Archive for December, 2011


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.


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.



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.


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.


(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.


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


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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


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.


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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Cilia of Chilterns’ Edge was published by the Museum Press in 1949, with illustrations by Betty Ladler. My copy doesn’t have a dustjacket, but I found this illustration on the internet years ago.

Cilia of Chiltern's Edge

The frontispiece uses the same illustration


The book is dedicated to Araminta, who was once the youngest junior. In The Background Came First, MEA says that there was one girl under 12 at Hampden House when she was there, “she is the “Annie” of Tomorrow is a Lovely Day, and I dedicated The Adventurous Summer to her.” Either this was a mistake on MEA’s part, or Araminta got two books – I don’t have a copy of TAS to check.


Cilia Pilgrim is ten, going on eleven, and lives with her parents in a London flat. She has been educated by a governess, but her father is sent to Paris by his firm, and it is decided that Cilia is go to school at once. Their neighbour Mrs Dacre arrives at this point, and suggests that Cilia joins her daughter Zena at Chilterns’ Edge school, where term has just started.

It takes a couple of weeks to get Cilia ready, and on the train to school, accompanied by her mother, she meets Sandra Andersford, accompanied by her grandmother, who is also going to school, but to High Beeches, which is nearby. Sandra tells Cilia that her parents are dead, and that she was brought up in a circus, which her father owned. The circuses have all been sold, and her grandmother is sending her to school (she has been taught by her mother and occasional governesses up till now). The girls resolve to be friends.

On arrival at Chilterns’ Edge, Cilia meets her headmistress, Miss Clare, and is shown to the junior bedroom. There are 60 girls in the school, and just six juniors.

The school is in a new building, and it is explained that they used to be in an old house nearby, but when the lease was up, it was not renewed, and they had to find a new location. Miss Carson, who owns the house, has since started High Beeches in their old building, and the girls of the two schools have had a feud ever since, ignoring each other whenever they meet.

Zena is unhappy that her mother has asked her to look after Cilia, but gradually realises that Cilia at school is a different girl from Cilia at home, especially when she refuses to stop seeing Sandra.


Cilia meets Sandra when the two schools go to church, and Sandra slips a note to Cilia suggesting they meet. Sandra is very unhappy at High Beeches, which is run on very traditional lines, with lots of rules, unlike Chilterns’ Edge, which is much more relaxed. The two girls meet in public on several occasions, much to the chagrin of the girls of both schools, and arrange a secret letter box in an old tree so they can arrange to meet privately. On one occasion they meet whilst Sandra is having a riding lesson, and she can’t resist doing circus tricks, resulting in her pony being sent home. Her next escapade is to visit the juniors’ bedroom at Chilterns’ Edge after lights out, much to the disgust of Zena, Vicky and Nicky, but she gets away with it.


Sandra isn’t so lucky when she persuades Cilia, who has been chosen to play the part of the cat in their Hallowe’en celebrations, to let her take her place, and is found out and taken back to High Beeches by Miss Clare. Miss Carson nearly expels her on the spot, but agrees to keep her on trial for the rest of the term.

The next shock is for Vicky, who finds out that her favourite cousin Emily is going to High Beeches immediately, as her school has closed down suddenly and there are no vacancies at Chilterns’ Edge. She realises that she won’t be able to keep up the feud. Miss Clare is pleased, as she sees the possibility of an end to the trouble between the two schools.

Meanwhile Sandra is in disgrace at High Beeches, and is in the San with earache. She manages to get a letter to Cilia, who visits her, taking some sweets wrapped in a scrap of newspaper. Sandra notices that on the scrap of paper is part of an advert for her family’s circus, which is visiting nearby Thame, but the date is missing, it only says three days from Wednesday. On Friday Miss Clare announces that she will take the juniors to visit the circus, which is in King’s Daneborough this week, but Cilia finds a note from Sandra in their letterbox, saying that she is going to Thame to visit her friends in the circus. Cilia tries to find Miss Clare, but when she can’t she borrows a bicycle and rushes after her friend. She catches up with Sandra (who has had a puncture and had to walk part of the way) looking sadly across the field where the circus had camped the week before, and manages to get her back to King’s Daneborough, but Sandra insists on visiting the circus instead of going back to school.

