeting, Jill’s cousin Cecila turns up. Jill is to ride Mrs Darcy’s Sandy Two in the Hack Class. Jill has another fit of feeling sorry for Dinah, and takes her on a hack into the woods, where she shows her a secret glade. Dinah then disappears, but she has taken some ponies with her. Jill realises where she must have gone, and takes her some food: it turns out that Dinah has rescued the ponies from slaughter.

Jill visits the Cholly-Sawcutt establishment, and is offered a job by the Colonel when she finishes school. The Blossom Hall gymkhana goes well; Jill wins on Sandy Two. Just after the closing speeches, Dinah rides into the ring with the three ponies. Dinah’s father sees the error of his ways, and she is to go to boarding school, about which she is delighted. This book was re-titled by Knight in their late 1980s version. Why I am not quite sure: maybe they felt the new title was more exciting.

JILL’S RIDING CLUB

Hodder & Stoughton, 1956, illus Caney
Hampton Library, illus Caney
Armada, 1964, illus Caney
Knight 1969, cover Bonar Dunlop, illus Caney
Knight, 1975
Knight, 1982, illus Caney
Knight 1980s, illus Caney
Knight 1990s
Fidra Books, Edinburgh, 2013, illus Caney
Jane Badger Books, 2022, eBook, cover Anne Bullen

It is the sumer holidays, and Ann has an idea – Jill should start a riding club. Why her?, thinks Jill, but as she herself says, if she won’t do it, no one else will. So, the Greenlee Riding Club has its first meeting, at which the usual suspects turn up, plus Jill’s bêtes noires: her cousin Cecilia, and Clarissa Dandleby.

The Riding Club finds a field (only because its owner is the besotted aunt of Mercy Dulbottle, who met Jill in an earlier book). They have a shaky start. No one really appears to be in charge, and they are put through their paces by Major Hooley, who happens past. However, they pull themselves together and plan various rallies and games and a gymkhana.

A treasure hunt goes well, despite several people dipping stones in whitewash to make them white, and Major Hooley provides the club with a set of jumps. Jill teaches Stanley Trimble to ride and helps him find a pony. The Riding Club visit Captain Cholly-Sawcutt’s yard. They plan a gymkhana, and have a long ride, at which Jill manages to knock herself out on a branch. The Riding Club generally do well at the gymkhana, but then the holidays come to an end: ‘So the sordid shadows of school fall on the riding club,” I said poetically. “But it was awfully good while it lasted.’

Abridgements and alterations: as far as I can tell, the Armada and Knight versions are not abridged. However, some illustrations have been cut from the Knight version, and Jill’s hairstyle has been altered so that she does not have plaits! The Hampton Press hardcover lacks the endpaper illustrations and has a portrait of Jill on the title page.

ROSETTES FOR JILL

Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1957, illus Caney
Armada, 1964, illus Caney
Armada 1950s, uncredited cover, illus Caney
Knight 1970s, cover W D Underwood, illus Caney
Knight, 1980s, illus Caney
Knight, 1980s, illus Caney
Knight 1990s
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2022, eBook, cover Anne Bullen

Jill has plans for the summer – lots of intensive equitation – but then the Cortman kids come to stay. They are dog people, not pony people, and have brought their dogs with them. Jill already has an inferiority complex about the Cortmans – they can swim, dive, play tennis…. and she hopes desperately she does well in the Queen’s Tracey gymkhana to show them she can do something they can’t. It is not to be. Queen’s Tracey is a disaster for Jill.

After Ryechester Show, at which Jill does win some rosettes, and the Cortman’s dogs win too, Melly and Lindo become interested in ponies. Jill gives them their first lessons, and then Mrs Cortman agrees to buy the girls a pony, and not just any pony – this is to be one of the best. Mr Prescott, a friend of Mrs Cortman’s, finds them Blue Shadow.

Relationships don’t improve between the girls. Jill accuses them of neglecting their dogs now they have Blue Shadow, and there is a furious row. Then, while Melly and Jill are out on a paperchase, Lindo decides to give Jill a surprise and paints the stables, and everything within range, bright blue.

Jill practises Black Boy endlessly for Chatton Show, only for her hopes to be scuppered when Melly and Lindo take him out without asking and he is lamed. To make up, Melly and Lindo ask Jill to ride Blue Shadow in the jumping classes. Jill overhears a woman saying Blue Shadow was sold because she had taken to bolting out of the ring; and this is exactly what she does in the senior class (which Jill wins on Rapide). Melly and Lindo decide they are going back to dogs. Mr Prescott takes Blue Shadow to see if he can cure her.

JILL AND THE PERFECT PONY

Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1959, illus Caney
Hampton Library, illus Caney
Armada, 1964, illus Caney
Knight, 1969, illus Caney
Knight, 1970s, cover W H Underwood, illus Caney
Knight 1980s, illus Caney
Knight 1990s, illus Caney
Knight, 1993
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2022, eBook, cover Anne Bullen

Jill is at home on her own, save for her mother’s artist friend, Miss Webb. While Jill is sitting on a gate, Amanda Applewood, owner of the perfect pony Plum, appears and asks for Jill’s help with Plum, who is bellowing. Plum turns out to be bellowing with boredom. Jill stays to tea, and Amanda arranges for Jill (and Plum) to take her place staying with a family called the Locketts, who are entering a team competition and need Amanda to make up the numbers.

