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P1010889

Chiltern Adventure was published by Blackie in 1950, and later republished by Fidra Books in paperback in 2006. In More About Being an Author, MEA says, “My First Blackie Book, Chiltern Adventure, was quite a handsome affair, with a lovely jacket by Terrence Freeman, though the inside illustrations were undistinguished.” Later she says that the copyright was sold outright for a hundred pounds, although later Blackie books were on a royalty at a low price (she doubts they made a hundred pounds each).

Synopsis

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The four England children, Deborah, Petronalla (Peta), Everard and Francesca (also known as Pav, short for Pavlova, as she is training to be a ballet dancer), live in London with their parents, but they have all been ill with measles, and at the end of their summer term, their mother tells them that they instead of their usual fortnight at a smart hotel at the seaside, this year they are to have six weeks in a cottage in the Chilterns. It is planned that an old family friend will go to look after them, with their parents visiting at weekends, but a convenient chapter of accidents results in them going alone, in charge of 16 year old Deb.

Their journey is full of trials, not the least of which is Francesca’s sudden attempt to return to town. All the children are apprehensive about life in the country, being out and out town children, but she is particularly affected, being used to a life at ballet school and loving the theatre. They manage to retrieve her, and finally arrive at the cottage late at night. The owners of the cottage, Mr and Mrs Kingshill, live at the neighbouring farm with their son, Johnathan, and meet them and show them round. Just as they are arriving, they catch a glimpse of a girl in the woods, and that night a note is pinned to the door, saying ‘Rowena bids you welcome’.

The next afternoon the three girls go for a walk, but Francesca gets ahead of the others, and is penned in by a herd of cows, much to her terror, but a strange girl comes to the rescue. She rushes off, but they just have chance to find out that she is the Rowena of the note, and she tells them that she lives with the bodgers in the woods. They find out that bodgers are chair makers, who ply an ancient craft, but that their way of life is threatened by factories.

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Jonathan takes them for a walk to see the countryside round about, but Francesca gets a blister on her heel. Thankfully a car comes to the rescue, driven by Miss Brentham, headmistress of the nearby Sherlenden House boarding school for girls.

That night Peta slips away into Sherlendenleaf wood, and finds the bodgers’ camp, but it is deserted. On her way back, she spots Rowena, who stops to talk but once again rushes away. On telling the others, Francesca becomes upset, as she wanted to go to find Rowena. They are confused by her, one minute she seems like a spoilt child, and at other times she is prematurely grown up.

The days pass, and the children explore the countryside on their bicycles, and help on the farm, but there is no sign of the mysterious Rowena until one day Francesca, who has stayed behind to practise whilst the others went out, comes in late and reports her meeting with Rowena in the woods, where she has a campfire and a tent. She has told the younger girl stories, and explained that she is the seventh child of a seventh child, with an Irish grandmother.

The next day they go off on their bikes, and are having tea in a café in West Wycombe when they are amazed to see Miss Brentham enter with Rowena, who is smart in school uniform instead of the ragged clothes she adopts in the woods. On seeing them, Miss Brentham says that she was planning to visit them that evening, to ask them to be company for Rowena, who has been left at school for the holidays as her parents are abroad, and she has to go away the next day.

Rowena duly apologises for misleading them about living with the bodgers, but says that she really is a seventh child. Her family are scattered around the world, and she is the only one in England. They all make friends, Peta is particularly drawn to Rowena, who is the same age as her, but Francesca is also desperate to be friends with her, to the extent that she would rather go shopping with them than practise. On the way Francesca falls off her bike, but instead of making a fuss she behaves sportingly to try and impress Rowena. But she is jealous of the friendship that is springing up between the two older girls, and this causes trouble when she butts in on a plan they have made for Peta to spend a night at the school with Rowena. She follows Peta, who has got into the school undetected, but falls and wakes the Matron in charge, and she and Peta go back to the cottage. Peta is cross and tells Francesca that Rowena is cross with her.

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Next morning Francesca is missing, and eventually they realise that she has run away. Peta and Rowena manage to find her in Aylesbury, where a ballet film is showing at the cinema, and persuade her to return with them. On the way back they are caught in a thunderstorm, and, sharing two bicycles between three of them, manage to collide, leaving Rowena with a twisted ankle and Peta unconscious. Francesca goes for help, and they are rescued and taken back to the cottage, the three younger girls make friends, and the troubles are all resolved.

Mr and Mrs England join the children for the last two weeks of their holiday, and Rowena comes to stay too. The book ends with them all going to London to see a ballet, and with the news that they are to keep the cottage for holidays in the future.

Characters

Deborah England (aka Deb), aged 16

Everard England (aka Ever, or Brit), aged 14

Petronella England (aka Peta), aged 13

Francesca England (aka Pav), aged 10

Jonathan Kingshill, aged 14

Rowena Downing, aged 13

Mr and Mrs Kingshill

Locations

The book opens in London, where the Englands live in Gloucester Place, but the story soon moves to the Chilterns. The exact location of the cottage isn’t specified, but it must be fairly near to Hampden House, as that is one of their first ports of call on the walk Jon takes them on on their first afternoon.

This is Elsie Oxenham country, where MEA spent a lot of time, starting with her term as a housemistress at the school at Hampden House. She knew every path for miles, and it shows in her writing – the reactions of the older children to the beech woods and the view over the Vale of Aylesbury are clearly written from the heart. There are several references to Hampden House, and Whiteleaf Cross and Green Hailey are also mentioned more than once, as well as most of the towns round about.

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Looking down over Princes Ridsborough from Whiteleaf Cross

Thoughts

This book was published the year after Cilia of Chiltern’s Edge, but it may have been written first – in The Background Came First, MEA says that the school in the latter book was situated “opposite the famous inn called The Pink and Lily”, but the inn gets a mention in Chiltern Adventure with no mention of a school opposite. Or it could just have been that mentioning another school would be one school too many…

Francesca is the first of MEA’s ballet heroines, but although she is at first portrayed as obsessed with ballet, as the book progresses she becomes more interested in making friends with Rowena, and even though she has been given a space to practise in, she feels that, “for the first time…dancing had lost some of its savour. It seemed a lonely and rather depressing business practising in the attic at Beech End Farm”. She is an interesting character though, a curious mixture of sophistication and naivety, perfectly happy and confident walking the London streets, but terrified (at first) of the country.

It seems a little unlikely that 16 year old Deborah would be able to run a cottage with no electric or running water for all four of them, not to mention shopping for and cooking three square meals a day, with no training, but she manages without any major mishaps.

There are several mentions of the bodgers, or chair-leg makers, in the woods, although we only see their empty camp and not them at work. In EJO’s Girls of the Hamlet Club, Margia takes Cicely to see the chair-leg makers in the same woods, although she doesn’t refer to them as bodgers.