Cilia phones Miss Clare, who comes to the rescue, and delivers Sandra back to High Beeches once more. Miss Carson is all for having her sent home at once, but Sandra’s grandmother is ill and in a nursing home, so she has to keep her.

The next day the Chilterns’ Edge juniors have their trip to the circus, and are amazed to see Sandra taking part in the dancing ponies show, performing bareback tricks. Cilia realises that Sandra must have planned this the day before, whilst she was phoning Miss Clare. Sandra is in even deeper disgrace, and her grandmother writes to say that next term she will be taught at home by a strict governess.

Now a calamity befalls High Beeches, their central heating fails, and then the plumbing causes a flood, so Miss Clare offers to house ten of their girls. Amazingly Sandra is one of those sent over. The girls slowly make friends, and the feud is over at last.

The story ends with news that Miss Carson has written to Sandra’s grandmother, and suggested that Sandra would be happier in a more relaxed environment, so she is coming to Chilterns’ Edge next term.


Cecilia Pilgrim (k/a Cilia) (aged nearly 11 when the story opens)

Zena Dacre (aged 11) junior at Chilterns’ Edge

Nicolette Dean (k/a Nicky) junior at Chilterns’ Edge

Vicky Britten, (aged nearly 12), the oldest junior at Chilterns’ Edge

Polly Wroxton, junior at Chilterns’ Edge

Margaret MacGorrie (aka Peigi), junior at Chilterns’ Edge

Alexandra Andersford (k/a Sandra) (age 11), junior at High Beeches

Emily Britten, (aged16), senior at High Beeches, Vicky Britten’s cousin

Miss Clare, headmistress of Chilterns’ Edge

Miss Maine, mistress at Chilterns’ Edge

Miss Carson, headmistress at High Beeches


The book opens and closes in London, but the main location is Chilterns’ Edge School, in a village called King’s Daneborough (which would appear to be Princes Ridsborough), looking down over the Vale of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

In The Background Came First, MEA says that

The school in Chilterns’ Edge was “built” nearly opposite to the famous inn called The Pink and Lily. I always thought I’d like to build a house there, on the edge overlooking the Vale. And someone did, years later.

To see the location, click on this link to the google map, then change to street view by clicking on the marker and selecting ‘street view’, then turn the picture round. You can also get an aerial view by clicking ‘satellite’ at the top right of the map.

This is Oxenham country, which MEA knew well, having spent a term as non-teaching housemistress at a school in Hampden House (which was mentioned in Girls of the Hamlet Club), during which she spent her days cycling for miles through the woods and exploring the lovely Chiltern villages. Cilia was started during this time. Like MEA and Oxenham before her, Miss Clare

…had a deep love of the Bucks countryside, and she encouraged her girls to walk and cycle far afield on the afternoons when they were not playing games. And they took a delight in wandering over the hills and down into the lonely “bottoms.”

The beechwoods are described as not providing many hiding-places for hide and seek, as the lower parts of the trees were kept smooth by men who took the wood for chair making – another nod to Oxenham, whose Cicely meets the chair makers in the woods in Girls of the Hamlet Club. If you pan out on the original map linked above, you will see the hamlet of Green Hailey close by, home of Miriam in GotHC.

Cilia and Sandra go to Thame in search of the circus, which is described as being eight miles from King’s Daneborough.


