Sussex historian says writings of Hilaire Belloc helped him cope with son’s suicide

A Sussex writer and historian has said that the works of Catholic writer Hiliare Belloc helped him to ‘survive’ the trauma of his son’s suicide.

Worthing-based Chris Hare is the founder of History People UK, whose objective is to help heritage organisations to secure funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (now the National Lottery Heritage Fund) for community heritage projects.

Chris’ first project was ‘Time for History,’ with Guild Care. Since then he has managed projects for West Sussex Record Office, Worthing Borough Council, Sussex Diocese, Friends of the South Downs (South Downs Society), The Chichester Society, Worthing Heritage Alliance, Highdown Gardens, the Sidney Walter Centre, Friends of Broadwater Cemetery, and many schools across Sussex.

But Chris says that the publication of his book Hilaire Belloc: The Politics of Living is one of the most important projects he’s undertaken.

“This is a book I have been meaning to write for a long time,” said Chris.

“For me, Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) is far more than a writer. He has been my companion throughout my life. On returning from holidays, usually in the West Country, as a child, I remember my mum reciting Belloc’s The South Country as soon as we passed over the border from Hampshire into Sussex. It was almost a going-home ritual.

In February 2017, Chris and his family were devastated by the loss of his son Oliver to suicide.

“No one should have to live through such a time as that – the indescribable sense of loss, the pain, the utter confusion, the hopelessness,” said Chris.

“My wife Ann found the courage and the love to create a charity, Olly’s Future, in Oliver’s memory, to celebrate his life and prevent other young people losing their lives to suicide.I did not do so well. I somehow managed to cope until after the funeral, and then just went to pieces, and remained in pieces for over two years. Thanks to the love, support and encouragement of family and friends, I slowly put those pieces back together again.

“My son Samuel and his partner Diana have brought two beautiful children – Magnus and Mabel – into our lives and I am whole again, but not in the same way I was before. My gratitude to those people will never dim, but I must also acknowledge the part that Belloc played in my survival: his writings and profound reflections on life and death gave me comfort and helped me keep my head above water when the rains were still falling and the waves still crashing onto the shore. Belloc knew loss. His wife died aged only 43. His son, Louis, was killed in the First World War, and his son, Peter, in the Second World War.

“More than that, Belloc was a perpetual outsider – half French and wholly Catholic – he did not fit easily into the Edwardian world of polite society and Anglican values. Like Belloc, I too had a political career that ended in disillusionment; like Belloc I have had a lifelong love of history; like Belloc I have cherished all my life the woods, rivers, valleys and the majestic downs of the South Country.

“In my book I have taken themes from Belloc’s life and writings that resonate with me and I hope they will strike a chord, too, with readers of this book. Belloc is not to everyone’s taste and many today associate him with outdated and reactionary views, including anti-semitism. I do not stint on discussing this side of Belloc. I do not apologise for him – he would never have wanted anyone to do that. What I do say is that he has been a good companion to me through the most awful time and for that I will always be truly thankful and, in a spiritual sense, I am in his debt. This book is my best attempt to pay homage to a remarkable man who lived life to the full, without fear or favour.”

You can buy copies of Chris’s book Hilaire Belloc: The Politics of Living direct from Chris at and from Petworth Bookshop, Steyning Bookshop, Arundel Museum and Worthing Library.

Story bu William Kelly, The Catholic Network