There is no folk dancing in this book, but Rowena has a large store of folk songs which she sings whilst helping with the housework at the cottage, including The Lark in the Morn, which was a favourite of MEAs.

In The Background Came First, MEA says, “I made a bloomer in [Chiltern Adventure] that no one has ever pointed out. I gave that Chiltern Bottom a stream. The most unlikely thing in the world. There is little water in that country.

Connections with other books

Chiltern Adventure is closely linked by Rowena to Chiltern School, but appears to exist in a parallel universe – it clearly takes place during the summer holidays between the two terms in Chiltern School (In Chiltern Adventure Rowena says that she has been at school for ‘a term and a bit’, and at the beginning of the summer term in Chiltern School she tells Rose that she arrived at the school during the previous term), but in Chiltern School we are told that Rowena spent her summer holidays with her brother and his family in London, then with her great-aunt; not stuck at school, roaming through the woods.

In To Be An Author, MEA says that Chiltern Adventure was written during the winter of 1948/49, and in More About Being an Author she says that Chiltern School was started in January 1950 – I’m surprised that she managed to contradict herself within such a short space of time, and even more surprised that she didn’t mention this in any of her self-published writings, she didn’t usually mind saying when she’d been mistaken.

The Kingshills at the farm appear briefly in the short story The School that Wasn’t Welsh, which is set at Sherlenden School.

Rowena and Peta reappear as pupils in The School on Cloud Ridge.

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This is a strange one, it’s a title that is included in most lists of MEA’s works, but it is in fact a short story for young children, published with paper covers and stapled, more of a booklet than a book. Presumably it was written for an annual but then for some reason published as a standalone title.

Synopsis

Jimmy John lives in the forest with his parents, and his mother leaves him to look after the house whilst she goes shopping. He decides to go into the forest in search of adventure instead. He meets an old lady who asks him to help catch her donkey, an old man who asks him to help him mend a roof, and another old man whose load has fallen from his cart. All three ask him for help, but he refuses as ‘he is on a journey’.

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It starts to snow, and Jimmy John is cold and tired, and asks the three people he met earlier to shelter him, but they all refuse, and he wishes he had been nicer earlier. He meets his daddy who takes him home, and he vows to be more helpful in future.

Thoughts

A story with a moral! There’s nothing more to say, really – this was presumably one of the many short stories which MEA churned out for small sums of cash to keep her going whilst she waited for her books (which had been accepted for publication) to appear in print.

L M Montgomery had a family called ‘the Jimmy Johns’ in Jane of Lantern Hill.

Connections with other books

None

Since writing about Holiday at Arnriggs, I have found two short stories connected to the book, and have written about them at the end of the post, here.

I have also managed to find a copy of The Adventurous Summer at last, and have updated my post about it.

School Under Snowdon was published by Hutchinson in 1950. My copy doesn’t have a dustjacket, but I found this one on the internet.

School under Snowdon 1st

Much more common is the reprint in the Star Series, which again isn’t dated, but bears the words ‘second impression’.

reprint dj

MEA makes very little mention of this book in her autobiographical writings, there is just a brief mention regarding the location.

Synopsis

Verity Armitage has lived all her life near Ryde on the Isle of Wight, and has only left the island a few times. The book opens five days after the funeral of Verity’s father, her mother having died previously, and her aunt has come to take charge of her. Verity is aghast at the thought of leaving her home, and wildly plans to live with the old lady in the flat beneath theirs, and make her living by writing, but naturally she is not allowed to do this. Her aunt proposes that she should live with them and go to school in the Welsh mountains with her cousins, Daffila and Idwal. This horrifies her even more, as she is sure that she will not be able to take her typewriter and continue writing the book she is halfway through, but her aunt reassures her that it is an unusual school, being co-educational and run on much more relaxed lines than most boarding schools.

On arrival at Shrewsbury, Daffila has come to meet them with her father, and is horrified when Verity declares that she will hate Llanrhysydd Castle. She is sure that Verity will love it once she gets used to it, especially the climbing, but Verity is equally sure that she won’t. Daffila is particularly upset because a rule has been passed by the school council that no one under 15 is to do any climbing, following an accident the previous term. On arrival at the Griffiths’ house things are no better, Verity is miserable and refuses to join in the conversation, and later overhears Daffila saying to her mother that she wishes Verity wasn’t going to Llanrhysydd and that she doesn’t want to be burdened with a ‘dying duck’. Verity is hurt and angry, and resolves not to be a burden on her cousin.

At Chester station on the way to school, Verity meets Gwenllian Davis – she first overhears a conversation between Gwen and her parents, indicating that there is a mystery about her presence at the school. Gwen then rescues Verity as she is trying to run away, and they join the train together. They find themselves in a compartment with some of the seniors, who are talking about climbing, Verity is horrified by the very idea, but Gwen absently says that she knows more about climbing than the others, although she in turn is horrified to find that she will not be able to climb at school until she is fifteen.

Gwenllian behaves strangely on arrival at school, but Verity is just overwhelmed, and needling to escape, she finds her way to a room in one of the towers. To relieve her misery she writes a poem, but is disturbed by the owners of the room, the ‘Bardic Circle’, an elite group who have all proved themselves in some artistic endeavour. Gwenllian is also found to be there, and is furious to find that she may not use the room as she pleases.

Summoned to meet Mr Morgan, the headmaster, Verity is amazed to find that her writing will be taken seriously at Llanrhysydd, and that time for writing will be in her timetable. She is allowed to concentrate on English subjects, but has to do a certain amount of maths in order to take School Certificate.

The next day Gwenllian suggests that the two of them climb Rhysydd Fach, despite the rule forbidding them to climb, and Verity reluctantly agrees. They are nearly at the top when they meet Owen, one of the senior boys, on his way down. He forces them to turn back and return with him, at which Gwenllian is furious.

A big part of school life is helping on the farm attached to the castle, but Gwenllian refuses to go near the farm. Verity reluctantly agrees to go to the farm, despite her fear of cows.

Miss Moon takes a group including Verity and Gwenllian for a scramble, and Verity’s worst fears come true when she freezes at a tricky point. She expects ridicule from the others, but is surprised to find they treat her with friendliness and sympathy.

Verity slowly starts to settle at the school, but still needs to get away, and finds a linen cupboard where she can be private and work on her book. She is in the habit of reading it aloud to herself to check it over, and one night is amazed to find that she has an audience – Gwenllian is also in the cupboard, and is very impressed by the book. She also finds and reads the poem which Verity wrote at the beginning of term, and suggests that she send it to a poetry magazine.

A few days later, a local boy, William Elan-Ellis, returns to school, having missed the start of term due to illness, and Verity is astonished to find him and Gwenllian fighting, but she offers no explanation beyond saying that she has met William before but that he has agreed not to talk about it. The mystery of Gwenllian puzzles Verity even more.

