The Bells of Burracombe

Written by Lilian Harry
Review by Myfanwy Cook

The village of Burracombe on the edge of Dartmoor is the setting for the first in Lilian Harry’s Devon series. The villagers are hoping to organize their own celebration as their contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain. The story charts the personal tragedies and hopes of those who live in this rural farming community, and their attempts to adjust to the changes caused by the war.

The novel opens with the arrival of Stella Simons, a young teacher. She was orphaned as a child and separated from her sister Muriel. Her quest to trace Muriel with the help of Luke, burdened with his experiences as a war artist and a love he can’t forget, are only two of the threads in this tapestry of village life.

The characters are engaging. Dottie Friend, who does everything in the village from cooking to making clothes, and Shirley Culliford, the bright primary school girl from the village’s ‘problem family’, are the most colourful examples. Lilian Harry has recreated the spirit of the period by sprinkling historical details throughout, and even uses local names such as Tozer. Her hands-on experience as a bell-ringer is clear in the humorous account of the competitiveness of the local bell-ringers.