J. L. Carr

J. L. Carr

Joseph Lloyd Carr (born 20 May 1912 Thirsk Junction, Carlton Miniott, Yorkshire – 26 February 1994 Kettering, Northamptonshire); who called himself "Jim" or even "James," was an English novelist, publisher, teacher, and eccentric.


Carr was born in Yorkshire, into a family of Wesleyan Methodists. His father Joseph was the eleventh son of a farmer, who rejected farming as a career and went to work for the railways, eventually becoming a station master for the North Eastern Railway. Carr's early life was shaped by failure. He attended the village school at Carlton Miniott, Yorkshire. He failed the scholarship exam denying him a grammar school education, and on finishing his school career he also failed to gain admission to teacher training college. Interviewed at Goldsmiths' College, London he was asked why he wanted to be a teacher. Carr answered: "Because it leaves so much time for other pursuits." He was not accepted. Over forty years later, after his novel "The Harpole Report" was a critical and popular success he was invited to give a talk at Goldsmiths'. He replied that the college once had its chance of being addressed by him.

He worked for a year as an unqualified teacher - one of the lowest of the low in English education - at South Milford Primary School, where he became involved in a local amateur football team which was startlingly successful that year. He then successfully applied to a teacher training college in Dudley. In 1938 he took a year out from his teaching career to work as an exchange teacher in Huron, South Dakota in the Great Plains. Much of the year was a struggle to survive in what was a strangely different culture to him, in which his British salary converted into dollars was pitifully inadequate to meet American costs of living.

At the end of the year Carr continued his journey westward, and found himself travelling through the Middle East and the Mediterranean as the Second World War loomed. He arrived in France in September 1939 and reached England where he volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force. He was trained as an RAF photographer and stationed in West Africa, later serving in Britain as an intelligence officer.

At the end of the War he married Sally (Hilda Gladys Sexton) and returned to teaching. He was appointed headmaster of Highfields Primary School in Kettering, a post he filled from 1952 to 1967 in a typically idiosyncratic way which earned the devotion of staff and pupils alike. He returned to Huron, South Dakota in 1957 to teach again on an exchange visit, when he wrote a social history of "The Old Timers" of Beadle County.

In 1967, having written two novels, he retired from teaching to devote himself to writing. He produced a series of 'small books' designed to fit into a pocket: some of them selections from English poets, others brief monographs about historical events, or works of reference. When larger publishers rejected or remaindered his own novels, he also published them himself. In 1980, he finally won critical acclaim for his novel, "A Month in the Country".

In order to encourage children to read, each of the "small books" was given two prices, the lower of which applied only to children. As a result, Carr received several letters from adults in deliberately childish writing in an attempt to secure the discount.

He also carried on a single-handed campaign to preserve and restore the parish church of St Faith at Newton in the Willows, which had been vandalised and was threatened with redundancy. Carr, who appointed himself its guardian, came into conflict with the vicar of the benefice, and higher church authorities, in his attempts to save the church. The building was saved, but his crusade was also a failure in that redundancy was not averted and the building is now a scientific study centre.

He died of leukaemia in Northamptonshire on 26 February 1994 aged 82 years.


In order to gain some income he began to work as a publisher under the imprint The Quince Tree Press, [ Carr, J.L. (1987) "An inventory and a history of the Quince Tree Press to mark its 21st year and the sale of its 500,000th small book." Kettering: The Quince Tree Press ] producing first a series of maps of English counties, which were designed to be read, rather than to provide navigational information. The original printing plates from several of these maps were mounted on sheets of plywood and used by Carr as "stepping stones" in his garden. The garden also contained statues he had carved himself, many of which had mirrors set into the stone, set at such an angle that the sun would shine through the windows on his birthday.

Carr wrote eight short novels, which contain elements of comedy and fantasy, as well as darker passages, based on his varied experiences of life as teacher, traveller, cricketer, footballer, publisher and restorer of English heritage. All eight were published by different publishers, apart from the last two, which he published under his own imprint, The Quince Tree Press. Though many of the characters and incidents, and even much of the dialogue, are drawn from life, he always takes them just a little further into the comic. He is widely regarded as a master of the novella form, and his masterpiece "A Month in the Country" was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1980, when it won the Guardian Fiction Prize. In 1985 he was short-listed again for the Booker Prize for "The Battle of Pollocks Crossing".

Two of his novels have been filmed: "A Month in the Country" (1987) [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093562/] and "A Day in Summer" (1989) [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097160/] .

Carr wrote several non-fiction works which he published at his Quince Tree Press, including a dictionary of cricketers, a dictionary of eponymists, and dictionaries of English Kings and Queens. He also provided the text for several children's textbooks published by Macmillan Publishers and Longman which were designed to develop English language skills.