Later that day Gwenllian once more goes on a forbidden climb, alone this time. Owen brings her back, and she is brought before a meeting of the school council. She tries to promise never to go climbing alone again if she can be a member of the mountaineering club, but this is not allowed. She explains that her father has taught her to climb, and her description impresses them, but they still cannot alter the rules for her. She rushes from the room in despair, and Verity meets her and goes with her to their bedroom. On opening Gwenllian’s drawer to get a handkerchief, a book falls out with a name on the flyleaf – Gwenllian Rhysydd-Davies. This explains Gwenllian’s secret – she is the daughter of the Earl of Llanrhysydd, the owner of the castle, and a famous mountaineer. Finances have forced them to let the house, and Gwenllian is afraid that the others will look down on her for belonging to an old family who lived in a large house, when there is a housing shortage on. Her parents wanted her to come to the school straight away, but she refused until they forced her to this term. Verity promises to keep her secret.

The next day the snow arrives, and they are confined to the house. Verity is still not friendly with her cousin Daffila, and despite more efforts on the part of the others she refuses to make friends. Even an approach from Daffila doesn’t work.

The snow continues for several days, and it is impossible to leave the house. Eventually they manage to dig their way to the farm, but it is only a brief respite. Verity manages type up her book. One day the post manages to get through, and there is a letter from the magazine Verity sent her poems to, accepting them all. There is also a letter from Ivor’s father, who is coming home and wants Ivor to meet him in Liverpool. It is several more days before they can leave the farm again, and this time William insists on helping, despite his delicacy. He comes in with wet, cold feet, and before long is taken ill again.

The thaw comes, and with it the threat of flooding, and William’s condition becomes worse. Mr Morgan decides to take the car to fetch the doctor, and Owen goes with him, to start his journey to Liverpool. They haven’t got far when they crash, and are brought back to the house by the men from the farm and the older boys, but the doctor is now needed even more urgently, and the banks of the river have burst. Sarratt Marlow decides to try going over Rhysydd Fach to fetch the doctor, but there is no senior member of the mountaineering club able to go with her. Gwenllian offers to go, but Sarratt refuses. Seeing no other way to accompany her, Gwenllian tells her secret at last, and Sarratt agrees to take her.

The others go with them for the first part of their journey, but as they are turning back more floodwater comes rushing down the slope, most of them manage to escape, but Verity and Daffila are stranded on a cairn of rock. The others go for a boat to rescue them, and the shock of being stranded brings them to their senses at last, and they make friends. Sarratt and Gwenllian return with the doctor, and Verity finally realises that she is happy at Llanrhysydd.

The story ends at the beginning of the summer term, with the news that Verity’s book, Adventure on the Island, has been accepted, and they are both invited to join the Bardic Circle, for writing and singing.

Characters

Verity Armitage, aged 14

Daffila Griffith (aka Daffy), Verity’s cousin, aged 14

Idwal Griffith, Daffila’s brother, aged 12

Gwyneth Roberts (aka Taffy), Daffila’s best friend, aged 14

Ivor Roberts, Gwyneth’s twin brother

Gwenllian Davis, aged 14

Stephanie Rossiter

Trudy Amberley

Jane Vincent

Mark Lane

Owen Llewellyn, aged 17, chair of the school council

Sarratt Marlow

Miss Moon

Mrs Anna Griffith, Verity’s aunt

Locations

The book opens on the Isle of Wight, where Verity lives in a flat high above Ryde, with a view of the great liners and battleships in the Solent.

The Griffiths live near Shrewsbury, and Mrs Griffith takes the girls shopping there before they go back to school.

The school is in a little valley on the south slopes of Snowdon in North Wales. The journey to the school is described in some detail – they travel along the Nant Ffrancon Pass, which is the A5 from Bangor to Capel Curig, then through the Nant Gwynant valley, which is the A498 towards Beddgelert. The names then become fictional, as they turn into Nant Edidyr, which would seem to be the little valley on the right after Llyn Gwynant.

Thoughts

This was the second (or third – Over the Sea to School also came out in 1950) published school story by MEA, and in it the AS Neill model of progressive schools is much more developed than it was in Cilia of Chiltern’s Edge – there is a school council, consisting of three pupils from each ‘study’, and the school is co-educational. The studies are grouped by age, and are named after the old counties of Wales – Denbigh, Cardigan, Merioneth, Montgomery and Radnor. Rules are minimal – “they all went downstairs…walking in a merry, talkative bunch. It was easy to see that there were no rules prohibiting talking in the passages or on the starts at such an enlightened school as Llanrhysydd.”

The school has a debating society, but impromptu debates on current affairs also spring up at all hours of the day. Verity is impressed by the scope of discussions – “nothing was regarded as taboo or uninteresting at Llanrhysydd.”

Headmaster Edward Morgan is unlike Verity’s idea of a headmaster, she is amazed to find him at the farm in old clothes and heavy boots, looking not unlike a farmer, but he is in fact a doctor of philosophy and was a professor at Oxford. Mrs Morgan is also a BA.

Verity is writing a book, and it seems likely that MEA was writing from her own experience – she wrote her first full length book at the age of 15, although unlike Verity she didn’t send it to a publisher, and it took her rather longer to see her first book in print (the war didn’t help). Verity’s thoughts when her poems are accepted seem heartfelt – “Three poems were all very well, but a book – a real book – something to hold in your hands, with the smell of new paper about it! It seemed an impossible dream.” One of the older boys has already had a book published, on climbing, and the school values the arts in general very highly – there is an exclusive club called the Bardic Circle, to which members are invited after artistic achievement.

The school is closely connected with the nearby farm, and the pupils help out there (on a voluntary basis). MEA worked on farms during the war, and wrote about life on farms in several books.

Climbing and rock-climbing form a large part of the book, and in The Background Came First, MEA says, “I wrote (many books) about climbing. I have been up, somehow, on my own two feet, most of the well known peaks in North Wales, but I never did any rock climbing. My sight was too poor, and my balance too uncertain, for me to be able to try. But I listened endlessly in climbers’ haunts…..I listened, and watched and read, and no one ever told me I got it wrong.”

There is dancing in the evenings at the school, but not the English folk dancing to be expected from MEA – the pupils do ballroom dancing and American Square dancing.

Connections with other books

None known

Connections with short stories

The Guest at the Castle

This short story is set whilst Gwenllian and her family are still living at the castle, Gwenllian is 12 and her cousin Rhonwen is coming to stay. Rhonwen is a year older, and lives in London, and Gwenllian, thoroughly at home on a mountain, feels very inferior to her smart clothes and self assurance. Rhonwen is quiet and withdrawn at the castle, which Gwen takes for disapproval, but her friend William Elan-Ellis sees that she is actually just shy. Rhonwen expresses a desire to go climbing, so Gwenllian reluctantly agrees to take her. William still thinks that Rhonwen is a sport underneath, so to test her they plan to pretend to get into trouble on the mountain, and see how she reacts. Unfortunately they do actually become stranded by an fall of stones, and cannot get back that way. They press on to the summit, Rhonwen enjoys herself and they find that they have both been thinking that the other despises them. Rhonwen admits to overhearing them planning to test her, but they tell her that they really are stuck. Eventually Gwenllian manages to go for help, and all is well.