This was MEA’s first published school story, and already her disapproval for traditional schools is shown, although Chilterns’ Edge is not quite so much in the AS Neill style as schools in later books – there is no school parliament, and it isn’t co-educational, but there are no prefects, and early on Cilia finds that –

Life seemed to be very free and easy at Chilterns’ Edge. Cilia had expected long lists of rules, and mistresses and older girls saying “Don’t” all the time. But so far she had not seen one rule pinned up on the wall, and no one seemed to mind how the girls occupied themselves on Sunday afternoons, so long as they were happy.

Unlike High Beeches, which has rules for everything, or so Sandra reports.

Miss Clare is, like MEA, clearly not convinced of the importance of organised games, and

…believed in her girls being out as much as possible, and encouraged them to go for long walks over the hills whilst the fine weather lasted. There was time for netball later, she thought, delighting herself in the woods and “bottoms” and the chalky little streams of the county.

There is also a reference to MEA’s love of Scotland in the child Margaret MacGorrie, who is sometimes called Peigi for short, and misses her home in distant Lochaber.

The circus storyline is strangely similar to Carlotta in Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s series, but she first appears in Summer Term at St Clare’s, published in 1943, when MEA was 28, and, by her own admission, not reading children’s books, not even her beloved EJO, so it was probably a coincidence, but there are a number of similarities (I haven’t read the St Clare’s books for a long time, so I’m not about to go into details).

The girls at Chilterns’ Edge wear a green and gold uniform, which sounds much brighter than High Beeches’ brown. The Chilterns’ Edge girls also get a cloak, warm and heavy, the hood lined with pale yellow – the Hampden House girls had grey cloaks.

Connections with other books

None known.

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Trouble at Melville Manor was published by the Museum Press in 1949, with illustrations by Isabel Veveers. MEA doesn’t mention these illustrations in particular in her autobiographical works, but she clearly approved on Veveers’ work, as she says that she asked her to illustrate some later books, although she comments that her work was stiff (but her colours were good!) Sadly my copy doesn’t have a dustjacket, if anyone has one they can scan or photograph and send me, please leave a comment.

In 1945, MEA received an invitation to work as a housemistress for a dozen senior students at Hampden House School in the Chilterns. Recognizing Hampden from references in Elsie Oxenham’s Girls of the Hamlet Club, she spent three months there, which she describes in To Be An Author as ‘among the happiest in my life.’ She says in To Be An Author that ‘in the staffroom at Hampden, with fourteen women around me, I had written the best part of Trouble at Melville Manor.’


The Melville family have to move from their home in Plymouth to the Wirral, as their father has to move their with his work. They only have a few weeks notice, so they initially stay with their father’s brother, Sir Garth Melville, at the family house, Melville Old Manor. Sir Garth’s wife has died, and he has one daughter, Bethan, named after an ancestor who disappeared in mysterious circumstances about a hundred years before. Sir Garth welcomes the family with open arms, but Bethan bitterly resents their arrival, and refuses to have anything to do with them, much to the disappointment of the children, especially Ray, who had hoped to be friends, and Gwynydd, who hopes to be able to ride Bethan’s horse. Sir Garth explains that Bethan has been spoilt by the housekeeper during his absence during the war and later convalescence from injuries he received. He sent her to school, but she was expelled for bad behaviour.


The next day there is a Christmas party for the local children, but the five Melville siblings are nowhere to be found. Eventually Mrs Appledown, the housekeeper, with the aid of the Melville’s dog, Gelert, find them locked in a cellar, whence Bethan has lured them with tales of secret passages. They insist that the door was just jammed, in order not to get Bethan into trouble, and despite everyone knowing the truth, nothing is said, although Sir Garth is very cold towards Bethan. The children decide to get their own back by hiding Bethan’s new dress for the Christmas dance, a couple of days later. They intend to give it back before the ball, but they have hidden it in a suitcase which has been taken to be mended, so Bethan has to wear an old dress. The children are horrified that Bethan immediately tells her father that her dress has gone, realising too late that her standards of ‘sportiness’ are not theirs.

