JEAN Saunders, secretary of the Richard Jefferies Society, thinks it’s sad the author’s house and literary legacy aren’t given more prominence among local visitor attractions.

When I met her at the newly refurbished and reopened Richard Jefferies Museum at Coate the other day, she told me: “People coming here have the chance to see one of the few historically important houses in Swindon that haven’t been torn down.

“In terms of importance not only to local history but also to literature in late Victorian England, Richard Jefferies is unequalled.

“He has been described as a genius because he was so perceptive about nature, based on his own personal experiences in observing it.

“I’d like many more people to know about him, and it’s sad that they don’t.”

Jean has a point, there. When it comes to banging its own cultural drum, Swindon has always been backward in coming forward.

Richard Jefferies is one of the best examples of this, being widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of his era and one of the greatest nature writers of any era.

If he’d been from Liverpool or London or Leicester, say, his birthplace and haunts would be mentioned on the front cover of every tourist guide.

There’d be TV shows. There’d be radio dramas and readings of his works. There’d be one-man shows in the theatres.

The local authority would be hassling the Arts Council with a view to having a feature film made – probably starring some young heartthrob and spiced up with a spot of historically inaccurate nudity on account of Jefferies having been a self-professed pagan.

There’d be themed nature walks guided by resting actors wearing frock coats and itchy beards.

And if Jefferies had been Scottish? All of the above, plus a place in the national pantheon of pride alongside Burns and Scott, his name and image on a hundred million souvenir tea towels in kitchens from Melbourne to Minnesota, and a good living for genealogists helping tourists trace their ancestry back to the great man.

“Like something from Richard Jefferies,” would be a universally-understood way of describing a beautiful natural scene.

But here in Swindon? A straw poll of about 30 random strangers in Regent Street the other day yielded a grand total of four people who knew about the man, although none had read him.

Most had never heard of him, one thought he was a local councillor and one thought he wrote for this newspaper. That person was correct, as we reprint selections from his works regularly, and Jefferies was a contributor as a young man, but he’s been dead for nearly 123 years.

The Richard Jefferies Museum, based at his old house, has been open since the early 1960s, having been acquired from a private owner in the 1920s by the old Swindon Corporation under the visionary eye of councillor and mayor Reuben George.

Unlike other historic literary houses, the visitor to the Jefferies Museum can know for certain that they are standing where the author stood, gazing from the windows he gazed from and looking into the gardens that inspired some of the most beautiful prose in the language.

Contrast this with, for example, the buildings on the Shakespeare tourist trail, many of which have no proven connection to the Bard. Or even the excellent Samuel Johnson House in London: though based where the great man compiled his dictionary, it’s a restored version of a building that was all but wrecked in the Blitz.

The Richard Jefferies Museum contains most of the surviving property of the author and his family, from a small wooden chest he made as a boy to the family dining table and the chest he kept his manuscripts in. Some of the manuscripts and plenty of letters and other ephemera remain.

There are also countless paintings illustrating or inspired by his work, some of the most beautiful of which are by one Kate Tryon, a Massachusetts woman who lived from 1864 to 1952.

She was so moved by the work of Jefferies that she made half a dozen Atlantic crossings to visit Wiltshire and painted more than 200 works in oils based on his work.

There is a photograph taken of her standing outside the house in Coate, looking like a character from Hemingway or Steinbeck.

The museum is open throughout the year between 10am and 4pm on the second Wednesday of each month, and on the first, third and fourth Sundays between 2pm and 5pm from May to September. Entry is free.

In spite of the restricted opening hours, it manages to attract about 1,000 visitors annually.

It deserves rather more.