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I don’t have this story in an annual, but it was reprinted in one of MEA’s self-published collections of short stories, The Way to Glen Braden and other stories (1992). In the notes to the book MEA says, “I find it impossible to say which was written first, this story or School Under Snowdon. This was sold around 1949-50, and the book was published in 1950, when I think it was stated that Llanrhysydd Castle had been a school for about a year. This story precedes that period, for the castle is still the home of the Earl and Countess of Llanrhysydd and there is no indication that the Lady Gwenllian Rhysydd-Davies will go to school incognito in her old home. Another climbing story, and one of the better ones, I feel.”

Unwillingly to Wales

Unwillingly to Wales 1

Laura’s father has died and her mother gets at job as second Matron at Llanrhsydd, which enables her to send Laura to the school at vastly reduced rates. Laura decides that she will be looked down on as a charity girl, and goes out of her way to be unpleasant and standoffish. Eventually the others convince her that they are happy to accept her, and she gets a part in the end of term play. Mr Morgan is impressed by her acting and by her schoolwork, and offers her a school scholarship, which Laura happily accepts.

This is a slightly odd story – Laura doesn’t have a uniform (this could be down to money issues, but it isn’t specified) and she sleeps with her mother instead of with the other girls. Both these things seem out of character for the Morgans to allow, setting Laura apart from the others even without her worries that the others will look down on her. The story seems to be set just before School Under Snowdon – there are a few characters in common, and they seem to be the same ages, but Verity and Gwenllian aren’t mentioned. But then there is no mention of Laura or her mother in School Under Snowdon, so it’s not definite when it’s set.

Unwillingly to Wales

This was published in one of Dean’s Ideal Books for Girls, and later republished by MEA in her collection The Two Head Girls and other school stories. In the note to the story in the reprint, MEA says, “unlike most of the others [in the collection], it is not a conventional school. I am always surprised by how few short stories I wrote about progressive coeducational schools.”

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Gwyneth’s Mountain Problem

Gwyneth Parry is horrified to find that her cousin Iolyn Parry is to join her at school at Llanrhysydd, as she has inadvertently given Lyn the impression that she is popular at school and a keen mountaineer, when in fact she is terrified of the mountains, much preferring to spend time in the valley, by the river and at the farm. But she wanted to keep the respect of her younger cousin, so she has recounted tales in which she had no part. Lyn is too young to join the Mountaineering Club, but hopes to have some adventures on her own, which horrifies Gwyneth.

On the second day of term there is a mountain walk, which Lyn assumes that Gwyneth will take part in, and Gwyneth is surprised by herself and by the friendliness of the others, who she has assumed to despise her because of her lack of mountaineering ability.

A couple of weeks later, Lyn breaks out and sets off on her own up Rhysydd Fawr, and Gwyneth decides to go after her and try and bring her back before she gets into trouble. She leaves a note for Gwenllian and sets out up the mountain, managing to get almost to the top before she finds Lyn, who has lost her nerve and is sheltering, wet and cold and with an injured wrist. She gets her part of the way down before she meets the rescue party coming up. On the way down Gwyneth confesses to Lyn that she has exaggerated and Lyn says that she has partially guessed, but that Gwyneth has proved that she is a good climber after all. Gwyneth is persuaded to join the club on more outings, and becomes more popular in the school.

The story is set the term after School Under Snowdon, Gwyneth is in Merioneth with Gwenllian and Verity.

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Again I don’t have the annual this was first published in, but MEA republished it in one of her collections of short stories, Queen Rita at the High School and other stories (1991). In her notes to the story she says, “I think this is probably the best story [in the collection], though some may disagree. Written later than many of the stories, it owes its existence to my book, School Under Snowdon. Here we have many of the same characters.”

The School that Wasn’t Welsh

The School that Wasn't Welsh 1

This is a very slight connector, as it is really set at Sherlenden House School, which is the school in Chiltern School, but the heroine, Glynne, really wanted to go to Llanrhysydd Castle, and compares Sherlenden unfavourably with Llanrhysydd for most of the story.

The School that Wasn't Welsh

It was first published in Dean’s Modern Book for Girls, and later republished by MEA in her collection The Two Head Girls and other school stories (1992).

Adventure on the Island

Adventure on the Island

This isn’t strictly a connector, but it’s a short story with the same name as Verity’s book, and it is set on the Isle of Wight. But the story is completely different from the brief mentions we get of Verity’s story – we are told that that has characters pursuing a villain into a lighthouse, this is a light tale of a child stage star trying to keep out of the eye of the press.

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Everyday Island was published by the Museum Press in 1950, there is a colour frontispiece with the same illustration as the front cover, but the artist is not credited. The endpapers have a map of the island. In More About Being an Author, MEA writes, “Museum Press did well for the first three books, then produced a ghastly jacket and frontispiece for Everyday Island, with some of the characters looking years too old.”

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Synopsis

Frances MacDonald lives with her father in Alvanaig House, the big house on the Isle of Alvanaig in the Hebrides, which has been in the family for four hundred years, but at the beginning of the book we find that they are very short of money, and her father intends to let the big house, live in a smaller house on the island, and send Frances to school on the mainland. She is horrified by this idea, although her friend Donald has gone away the previous term. Her friend Ailie tries to comfort her, and wishes that she could go away to school.

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The next day Frankie, Ailie and her brother Keith go across to the neighbouring small island, Eilean nan Roin (the Island of Seals) where they are making the old croft house habitable so they can camp on the island. They go in Frankie’s boat, the Frances MacDonald, and later visit another island, Milvanaig, which is owned by an Englishman who refuses to allow people to land without permission – Frankie goes ashore but is seen by Mr Parks, and is convinced that the new tenant of Alvanaig House will be similar. This seems all too likely when the only answer to Mr MacDonald’s advertisement is from a Mr Sims of Lancashire, who is looking for a Scottish island to turn into a holiday resort, and thinks that his daughter, Mavis Elsie, a ‘real, romantic kid’, will enjoy living there. Thankfully another tenant is found, a Mr Mansfield from London, who wants to live there with his family. Mr Sims is furious, and offers more money, but Mr MacDonald refuses.

Donald returns home, making the ‘clan’ complete, and the children manage to get permission to camp on the Island of Seals, but before this the MacDonalds move down to their new house, Alltbeg, with two of their servants, an elderly pair of sisters.

