Tuesday 23 August 2016

Back through the Prickle Hedge

As an ex-bookseller, one of the things I miss is helping to reconnect people with “long lost” books. I still get the occasional request for help, and always enjoy the buzz of pointing someone in the direction of a book that has eluded them for years. This request from a couple of years ago was a little different;

When I was little my Mother used to read me a poem called "Through the Prickle Hedge" I found out after much searching that it was written by a lady called, Marion St. John Webb and that you are listed as someone who stocks her books so my question is this "How can I find the words to this poem" as I have forgotten all but the first line.

The Littlest One Marion St John Adcock Webb
Luckily, I recognised the poem and had the very book in stock. It’s from The Littlest-One by Marion St. John Adcock (Webb). It took but a minute to photocopy the words and send them by return mail. I wrote a blog post about it (here) and quickly received more requests for copies of the words. I was happy to oblige and continued copying and sharing until…disaster struck…the book sold. 

In hindsight, I should have shared the entire poem on my blog while I had the chance, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Having found the book again, I can now do what I should have done then. I don’t sell books any more, but that doesn't mean I can’t share some of those in my collection. I hope you enjoy these words as much as I do. Some of the spelling might seem a little odd, but it is exactly as it appears in the book. 

Through the prickle hedge by Marion St. John Adcock (Webb)

While all the grown-up people sat an’ talked upon the lawn, we scrambled through the prickle hedge – and one of us got torn. 

And out into the lane we went, an’ passed the willow tree, Aunt Matilda’s child’en, Mr Peter Dog, an’ me.

Sue, Barbara and Tony Flitney with Peggy the dog
Me (the Littlest One), my sister Sue, brother Tony and Peggy our dog. 

We’d played about the garden all the kind of games we could, and so we went along the lane an’ down into the wood. But jus’ as we had got inside an’ one of us looked round – a little girl we didn't know had followed us, we found. 

Her hair was black an’ straggly, an’ her dress was old and worn, and she on’y had one stocking on, and that was very torn. 
And who she was, and where she came from, none of us could tell; and when we stopped and stared at her, she stopped and stared as well.

And one of Aunt Matilda's child'en shouted "Hullo, Kid" but she never answered anything, but stood and stared, she did. 
And Aunt Matilda's child'en said "perhaps she is a witch. Let's make a fire and burn her, like they used to, in this ditch!"

And they laughed and started picking sticks, an' threw them in a pile, and kept on singing, "Burn old Witch!" an' shouting all the while. I whispered, "Not a really fire? Of course it's on'y play?" But they shouted, "Yes, a really fire! Don't let her run away".

Sue and Barbara Flitney
My sister is the tall girl in the centre. I'm on her left-hand side (right of the photo as you look at it). Sadly, I can’t recall the names of our two playmates. 

Then she pulled a nugly face at us, and said "You'd better 'ad. My mother is a Gypsy, and she'd be most awful mad. And if I call, she'll her me - she lives inside this wood."  

Aunt Matilda's child'en whispered "let us run away. We mustn't talk to Gipsies they'll steal you if you stay." But the little girl was watchin', and she said "Oh no, you won't or else I'll call, now what you going to give me if I don't?"

And all of us were quiet again. Then some thing made a squeak so we gave her someone's brooch. An' then we heard the bushes creak and so she took a coat, a hat, an' Mr Peter's collar. "And now," she said, "You mustn't tell you promise - or I'll ollar." Then Aunt Matilda's child'en cried "It isn't fair a bit!" And snatched their things away an' said "Come on, let's run for it."

An' all of us began to run as quickly as we could. And as we ran she started shouting, shouting through the wood. And some of us fell over - scrambled up, and on again. And the wood was full of creaking's - but at last we found the lane. On'y some of us were crying', and we kept on looking round; But the Gypsies didn't follow, and we couldn't hear a sound.

Back through the prickle hedge
Me with my Grandad and Aunt Gladys. Could that be the Prickle Hedge?