During the dance Garth climbs on the roof to look at the party through a roof window, and gets trapped on the roof.

Ray is a budding authoress, and is inspired by a story of an ancestor who fought at Culloden to write a story about his adventures, and this takes up several days of her time at this point, but she tears herself away when they are invited to spend time at the farm on the estate. Gwynedd drives the horse and cart and enjoys herself thoroughly.

Sir Garth’s Christmas present to the children is a pony between them, Gwynydd is beside herself with joy. That night, Ray gets up because she cannot sleep, and sees Bethan dancing in the moonlight in the long gallery. She tries to make friends, but once again Bethan refuses. On getting back to her bedroom, she realises that Gwynydd is missing, and guesses that she has gone to see Frost, the pony. She wakes Rix, and they find her in the stable, but on the way back to the house, Gwynydd rushes straight across the frozen moat, and falls through the ice. Rix manages to get her, and hold her until help arrives.


On Christmas day it is found that Bethan has disappeared, and a local woman says that Bethan told her that she was running away. The next day Bronwen tries to find her with the help of Gelert, but they end up in Knutsford, about four miles away, and have to get a bus home. Two days later the adults have gone to visit a friend, and there is still no sign of Bethan, when Ray is woken in the night by Bethan, who needs help as she has accidently set the house on fire. It turns out that she has been hiding in a secret room only she knew about, but the batteries she had taken for her torch had got damp, and she had used candles to go in search of new ones, which accidently set fire to some magazines.

The fire is put out without causing too much damage, but the kitchens have had the worst of it, so the children, Mrs Melville and Pen go to stay at the family’s other house, Plas Llyndechan, home of the Bethan Melville who disappeared a hundred years previously. In the course of a game of hide and seek they find yet another secret room, which holds the secret of her disappearance (but not her body, as they initially fear!)

Later in the week Sir Garth comes to visit, and takes the three elder children into Llangollen as Ray needs to visit the dentist. It starts to snow whilst they are there, and the drive back is treacherous. Finally the car veers off the road, and Sir Garth is knocked unconscious. The children manage to raise help from a local shepherd, who leaves them in his cottage whilst he goes for assistance, and they are stranded there overnight, during the course of which Bethan finally makes friends with her cousins.

When they finally make it back to Plas Llyndechan, it is to news that Uncle Garth is safe and only has minor injuries, and to a letter for Ray telling her that she has won a short story competition for under 16s with the story she wrote about her ancestor. Sir Garth admits that he found it in the library and typed it and sent it in for her, Ray is almost speechless with joy.

The story ends a few weeks later, the Melvilles are living in a house of their own, and the children are at school. Bethan has a new governess at home, but has come to visit for the weekend, and all is well.


Raymonde (k/a Ray) Melville, aged 13

Richard (aka Rix) Melville

Gwynydd Melville (aged 9)

Garth Melville (aged 9), Gwynydd’s twin brother

Bronwen Melville (aged nearly 6)

Mr and Mrs Melville, their parents

Pen Tregannon (aged 16), the Melvilles’ ‘little Cornish maid’

Sir Garth Melville, Mr Melville’s older brother

Bethan Melville, (aged 12), his daughter

Mrs Appledown, Sir Garth’s housekeeper


The interior of Melville Hall is based on Hampden House in the Chilterns. MEA describes the building more fully in Tomorrow is a Lovely Day, but says that ‘The house in the book was Hampden inside and Moreton Old Hall, in Cheshire, outside.’

The locations in the book are mostly given their real names – Chester, Birkenhead, Knutsford and Llangollen are all visited. Melville Old Manor is said to be four miles from Knutsford, and Plas Llyndechan is through Llangollen and Berwyn, then in a remote little valley in the Berwyns.


This is another book in the Girl Who Wouldn’t Make Friends (Elsie Oxenham) tradition. MEA had already used a similar theme in Glen Castle Mystery, but Bethan has no real reason for her animosity, just that she has been spoilt.

