Author profile: Berta Lawrence

Annie Bertha Buckingham was born on 17th May 1906, the youngest of three daughters of a Buckinghamshire farmer in the parish of North Marston in the Vale of Aylesbury. She showed a love of literature and began writing stories and poems at an early age. Academically gifted, she gained a place at Aylesbury Grammar School in 1917 and was the first girl in the school to win a County Major Scholarship to university in 1924. She read English Literature and French at Reading University (then a college of the University of London), graduating with First Class Honours in 1927 and going on to gain a Diploma in Education.

One of her first teaching posts was in France, where she was appointed as a teaching Assistante at the University of Clermont Ferrand in the Auvergne province of the Massif Central. This involved lecturing in English Language and Literature to French undergraduates and teaching English in French schools in the local area. It was at one of these schools that she met John Frederick (‘Jack’) Lawrence, then aged 23, who was also teaching there. Jack was born in Halifax in 1907 and educated at Halifax Grammar School and Durham University, where he read History with Honours. Berta and Jack married in the summer of 1932 and moved to the village of Wembdon just to the west of Bridgwater in Somerset, where they lived for the rest of their long lives. Jack – a writer in his own right – taught History for nearly forty years at Dr Morgan’s School, one of the county’s oldest and most well-regarded schools, retiring as Deputy Head in 1970. Berta taught French at the Girls’ Grammar School in Bridgwater and English at the French Convent in Langport, bussing there each day across the (sometimes flooded) Somerset Levels.

Wembdon was the base from where Lawrence explored and wrote about Somerset for the next seventy years. Her locales ranged from the nearby Quantocks, through the Sedgemoor marshes in the centre of the county, to the rugged Exmoor hill country in the west (Fig. 1). 

She showed a similar sweep in time, writing poems on its earliest inhabitants right through to essays on contemporary rural craftsmen. She demonstrated a remarkable power to conjure up the spirit of these much-loved landscapes, their changing seasonal moods, their notable visitors.