An exhibition on the life and works of celebrated local nature author and conservationist, J.A. Baker, will open at Chelmsford Museum in spring 2024.

Co-curated by Chelmsford Museum and the University of Essex, Restless Brilliance: The Story of J.A. Baker and The Peregrine will be the first exhibition to explore the life and works of the influential yet relatively unknown nature writer. It will share his story through more than 60 objects, mostly loaned from the university’s extensive J.A. Baker archive.

Restless Brilliance will highlight Baker’s prominence in Chelmsford’s history. Born in Chelmsford in 1926, John Alec Baker lived in the district for most of his life. He was an enthusiastic bird watcher and environmental campaigner. The author is best known for his first and most successful work, The Peregrine, widely considered to be a literary masterpiece.

Baker was passionate about the Essex countryside. Over many years he recorded his observations of the landscape during frequent walks and cycles around the Blackwater estuary, Danbury Hill, and Chelmsford.

Published in 1967, The Peregrine summarises ten years of his obsessive observations of the bird, especially around Chelmer Valley and the Essex coast. The uniquely poetic book won the prestigious Duff Cooper Memorial Prize for the “evocative power and sheer beauty” of Baker’s writing.

The Peregrine quickly became a cult classic in British nature writing, and over the years it has attracted a remarkable list of famous advocates and admirers. Nature writer Robert MacFarlane described it as “a masterpiece of twentieth-century non-fiction”, while filmmaker Werner Herzog includes it as one of three texts that his film students must read. Broadcaster and national treasure, David Attenborough, is also a fan, having narrated the audiobook in 2019.