The descriptions of Melville Manor are one of the highlights of the book for me, MEA based it on the house she was living in at the time, and it shows. The story is quite slight and one-dimensional, with nothing to make it particularly memorable, although it’s not unpleasant, just a little tedious and predictable (there really wasn’t much chance that the book would end with Bethan still refusing to speak to her cousins).

MEA’s love of Jacobite history comes through in the detailed description of the ancestor who fought at Culloden.

Connections with other books

Ray and Bethan are the heroines of Balconies and Blue Nets, set in Brittany about three years later, and the whole family are seen at the beginning of the book.

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The Wyndhams Went to Wales was published in 1948, by the Sylvan Press, with woodcut illustrations by Beryl Thornborough. MEA is scathing about many of her illustrators in More About Being An Author, one of her autobiographical booklets, but she approved of this one –

I did have one artistically appealing book very early on. That was The Wyndhams Went to Wales, with its woodcuts. No doubt Sylvan Press, who were mainly art publishers, could afford to spend a bit extra, as they had paid me only fifty guineas for the whole copyright.



The Wyndham family decide to spend a small inheritance on a five week holiday in Wales. Just as this is arranged, their mother’s friend Mrs Dane and her overbearing daughter Sally, and announce that they are also going to the same village, much to the dismay of the Wyndham children. Brian’s friend Bevis also goes with the family.

They are staying in a house next to a farm housing a large family, and one of the young girls from the farm, Jenny Jones, is working in the house prior to going away to be in service in England, the thought of which terrifies her. Maris makes friends with her, and eventually the family decide that she will go home with them instead, which makes her much happier. Isabel is obsessed with boats and spends as much time as possible on the shore with the fishermen, and Candy plays with the children from the farm, which disposes of the younger children neatly, leaving the older ones to have adventures.

The four older children explore the area on foot and by bike, but become increasingly fed up with Sally ordering them around. They find an abandoned shepherd’s cottage on the hills, and clean and tidy it to use as a base. They attempt to teach Sally a lesson by locking her in a shed until she promises to be less bossy, but the plan backfires when the landowner orders them off his land before they can release her. Maris goes up to the house to beard him in his den, and finds that his bark is worse than his bite, and he offers to let them row on his lake. When they get back to the shed they find that Sally has managed to escape, but she has realised how bad she had been and reforms.

One day the children go to paint the door in the cottage, but find that a strange young man is living there, with his dog. He doesn’t look like a shepherd, and they overhear a bit of conversation he has, and promptly decide that he must be a spy. They try snooping in his cottage, but he catches them, and tells them that he is a journalist, trying to write about local life, but is struggling for subject. Jenny suggests that he writes about the Jones family at the farm.

Maris has been wanting to go camping, and John suggests that the four of them and Isobel join him and his wife for a weekend camping, they have a good time but no adventures, these are saved for later, when Brian and Bevis climb Snowdon in a storm, and Bevis falls and hits his head, leading to them having to be rescued by a handy doctor and his friend. Isobel also has an adventure, hiding in the fishermen’s boat and sailing across to the sea to the over side of the bay (presumably the Lleyn peninsula) in the same storm. Neither party cannot get back that day, causing worry for the family, but eventually telephone messages get through via the Post Office.


The story ends with Colonel Jenkins inviting everyone for a picnic on the shores of his lake, and telling them that he has a house he will let them rent next year, so they will be back next August.

Main characters

Brian Wyndham (aged 11)

Marissa Wyndham (aka Maris) (aged 12)

Isabel Ann Wyndham (aka Billy Bones) (aged 9)

Candida Wyndham (k/a Candy) (aged 6)

Sally Dane (aged 12)

Bevis Crale (Brian’s schoolfriend, so aged about 11)

Mr and Mrs Wyndham

Maggie Lloyd, housekeeper at Ty Gwyn

Jenny Jones, from the farm next door, who helps with the rough work at Ty Gwyn. She is said to have just left school, so is probably about 12.

