George Ewart Evans
(1909, Abercynon, South Wales — 1988) was a Welsh-born schoolteacher, writer and folklorist who became a dedicated collector of oral history and oral tradition in the East Anglian countryside from the 1940s to 1970s, and produced eleven books of collections of these materials.
Evans was born in a coal-mining village north of Cardiff, one of a family of eleven, to Welsh-speaking parents who ran a grocery business, As a boy he assisted in the delivery rounds travelling by pony and trap through the neighbouring farms and villages until the business closed following the 1924-5 coal strike. He went to grammar school, and studied classics at Cardiff University. After an unsuccessful attempt to move to London, he obtained work during the 1930s as a schoolmaster at Sawston village school, Cambridgeshire, married, and started a family.
After serving in the Royal Air Force with wireless equipment during the Second World War, he moved briefly to London, and then in 1947 to the remote Suffolk village of Blaxhall, where his wife taught in the school. He then began to write, first stories, poetry and film scripts for the BBC, and then writing a book about the people of the village of Blaxhall. This work (Ask The Fellows Who Cut The Hay
) was, after many rejections, published by Faber and Faber in 1956, and the same house published the ten further books of similar character which Evans wrote over the next three decades.
The Evans family lived relatively simply, moving their home in the neighbourhood to Needham Market and Helmingham to follow the teaching posts, and at his wife's retirement they settled down finally in Brooke, a small Norfolk village, where George continued to write. Evans made extensive collections of oral history on tape relating to East Anglia, its village life, rural culture and dialect in a painstaking and sympathetic way, gathering anecdotes of the trades, the poverty, the migrant workers, and the pre-modern rural way of life which was then still lingering in that comparatively sequestered corner of England.
He maintained a long correspondence with the writer Robert Graves, and collaborated with his friend David Thomson of the BBC on the book The Leaping Hare
. Although his books have a strong flavour of memory and nostalgia, they record a time (extending back into the nineteenth century) that was hard and to which one would not seriously wish to return. He did not add a gloss of romance to his materials, but assumed and accepted the truthfulness of his informants.
Of the Blaxhall countryman, Evans wrote
'His knowledge is not a personal knowledge but has been available to him through oral tradition which is the unselfconscious medium of transmission. It is in his bones, you could say, and nonetheless valuable for that.... It was here at this time, and with the dressing and elaborating on it later, that I transposed the Blaxhall community in my own mind into its true place in an ancient historical sequence, keeping the continuity that was for ever changing, and for ever remaining the same, until an irreparable break substituted the machines for animal power, and put an end to a period that had lasted well over two thousand years.'(The Crooked Scythe, 197-198.)