The next day the children are on the quay to meet the steamer bringing the Mansfields, and find that they have three children, Kay, Lewis and Rosemary, who are dressed in clothes which remind the island children of a fashion book, so they become known as ‘the fashion book children’. Kay slips and falls into the water, and proves unable to swim, much to their disgust. Frances is horrified by the arrival of the children, Ailie cannot believe that the strangers would want to be friends with them, and Keith wants to make friends.

The Mansfields are surprised by the island, which is much more exciting than the ‘Everyday Island’ they were expecting.

Next morning Frances and Donald go to swim, and find that the Mansfields are using Frankie’s boat. She is angry, and shows it, and when the next day she finds that her boat has been damaged with rocks, she immediately blames the Mansfields and accuses them when they appear. They deny everything, and the two parties are at loggerheads from that point. All except the youngest two, that is, as Keith finds Remmie stranded in the old castle, and helps her down. They make friends.

The clan go to the island to camp, but several times their belongs are interfered with, or their boat set adrift. They cannot think who could be behind this if it isn’t the Mansfields, despite the fact that the Mansfields rescue Frankie’s boat, and the two parties are no nearer to making friends, apart from the youngest two.

Mr MacDonald is still intending to send Frankie to school, and she rushes away to cry to herself, but Kay finds her, and tries to make friends again, but another attack on their camp puts paid to any thoughts Frances may have of burying the hatchet.

In the meantime Ailie has come up with a plan to go to the mainland to visit her aunt in Glasgow, and ask her if she can live with her and her cousin and go to school there. She tells Frances, who can’t understand why anyone would want to leave the island, but agrees to keep her secret.

That night the clan keep watch on the island, and manage to catch a glimpse of their tormenter escaping in a motor boat, which tells them for sure that it isn’t the Mansfields, as they only have a rowing boat. Keith and Remmie also see the motor boat on the island a few days later, and manage to see it going back to Milvanaig, the island owned by the unfriendly Englishman. They also see Mr Sims on Milvanaig, and tell the others, who realise that it is Mavis Elsie Sims who has been playing the tricks on them.

The next night Ailie leaves to hide on the steamer to get to Glasgow, but just in time Frankie’s father tells her that Ailie’s aunt is on her way to Alvanaig to see her parents about her living with her there and going to school. Frances rushes off to the steamer, but doesn’t find Ailie until the boat has sailed, and they have a day in Fort William, during which Frances realises that life on the mainland might not be as bad as she has feared.

Frances then goes to her old home to apologise to the Mansfields, makes friends, and invites them to camp on the island. They have been there a few nights when the weather turns, and they decide to leave the next day, but during the storm that night they find Mavis Elsie on the island, she has been out in the storm and is soaking wet. They give her shelter, but next day she is feverish, and Frances and Keith decide to row to the mainland for the doctor, despite the storm. They just about make it, and the doctor takes Mavis Elsie off the island in a motor boat. Mr Sims is very grateful, and gives Keith a boat, and Frances a lot of new books.

Mr MacDonald tells Frances that for the next year she is to live at Alvanaig House with the Mansfield girls, and share their governess, before they all go to school the next year. Frances agrees to this plan, and it is also agreed that Mavis Elsie will spend her holidays on the island with them, making the clan up to eight.

Characters

Frances MacDonald (aka Frankie), aged nearly 12

Alison MacMartin (aka Ailie), aged just 11

Keith MacMartin, Ailie’s brother, aged 9

Donald MacCrain, aged

Katherina Mansfield, (k/a Kay), aged about 11

Lewis Mansfield, aged about 10

Rosemary Mansfield (aka Rem), aged 8 or 9

Mavis Elsie Sims

Locations

The majority of the book takes place on the island of ‘Alvanaig’. In The Background Came First, MEA writes that she first went to the island of Eriskay in 1938, in a red-sailed fishing boat, and that, “I think Eriskay is there is most of my smaller islands.” The map on the endpapers of the book is certainly similar to Eriskay, and it is similar in dimensions, too – Alvanaig is described as being about two miles wide (the big house is said to be just under two miles from the steamer pier).

Frances and Ailie catch the ferry to Mallaig, and thence take the train to Fort William for the day.

Thoughts

This is really quite a slight book, despite its length – the story meanders along pleasantly, but doesn’t really go anywhere, the ‘mystery’ is easily guessed, and there isn’t even much of a sense of place about it. In this I find myself agreeing with MEA herself, who wrote in The Background Came First, “Everyday Island, the first book I actually had published about the Isles, is not a good one. Too cosy and conventional, and to my mind unlike any other I wrote with an island setting.”

In More About Being an Author, MEA talks of her liking for Katherine Oldmeadow’s books, and says that “…the discerning may find echoes of her style in one or two of my own early books, especially in Everyday Island.” I’ve only read one Katherine Oldmeadow book, and that was a while ago, so I can’t comment.

There are echoes of Philomel Follows After, one of MEA’s very early unpublished books, in Everyday Island – both books have characters called Kay and Ailie, with the Ailie characters being quite similar, and in both books a group of children refer to themselves as ‘the clan’.

MEA’s love of all things folk comes through as the children sing Scottish folk songs – “they sang the songs of the Hebrides, those lovely haunting songs that are being forgotten by the Islefolk themselves.”

There are several characters who speak Gaelic in the book, including an old woman who doesn’t speak any English. The clan all speak it fluently. In The Background Came First MEA says that, “I have never been able to speak Gaelic….but I used to know a lot of words and phrases and how to pronounce them.

Connections with other books

Frances reappears in Two in the Western Isles, where we learn that the school to which she has been sent is Dundonay House on Skye.

Mullion, Hutchinson, 1950

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Mullion was published by Hutchinson in 1950, with illustrations by R Walter Hall. My copy isn’t dated, but it must be 1954 or after going by the list of other titles. It is in the Star Series, I’d guess that the first edition isn’t part of a series, and possibly had a spine illustration as well as the front cover.

MEA makes very little mention of Mullion in her autobiographical writings, beyond a couple of brief notes about the locations. She does also mention that her original title for the book was A Castle in Cornwall.

Synopsis

Mullion Kennedy has just finished her last term at the local primary school in Liverpool, having passed for the grammar school next term, when she learns that she is to spend her summer holidays not with her parents as she expected, but at her great-grandmother’s home, a castle on an island off the Cornish coast. Her mother, two aunts and uncle were brought up there after the death of their parents, but the girls all married and left. Lady Polmerryn lives at Polmerryn Castle now with her only grandson and heir, Sir Austell Polmerryn, Mullion’s uncle, and is estranged from her granddaughters and their families.

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Lady Polmerryn has also invited Lulwyn and Columb Alleyne, the children of Mullion’s Aunt Lulwyn, and Madron, Wendron and Paul Kent, the children of Aunt Madron – the family tradition is to name children after Cornish place-names.