Till nearly home - we heard the grown-ups talking on the lawn, so we scrambled through the prickle hedge - and two of us got torn. And out into the garden jus' as quickly as could be, Aunt Matilda's child'en, Mr. Peter Dog, an' me. 

Disclaimer!  The photographs in this post are from my own childhood. I have no connection to Marion St John Adcock (Webb). The photographs are simply for decoration. I’m happy to say my sister, brother and I were not involved in any of the incidents in the poem, although we often got ‘torn’ while climbing through hedges. Furthermore, burning of witches is not something we recommend!  Have a fun week...


  1. https://outlook.live.com/owa/?id=64855&owa=1&owasuffix=owa%2f%3flex%3dredirecturl%2f&path=/attachmentlightbox

    I've placed the above link to something very similar...
    I'm an avid watcher of 'Last of the Summer Wine'.
    3~4 episodes are on UK Gold late afternoons..Good for
    me to watch, as they calm me down, no sex, no violence,
    just funny things that make me chuckle! :).

    In one episode, 'Variations Themes of Winstaley',
    Norman Wisdom appears in it...One of my hero's..!
    He recites a poem, in the library...(the one above).
    I've seen repeats several times..I wanted a copy of
    the poem...I searched and searched...linking here!
    Linking there! Total of three hours..nothing! :(.
    I finally left a comment on the actual episode, that
    afternoon, l got a link from a lady called Carol, don't
    know who she was..but, there it was! :).
    The other thing attached to the link was the actual footage
    from the program...Sadly, since, the BBC have removed it,
    for what ever reason....!
    I love this poem...And, Norman Wisdom reciting it, in his
    own funny way...is brilliant..! :).

    Fortunately...I was born, and still have a superb memory!
    I remember ALL my old Motown records...Dates, times, year,
    of release. In fact l can remember back to the age of five!

    Barbara...The photos are lovely...I've got a shoe box full,
    l sit there sometimes with it on my lap, and, browse through
    them, there ALL black/white...and, still, bring a tear to my
    eye...!!! Bless!x

    1. Hi Willie, I’m so sorry I’ve been unable to look at the link. It asks for a Microsoft password. I have a note of it somewhere just not sure where (poor old girl!) You are lucky to have such a good memory – mine is terrible and getting worse. I need to write myself notes all day long or nothing would get done.

      I had a tear in my eye reading about your shoe box! Some of our old photos make me smile, but others make me very nostalgic for the past.

      I loved Norman Wisdom when I was a girl and used to watch him all the time with my dear old dad. Dad would have tears rolling down his face, which made me laugh all the harder. You have probably seen the post I did over on my other blog with my dad doing his best Norman Wisdom pose? http://flitneyfamily.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/sepia-saturday-on-wheels.html

      I’m so glad this post bought back some memories for you Willie.

  2. I've just checked, the BBC have still banded
    the actual footage of Norman reciting it in
    the library...!
    I've got it in a folder, l can highlight it,
    but, can't seem to copy and paste...and, yes,
    without a password...! Have to look into it..!

    1. Dear Willie, don't spend any time on it on my account, I will find the password - just not sure where! I thought they would let me request another one but still working on that. xx

  3. What a strange, but entertaining poem. Love the pictures from your childhood! They add to the tale in a most delightful way.

    1. Thanks Bish, I couldn’t think how to illustrate the post, but then looking through an old photo album inspiration struck. It was one of those Eureka moments. I’m glad you think it works OK.

  4. Lovely post Barbara. Childhood memories do bring a tear to the eye eh? For me it's old songs that do it.


    1. Hi Jean, me too, also certain smells take me right back to those days. When I smell lavender, I’m waiting for the school bus (there was a huge lilac tree in a garden next to the bus stop). When I smell the sea, I’m always in Cornwall where we spent our summer holidays. These days I’m more likely to be in Bournemouth, but if I close my eyes, it’s Cornwall! Memory is a strange and wonderful thing. Thanks for coming over. x