Jill duly goes, only to find out that the Locketts have no idea Jill is coming, and think she is Amanda. Furious, Jill decides to pay Amanda back by being as ghastly as possible. She succeeds extremely well in making the Locketts loathe her, but in the end, for the good of the team, and because she finds keeping up the horrible Amanda act difficult, Jill is her real self.

There are a few hiccups in their preparation: Jill falls off Plum, Tom has a bad fall from Commodore, and Jane and Lolly fight. As the competition draws nearer, Jill is horrified when she realises that the program for the event has her down as Amanda Applewood, and she suffers agonies over the lie.

The day of the competition comes, and they start well with the hunter competition; dismally in the junior showing, take all three places in the senior showing, do well in the games, and then Amanda turns up. To Jill’s surprise, no one is particularly bothered, and they carry on with everything cleared up. 10 year old Lolly ties for first place in the junior jumping, and Jill wins the senior jumping. By a whisker, the Lockett team wins the event.

PONY JOBS FOR JILL

Hodder & Stoughton, 1960, illus Caney
Hampton Library, illus Caney
Armada, 1960s, cover Peter Archer, illus Caney
Armada, 1968, cover uncredited, illus Caney
Knight 1970s, cover W H Underwood, illus Caney
Knight 1980s, illus Caney
Knight 1980s, illus Caney
Knight 1990s
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2022, eBook, cover Anne Bullen

Jill and Ann are 16 and have just left school. They have six months to fill before they start training for a career. Ann has just found a job advertised for two girls knowledgeable with horses: they apply and get the job. When they reach Little Chimneys Farm, they find they are to break in nine New Forest Ponies and start a riding school with them.

Captain Sound, the owner, is blithely unaware of the pitfalls to his plan. His wife is equally unaware of how to cook, and their supper is flavoured with the Jane Austen she dropped in it. Jill and Ann eventually manage to break some of the ponies, but Captain Sound leaves the gate open and all the ponies escape back to the New Forest, where they stay.

Jill and Ann’s next job is to organise a treasure hunt and musical ride for a bazaar run by Mrs York, who turns out to be Cecilia’s godmother. The musical ride is a success, with unexpectedly useful help from Cecilia, and the girls return home. Their last job is to teach a Miss Day’s nieces to ride. Norrie and Dorrie are utterly, and completely, hopeless. Jill and Ann, about to give up, spot a poster advertising an exhibition of riding by the famous Cannon twins, Noreen and Doreen Canon.

They are, of course, Norrie and Dorrie. They do not want to confess to their aunt in case they upset her, and so she announces to all and sundry that the twins were taught to ride by Jill and Ann. Captain Cholly-Sawcutt is there at the exhibition, and tells Jill and Ann it is time to get themselves trained for a proper profession, and they both decide to do secretarial courses with languages.

This book was re-titled by Knight in their 1990s version. Why I am not quite sure: maybe they felt the new title was more exciting, or less liable to being misinterpreted.

JILL’S PONY TREK

Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1962, illus Caney
Hampton Library, illus Caney
Armada, 1965, illus Caney
Armada, 1960s, cover uncredited, illus Caney
Armada, 1970s, cover W H Underwood, not illus
Knight, 1980s, not illus
Knight 1980s, not illus
Knight, 1990s, not illus
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2022, eBook, cover Anne Bullen

Jill is 17, and having to take life seriously, so she decides to tell her readers about another episode in her youth: the pony trek. Jill and Ann are helping the Horse Protection Society Flag Day, and they call at Miss Crombie’s house to sell flags. They are invited in and find that until her back injury, Miss Crombie was a leading light in the equine world. Miss Crombie goes to help Jill and Ann at a local gymkhana. Ann and George bolt on the way home, and are stopped by Mrs Folds, who invites them to go on a pony trek. They invite Jackie Heath, Wendy Mead, Diana Bush and Mercy Dulbottle to go too.

Their first night they spend at a farm; the second is in the open air. The third day the trek just manage to avoid a speeding lorry, and spend the third night at a farm. Wendy suggests the speeding lorry has stolen televisions in it, and that the farmer’s lost calves have been let out by trippers: she is right on both counts. Their night under the stars comes to an abrupt end when the rain comes down with a vengeance.

They set off again in the morning, but Jill and Ann have to stop to have Ann’s stirrup leather stitched. Alas, when they set off to re-join the trek, neither of them can remember where they are to go. They set off in what they think is the right direction, and rescue a woman marooned in her house with a broken leg. The police re-direct Jill and Ann to the rest of the trekkers, and the trek ends with a gymkhana, at which Jill and Rosevale (another trekker) share first place in the jumping. They return home to a huge welcome from their friends and families.