Some writers achieve success in their early years then fade to obscurity. Some lucky ones find success in their later years and for some, curiously, their real talent is only recognised after they have died. Muriel Foster was one of the latter.
Muriel Constance Foster, born in 1885 in Shenley, Surrey, was the eldest daughter in an upper middle class family. Although skilled in embroidery, she was more interested in the boys’ pursuits of fencing and fishing. She was also a talented artist and attended the Slade School of Art and exhibited at the Royal Academy. However her main passion was fishing and she often went to Scotland for fly fishing. In late 1913, she began to record her fishing exploits in a journal along with her own detailed sketches of the wild life seen and her beautiful watercolours of the Scottish landscape. On a near daily basis she recorded where she fished, the weather, the number of rods used, the type of flies tied, the quality of the fishing and of course details of the fish caught — all stunningly illustrated and with the occasional poem. She continued this activity through all the summers of World War l. Her main fishing was in Scotland, in particular the Dundonnell River, but her diary also records visits elsewhere. In July 1924 is her first entry of fishing in the River Kennet near the Newbury Electric Works. In May 1927 she fished the River Lambourn. By 1929 she recorded frequent visits to the Rivers Kennet and Lambourn. Her liking for this area may well have been the reason why, in about 1930, she bought Ivy Cottage (now Ivy House) in South Street, Aldbourne. Her first sketch Of Ivy Cottage appears in her diary in summer 1931. Although small compared to her family home, it suited Muriel but she still had help from a cook, Nellie, and a parlour maid, Dorothy. Their presence allowed Muriel to concentrate on drawing, painting, embroidery, fishing and tending her walled garden by the brook. Although unmarried she had no shortage of family and other visitors. Throughout the 1930s she fished the local rivers and in Cambridgeshire where she had family. After the summer of 1939 there are no entries in her fishing diary during WW2 until 1946. She set aside all her pastimes and concentrated on the war effort. Along with ‘Pop’ Morrison, she organised the village children to collect spare materials for re-use in the wartime. There is a photograph of Muriel with her ‘collecting team’ in the files of the Aldbourne Heritage Centre. During the war Nellie and Dorothy died. Also Muriel’s health declined with the onset of arthritis, perhaps arising from the years spent in ‘damp’ fishing situations. She recorded fewer and fewer fishing trips from 1946 to 1949 and her fishing diary ends in June 1949 with the graphic but amusing entry ‘Finis Arthritis!’. However she remained a keen and knowledgeable bird watcher.
Despite increasingly painful arthritis, she managed alone in Ivy Cottage throughout the 1950s. The door was always open to family, friends and the village children. She is fondly remembered for her habit of paying for the village children’s first ride at the Feast fair. Muriel died in February 1963. aged 78. Her endearing legacy in Aldbourne is the stone memorial seat at the top of St. Michael’s churchyard. But her story did not end there. Her friends and family recognised that her fishing records which she had kept from 1913 until 1949 were also legacies to be shared with others. In 1979 her book ‘Days on Sea, Loch and River’ — her fishing diary 1913 to 1928 – and in 1980 the longer ‘Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary’, covering 1913 to 1949, were published as facsimile reproductions. These soon became a ‘must have’ for fishing enthusiasts. Copies can still be found today via internet booksellers. These are beautiful books to browse whether or not you are ‘into’ fishing.