Mullion is apprehensive about going so far away from her home and parents, but also excited, Polmerryn has been a part of her life since she was born, but she has never been as Lady Polmerryn has cut herself off from her daughters since they married. She travels by train, alone at first, but at Bristol two children join her in her compartment, who turn out to be her cousins Lulwyn and Columb, known as Pussy and Collie. Pussy also has her cat, Squibs, with her.

Uncle Austell meets the three of them at the station, and drives them to the harbour for the island, then takes them across in a small motor boat. They are greeted by Mrs Tremannow, once nurse to the children’s mothers, and now housekeeper at the castle, who is horrified to see that Pussy has brought her cat, as Lady Polmerryn hates them.

Next morning Mullion goes for an early morning bathe, and meets Martin French, an orphan who lives in Birmingham with an uncle during termtime, but comes down to Polmerryn to stay with another uncle during holidays. Mullion is very drawn to Martin, but he explains that her great-grandmother will not let him be friends with them, as she doesn’t consider him an appropriate friend for them. Lady Polmerryn confirms this when Mullion meets her, but Mullion is determined to be friends. At the end of their interview Squibs makes an appearance, which doesn’t help matters.

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Later that day Uncle Austell takes the three children to Penzance to meet the three Kents’ train. Madron is seen to be bookish, and her twin sister Wendron is fussing round their younger brother, Paul. Paul is a spoilt child with no sense of decency, who doesn’t hesitate to report the doings of the others to the adults, and Mullion, Collie and Pussy resolve to teach him to behave sportingly. Paul also lets slip that Mullion will inherit the castle one day, being the child of the eldest sister of childless Uncle Austell, and the estate not being entailed. Mullion is rather horrified by this news.

Mullion, Collie and Pussy resolve to have adventures, the first being a midnight picnic at the ‘seven sisters’, seven standing stones on the mainland opposite the island. They also want to find the lost smugglers’ passage, which they have heard about from their mothers. They invite Maddy and Wendy to the picnic, but not Paul as they feel they cannot trust him. They play hide and seek, and when two of them fall onto the centre stone, they feel it move, and resolve to keep away from it in case it falls. When they get back to the beach, their boat has drifted away and been damaged, but Martin comes to the rescue. Unfortunately Paul hears his sisters come back, and the next day tells their uncle about their escapade, but is ignored. The others decide to teach him a lesson by locking him in a remote room until he promises not to sneak, but the door gets jammed, and Uncle Austell comes to the rescue, telling Paul that his great-grandmother wouldn’t approve of a boy with no sense of honour. After this Paul does starts to think about how his behaviour must appear to others, and does start to reform.

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The weather turns wet, and Madron explores the castle and finds a pile of old books which she sets out to read. She finds amongst them a diary written by the smuggler who built the castle, which mentions the passage, although it doesn’t give a clue to its location.

The next drama is the disappearance of Squibs the cat, who goes missing for several days. Eventually she is found by Paul, she has fallen into a cave which only seems to be accessible via a hole in the roof, and they realise that this is probably the start of the passage, but they can’t find a way into the cave. Shortly after this Paul falls into the sea and is rescued by Martin. Lady Polmerryn sees this, and agrees to let the children be friends with Martin as his bravery has impressed her. Paul admits in private that he fell on purpose so that Martin could rescue him and persuade Lady Polmerryn to let him be friends with them, and he is finally accepted by the others.

The children are still looking for the entrance to the tunnel and decide to look underwater, but Collie gets stuck and nearly drowns. The shock of this gives Lady Polmerryn a heart attack, and she is very ill.

Martin and Mullion go out for the day on their own, and near the standing stones Mullion happens to mention that one of them moved the night they had their picnic, and Martin realises that this must be the entrance to the tunnel. They slide it across and manage to get through to the island, but the tunnel is in a bad state. They tell the others, but decide to wait and tell Uncle Austell before going near it again, but before they can tell him Paul goes off to explore on his own. Mullion goes after him, and just manages to get him to the other end before the tunnel is flooded. In their struggle to escape she is concussed and sleeps for several days, and when she wakes it is to find her parents have arrived and her great-grandmother has died.

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Uncle Austell tells Mullion that in future she and her parents are going to live with him at the castle, and that Martin is going to live in Polmerryn permanently.

Characters

Mullion Kennedy, aged 11

Lulwyn Alleyne (k/a Pussy), aged about 11

Columb Alleyne (k/a Collie), aged about 12

Madron Kent (aka Maddy), aged nearly 12

Wendron Kent (aka Wendy), Madron’s twin sister

Paul Kent, aged 9

Martin French, aged about 11

Lady Polmerryn

Sir Austell Polmerryn

Mr Kennedy and Lelant Kennedy, Mullion’s parents

Mrs Tremannow (k/a Nannie Termannie), housekeeper at the castle

Locations

The story opens in Mullion’s (and MEA’s) home town of Liverpool. At the end of the school day Mullion escapes on a tram to the river, and catches a ferry from Pier Head to New Brighton, mainly to escape the heat of the city – one feels that this is MEA writing from experience, and indeed she says in The Background Came First that “(Mullion) gives a curiously nostalgic picture of Liverpool trams….because they were fairly horrible.” She goes on to say how overcrowded and smelly they were.

Polmerryn Castle is described as being about six miles from St Just, north of Land’s End at the very end of Cornwall, but MEA admits in The Background Came First that it was inspired by St Michael’s Mount, although, “an author’s trick for safety, I moved my Polmerryn along the coast and, I think, also mentioned the Mount” (indeed she did, at least twice). There is a slight difference in that it is stated that it is possible to get across to the Mount by foot at low tide, but the Castle is on an island which always requires a boat or a swim.

Uncle Austell takes the children out on several expeditions to real places in Cornwall.

Thoughts

I think I probably came to this book about 30 years too late – it’s mainly very much an adventure story for younger children in the Enid Blyton style, with midnight picnics and secret passages and danger. I’ve found several people online describing it as one of their favourite childhood books, but for me the magic isn’t there now. Even the locations aren’t described in such evocative detail as many of MEA’s are, often her books make me want to visit places I haven’t been to, but despite being set in Cornwall, I didn’t feel any Cornish magic.

The plot is also pretty predictable – from the moment the secret passage is mentioned it’s obvious they are going to find it, and the first mention of the stone moving gives away that that will be the entrance.

MEA uses a plot device she first tried in The Wyndhams Went to Wales, namely locking an irritating child up until they agree to reform. Again it isn’t immediately successful, but it does work in the long run.

The plotline about Lady Polmerryn not liking cats doesn’t really go anywhere. It is necessary for Squibs to be present to find the cave, but she doesn’t endear herself to Lady Polmerryn by doing so.

Lady Polmerryn is relieved to find that Mullion doesn’t talk with a Liverpool accent, this sounds unlikely given that she goes to the local primary school.

Collie makes a remarkable recovery – one day he is nearly drowned and needs artificial respiration, the next he is cycling about the countryside with the others.

There is no mention of folk dancing in the book, and no nods to other authors that I noticed.