  5. Hello Barbara, what an enjoyable post! I love the cover on that book and your childhood photos are absolutely delightful! Beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. It was my absolute pleasure Linda, thanks so much for taking a look and leaving a comment. x

  6. Found that poem by Norman Wisdom.....

    Falling in love is a youthful delight, it starts just before you leave school. It would start even sooner if not for the fact that you're frightened of looking a fool.
    Then, Hey Pesto! It changes; you begin to feel proud, That you've chosen a partner and you're out of the crowd. You both hold hands gently to show that you care And with a shy little kiss, you start an affair.
    I remember the first time that I fell in love; it could only be classed as superb. The Second affair was also quite nice, but the one I liked best was the Third.
    Although Four, I am sure, would be top of the list, it was beaten by 5, 6 and 7 If 8 was perfection and all that I wished,
    Number 9 must have dropped in from heaven.
    As the list grew bigger it became just a habit, Any chance of a date, couldn't wait, I'd just grab it. So I made up my mind to be much more fastidious And try to avoid all the ones that were hideous.
    As a boy of my age, who was reaching the stage where the choice had to be more elastic.
    They were wrinkled and ageing, their faces need caging but to get one at all was fantastic.
    Common sense showed the way that I should behave
    That I must be greedy no more
    Settle down with one only, and then never feel lonely With a wife and some kids I'd adore.
    So I started to court an old maid ain’t that sad, 'cause I knew it was time to get wed. But then when I asked it, she said I was past it, and made me get out of her bed.
    I'm still trying hard and nobody's barred so I thought that I ought to just mention, That, with no luck so far, and wherever you are, I've got a small house, and a pension

    1. That is just perfect and well worth saving and sharing. It rings a bell with me so I'm sure I must have heard it once in the dim and distant past. Thanks Willie.
      PS I will give up looking for that pesky password now. x

  7. This was just a wonderful visit today. I loved the poem and the scary gypsy encounter. I remember stories like this from my gram. They were intended to keep me safe from harm, I'm sure, by creating a cautious awareness.

    Your family pictures are treasures. You were lucky to have a brother and sister.

    I have some 30s children's books that I treasure and will try to share on my blog one day. You've inspired me to take them out and read through them again. Thanks for your vintage children's books passion.

    1. Hi Lee, I’m glad you enjoyed your visit here today. I will look forward to seeing your collection of children’s books.
      I am very lucky to have a brother and sister. We don’t see so much of each other these days, but I always know they are there for me, just as I am for them.

  8. Hi Barbara, Been, today, to a third funeral this year so was feeling a tad glum until I found your blog. Then "Hey Presto!" the world is much brighter again, thank you. The whole 'read' was/is inspiring and very moving. Now regarding the photo of you and your Granddad and Aunt Gladys, would that be Granddad on your Mum's side?

    1. Hello John, I often spend time reading blogs, and they always cheer me up – so I’m glad I could do the same for you.
      You got that spot on! Auntie Gladys was mum's step mum & granddads second wife. I didn’t know my grandmother as she died when Tony was a baby, but I loved Auntie Gladys. She was always very childlike and kind. I don’t think mum ever got over the loss of her mum. It hit her very hard. She talked about her all the time when I was growing up and again as she got older. She liked Auntie Glad, but it was never the same for her.

    2. Mum was scared all through her 46th year, the age that her Mum died, that she was going to die.. I loved Auntie Gladys, but understand how hard it must have been for Mum

  9. I loved the poem Barbara and I am so glad you found the book and you were able to share. The net is a wonderful place to find things. I found one of my childhood poems that I first learnt. It went like this " I had a little pony her name was Dapple Grey. I lent her to a lady to ride a mile away. She whipped him, she lashed him and rode her through the mire..... Well it used to evoke so many emotions in me against that lady who treated the pony so badly so I never forgot the poem. Poems do create such strong images in kids mind isn't it. I can imagine those kids scrambling through the prickle hedge imagining the gypsies would be after them😀Love your childhood pictures

    1. Hello Shashi, my goodness I had forgotten those words, but as soon as I started reading your comment they came back to me. That one and the one about the three blind mice who had their tales cut off with a carving knife always made me sad. I liked the rhythm of the words but not the actual words, and yet I taught them to my son. What was I thinking?
      Thanks so much for commenting, and for bringing back memories.

