Page 2. " Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery "

This epigraph is a quotation from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and it is an indication, no doubt, of Stella Gibbons's intention to write a pleasurable and amusing book, extolling the virtues of harmony and order.

Later in the text the novel's heroine, Flora Poste, reads Mansfield Park  'to refresh her spirits', and we learn that she is an admirer of Jane Austen: ‘... when I am fifty-three or so I would like to write a novel as good as "Persuasion", but with a modern setting ...’(p.19).


Mansfield Park on Book Drum

Persuasion on Book Drum

Page 3. " To Allan and Ina "

Stella Gibbons dedicates her book to her husband, Allan Bourne Webb, and to Ina Dornan, a life-long friend.  According to Gibbons's nephew and biographer, Reggie Oliver, Dornan was the model for Mrs. Smiling in Cold Comfort Farm, and for Celia in Enbury Heath (1935).

Hugh Walpole
Public DomainHugh Walpole - Credit: Carl Van Vechten

Stella Gibbons addresses the letter in the foreword to the fictitious Anthony Pookworthy (the letters following his name stand for ‘Associated Back Scratcher’ and ‘Licensed Log Roller’).  

According to biographer Reggie Oliver, Pookworthy is meant to represent Hugh Walpole, author of the Herries Chronicles, whom Stella Gibbons described in an interview as ‘pompous and vain’. Reggie Oliver has also suggested that the letter is a parody of the ‘prefatory letter’ in  Walpole’s novel Judith Paris (1931) which is addressed  to J. B. Priestley, and  begins, ‘My Dear Jack’, just as  Stella’s letter begins, ‘My dear Tony’.



Page 6. " I have adopted the method perfected by the late Herr Baedeker "

The German Baedeker Publishing House was founded by Karl Baedeker (1801-1859), and published its first guidebook in 1839. It is the star-rating system used in Baedeker guidebooks to pinpoint sites of particular interest to tourists that is used by Stella Gibbons for her own purposes (to denote 'purple passages' which parody the 'rural novel') in Cold Comfort Farm.


1890:       2010:  


Page 7. " Lyons’ Corner House "
Lyons Battenburg cake - commercial cake production was another aspect of the J. Lyons and Co. empire.
Public DomainLyons Battenburg cake - commercial cake production was another aspect of the J. Lyons and Co. empire. - Credit: original uploader: Phsyco ant at en.wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons

Lyons' Corner Houses were large restaurants owned by J. Lyons & Co., operating in London between 1909 and 1977.   Reasonably priced, with live orchestra music and sometimes open 24 hours a day, they provided a range of services (including food-halls, hairdressers and telephones) and were enormously popular until tastes began to change in the 1960s.

Page 9. " they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague "

In 1918 a world-wide Spanish flu epidemic killed approximately 50 million people.  It is probably Stella Gibbons's memory of this event (which occurred when she was in her late 'teens) that inspired her to attribute the death of Flora Poste's parents to a similar phenomenon.






Page 10. " and faced with its shell fanlight the changing Thames "


Creative Commons AttributionFanlight - Credit: Amanda Slater, Flickr
A fanlight is a window (usually semi-circular or semi-elliptical) above a door.

The term shell fanlight does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary. However, it  may be used to refer to a fanlight where the area in which one normally finds glass is filled in with plaster moulded in the form of a shell.

Click here to see an example of a shell fanlight in London.


Page 11. " were known collectively as ‘Mary’s Pioneers-O’, a quotation from the spirited poem by Walt Whitman’ "


Lady Minnesota with pioneers, a Native American chief, and Sacagawea above the House of Representatives Chamber
Public DomainLady Minnesota with pioneers, a Native American chief, and Sacagawea above the House of Representatives Chamber - Credit: Skyler13 at the wikipedia project

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an American poet, journalist and essayist. His declamatory poem extolling the virtues of the pioneers of the American West (and, indeed, the virtues of trail-blazers in all walks of life) is entitled Pioneers! O Pioneers!:


Come my tan-faced children,

Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,

Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?

Pioneers! O pioneers!

Full text

Page 11. " Mrs. Smiling’s second interest was her collection of brassières, and her search for a perfect one "

Mrs. Smiling's collection of brassières, and her hope that 'on her death it would be left to the nation', is one of the comic highlights of Cold Comfort Farm.  In 1932 the 'bra' was a relatively modern invention, having been devised (for her own use) in 1910 by a young American woman, Mary Phelps Jacob, who subsequently patented her design and put it into production in 1914. (Brassière-type underwear had been produced before, but Mary Phelps Jacob's design was the first to be granted a patent in the brassière, rather than the corset category.)

After a short while, the business was  sold to Warner Brothers Corset Company of Connecticut, which is probably the inspiration for the 'Waber Brothers' referred to later on in Cold Comfort Farm as the manufacturers of the brassière which Mrs. Smiling goes to check out in the 'slums of Mayfair'.


A brassière that might have interested Mrs. Smiling?
GNU Free Documentation LicenseA brassière that might have interested Mrs. Smiling? - Credit: Hannah Harper



Page 11. " Christian Science is perhaps a larger organization, but seldom so successful "

Christian Science was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1866, and is practised by members of The First Church of Christ, Scientist.


'The Christian Science Mother Church', world headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
GNU Free Documentation License'The Christian Science Mother Church', world headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts - Credit: Daderot, Wikimedia Commons
Page 16. " There is a swing in the garden and tobacco flowers in the summer "

Nicotiana alata - a fragrant tobacco flower
Creative Commons AttributionNicotiana alata - a fragrant tobacco flower - Credit: Carl E Lewis
Tobacco flowers belong to the genus Nicotiana.