Colonel Jenkins, a local landowner

John Maitland, journalist


The Wyndhams live in England, but the location isn’t even hinted at. They go by train to Wales, ‘over a wide brown river’, and then along the coast to Llanechlin, the location of their holiday house, Ty Gwyn. There are enough clues in the text to place Llanechlin in Harlech (the Norman castle with round towers is a big clue!) and MEA confirms this in The Background Came First, saying that she once knew the area very well, and in Travels with a Rucksack she says that she visited Harlech for a fortnight in 1943, during the war.

The camp is described as being on ‘a wild little rocky island called Puffin Island right away across the bay’, which sounds like Shell Island, now used as a camp site, although perhaps more rocky. It in fact has a causeway, and is accessible on foot via the beach, but the Maitlands use a boat to reach the mainland.

Isabel’s boat adventure takes her to Aberllech, which seems to be Abersoch, across the bay on the Lleyn peninsua.

After the picnic at the Colonel’s lake he takes them to see the Roman steps.


This is a pleasant holiday story, there isn’t much of a plot, more a series of happenings, but it rolls along for all that. The ‘spy’ storyline had me worried for a little while that we were off for an Enid Blyton-style adventure, but my worries were soon over. The children have reasonably distinct characters, although their particular foibles are perhaps a little overdone in places, eg Isabel’s love of the sea, Sally’s bossiness (which is reformed to amazing effect by locking her in the shed, she is almost a different girl after that, and not nearly so interesting as a character!)

There is an interesting glimpse into the future in this book, as Sally attends a ‘Please-Yourself-School’, at which ‘All the girls learn to organise things and manage things, even the little ones, and no one ever says ‘Don’t’!’ They even say how they shall be punished if they are naughty.’ There is a school parliament, and the school is co-educational – definitely a glimpse of things to come in MEA’s writing, although later co-ed schools don’t seem to produce such bossy children…

MEA’s writing style hasn’t really settled in this book – later books are much more recognizable as hers. This one has odd overtones of Noel Streatfeild, eg this paragraph –

“This is my wife, Ann,” said John Maitland. “I hope you’ll like each other.” And of course there were all quite sure that they would like her very much.”

And this one –

Marissa went with her upstairs, which was very good and elder sisterly of her, for she was dying to hear Sydney’s adventures.

When Brian and Bevis climb Snowdon, they pass Llyn (lake) Quellyn – MEA obviously liked to get her Elsie Oxenham references in even so early in her career! Another nod to a favourite author may be the use of the name Candida – MEA was very fond of Katherine Oldmeadow (she writes about her in Ragged Robin Began It, one of her autobiographical booklets), who wrote a book called Princess Candida, although it wasn’t one of her favourites.

Isabel has a strange connection to the sea, explained by her grandfather having been a sailor, there’s a lovely paragraph describing her on her big adventure –

But she liked the feel of the cold, salty sea better than she had ever liked anything in her life, and the old man who had been dead a long time but who had loved the sea, too, would have been proud of her if he had seen her standing so fearless and happy in the fishing boat.

MEA’s love of all things folk comes out in the folk songs the children sing on several occasions.

In Travels with a Rucksack, MEA describes crossing the knife-edge near the summit of Snowdon on her hands and knees on a windy day (she was burdened with a rucksack!) Presumably this was the inspiration for Brian and Bevis’s adventure in the storm.


One of MEA’s own photos, from Travels with a Rucksack

My copy of The Wyndhams Went to Wales is signed by MEA, and unusually it is a contemporary signature (she later signed every book of hers she could lay her hands on, in a vain attempt to make signed copies so common that dealers wouldn’t charge a premium for them).


She has also corrected her name on the list of titles on the rear of the dustjacket!


Connections to other books

None noticed so far.

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