Finding out details about the life of Walter Murray is difficult – and I am still engaged on this task. I have been in touch with members of his family and former pupils, but clarification is still pending and the internet – often a surprisingly useful tool for research – is disappointingly mute on the subject. Likewise, I have not yet located an obituary, which is surprising. Altogether, so far, I have found a limited amount that throws light on Murray’s life and work, but what I have gleaned is offered here as a starting point.
Walter John Campbell Murray was born on 20th August 1900 and died in January, 1985. His death was recorded at Eastbourne. We do know, that by his own admission he was ‘born and bred in Sussex’.
He served briefly in both the merchant navy and RAF during WW1. In the early 1920s he fled London and moved into a derelict and isolated cottage in the Weald, where he lived close to nature and harvested wild herbs to make a living. He later wrote about his experience in Copsford. In the book he gradually reveals his connection with Nature and the landsape around him - and intense and mystic experience which haunted him for the rest of his life.
Murray occupied the lonely cottage for a year, after which he set himself up as a local teacher, eventually becoming head master of a small private school, Murray’s School, in Horam which ran for several decades.
Murray's first published full-length book was Nature’s Undiscovered Kingdom, (1946) - a series of Nature essays which brought comparisons with the writings of Richard Jeffries. Two years later, in 1948, Allen & Unwin also published Copsford, undoubtedly Murray’s finest work. Shortly after, he published A Sanctuary Planted, which told the story of the creation of a nature sanctuary in Horam.
The early 1950s were Murray’s most productive time. Working with the broadcaster and entomologist L Hugh Newman, Murray co-wrote three books, Stand and Stare (1950), Nature's Way: Questions and Answers on Animal Behaviour (1952) and Wander and Watch, (1954). He also wrote two more books on his own, both published in 1953, the previously mentioned A Sanctuary Planted, and Romney Marsh.
A more detailed study of Murray's life and work can be found in my latest book The Green Man of Horam.