About the author
Marjorie Mary Oliver wrote some of the earliest pony books: books which focused on children and their adventures rather than telling the story from the pony’s point of view. The books also broke new ground by being illustrated with photographs. These have a huge period charm today, showing as they do a world where it was perfectly acceptable to ride in your swimming suit with no hat.
The books themselves are charming. I am particularly fond of Sea Ponies, which is perhaps the most intense evocation of a lost world. The Hook Hollow series have wonderful Stanley Lloyd illustrations, and some exotically named children who have straightforward holiday adventures. These really are wonderful escapist reading, reflecting a world which possibly never really existed, though we all probably wish it had.
Marjorie Mary Oliver was born in London, and started her career training to be a ballet dancer. She left that (apparently rather abruptly) ‘to live among horses’. She broke in and trained horses until she was married, and her own children lived among horses in much the same way as the characters did in her books.
She wrote her first three books with Eva Ducat, who was born in 1878. When her mother died tragically soon afterwards, Eva went to live with her grandmother.
Eva was passionately fond of music. She studied piano with Mimie Shakespeare. Although she recognised she would never become a concert pianist, her musical expertise was well enough known for the poet W B Yeats to appoint her as his unofficial musical advisor in 1919.
Marjorie and Eva collaborated on just the three Bunts books: after that, Marjorie wrote alone. Her books were so popular in America that she went on a lecture tour there in 1950.
Links and sources
Dustjacket of A-Riding We Will Go
The British Library
Many thanks to Henry Sotheran Ltd for the picture of Sea Ponies.
Thank you to Amanda Dolby for her help with the pictures.
Finding the books
Sea Ponies is the hardest of the books to find, and is almost impossible to find with its dustjacket. The other titles are all reasonably easy to find as long as you don’t mind copies without dustjackets; The Ponies of Bunts and Ponies and Caravans are hardest to find with dustjackets, but not horribly expensive when they do turn up.
The Bunts series
The Ponies of Bunts
Ponies and Caravans
Riding Days in Hook’s Hollow
Lane of Ponies
Menace on the Moor
Mystery at Merridown Mill
The Riddle of the Tired Pony
THE PONIES OF BUNTS
Country Life, London, 1933 (with Eva Ducat)
Reprinted many times
Junior Country Life Library, London, date unknown
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2019, eBook and paperback
Miss Fairfax already has five children staying at her house Bunts, but she’s invited two more after hearing that they had to stay in London over the holidays. John and Diana are delighted with Bunts, and are allowed to stay there through term and into the summer holidays. Then the ponies go missing, but the children still manage to compete at the Red Sands Gymkhana, and of course it all turns out well in the end.
Aunt Matilda and Roger are staying at Lindon-on-Sea for a month for his health. Aunt Matilda is a grade A fusspot, and Roger’s life is constricted and dull in the extreme. Then Roger meets a group of children and their ponies, Miss Rhoda Belton and Wilderney Bay. “Fancy turning a perfectly good boy into a GhastlySuburban Figure. Something ought to be done about it,” says Miss Rhoda. So they do something about it, and also about the threat by Miss Rhoda’s landlord to throw her out.
PONIES AND CARAVANS
Country Life, London, 1941 (with Eva Ducat)
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2019, eBook and paperback
Bob and Phyllis Russell go to stay with their uncle, a vet who lives near Bunts. They sleep in a caravan a grateful patient left in their uncle’s garden. At nearby Bunts, Miss Fairfax and her sister Miss Margaret learn that all of Sir Thomas Whishaw’s stud of Dartmoor ponies is to be sold – the best Dartmoors in England, and what they’ve wanted all their lives. Neither can leave their farms, so Jenefer and Diana and John take a caravan, and the Russells and their caravan, and go to the sale.
RIding days in Hook’s hollow
Country Life, London, 1944, illus Stanley Lloyd
Westminster Press, 1948
Catherine Blakeney has come to stay with her grandmother in Cheshire. She is shy, terrified of ponies, and completely overwhelmed by the lively duo Wake and Torfreda Conway. Under their influence, she thaws out, and proves herself a very good rider. There’s a little adult romance in this story too.
Country Life, London, 1950, illus Stanley Lloyd
Westminster, Philadelphia PA:, 1950.
Catherine and the Conways are spending their holidays in Ireland, at the Conway’s home, Sheen Hall, from which they can see Horseman’s Island. A long ago Blakeney, Sir Francis, once raced his enemy Sir Dennis McNare in a race across the causeway to the island to decide who owned it, and Catherine finds she has to ride a similar race against a McNare, as well as solve the mystery of the red-headed boy, and a series of mysterious thefts.
LAND OF PONIES
Country Life, London, 1951, illus Charlotte Hough
Catherine Blakeney and the Conways are in quarantine at the end of the holidays, and so are sent to Dartmoor. They buy a Dartmoor pony, befriend the injured Jan, and find a secret passage from a mine to Telsworthy Manor.
A’RIDING WE WILL GO
Lutterworth, London, 1951, illus Stanley Lloyd
This is an instructional bookabout two girls, Mary and Dorothy, and their riding lessons. Mary is the daughter of horsy parents who expect her to do well and criticise her if she doesn’t. Dorothy’s parents make sure she has riding lessons, and this is the story of how the two children got to know each other and the author, and of the gymkhanas and events they got up to.
MENACE ON THE MOOR
Nelson, London,1960, illus Drake Brookshaw
Set on Dartmoor, the adventures of Alex and Philip. This is the blurb:
“Dartmoor is one of the loneliest and wildest parts of Britain. There is at all times a rather sinister, menacing atmosphere about it, though those who know it well love it almost passionately. Marjorie Mary Oliver is one of those who know it and love it and she gets the very feeling of the moor into this extraordinarily exciting story. For it was more than just a feeling of menace that came to Alex and Philip. There was some all too real adventure.”
MYSTERY AT MERRIDOWN MILL
Nelson, London, 1962, illus Robert Hodgson
“This is a story with multiple interest, sailing, ponies and smuggling. It is about Alex and Beryl, the heroines of Menace on the Moor, now staying in Cornwall with their ex-governess, Miss Allen. They meet Keith Fennel who tells them about the smugglers and from then on the story moves fast until almost in a twinkling we come to the denouement. Marjorie Mary Oliver has given us an adventure story full of lively and convincing characters.”
The riddle of the tired pony
Nelson, London, 1964, illus Drake Brookshaw
Set in Cornwall, Alex and Beryl of Menace on the Moor are on holiday again, where they meet ponies, sailing and smuggling.