Cynthia Jefferies’ The Honourable Life of Thomas Chayne
PUBLISHED: 11:02 04 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:03 04 March 2020
© Thousand Word Media
Author Cynthia Jefferies draws on the impact of the Civl War on Cirencester – and the role played by Thomas Chayne – in her latest novel
Cirencester, February 1643, and the English Civil War is raging. A heavy snow falls on shivering royalist troops camped overnight in Cirencester Park. They have marched over open countryside from Sudeley, determined to take this strategic, mainly Parliamentarian, Cotswold town. (With Gloucester under siege, Cirencester is the King's only gateway to Wales.)
The following day, more than 300 people will perish in Cirencester's once-peaceful streets, with 1,200 prisoners held in the parish church.
This bloody episode lies at the heart of Cynthia Jefferies' latest book, The Honourable Life of Thomas Chayne. Born and brought up in Cirencester, Cindy (as she's more familiarly known) has long been fascinated by the history of the Civil War in the Cotswolds.
"I was 10 years old and at Querns [a former Cirencester primary] when I wrote my first play - about King Charles escaping the Battle of Worcester. All my long-suffering classmates had to take part!
"Nor will I forget, as a young adult, attending the 350th anniversary Civil War commemorations in the parish church. It was an incredibly atmospheric evening, with a talk about the prisoners who had been locked up in there. It really inspired me."
As well as novels for adults - all written as Cynthia Jefferies - Cindy is known for her children's Fame School series, published by Usborne.
Where do you live and why?
In Stroud, because of its alternative, arty vibe. So many of my writer friends live here, too. I'm lucky to have woodland, with foxes and deer on one side; the Slad Brook at the front; and houses and town life on the other. Wonderful.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
I was born in Cirencester and I've lived in the Cotswolds most of my life - with a brief sojourn in London, and then the West Highlands of Scotland for a few years in my 20s.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
I'd spend Saturday morning at Stroud market, meeting friends and buying lots of wonderful food for an al fresco day on the little parcel of land I own near Cirencester with my sisters. We might camp overnight, build a campfire, and make soup or toast marshmallows. The children and grandchildren love it, and so do I. It's fashionable to talk about rewilding these days, but these 10 acres have been gently returning from an old tree nursery to meadow and woodland for the past 40 years. The land has been in the family since the 1800s when it was part of the John Jefferies & Son Royal Nurseries. In spring and summer, it's full of insects and wild flowers, including orchids. It will be handed down to the next generation.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
Just for fun, I'd try living in Stow-on-the-Wold, with its Civil War history. A large old stone house would be perfect; though, if money really were no object, I'd make it carbon-neutral. But I suspect I'd migrate back to Stroud: I'm the happiest I've ever been here.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
I like cities but I need the countryside around me. I've been investigating how to get from my house to my land in Cirencester without driving - and there is a way, using local buses. It won't be quick, but maybe next summer…
Where's the best pub in the area?
The Woolpack, Slad; it's a couple of miles from my house and I can walk all the way on pavements. The food is excellent and the views terrific. Looking across the valley, the hill seems close enough to touch, but the grazing cattle are like miniature toys.
And the best place to eat?
I keep meaning to try Wild Garlic in Nailsworth for dinner. I hear excellent things about it. If you like fish, William's, also in Nailsworth, is a must.
What would you do for a special occasion?
I'd go to Lords of the Manor Hotel in Lower Slaughter.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
The landscape. It can be bleak and windy on the tops of the wolds; but go downhill a bit and the beeches shelter you, while their leaves sigh in the breeze. The distant Severn glistens on a sunny day, and Slad Brook chatters in greeting when I return home.
And the worst?
I'm lucky with the train station in Stroud - I can hop on and go anywhere in the world. The buses aren't so good unless you want to go to Cheltenham or Gloucester. With global warming, we're all going to have to find other ways of getting about, and electric cars are expensive.
Which shop could you not live without?
I volunteer at, and buy most of my clothes from, Rasmachaz, the refugee aid thrift shop in Kendrick Street, Stroud.
One day, a jacket caught my eye; I tried it on and it fitted. It was Armani! This week we had a beautiful silk Nicole Farhi dress. (I wonder if it's gone yet?) The other shop I love is Octavia's Bookshop in Cirencester. Octavia has supported me by selling my books from the first day she opened. My little granddaughter is taken there after each dental check-up to choose a book - as a result, she thinks Octavia's and Claudine the dentist are wonderful! On February 29, I'll be doing an event at Octavia's, talking about The Honourable Life of Thomas Chayne. My hero rides down Black Jack Street, where Octavia's shop is, on his way to securing the Market Place.
What's the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
The art. There are small museums and galleries, which are great - but wouldn't it be wonderful to have a sizeable go-to public gallery, with permanent collection and rolling programme celebrating the best modern works! Maybe there is one, and I'll get shot down in flames. If so, I'll go immediately!
