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A Countryman's Eye

July 2014

Roger Redfern, who died in 2011, was a regular contributor to The Guardian’s‘Country Diary’ feature. But he was also a skilful and gifted photographer who recorded the changing face of the British countryside, in colour, over the past 60 years. Christopher Nicholson explains how his latest book has unearthed some of these treasures for the first time.


THE ACTON SCOTT Historic Working Farm in Shropshire was sure to get a visit whenever Roger was in the county. It was a reminder of the sights, sounds and practices of the farming he would have recognized from his childhood. He always took his camera with him and always returned with some memorable images.


The late Roger Redfern was a true countryman. Born and brought up
along the eastern fringes of the Peak District of Derbyshire, he spent his lifetime exploring and discovering the diversity of our rural landscapes and lifestyles, not just in Derbyshire, but across the whole of Britain – from the Dorset coast to Cape Wrath, and from deserted St Kilda to picturesque Essex villages. Although a teacher by profession, every holiday was spent walking or climbing somewhere in England, Scotland or Wales. He loved the countryside, hills, mountains and islands of rural Britain and had explored virtually all of them. It wasn’t the tourist ‘honeypots’ that attracted him, but always the least known and remotest areas. He enjoyed the solitude and rugged scenery of proper ‘wild country’ and always visited the country villages devoid of tourist shops – where a chance conversation with a farmer or local resident was always a highlight of his day. Talking to local people meant he could better understand their way of life and how it was changing.


ROGER USED TO caption pictures like this to catch the eye of editors. This one, of a huge shire turning to watch the ploughman who is holding an oil can and studying its hooves and legs, was captioned ‘Oiling Up!’. Acton Scott Farm, April 1996.


He wrote about his travels through rural Britain in a series of more than 30 books and walking guides, together with hundreds of articles for local and national magazines. But he was probably best known as one of the writers of The Guardian newspaper’s ‘Country Diary’ feature, with more than 700 entries from all over the UK spread over 28 years, many of which have subsequently been reprinted in various books.

He always carried a camera with him wherever his travels took him, and with it he recorded the landscapes he walked through, people and animals he met, and the weather he experienced. His meticulous dating and captioning of the colour slides means his photography forms a record of the changing face of rural Britain from the late 1950s until his death in 2011. Many of his images could be considered a valuable record of social history, recording as they do scenes of villages, people and agriculture from a bygone era.

A lasting legacy

I first met Roger in 1967, when he returned to his old grammar school in north Derbyshire as a teacher. But he taught us more on the field trips and rambles that he led into the Peak District, Snowdonia, the Hebrides and Yorkshire Dales. He showed us that there was far more to be learnt by taking the footpaths and mountain tracks least trod by others, and how there was always something interesting to be discovered in isolated rural villages if you took the trouble to explore and talk to the people who lived there.


NO ROAD MARKINGS, no satellite dishes (but plenty of old ‘H’ television aerials), a Ford Anglia van faces a Hillman Minx saloon that is about to be passed by an Austin A35, and on the wall a sign advertising Kensitas cigarettes. This is the Main Street of Bowmore on Islay in August 1964.


And all the time he was taking photographs, thousands of them – in colour and black and white. I too was keen on photography and learnt much by just watching how he composed a photograph. We became friends and even after I’d left school and trained as a teacher myself, we kept in touch – right up to his sudden death in November 2011, aged 76. Since then I’ve inherited the entire Redfern Collection of images – a real treasure trove showing how rural Britain has changed over the past 60 years, together with some wonderful portraits of the people and animals he encountered.

It’s taken some time to go through all the images, and so far I’ve only concentrated on scanning the colour views. I’ve found so many ‘stand- out’ images amongst them that I realized they deserved a wider audience. Most of them have never been published before. A Countryside Camera is the first in a short series of three books – which will hopefully be followed by A Mountain Camera and An Island Camera.

Each one contains some wonderful and evocative images; nostalgic, humorous, dramatic, and poignant – all composed with the same skill and care that he crafted his prose for books and magazines. They show us an unknown side of Roger Redfern – a gifted and talented photographer whose images will enthral and delight as much as his words have done. I

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