Ponies, ponies, ponies


British Pony Books Home

Katharine Hull, born London, 18 July 1921, died November 1977
Pamela Whitlock, born Penang, Malaysia, 21 Mar 1920, died 3 June 1982

Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock went to St Mary’s Convent in Ascot, where they wrote their first book, at the ages of 14 and 15 res[ectively. Although at the same school, they were in different boarding houses, and did not meet properly until they were caught out in a rainstorm. Their first book -
The Far Distant Oxus - was written in a strange turn and turn about fashion. Each wrote a chapter in turn until they finished, when they revised each other’s chapters. Despite this unusual genesis, the book does not read at all as if it was cobbled together: Arthur Ransome, to whom the girls send the book when they had finished it, took it to his own publishers, Jonathan Cape, saying: “I’ve got this year’s best children’s book under my arm.”

The Far Distant Oxus is a holiday story with ponies, camping and adventure, set on Exmoor, and is full of adventure, but also realistic. The books have generally met with critical acclaim, with their “almost paradisiacal impression of deeply shared pleasure” despite their overcoming of difficulties owing more to wish fulfilment than to realism. Valerie Brinkley-Willsher said: “... [It has] a direct clear style but... The characterisation is less detailed and deep than it might be, and the children have a tendency to make speeches rather than to talk.”

The books are not classic pony books - indeed the ponies are vehicles in all senses of the word. This is not true of the short stories Pamela Whitlock wrote, which are very well worth seeking out. They are fine, subtle pieces of work.

Finding the books: Fidra Books are re-publishing the Oxus series, with the full original text (both the Collins editions were abridged). None of the books are easy or cheap to find in hardback: the Armada paperback can be picked up reasonably cheaply. The short stories can be tricky to find. Prices vary wildly for Pony Club Annuals.

Links and sources
20th Century Children’s Writers, ed Tracy Chevalier,1989, 3rd edn.
Where Texts and Children Meet, Bearne & Watson
Fidra Books

Thanks to David Addis and Susan Bourgeau for all their help.

Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock

The Far Distant Oxus

Jonathan Cape, London, 1937, illus Pamela Whitlock

Macmillan, New York, 1938, illus Charles E Pont (right)

Below: US endpapers

Collins 1978, unabridged (left)
Collins 1960, slightly abridged
Armada Lions pb, 1971

Fidra Books, Edinburgh, 2008

Three children are staying at a farmhouse on Exmoor. They
meet other children, including the mysterious Maurice,
and have all sorts of adventures, mostly on
horseback, but also on a raft. They build a
house, win a black pig, explore by day and
by night, catch wild ponies, float down a
river (the Oxus) to the sea, get home in a
borrowed pony cart, light beacon fires on
the hilltops and generally have the sort of
holiday that everyone would like to have if
they could.

Bibliography - pony books only

Oxus in Summer
Jonathan Cape, London, 1939, illus Pamela Whitlock

USA: Macmillan, New York, 1940, illus Charles E Pont
New Adventure Library, 1963

Children’s Book Club

Another summer holiday on Exmoor: “The camp at
Peran-Wisa burns and has to be rebuilt. The children enter
into the summer activities at Cloud Farm. They help with
hay-making and a rat hunt. They watch sheep dog trials.
They join a scavenger hunt in the village, make new friends
and win prizes. When Maurice manages to buy, at a
local auction, a Persian dagger that they all want, and
dashes off with it, there follow days of wild pursuit with much
baffling scheming on both sides. The adventure story ends
with the Clevertons arriving and Maurice disappearing.”

Escape to Persia
Jonathan Cape, London, 1938, illus Pamela Whitlock
USA: Macmillan, 1939, illus Charles E Pont

About the same six children as Oxus, this one sees them
“at first in London with a well-meaning aunt. The Hunterly
children persuade her into a rash wager that the three of
them cannot get down to Exmoor by themselves. The feat
is accomplished and then their adventures really begin.
This time it is spring, but the Oxus still splashes down the
falls below their hut in the wood, and though Persia exists
only for a fortnight, every day brings excitement.


Peran-Wisa is repaired; a canal is dug; a strange tribe
of pygmies found spying and routed; and the identity of the
mysterious Maurice is almost revealed. The holiday ends
with a grand ceremonial banquet and the children who have
made the lands of the
Far Distant Oxus their special
playground, pledge themselves with a blood-rite in their
river. “

Jonathan Cape, London, 1947, illus Pamela Whitlock

“This is about four ordinary, quite nice, quite nasty children. They are cousins and know each
other well, though two live in London and two in the country. They don't catch spies, or find
treasure, or camp alone, or do anything at all extraordinary. They do go to school during the
term and come home in the holidays, and go to bed at night and get up in the morning. Like
everyone else they talk a lot, and often imagine impossible things when they are in the midst
of possible ones..... The four cousins meet on Boxing Day when their Grandmother gives a
party. In this world of crackers and balloons and Christmas trees they have to behave in the
normal way with everyone else, but when they are alone they can take each other into the
world which is in their minds and become there crowned kings and queens and do exactly
as they like.”

Short Stories

Pamela Whitlock: Catsmeat Pony, illus Joan Wanklyn
Pony Club Annual, 1950

Ron and Marty have come from a town and now live on Dartmoor. Marty
befriends a Dartmoor pony, whom she calls Boney, because she is, and she is
always on the outside of the herd. Marty finds out the ponies are going to be
rounded up and sold, and she is convinced Boney will be sold for catsmeat
unless she and Ron can catch her first.

Pamela Whitlock  Phantom and Patch, illus Anne Grahame Johnstone
Collins Magazine Annual Volume 5, 1952
“A story of the golden world of the imagination.”

Pamela Whitlock: The Great Desire
Pony Club Annual no. 5, 1954

Elizabeth wants a pony of her own: a foal, and she intends to try and buy one at
the farm sale.

Pamela Whitlock: Rare Bridget, illus Margery Gill
Pony Club Annual 12, 1961

Jane’s ambition is to race, so she is seriously miffed to be given slow Biddy to ride.

The Oxus Series
The Far Distant Oxus
Escape to Persia

Oxus in Summer