All historical writing is to some extent a work of imagination. However hard a writer tries to absorb all the known facts, his or her presentation of them depends ultimately on how the writer understands their sense and meaning. The subjective nature of the enterprise is what opens the door to argument, debate, new perceptions and continuing fascination.
Sometimes the process of recreating the past goes farther and the writer begins imagining conversations, appearances, and meetings that never happened. Within this website may be found examples of scholarly local historians who use their historical imagination to enhance an otherwise well-researched study. Some examples may be found in the articles by Roy Meadow, notably the opening paragraphs of “The Parish Church in Living Memory,” in the Religious Life section. Most other examples were written by the late Ralph Mann and appeared in the Newsletter under the pseudonym CANITIES, but one such essay comes, perhaps surprisingly, from the pen of Margaret Dickins, the first and best-known historian of the village. You can find them under the title “Passages in Village Life, 1640-1820”, in the Reformation, Revolution and Reaction section of this website.
In this section we offer something quite different – entirely fictional pieces. The best writers of historical fiction, like Hilary Mantell, make up stories that never directly contradict the historical record; this is true also of Hook Norton’s leading historical novelist, Sarah A. Morris, who uses well-researched history to underpin her imaginative, time-shifting two-volume novel, Le Temps Viendra: a novel of Anne Boleyn (Sparta Publishing, 2012).
But otherwise in Hook Norton our fictionalists ignore that policy and never allow the actual record to restrain the free flow of their imagination! The result is some very amusing writing – but little short of downright lying – which can be more revealing about the period in which it was written than the period it writes about. Besides the fictional pieces reproduced here, we recommend the 1996 film Bare Bones, set in Spoof Norton, which you will find details of in the Views of Hook Norton section of this website.
The principal exponent of this sort of fun history was John Ballantine, a sports writer on the Sunday Times who lived in the village for several years. After he had moved to Stratford, he wrote one short book describing the conversations between William Shakespeare and the vicar of Hook Norton, whom Will supposedly met up with from time to time and visited in Hook Norton! Ballantine is also suspected of being the author of an anonymous serial that appeared in the Hook Norton Newsletter in 1991, recounting the tale of Hooky’s recent rebellion against not only the British government but also our district and county councils. The latter follows in lightly edited form: enjoy, but don’t believe a word of it!
More recently, the Scottish secretary of the Local History Group began to contemplate the significance for Hook Norton of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. He claims to have found it wrapped up in the unexplained origins of the name Scotland End, which has long been used to describe the western end of the village. Two entirely fictional pieces resulted that are so well done that successive Newsletter editors, fearing panic, hesitated to print them, though one did appear just after the referendum. We reprint here the author’s full text rather than the abridged Newsletter version – and add our own less joyous postscript to the second piece.
 John Ballantine, Conversations With Shakespeare, From the Recently Discovered Diaries of Canon Anthony Dumbleton, 1590-1617 (Stratford, privately published, 2000). No such person was ever vicar of Hook Norton!
© Donald Ratcliffe