  10. I miss finding lost treasures for people as well.The most fun of being a bookseller was finding a long lost book-friend. I think your childhood photos are perfect. You are still having adventures in the Somerset countryside- encounters with badgers!- that would make wonderful stories for children.Isn't it fun to live some versions of the adventures we love to read about in children's books? Never too old, never too late!

    1. Hello Colleen, I know just what you mean about finding long lost book-friends! It is wonderful to know there are so many of us around.
      You are right about the Somerset countryside. The Brambly Hedge stories could have been set right here.
      “Brambly Hedge is on the other side of the stream, across the field. If you can find it, and if you look very hard amongst the tangled roots and stems, you may even see a wisp of smoke from a small chimney, or through an open door, a steep flight of stairs deep within the trunk of a tree”
      Those words are often in my mind when I set off on another walk.

    2. I always thought it was in Buckinghamshire!

    3. Lovely post and you look so much like I used to as a "littly" in that last photo xx

    4. I think you might be right Sue. xxx

    5. Oh gosh, is it you? You certainly had plaits - did I? It is easy to change if I got it wrong.

    6. For anyone reading these comments and replies a search through the old photo albums, and we established the owner of the plaits in this photograph was indeed me (Barbara) so I don't need to change the caption. My sister remembers brushing my hair when it was short, which was a while after this photograph was taken.

  11. When I wrote my blog for you about my favorite children's books, there were a couple of books I remembered, but I have no idea what the titles are. I found a couple of sites where people post a description of a book and members help them figure it out. One story was about a girl who went on a cross-country camping trip with her parents. I read that one over and over...all I remember was they went to Yosemite at some point. And there was another about a girl who went to live with a relative in Hollywood for the summer. I think I just ended up with those books because someone gave them to me or something, not because they were bestsellers!

    1. Hello Stephanie,
      I’m just wondering if the Yosemite book could be Stella and Roy go camping by Ashley Wolff. I remember it being a story about a camping trip to Yosemite with two children and their parents. Roy continually tries to find evidence of bears until one night a bear really does appear. It is probably not the one you are looking for, but it is the first one that springs to mind.

      If you would like me to try to find either or both for you, please email with as much detail as you can remember. I would need an idea about the age of the books – were they new when they were given to you? Hardback/softback, cloth-covered boards/ dust jacket or no dust jacket/ illustrated in colour or black and white or not at all. Any tiny detail might help especially a guess at any names of characters. Maybe they were picture books with few words or exactly the opposite.
      I know it can be difficult trying to remember, but it is often the tiniest clue that answers the puzzle, and I do like a challenge.

      Otherwise you could try searching at
      AbeBooks.com BookSleuth, loganberrybooks.com/stumpthebookseller/

  12. Great post. I remember I was given a book in the sixties by a cousin, she must have read it in the fifties. I loved this little book and read it a few times. It was about a young boy (I'm sure it was a boy) who went to stay with his grandmother. Everytime he stayed she would put and old special quilt on his bed. The quilt crinkled and rustled, so one night he sneaked a pair if scissors to bed. He carefully unpicked some stitches and found that the paper templates were still in the quilt. He found many of them had stamps on and carefully took those out, but one stamp was very valuable it was the Cape of Good Hope triangular stamp. Needless to say granny was not pleased to see what he had done, but then was pleased when the valuable stamp was found. The book itself was one of those small books that could be held comfortable in the hand.

    Julie xxxxxxx

    1. Hi Julie, that sounds like such a lovely story, wish I knew what it was called, I would buy a copy ;-)

      It’s surprising how many books there are about grandmothers and quilts. But I wondered if it could be one of these although none of them sound quite right.

