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. 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
paradisical 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
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.
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 for all his 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)
“Three children are staying at a farmhouse on Exmoor; the meet others of their own
kind and are presently having all sorts of adventures, mostly on horseback, but also
on a raft. They build a house, win a black pig by knocking down skittles at a fair,
explore by day and by night, csatch wild ponies, float down a river (the Oxus) to
the sea, get home in a borrowed pony card, light beacon fires on the hilltops and
generally have the sort of hiliday 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
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
Left - UK edition internal illustration
Right - US edition
Crowns Jonathan Cape, London, 1947
illustrated by Pamela Whitlock
Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau for the picture.
“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. Live 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.”
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 round 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.