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Walter Murray was a young man tired of living in the city. Early in the 1920s, he persuaded a Sussex farmer to rent him a derelict cottage, which stood alone on a hill, with no running water or electricity. Most of the windows were broken, it was dirty, dark and ran with rats.
He bought a brush and pail in the village, forced the rats to retreat, brought in rudimentary furniture. The local postman found him a dog, and with his new companion he began to explore his surroundings. In that year at Copsford he made a living from collecting, drying and selling the herbs he found locally: agrimony, meadow-sweet and yarrow. He became alert to the wildlife and plants around him. His life was hard – he supplemented his income with occasional journalism, but it was here he met his future wife, who he calls The Music Mistress, and with whom he would later found a school.
Copsford is an extraordinary book. Bearing comparison to Thoreau's Walden, Murray's intense feeling for his place is evident on every page. It is, though, no simple story of a rural idyll – life at Copsford was hard, and Murray does not shy away from the occasional terrors of a house that had its hauntings.
A publishing success when frst published in the late 1940s, Copsford has been out of print for many years, and this new edition will win the book many new admirers. This new edition has an introduction by Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path.
Walter Murray (1900-1985) was a writer whose work has been compared Richard Jefferies. He served in the first world war, and thereafter lived in Sussex for the remainder of his life, becoming a school teacher and eventually headmaster of a small private school. His best known work is Copsford.