How likely would it have been for an eleven year old girl to travel unaccompanied from Liverpool to Penzance by train, a journey which seems to take over 12 hours?

Connections with other books

Pussy and Collie reappear in The School on Cloud Ridge, and also in Ann’s Alpine Adventure.

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Holiday at Arnriggs was published by Warne in 1949, with a charming dustjacket showing Marian finding the swords on the front cover, and the boys dancing on the spine. There is also a colour frontispiece showing Jan and Marian rescuing Will from the cavern (the artist is uncredited). There are no other illustrations.

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In The Background Came First, MEA says that

…Arnriggs was really written for the North Skelton dance. I many times saw a real men’s team, but I did that longsword dance myself for years, in a splendid team. I knew that dance with my whole self, and most of the other longsword dances of Yorkshire.

Synopsis

rocks

The story opens in Robin Hood’s Bay, on the North Yorkshire coast. Dreamy Marian is on a rock on the shore, reading her latest treasure, a book of Emily Bronte’s poems, and hasn’t realised that the tide has come in and cut her off. She has to be rescued by a local boatman. She goes up to the top of the village, and meets a car full of her aunt, uncle and four cousins, who she hasn’t met since she was small. She is horrified as the rest of her family are out, but she takes them back to their cottage and entertains them until her mother and brothers return from a day out in Whitby. Her aunt explains that they have just moved from Bradford to a farm in the Yorkshire Dales, and proposes that Marian and her two brothers spend their summer holidays with them there. Marian is very upset by this proposal, being a solitary child, but she is overridden and they set off a couple of days later. Her parents are poor and take in summer visitors, the absence of the children mean that they will be able to have more visitors.

The children take the train to York where their uncle meets them in his car, and drives them to the farm. Marian manages a quick peep inside the Minster, where they park whilst having tea.

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They arrive at the farm in the rain, and Marian is upset to learn that she will be sharing Jan’s bedroom. But next morning the sun is shining, and amazed by the setting of the farm, Marian longs to write poetry about it. She falls in love with the hills over the next few weeks.

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(This is Swaledale, to the north of Wharfdale, but similar country)

Uncle Geoff is a member of the local pot-holing club, and the next day the children accompany them on an expedition. The Thorpe boys are very interested, especially Will, who immediately decides that he will find an unknown cave, but Marian is not, and falls behind the party until they are out of sight, then wanders off on her own, enjoying the landscape and waterfalls. She hears music which thrills her coming from a cottage, and finds Mr Pickering playing his concertina outside it. He explains that he was playing a sword dance called ‘Lass o’Dallogill’, and that he and his wife have only lived there for a couple of years, before that they spent their whole married life in North Skelton. Marian, looking at their books, finds a bundle of swords, and Mr Pickering tells her that they are dancing swords, used for the North Skelton sword dance, and that he had danced it in the Albert Hall at the International Folk Festival of 1935. The other children find her there, and Mr Pickering tells them about the sword dance, playing them some of the tunes. The boys decide that they would like to learn the dance, and on their way home resolve to ask Mr Pickering to teach them.

Mr Skelton takes the children out for a couple of trips in the car, to places of interest, but when Marian asks if they can go to Haworth, to visit the parsonage, her aunt tells her that there is nothing to interest little girls there, and that she has always thought that the Brontes lived an unhealthy, morbid life. Marian is determined to get there, however, and is still reading Emily’s poetry, although she doesn’t always understand it.

The boys persuade Mr Pickering to teach them the dance, but although there are only five of them, and it is a dance for six, he refuses to let Marian take part, saying that it is a man’s dance, and a local boy from a neighbouring farm is roped in. Marian is undeterred, and watches all their practices, learning all the parts, and one day when Chicken is unable to attend the practice, she amazes them by stepping in and not making any mistakes. They adopt her as their mascot.

The next excitement is when a cyclist, Mr MacVane, has an accident near the farm. The children rescue him and he is put to bed at the farm for a couple of days whilst he recovers. He hears the children singing the music to the sword dance, and when they tell him they are learning it, he explains that he is on the staff of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and he was at the Albert Hall in 1935. He says that there is going to be a British Isles festival at the Albert Hall in September, and invites them to dance at it. They are worried about the expense, but Mr Skelton offers to pay for everyone involved to attend.

Marian now plans her long-awaited expedition to Haworth, by bike, bus and foot, not telling anyone where she is going. There is a gale blowing on the moors, but eventually she makes it to the parsonage, and has the place to herself, the weather is so bad. She is naturally thrilled to be there, dreaming about the days when the Brontes lived, wrote and died there, but is brought back to reality when she finds her aunt and Jan outside, who have guessed where she has gone. They are surprised to find that Will is not with her, as he has also disappeared.

Will has still not reappeared when they get home, and it is guessed that he has gone off looking for a new pot-hole. He had seemed preoccupied walking back from the last pot-holing expedition, and it would seem that he had found something. Teams go out looking for him, but there is no sign of him, and it isn’t till the next evening that Marian remembers finding a piece of paper with a rough map on it. Only she and Jan are in the house at the time, so they follow the map, and find Will who has fallen down the hole he has found and hurt himself. Marian goes down to keep him company whilst Jan goes for help, and the rescuers find that he has indeed found a new cave system.

The sword team have been practicing, and eventually it is time to go to London. They have a night in Brighton first, then stay at a hotel in Kensington, near to the Albert Hall. All is going well until the last minute, when Chris John falls and twists his ankle. Marian immediately spots her chance, borrows a pair of scissors and cuts her hair to make her look like a boy, and begs to take his place. Eventually they agree, and she rushes back to the hotel to change into a shirt and shorts, like the boys’. The dance goes very well, and Mr MacVane congratulates them. Marian is surprised to find her father there too, and he takes her to see a play about the Brontes in the evening, instead of the musical comedy Mr Skelton had booked.

Marian finds that she has enjoyed her summer more than she expected, and she has developed as a person, but she is looking forward to going home and having time for a long, uninterrupted read.

Characters

Marian Thorpe (aged 12)

Will Thorpe (age 13)

Robin Thorpe (age 11)

Jan Skelton (aged nearly 13)

Geoffrey and Gerald Skelton (age 12)

Christopher John Skelton (aged 9)

Mary and Geoff Skelton (the Skeltons’ parents)

Chicken Oglethorpe (age 13)

Mr and Mrs Pickering, an old sword dancer and his wife

Mr MacVane, a folk dance expert

Locations

The book opens in Robin Hood’s Bay, on the Yorkshire coast. The village has hardly changed since MEA wrote about it, it’s very recognizable from her descriptions.

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Marian takes the train to Whitby to gather her thoughts about the coming visit, she avoids the new town, and climbs the 100 steps up to the Abbey.

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In The Background Came First, MEA says

I set Holiday at Arnriggs in Robin Hood’s Bay, because I loved it, and Arnriggs itself at the top of that high pass North of Wharfdale.

