Tag Archives: Batch Magna

Book Corner – January 2020 (5)

Sir Humphrey of Batch Magna – Peter Maughan

This is the second of a series of five books, all reissued last year by Farrago, chronicling the life and times of Sir Humphrey Strange, call me Humph, and the motley collection of eccentrics who populate the village of Batch Magna, supposedly on the border of Shropshire and Wales and nestling on the banks of the River Cluny. I found this one even more enjoyable than the first, perhaps because I had got to know the main characters.

There is not much in the way of a plot, rather it is a collection of episodic events which sort of fit into a satisfying whole. What it lacks in overall structure is made up for by Maughan’s gentle, occasionally ribald, humour and his understanding and lyrical descriptions of the countryside in this wonderful part of the world. He portrays a sleepy village, where not much generally happens but where, occasionally, the ugly realities of the modern world intrude, only to be batted back by the resourceful residents, keen to preserve their idyllic way of life.

The book opens on the day of Humph’s wedding, to the Honourable Clementine Wroxley, or Clem to her friends. They settle down to life at the Manor but their finances, and that of the estate, are on a knife-edge. The village’s spinster and amateur sleuth, Miss Wyndham, in her search for a rare flower which will make her reputation at the local nature society, discovers some badger baiters in the act of digging up a set. She summons assistance and Humph and local heavy, Sion Owen, have a set to with the miscreants. We will meet them later in the book.

Clem discovers to her horror that she has lost a jewel that has been in the Strange family for over 400 years and according to family lore if it was ever lost, that would be curtains for the family and the estate. As if on cue, the estate’s finances take a dip as the pheasants contract a disease and the river becomes so polluted that the fish begin to die. It seems that the only way out of the Strange’s predicament is to sell the estate putting an end to the rural idyll. Naturally, there is a willing buyer.

I won’t spoil the resolution of the book but, suffice it to say, it involves the badger baiters and the plucky spirit and investigative nous of Miss Wyndham. Her appetite for detective fiction gives her clues as to how to act when she finds herself in a dangerous situation.

One of the funniest parts of the book features the disastrous attempts of local ne’er do well and crime writer, Phineas Cook, to launch a punt business offering romantic, moonlit trips along the Cluny to gullible outsiders. I particularly like the Commander with his collection of glass eyes for all occasions and one who is always up for a jolly. Much alcohol is consumed during the course of the book, lots of wine and, of course, pints of the local firewater, Sheepsnout.

A glorious romp and well-paced. I would encourage you to discover the charms of the rural backwater that is Batch Magna.

Book Corner – November 2019 (2)

The Cuckoos of Batch Magna – Peter Maughan

If you have been kind enough to plod through my book reviews over the past few years, you will have realised that I have a rather eclectic taste in book. After a period of reading Victorian novels, I like to escape to something altogether lighter and I am on the hunt for the perfect comic novel. The helpful Kindle recommends tool on my e-reader, if uncontrolled an open invitation to spend oodles of money, brought this opener of a series of five and published in 2004 to my attention. Whilst I wouldn’t say it was exactly comedy gold, it was a pleasant enough read and there was enough in it to encourage me to explore Maughan’s work further.

The story is set in Batch Magna, a sleepy backwater deep in the heart of rural Shropshire, on the banks of the river Cluny – if I had to place this fictional village it would be in the Clun and Bishop’s Castle area – which time has forgotten and life just chugs along, untroubled by the outside world.

Or it did until the lord of the manor, Sir Humphrey Miles Pinkerton Strange no less, a caricature straight out of central casting of an eccentric aristo, popped his clogs. With a nod to many a 19th century novelist, the estate is entailed and so instead of passing to the Sir Humphrey’s granddaughter, it ends up in the hands of a distant relative, Humphrey (call me Humph) Strange, an American and an unsuccessful Wall Street banker, to boot.

Saddled with death duties and a hall that needs work done on it and a barely functioning estate, Humph decides to do what any self-respecting American would do with a British pile, turn it into a theme park. This would entail evicting the tenants, including a motley crew of people living on some paddle boats which are the remnants of the fleet the general’s father brought to the place to liven it up. Naturally, the locals do not want their lives disrupted in this way and much of the plot and the humour comes from their attempts to thwart the American’s plans and Humph’s attempts to gain acceptance amongst the locals – in my experience of Shropshire, that takes about twenty years.

The characters verge just on the right side of stereotypes, a retired naval captain who spends his retirement drinking and searching for Atlantis and has a glass eye to suit all occasions, a randy crime novel writer, Phineas Cook, the Owens who are the salt of the earth and know the ways of the river intimately, Jasmine and her large brood and so on. Maughan has just enough eccentricity in his characters to create interest and at times the urgency of the plot line seems to go by the wayside, rather like time in a dreamy Shropshire village.

The battle between Mammon and the bucolic idyll that was life in Batch Magna is resolved by an astonishing and convenient deus ex machina in the form of an antique gun, lying almost forgotten in the backroom of a Shrewsbury gun repairer. I won’t spoil your fun and if you are looking for an easy read which will put a smile on your face, then this may be for you. P G Wodehouse it is not but, then, what is?