What is a person from the Cotswolds called?
I'm a Stroudie; the Cirencester Grammar School magazine was the Cirencestrian; and don't some people call themselves Cheltonians if they live in that town? Woldie would be amusing.
What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?
I'm mostly veggie these days. So Day's Cottage pear juice to start, followed by a hearty casserole of local veg, with hunks of Salt Bakehouse chickpea bread. For pudding, I'd have locally picked blackberry crumble with Winstones ice cream (they do a great vegan one), or some Cerney goat cheese with a Siddington Russet apple. That's a local heritage variety, which exists in Day's Cottage orchard [Upton Lane, Gloucester]; there are also some outside the wonderful Relish café on the Spine Road at the Cotswold Waterpark Gateway information centre. It was propagated by one of my family when he noticed one branch of a tree on the nursery russeting. It has a lovely yellow, rough skin, and sweet, very white flesh. Delicious!
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
Looking across Slad Valley towards Swift's Hill from the Woolpack on an autumn day. The light is wonderful, and even voices sound a little different.
What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
There are so many! I lived just outside Bibury for many years; it is very beautiful but clogged with tourists in summer. If you're a visitor, leave the main roads and meander along some of the valleys. Bibury to Coln St Aldwins is a lovely walk along the river. Catch the daffodils in flower at Eastleach, and visit both little churches.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds…
The stone, the thin Cotswold brash soil, and the numerous rivers, streams and springs.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
My vote goes to the tiny, unassuming church in Miserden, even though it was altered - as so many were - in the 1800s. Some years ago, I got interested in Stroud stonemason Samuel Baldwin, who lived in the turbulent 1600s and carved so many monuments in our old churches. I can't believe the double monument to Sir William Sandys and his wife Margaret Culpeper in Miserden church isn't one of his: it is the most tenderly carved of any I have seen, the woman's fingers playing with the lace on her dress. Seeing that carving gave me a pivotal part of the ending for my first novel for adults, The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan. One of the other monuments in Miserden church is of a knight in black armour, with a goat at his feet eating a cabbage. There must be another story there!
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Say "What's double Gloucester?"
Starter homes or executive properties?
Some modern architecture is wonderful in our landscape, but our young people desperately need homes. The alternative is to lose the young families some of our villages need to stay vibrant and alive.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
Stone, water, people and nature are the cornerstones.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
No-brainer: a piece of freshly quarried oolitic limestone as a paperweight.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Try our food! Single and double Gloucester, Cerney goat cheese, Salt Bakehouse, Stroud chocolate from CocoCaravan. Go to a good farmers' market and talk to the producers.
And which book should they read?
Cider with Rosie, of course. After that, work your way through all our wonderful living writers.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
Cheese-rolling: bonkers, traditional, and resolutely refusing to be commercialised. You wouldn't get me to do it in a million years! Less dangerous is the wassailing in Stroud: a fun day and evening with dancers, mysterious beasts, singing and much midwinter frivolity.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I'd go back a hundred years or more and visit the old family business of John Jefferies & Son in Cirencester [seed merchants and nurserymen]. I have memories of going to the shop as a child, with all the little wooden drawers holding seeds. They are in the [Corinium] museum now, and some of the beautiful early catalogues are in a museum collection in London. I can remember the damp, mossy scent, the florist at work with her ribbons and crackling cellophane, and going up into the offices to look down on the Market Place. They had their own telephone exchange, with lines going to all the nurseries and to my grandfather's house. Originally, the phone number was Cirencester 2. Number 1 was the post office! I'd love to see my uncles as children, and their young father, my grandfather - known later as The Gov'nor - being trained up by Great Uncle William to take over the business.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
To that great Stroud-born stonemason Samuel Baldwin, who left memorials for others, yet lacks one himself. His workshop was in Gloucester during the Civil War. He worked on the defences during the siege and, as far as I know, vanishes from history there.
Which attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?
We have a bit of Janus in us: we look forwards and back. We love our folk traditions - well-dressing, wassailing, cheese-rolling and woolsack racing. But we are also interested in technology and new ways of doing things. Our colleges and universities are full of aspiring students, and we attract world-class artists, actors, writers and musicians to make their homes here. Any tourists expecting yokels chewing straw will be very disappointed. What they will find is a place full of local food produced to the highest standards, and landscape to lift the spirits. In short, we can, and we do!
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
It would have to be the late-lamented Laurie Lee. He was kind enough to make me a mug of tea, many years ago, when I knocked on his door naively boasting about my expected A level English results. "You don't need exams to be a writer," he said. And, of course, he was right. I am a writer now, but it took years of hard work and practice - my English A level didn't help with any of that! I'd like to be able to buy him a drink and thank him for his advice all that time ago.