Finding and owning books by Alfred Williams is easier than you might think - but if you become a serious collector, you may need deep pockets!
A surprising number of first editions, which are now about a century old, are still around today, which is probably testimony to how much they were (and still are) treasured by their owners. In the years since they were first published, some titles have also been reprinted, some of them very recently, while others have been re-packaged in anthologies. And these days you can even read some of books online or on CD.
If you want to own an original Alfred Williams book - whether a first edition or another early print - there are plenty of online dealers who make the process easy, and they are easily found on Google.
However, we recommend starting with John Price of Pricewise Books. Based at Marlborough, very close to Alfred Williams country, John not only always holds a large stock of Alfred's book, but is vastly knowledgeable on the subject and a true enthusiast into the bargain. He is currently chairman of the Richard Jefferies Society, but also has a keen interest in Alfred's work and has his own collection of rare copies of his works. John's stock routinely contains books in various conditions, so he has the proverbial book to suit any pocket, and if you are thinking of investing in a really special copy for yourself or as a gift, he often has signed and unique inscribed copies to choose from, with prices adjusted accordingly.
Copies of first editions signed by the author, by the way, may be a paricular delight to own, but are probably not as rare as you might think. Many books were sold by Alfred himself, and he routinely signed copies for the purchaser, so they are not uncommon. Individual insciptions, however, are rare and sought-after.
John Price is a good source whether you are looking to own copies of Alfred's prose works or searching for the rarer poetry books. He will also gladly make an appointment if you want to inspect the books and browse his stock.
Two of Alfred's prose books were recently reprinted, so new or secondhand copies and are easily available from Amazon. These are Life in a Railway Factory (first published in 1915) and Villages of the White Horse (1913).
During searches you may come across books that appear to be reprints because they have similar names to the originals, but are actually anthologies. These all contain selections of Alfred's writings by Michael Justin Davis (sometimes credited as simply Michael Davis). Most often seen is In A Wiltshire Village, which was published in 1981 and reprinted in 1992. Sub-titled Scenes from Rural Victorian Life, it features selected passages from both A Wiltshire Village, Alfred's 1912 book about his native South Marston, and Villages of the White Horse. Similarly, Round About the Middle Thames, which is sub-titled Glimpses of Rural Victorian Life, features passages selected by Davis from Round About The Upper Thames and Banks of Isis, which has otherwise never been published in book form. Davis also compiled a selection of Alfred's verses in 1976, called A Few Poems, which had a limited edition of 500 copies.
If you are happy to read Alfred's works online, this website already provides the opportunity to read two online - Life in a Railway Factory and Round About The Upper Thames. Two other books are available for purchase as text files on CD (and are therefore searchable). These are A Wiltshire Village and Villages of the White Horse, which you can purchase through Archive CD Books Britain.
Various versions of all of Alfred's books, of course, lie waiting to be discovered in various bookshops, and the closer to home, the more likely you are to find some. Secondhand dealers on the internet are also a good source, and naturally his books come up from time to time on eBay.
As well as books by Alfred Williams, there are also books about him. Leonard Clark's 1945 biography, Alfred Williams: His Life and Work, was republished in 1969, and copies may be found through the sources detailed above, or the tried and trusted method of entering the details into Google.
If you live in or near Swindon and want to read the books, purchasing them is not strictly necessary as a full set of Alfred's works (and much more information besides) can be accessed on open shelves at Swindon Central Library as it is part of the Swindon Collection. The library service also makes Alfred's books available for borrowing through both the Central Library and its branches (see the Swindon Borough Council website for more information).
Finally, with the growth in popularity of Kindle and other digital book-reading devices, watch this space for news of Alfred's books being made available for reading in formats that he himself could never have imagined...
We are indebted to John Price for allowing us to reproduce the following, which are from his stock of Alfred Williams books or his private collection.
The page above reads: The top half of the cover design, by Stephen Scott, represents the Wiltshire village of South Marston, where Alfred Williams was born in 1877. Parts of the church are shown, and the bell tower and roof tracery of his village school. At the age of eight he became a 'half-timer' on local farms (a plough share is depicted, bottom left) and his schooling ended entirely when he was eleven. Three years later he went to work at the Railway Factory, Swindon, first as a rivet hotter, then as a furnace boy and finally as a hammerman. Machinery on the left and lower part of the design signifies his factory life. In his spare time and at night he taught himself Latin, Greek and French and wrote poetry, six books of which were published. Flowers and leaves in the design show his love of nature. In 1914, ill-health and exhaustion forced him to abandon factory work. He volunteered for the army, became a very efficient gunner and was sent to India. His illuminating experiences there are represented in the lower part of the design by temple arches, by the head of a statue - counterpart of the Wiltshire gargoyle, above left - and by flowers from Indian miniature paintings. When he was demobilised in 1919, he and his devoted wife Mary built a cottage in South Marston with their own hands. There they lived in poverty, while he wrote books about the countryside and its people, and collected folk songs for publication. Behind the porch spire, at the top of the design, is the window of his room where he taught himself Sanskrit and translated Indian folk tales. He finished his book of these shortly before his death in 1930. Michael Davis
Click here to see a large version of the cover design