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Archive for the ‘Buckinghamshire’ Category

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

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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.

Synopsis

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.

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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.

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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.

Characters

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

Locations

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.

Thoughts

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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