      The Patchwork Quilt" (1943) by Adele de Leeuw.
      The sleepy quilt (1945) Charlotte Steiner
      My colour game (1966) Evelyn M Begley

      There were also lots of anthologies with short stories about quilts which might match your description of a small book fitting comfortably in your hands.

      I will keep thinking about it and let you know if anything else comes to mind. You could also try searching the same places I suggested to Stephanie (see above). If you think of anything more about it (see above) please email and I will start searching. You could also try asking a question on Twitter there are lots of knowledgeable people on there – in fact I might try that. Barbara xx

  13. Good morning my friend! School has started for me, so my mornings are rushed. I enjoy coming here to slow down a bit, to remember how old books are still a part of great learning for me, and how in the midst of these new days of learning with technology are just a tool....like a book. But there is something private, wonderful, intimate about holding a book in one's hand. And your finds are always a treasure to me. ENJOY!

    1. Hello Anita, thank you for finding the time to visit me during your hectic week, I really appreciate it. You are always sure of a good old fashioned welcome here. xx

  14. How amazing. Alas not the kind of verse I can see parents reciting today, perhaps a little too dark. Myself, I loved it and seem to remember my nana telling us a similar poem when my (naughty) little sister and I were girls.

    1. Hello Tracy,
      I seem to remember parts of this verse from a very young age. Perhaps my parents read it to me, or I may have seen it in the second-hand book shop in Farnham where dad and I spent every Saturday morning. I remember thinking it was very scary at the time, but I love it now. I wouldn’t read it to my granddaughters. However, loads of people remember it so it must have been very popular once. As Lee suggests (previous comments) this and others like it were no doubt used as cautionary tales.

  15. What a cute story!! I had never read this poem before, but it is one I would have loved to read over and over as a child.

    1. Hi Teressa, it is cute but maybe a little scary too. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  16. I love the old photos. They go so well with the story. How quaint! You will always be the go to person when looking for vintage books, even if you are now retired!!


    1. Bless you Darlene; I will always try to help if you are ever looking for an obscure volume. I’m glad you enjoyed the story and the photos.

  17. Dear Barbara,

    Love it when you share your books with us and some of the childhood ones are so beautiful.
    Thank you for sharing the lovely poem. I love the sweet photos of you and your siblings and friends. I treasure the black and white ones when we were kids, and they are very special.
    Thanks for the kind visit to my blog always lovely to read your comments.
    Happy weekend
    Hugs Carolyn

    1. Hello Carolyn, I’m so pleased you like seeing some of my books. It is nice to share them and to share the photos too. I treasure the old black-and-white photos and wish I had more of them, but few people had cameras or could afford the processing costs when I was young.
      Thanks so much for coming over, hugs Barbara

  18. How wonderful that you have another copy of the book and that you shared it with us. I could easily picture the story! I got "torn" a lot playing outside with my brothers when I was growing up. :)

    1. Hi Stephanie, I think getting ‘torn’ was all part of a healthy childhood. I was in a small local town a few weeks ago, and every other young person was chasing around the streets, phone in hand looking for Pokemons! It was very funny to watch, but good to see them out and about and getting some exercise.

  19. Getting torn was part of childhood. Barbara, I love the photos, too. Ribbons in the hair was the thing then, wasn't it? Like Darlene, you're definitely my go-to person when it comes to vintage children's books, retired or not. Thanks for sharing the poem! It was a bit cruel for children to think of burning another child, but I know there was stigma towards gypsies for a long time.

    1. You are so right Claudine. It wasn’t a good day unless you went home with a scraped knee or a splinter or two! I’m not sure about floppy ribbons as a ‘fashion statement’ but my mum obviously liked it. My poor sister still remembers brushing my hair and trying to tie it up in ribbons – I am the ‘baby’ of the family and thoroughly spoilt.
      Thanks so much for your kind words, when it comes to finding long lost books, I will always try to help if I can. As a child, I was told not to play with the gypsies. I had/have no idea why, but it was never a good idea to ignore a direct order, so I always avoided them. Maybe there was some fear of children being ‘stolen away’ although I have no idea why that would be.


I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx