PBOTD: January 17th, Marjorie Mary Oliver: The Ponies of Bunts

Marjorie Mary Oliver was one of the earliest writers of the pony story in which it is the children, rather than the ponies, who are the main focus. She was also one of the earliest writers to believe in the transformative power of the countryside, particularly when allied to ponies. In the legions of pony books to come, child after child moved out of the stultifying, pony-less city, and out to the countryside where, at last, they could have a pony because there was somewhere to put it. And with the pony came freedom, friends, responsibility and fun.

The children in The Ponies of Bunts (1933), right from the off, are obviously suffering. They are described as "poor little townies - they do look peaky." Much of the blame for this is put firmly at the feet of their mother, who is characterised as over-protective, so much so that on the drive from the station to Bunts she wants the children to ride with her in the car, because she is convinced that going in a pony and trap will be entirely too much for them. Here, she's portrayed as damaging her children. Today, she'd be considered a good mother, not exposing her children (with no helmets) to the dangers of a ride in a pony and trap. I do wonder quite what Marjorie Mary Oliver would have made of today's children, wafted from door to door in cars, not allowed to play out, and for whom the freedom to wander about the countryside unconstrained is unimaginable. 

Still, it was the 1930s when The Ponies of Bunts was written. John and Diana become healthy, tanned, and accomplished riders. Their world is an idyll: nothing really ever goes wrong, and everyone in it, animal and human, has a sort of vital health about them. 

First edition 1933
Marjorie Mary Oliver, and her co-author, Eva Ducat, went on to write two more books which featured some of the same characters:  Sea Ponies (1935) and Ponies and Caravans (1941). The Ponies of Bunts was published in 1933, and the front cover was illustrated by K F Barker. The internal illustrations are photographs: a first in the pony book field. They have now developed considerable period charm, and reveal the world they sprang from perhaps more than illustrations ever could. 

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Anonymous said…
This was passed on to me as a child by an adult who'd outgrown it. I remember being interested in the photos, wondering if they were really the children depicted in the book. The photos were more distinctive than the usual pony book illustrations (even though they were often really good).
Jane Badger said…
Thank you for your comment. I really like the photographs too. I'd love to know more about the photographer, but all we're told in the book is that they're from "Jenefer's camera", which isn't particularly illuminating!
Anonymous said…
I still have this much loved pony book from my 1960's childhood. I wanted to go and stay at Bunts House! Someone out there must know who the children were in those photos. I like to think it was all real.
Jane Badger said…
I'd love to know too! I guess they must be in their eighties and nineties now. Just doing the photographs must have been an experience in itself.
Jon Horley said…
So pleased to find this site. I read PoB in 1956, but didn't own a copy until just a few years ago. I live in East Sussex and one day decided to try to find "Bunts" (a fictional name) and the areas where the children rode. I took the book with me and luckily blundered into the yard of Mr and Mrs Newby, who owned (and may still) a carriage-driving business. I had the amazing experience if seeing one of their magnificent grey carriage horses receive Reiki treatment on a stiff shoulder! The Reiki was done by an ex-farrier, who'd given up that work after his back wouldn't take it any more. I showed the Newbys PoB and - hurrah! I wasn't far from where the farmhouse stood. In fact, l drove on to it and knocked on the door, but sadly no-one was home. The area to explore is via the Ordnance Survey map for Midhurst and Petworth. Mill's Farm House is in section 24/82 and just off to the right of that is Brier Lane (tracks) and to its right, a large pond - Hammer Pond. It seems to be all around here that the children rode. Midhurst is just a few miles away. Beautiful area of woods and, of course, not too far away from Cowdray Park (polo) and Goodwood with its racing, Festival of Speed and Vintage Car Rally.
Goldielover said…
Jon, that is absolutely fascinating. Well done for tracking that down. I've been a fan of The Ponies of Bunts for years, and in fact bought my first copy from the author of this blog. I then proceeded to read it to bits and had to buy another copy. Sea Ponies is another by the same author that is well worth a read if you can find a reasonably priced copy. Like The Ponies of Bunts, it is illustrated by photographs.
Unknown said…
My pleasure, Goldielover! I didn't realise that its authors wrote so many pony books! Just viewed a list on another blog and yes, thanks, l can definitely find Sea Ponies and the Bunts sequel, Ponies and Caravans. I'll have plenty of nostalgic summer reading now! I love that the books contain photographs. I was especially pleased to see the children riding WITHOUT body protectors, crash hats, or hi-viz vests - how times change. Sadly, one has to venture forth these days in an armour! I rode mostly in jeans and a tee-shirt, often bareback (which helped develop balance and a deep seat - essential on my first pony, who fell over a lot!), so felt a warm relation to these adventuring children. I'll take up your recommendation, many thanks.
Unknown said…
Oops, I've shown up as "unknown" - that was me, Jon Horley, responding.
Anonymous said…
I still have my copy of PoB, bought by Mum from a jumble sale in the late 1960's when I was a pony mad child. I too wanted to go there! I have often wondered if those children were real and that house really existed.

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