J A Baker Biography
This is a mere snapshot of J A Baker’s life. Much more information is in the latest Collins’ Collected Editions of his work, BUT the essential work, if you want to learn more about him, is My House of Sky by Hetty Saunders, published in October 2017 by Little Toller Books (see their website at Little Toller Books website. ) ISBN 978-1-908213-49-5. This book is a must for anyone with an interest in J A Baker
John Alec Baker was born on August 6th 1926 and lived with his parents in Finchley Avenue, Chelmsford. He was their only son and was educated, first at a nearby primary school1 and then at King Edward VI Grammar School (generally known as KEGS) where his nickname, based on his surname, was Doughy! His father, Wilfred, worked as a draughtsman for the local electrical engineering company, Crompton Parkinson.2
Baker married Doreen (nee Coe) at Christ Church, Chelmsford, on October 6th 1956 and they lived in central Chelmsford3.
Baker had a variety of jobs and although he worked for the Automobile Association in Moulsham Street, Chelmsford4, he never learned to drive! This may have been due to his poor eyesight.
After the publication of The Peregrine, he gave up paid work altogether and lived on National Assistance and money from awards. Such awards included a prestigious Duff Cooper Memorial Prize of £1,200 in 1967 and a grant from the Arts Council.
His excursions into the countryside were therefore made either by foot or on his bicycle; although Doreen could drive and they sometimes went out together by car.
Sadly he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and was severely incapacitated from around 1970 onwards. (Notice, as pointed out by Robert Macfarlane in Landmarks page 143, how his knuckles of his first and second finger appear to be fused together, and the back of his hand has swollen and stiffened into a pale spatulate shape… ) He was prescribed drugs but these caused a cancer which led to his untimely death on December 26th 1987 when he was just 61 years old.
Much more information about Baker is provided by Mark Cocker and John Fanshawe in the 2010 Collins edition of his work. This information also appears in the later Collins’ editions of 2015 and 2017.
Our understanding of J A Baker has been greatly increased by the publishing in October 2017 of My House of Sky by Hetty Saunders. As well as a very well researched biography, the book includes a selection of his poetry, an introduction by John Fanshawe to, and photographs of, items in the J A Baker Archive at the University of Essex and photographs of locations in Baker Country by Christopher Matthews. My House of Sky is published by Little Toller Books and is a must for anyone with an interest in J A Baker – ISBN 978-1-908213-49-5
1. Trinity Road Primary School
2. The company’s factory site in Writtle Road has been mostly demolished and redeveloped as The Village housing estate, but the main office remains and is now a doctors’ surgery and pharmacy
3. Finchley Avenue and Marlborough Road.
4. The AA office in Moulsham Street is now closed.