Several species in the genus have highly fragrant vespertine flowers (which open in the evening), and are a popular choice for gardens.

Fragrant tobacco flowers are also renowned for attracting a range of evening pollinators such as hawk moths.

Page 16. " as Shelley wrote of himself in the Preface to Julian and Maddalo "

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Public DomainPercy Bysshe Shelley - Credit: Amelia Curran
 Julian and Maddalo is a poem by Shelley whose full title is 'Julian and Maddalo: A Conversation'. Published in 1824, it consists of a lengthy dialogue between Julian (representing Shelley himself) and Count Maddalo (representing Byron) in which various issues relating to religious belief, free will, and progress are debated.



Page 17. " A Twin Belisha Bat. Its name is Speed Cop II "
The plane, 'Spirit of St. Louis' in which Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in 1927
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe plane, 'Spirit of St. Louis' in which Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in 1927 - Credit: Eric Mennetau, Wikimedia Commons
Charles Lindbergh in 1923
Public DomainCharles Lindbergh in 1923 - Credit: John M. Noble

Cold Comfort Farm is set 'in the near future', and various clues later on in the book indicate that this imaginary 'future' is at least post-1946.  One of the major changes Gibbons envisages is change within the transport system, with commercial aviation widespread within Britain.

The 1920s and 1930s were decades of enormous progress in aviation, both commercial and civil, so it is not surprising that Stella Gibbons should imagine further developments in this field. The fictitious Belisha Bat is presumably named after the politician Leslie Hore-Belisha who was a Member of Parliament when Cold Comfort Farm was published. He subsequently became Minister of Transport from 1934 to 1937 when he was responsible for both the development of the driving test and the Belisha beacon.



A Belisha Beacon
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA Belisha Beacon - Credit: sludgegulper, Flickr


Page 17. " the lit shop windows displayed a single frock or a Tang horse "
Tang horses are widely-collected ceramics made during the Chinese Tang dynasty (618 - c.906 A.D.)
Green marbled horse from early Tang Dynasty China
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGreen marbled horse from early Tang Dynasty, China - Credit: V K Cheong, Wikimedia Commons


Page 19. " which she had noticed in a Jew-shop while driving past in her car "

The last Jewish shop in Brick Lane, East London
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe last Jewish shop in Brick Lane, East London - Credit: ceridwen
The reference to a 'Jew-shop' would now be considered offensive but may not have been in the cultural climate of the period.  Other writers, including William Shakespeare and  Virginia Woolf, have been accused of being  anti-semitic in their literary work, although such accusations need to be grounded in a thorough understanding of the historical context in which the literature was produced.

Page 21. " Cold Comfort Farm, Howling, Sussex "
Carthorses, Sussex, 1937
Public DomainCarthorses, Sussex, 1937 - Credit: Arthur Mee

Stella Gibbons's original choice of name for the Starkadder family home was Curse God Farm. However, according to her nephew and biographer, Reggie Oliver, she took up the suggestion of a friend, Elizabeth Coxhead, who knew of a real farm called Cold Comfort near the village of Stoke Golding in Leicestershire. In a 2001 article about this farm, it was reported that the couple who bought it in 1957 had renamed it 'Comfort Farm'.

Page 22. " before they went to the Rhodopis, the great cinema in Westminster "
The Dalston Rio, Hackney
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Dalston Rio, Hackney - Credit: Fin Fahey, Wikimedia Commons

Cold Comfort Farm includes many references to the cinema. For example, Seth Starkadder is addicted to ‘the talkies’, the colloquial term for sound cinema, which had only replaced silent films a few years before the publication of Cold Comfort Farm.

These references reflect the increasing importance during the 1930s of the cinema as a leisure activity where the masses could indulge their passion for adventure and romantic fantasies in surroundings that were opulent and luxurious (often in Art Deco style). This opulence was reflected in the type of names chosen for cinemas. Three examples in Cold Comfort Farm are Rhodopis, Majestic and Orpheum.

Rhodopis is the name of a 6th-century Greek hetaera (courtesan or prostitute), as well as an ancient version of the Cinderella story.  As far as we know, there has never actually been a Rhodopis cinema! 

Another feature of Cold Comfort Farm is the contrasting of commercially-driven Hollywood cinema, represented by the film director Earl P. Neck, with 'alternative' avant-garde cinema, represented by the 'broad-minded' intellectual Mr. Mybug. Whilst both types of cinema are lampooned by Stella Gibbons, it is perhaps the second that is most mercilessly satirised.


Carlton Cinema, Islington (now a Bingo Hall)
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCarlton Cinema, Islington (now a Bingo Hall) - Credit: Fin Fahey, Wikimedia Commons


Page 24. " for the Orient-Star-in-the-West Society on Tuesdays, and for the Spiritist Investigators’ League on Fridays "
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'History of Spiritualism' (1926)
Public DomainSir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'History of Spiritualism' (1926) - Credit: Fran6fran6, Wikimedia Commons

Although it is not quite clear what kind of organization Stella Gibbons has in mind when she refers to 'the Orient-Star-in-the-West Society', the title 'Spiritist Investigators' League' suggests an organization for those interested in Spiritualism and psychic phenomena. Whilst Gibbons appears in this extract to be lampooning such ideas, her biographer Reggie Oliver notes that in later life she took an interest in the work of the Religious Experiences Research Unit, founded by Sir Alister Hardy in 1969. She also joined the Society for Psychical Research after hearing that they had an account of a post-death visitation by the novelist and literary critic C.S. Lewis.