On a road just off the B6160, there is a village called Arncliffe, the location of which seems to fit the location clues given in the text. There is a narrow gorge leading west from Arncliffe (p59). The road down the Dale (the B6160) takes you past Bolton Abbey (p80), and they drive to Ripon via Jervaulx Abbey (p96) (the unnamed road through Coverdale leads onto the A6108, past Jervaulx).

On days out they visit settle, Skipton, Ingleton, Ripon, Fountains Abbey and Bradford, although Fountains and Bradford are the only places that get any sort of description – Marian is predictably entranced by Fountains, only Gerald likes Bradford.

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Marian visits Haworth on a stormy day, and imagines the Brontes walking up the steep main street.

Howarth Main Street

Later in the book they visit Brighton, although this is only reported, and we get no description, and the book ends with a visit to London, where they perform at the Albert Hall.

Thoughts

The Thorpe children all appear to have been named for characters in the Robin Hood story, and Marian’s father calls her Maid Marian. They live in a house called Nottingham cottage, just to rub the allusion in further.

The elder three Skelton children are very close together in age – Jan is nearly 13, and the twins are 12 at the beginning of the book, no wonder Chris John is only 9!

Marian’s father is an artist, and Marian has obviously inherited his outlook on life, she feels that “her father was interested in ideas and in all sorts of odd and unusual viewpoints”, compared with the Skeltons, who are described as “materialists in every sense”, although they are kind.

MEA was a keen folk dancer, largely due to her reading of Elsie Oxenham, and she tells in To Be An Author how she taught the North Skelton sword dance to a team of boys from a children’s home in Birkenhead –

They were perfect material for dancing, and I produced some lovely teams for competitions….I had a boys’ sword team and taught them the long North Skelton dance with steel swords. They did the dance once in the great refectory of Chester Cathedral. In one of my very early books, Holiday at Arnriggs, a young team danced North Skelton in the Albert Hall. I can still cry when I read those chapters. I cried with excitement as I wrote them.

She did attend the 1935 International Folk Dance Festival in London in July, as Mr Pickering and Mr MacVane did, and says in My Folk Dance Days (unpublished)

It was perhaps the most wonderful thing that happened to me in those years. It is told about in my early book, Holiday at Arnriggs…. Not only was I getting to know my mother’s London at last, but seeing endless magical dance scenes. At the great reception at Lancaster House we drank claret under a summer moon. We danced in the parks and the grounds of Lambeth Palace, and we watched the foreign teams most nights in the Albert Hall. Reumania [sic] hadn’t been expected, but a team came. Very primitive male dancers, who had never left their mountain village before, it was said.

Writing about the festival in The Background Came First she says

(there were) dancers from every country, and they danced everywhere, even stopping the traffic in Piccadilly. There were great parties in Hyde Park and Greenwich Park, performances in the Albert Hall every night, and a last party in the gardens of Lambeth Palace.

In 1939 MEA attended a folk dance school at Settle, and says that

The dancing was advanced and very good, especially sword. George Tremaine played for sword on his melodeon…He was an ex-miner, and had played for a traditional sword team.

The inspiration for Mr Pickering perhaps?

Marian’s longed-for trip to Haworth was inspired by MEA’s own experience

…Marion’s desire to go to Haworth was my desire, achieved by me in the mid-thirties, long before the village and parsonage was a real tourist haunt. It was easier then, in the bleak weather especially, to imagine what it was like for the Brontes. You can’t now, really. When houses become real museums, with strip lighting and central heating, visitors’ centres and parking for motor coaches, there is little atmosphere left.

This is the first book I’ve read in this read through that reminds me why I love MEA so – probably because she is writing about a passion of hers, folk dancing, and her love for it comes through very clearly. The locations are also vividly drawn, making a memorable read. I also thrilled to the description of the sword dance!

Connections with other books

The play which Marian and her father see at the end of the book stars Mary Marraine and Mary Mortimer, from The Adventurous Summer.

Jan Skelton is a pupil at the school Lucia attends in Lucia Comes to School.

Short story connections

Marian and the Skelton family reappear in a short story, Pot-Holing Problem, published in Calling All Girls, and the Skeltons also turn up in Roaring Pot Adventure, published in For Every Girl. Both annuals were published by Blackie but sadly not dated, although I’d put them at 1950s.

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Pot-Holing Problem

Unlike Holiday at Arnriggs, this story is told in the first person, by Marian. She has gone to stay with her cousins (her brothers have gone to a school camp for two weeks, but will be joining them later). The time is two years after Holiday at Arnriggs, and Marian, now 14, arrives at York to be greeted by her uncle and her cousins, who look very glum. On arrival at the farm, they tell her that their father has forbidden them to go pot-holing until they are grown up, as there has been an accident to a boy recently. In vain they have protested that he wasn’t experienced as they are. They persuade Marian to ask her uncle again, which she does, even though she doesn’t like pot-holing (although she has been down a few times). He still refuses, and they do some climbing instead.

Several days later the members of the pot-holing club set out down Thunder Ghyll Hole in search of a new cavern, but disaster strikes when they get through to it, but then the passage leading to it collapses, trapping several members of the club, including Mr Skelton. There is another way though, but it is too small for the members of the club to attempt, so they ask the children to try it, to warn the adults to stay away from the collapsed part, as they are going to blast their way through. The children, including Marian, manage to get though, and give the warning, and the men are rescued safely. After this Mr Skelton reluctantly agrees that the children can go pot-holing again.

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This is a pleasant story, and it was nice to meet the characters again, but it suffers slightly from being written in the first person – it’s a bit self-conscious in places, as the teenage voice in stories tends to be. Marian is still reading Bronte poems – it’s a shame she hasn’t moved on in two years – and still doesn’t crave adventure in the same way as her cousins.

Roaring Pot Adventure

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The heroine of this story is Sabrina Grey, who has moved to Arndale with her parents. She meets the Skelton children when their dog, Lucky Dip, chases her, and they try to tell her about the pot-holes in the area, but she tells them that she not only knows about them (her father has bought her a guide book) but that she has found a previously undiscovered pot. She refuses to tell the Skeltons where it is, but eventually agrees to take Jan, although she insists on blindfolding her so she doesn’t find the exact location. On her next visit to the pot, alone, her rope breaks, but Jan finds her (having noted the direction of the wind on her face when she was being led there previously, and dropped shells to mark the way) and rescues her. The pot is then explored by the pot-holing club.

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In More About Being an Author, at the very end, MEA is reflecting on the experience of rereading her own books, and says, “I never could forget Holiday at Arnriggs, because of the North Skelton sword dance that runs all through the book, but I certainly had forgotten that I had written a short story about the characters until it turned up in an old annual.” She evidently found the other story later on, as it appears on a list she made of her short stories.

All photographs in this post are from my own collection.

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