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Archive for the ‘Chilterns’ Category

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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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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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