1914 - 2004
John Seymour roared through life. He had enough adventures for a dozen people and wrote more than 40 books describing and elaborating on his experiences and ideas.
John had, some might say, a privileged upbringing. Born into a wealthy family he was sent to various private schools where he failed to be educated for a 'proper' job. From an early age he was more interested in the people and animals toiling in the fields and the fishing boats plying their trade on the sea than any conventional schooling. John renamed 'The Roaring 20's', 'The Boring 20's'. He left school and went to agricultural college at Wye in Kent and failed again, and then, at the age of 20, he left Britain for Africa and did not return until after the war.
He spent five years working and travelling in Southern Africa, farming, fishing, mining and meeting local people, his love throughout his life. He spent time in the company of the indigenous Bushmen which affected him greatly.
At the outbreak of war John joined the King's African Rifles ('white Officers with black Privates' as they were known) and trained in Kenya, fought in Abyssinia, then, after jungle training in Ceylon, he fought a long bloody campaign in Burma. He was appalled at the way the Allies finished the war with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and never forgave their cowardly inhumanity; after all, the war was being won.
On his return to England John worked for the WarAg in Suffolk, his old stomping ground. He became unhappy with the way farming had changed in England. It was now a big exploitative business venture. John gave in his notice and decided to enter the world of journalism. He started writing and giving talks on the BBC about his travels and his ideas for a better way of life, which included 'distributism', a movement championed by Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton. His early books concentrated on his adventures. These included his pre-war travels in Africa, his overland journey to India, a further year travelling in India and Ceylon, his voyages around the waterways of Britain in an assortment of craft and then his sailing trip to the Baltic in 'Willynilly', a Northumberland coble. He even managed to fit in an autobiography 'On My Own Terms', which chronicled his life before he had a family.
In 1954 John married Sally and then, with a young daughter, they decided to adopt a more self-sufficient lifestyle and rented a remote house near Orford in Suffolk. The story told in 'The Fat of the Land' is a fascinating insight into the life of a young family working towards living a sustainable, self-supporting, enjoyable life in times when most people were succumbing to the consumerist society we were all being encouraged to join. As John wrote, they wanted to "contract out of an economic system motivated by greed". Their experiences in Suffolk led to a move to West Wales in 1963 with their three daughters collectively known by John as 'Janeannekate'. Here they continued to farm. John kept writing and in 1976 he wrote his most popular manual 'The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency'. This brought him fame and a certain amount of riches, neither of which interested him. As long as he had a 'sun downer' in his hand at the end of the day and the company of good people he didn't give a thought to it.
In 1981 John left Wales and moved to another smallholding in Ireland. In 1999 at the age of 84, he was charged for damaging a genetically modified crop of sugar beet along with six others known as the 'Arthurstown Seven'. John was prone to using Monsanto's own herbicides to kill their 'genetically mutilated' crops, as he preferred to call them, on more than one occasion. When confronted John would always claim that the faeries did it.
John was not put on this earth to be a success in conventional terms. His business acumen was lousy, there is no other word for it. The more money he had the less able he was to manage it. When his marriage to Sally failed, he embarked on some disastrous liaisons in his business and personal life that haunted him to the end. However, he was blessed with two more children, Helen and Kett. Of course this did not stop his rebellion or his enthusiasm for living life to the full, he worked hard and played hard throughout his 90 years and produced some great work, written and broadcast on radio and television. But, it was during his time with Sally and the period just after that his most enduring and personal books were written. Sally was to remain a constant friend for the rest of his life.
John spent his whole life rebelling against the juggernaut of big business and greed that was to consume the 20th century and ultimately bring us to the untenable position we find ourselves in today. As Herbie Girardet put it "He was a one man rebellion against modernism...".
He was opposed to things that matter; economic globalisation, multinationals, GM crops, intensive farming practices, the exploitation of the land and sea and non local government. Greed in all its forms.
He supported local activity, small scale economics, organic principles and common sense.
He knew that to save our damaged planet personal responsibility was key, to quote a paragraph from John's 'The Age of Healing',
"The tiny amount you and I can do is hardly likely to bring the huge worldwide moloch of plundering industry down? Well, if you and I don't do it, it will not be done, and the Age of Plunder will terminate in the Age of Chaos. We have to do it - just the two of us - just you and me. There is no "them" - there is nobody else. Just you and me. On our infirm shoulders we must take up this heavy burden now - the task of restoring the health, the wholeness, the beauty and the integrity of our planet. We must start the Age of Healing now! Tomorrow will be too late."
In his last months, after his 90th birthday party, John announced "I've done enough in my life, I want to die now". From his bed one morning he opened one eye and asked enquiringly "How long does it take to die?". By the end of the week John, widely regarded as the 'Father of Self-Sufficiency', had gone, leaving a literary and philosophical legacy anyone would be proud of and he had 'a bloody good time' doing it.
John was inspired by a raft of freethinkers including William Cobbett, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton and his friends Fritz Schumacher, Leopold Kohr and John Papworth.
I encourage you to explore their works along with some of John's lesser known titles.
David Sears 2009