*"The Old Timers: A social history of the home-steading pioneers in the prairie states during the first few years of settlement, as shown by a typical community, the "Old-Timers" of Beadle County in South Dakota", (1957) Huron, South Dakota: Privately Printed.
*"A Day in Summer", (1963) London: Barrie and Rockliff.
*"A Season in Sinji", (1967) London: Alan Ross.
*"The Harpole Report", (1972) London: Secker & Warburg. ISBN 0 436 08610 7
*"How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the F.A. Cup", (1975) London: London Magazine Editions. ISBN 0 904388 02 6
*"A Month in the Country", (1980) Brighton, Sussex: The Harvester Press. ISBN 0 85527 328 3
*"The Battle of Pollocks Crossing", (1985) London: Viking. ISBN 0 670 80559 9
*"What Hetty Did", (1988) Kettering: The Quince Tree Press. ISBN 0 900847 91 3
*"Harpole & Foxberrow General Publishers", (1992) Kettering: The Quince Tree Press. ISBN 0 900847 93 X

Children's language books

*Carr, J.L. (1970) "The Red Windcheater", Nippers series, pp 32. Illustrated by George Adamson. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0333264746
*Carr, J.L. (1972) "The Garage Mechanic", What do they do? series, pp 32. Illustrated by Chris Mayger. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0333120647
*Carr, J.L. (1972) "The Dustman", What do they do? series, pp 31. Illustrated by Michael Shoebridge. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0333122763
*Carr, J.L. (1974) "The Old Farm Cart", Language in Action series, level 3, pp 24. Illustrated by Richard Butler. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0333166019
*Carr, J.L. (1974) "Red Foal's Coat", Language in Action series, level 2, pp 24. Illustrated by Susan Richards. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0333165950
*Carr, Jim (1976) "An Ear-ring for Anna Beer", Language in Action series, level 3, pp 24. Illustrated by Trevor Ridley. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0333199545
*Carr, J.L. (1976) "The Green Children of the Woods", Whizz bang series, pp 32. Illustrated by Bill Sanderson. London: Longman. ISBN 0582193265
*Carr, Jim (1980) "Gone with the Whirlwind", Language in Action series, level 4, pp 48. Illustrated by Ken Evans. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0333283899


*"Carr's Dictionary of Extra-ordinary English cricketers". Kettering: The Quince Tree Press. (126 entries)
*"Carr's Dictionary of Extra-ordinary English cricketers", Volume 2. Kettering: The Quince Tree Press. (80 entries)
*"Carr's Illustrated Dictionary of Extra-ordinary Cricketers" (1983). London: Quartet Books.
*"Carr's Dictionary of English Queens, Kings' Wives, Celebrated Paramours, Handfast Spouses and Royal Changelings". Kettering: The Quince Tree Press. (91 entries)
*"Carr's Dictionary of English Kings, Consorts, Pretenders, Usurpers, Unnatural Claimants and Royal Athelings". Kettering: The Quince Tree Press. (107 entries)
*"Forrest's Dictionary of Eponymists". Kettering: The Quince Tree Press. (137 entries).
*"Gidner's Brief Lives of the Frontier". Kettering: The Quince Tree Press. (88 entries). Published to coincide with the issue of "The Battle of Pollocks Crossing".
*"Sandbach's Extraordinary British Animals". Kettering: The Quince Tree Press. (145 entries collected by R.G.A. Sandbach, edited by J.L. Carr)
*"Welbourn's Dictionary of Prelates, Parsons, Vergers, Wardens, Sidesmen and Preachers, Sunday-school teachers, Hermits, Ecclesiastical Flower-arrangers, Fifth Monarchy Men and False Prophets". Kettering: The Quince Tree Press. (129 entries)


* Carr, J.L. (1990). The first Saturday in May. In: "Fine Glances. A Connoisseur's Cricket Anthology", eds Graveney, T, Seabrook. M. London: Simon and Schuster, pages 21 - 25. ISBN 0671710257
* Carr, J.L. (1990). "Redundant Churches Fund. Churches in retirement. A gazetteer." London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, Foreword, pages ix - x. ISBN 0117014524


* cite book
last = Rogers
first = Byron
authorlink =
title = The Last Englishman: a Biography of J. L. Carr
publisher = Aurum Press
location = London
year = 2003
isbn = 1854108387

External links

* [http://www.quincetreepress.co.uk Quince Tree Press]
* [http://vads.ahds.ac.uk/collections/JLC.html J.L. Carr's paintings of Northamptonshire and its churches at the Visual Arts Data Service]
* [http://www.hemsop.org.uk/XSLProcessor.asp?resourceCode=HEMSoP-NH-NJLC J.L Carr Collection at Heritage East Midlands]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/arts/frontrow/ram/2003/frontrow20030507_jlcarr.ram Item in BBC Radio 4 programme "Front Row" in 2003 on Byron Roger's biography with parts of 1988 interview with Carr]
* [http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/portrait.asp?search=ss&sText=j+l+carr&LinkID=mp71818&rNo=0&role=sit Portrait of J.L. Carr held at the National Portrait Gallery in London.]

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