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Archive for the ‘England’ 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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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

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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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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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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.’

Synopsis

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.

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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.

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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.

Characters

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

Locations

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.

Thoughts

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 Adventurous Summer was published by Museum Press in 1948, it was MEA’s second published book. In To Be An Author, MEA says that it was written in 1945, after Warne had accepted Grim Glen Castle for publication, and accepted by The Museum Press in early September 1945, with a royalty agreement and a fifty pound advance. The original title was Sorrel at Wyndstane, but it was changed before publication.

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The wrapper and internal illustrations are by Isabel Veevers. In More About Being an Author, MEA says, ‘it was slim….and the illustrations, while certainly not great, or even very good, were pleasing and reasonably accurate. I had never been consulted in any way. They were a complete surprise.’

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Synopsis

Sorrel and Nicholas Richmond leave their London home to stay with their aunt, uncle and cousin in the Cotswolds whilst their parents go to America with the orchestra in which their father is first violin. Their uncle works as bailiff to the Earl of Wyndstane, looking after the farms on the estate, and they live in an estate house. They don’t want to leave London, but make the best of things, and enjoy a visit to the theatre on their last night, to see a play starring Mary Marraine.

On their arrival at Wyndstane by the Water station, they see a girl about their age saying goodbye to an older lady, clearly upset. They find that she is the grand-daughter of the Earl of Wyndstane, and that she was seeing off her old governess, as the Earl thinks she needs a stricter one – Caroline’s one ambition is to go to school, but whilst her parents are abroad the Earl refuses to consider this, disapproving of schools for girls.

Their cousin Joy is eight and very pretty, but has a will of her own. She would like to be friends with Caroline and the others, but they don’t take much notice of her, although she is useful for showing them round the neighbourhood.

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Sorrel and Nick make friends with Caroline and Tony, her friend who lives on one of the farms, meeting at a ruined Roman villa deep in a wood, with a mosaic floor covered by a shed. Caroline suggests that they form a club in order to have adventures, and that they find some more members. Eventually the club is expanded to include Shandy Mortimer, daughter of Mary Marraine, and a local boy, Bill Baker. Joy wants to join too, initially they think she is too young, but after she saves them from being caught by Caroline’s grandfather (who would not approve of her association with the others), they invite her to join too.

Sorrel is invited to tea at Wyndstane Court, an Elizabethan manor house, to be company for Caroline, but they manage to get locked into Caroline’s secret hiding place, an unsuspected priest’s hole, much to the Earl’s annoyance.

Sorrel and Nick are to attend the local high and grammar schools, much to Caroline’s, and Shandy also attends the High School.

The Adventure Club meets on several occasions during the book, their adventures take the form of having an early morning May Day picnic to bathe in the dew, a moonlight picnic in a hayfield and an evening camp-fire on the burial mound (on that occasion they put out a fire in a haystack started by a tramp). They also meet regularly at Cloud Ridge Manor, a deserted house nearby, and store some provisions there, in the old buttery.

Shandy’s one ambition in life is to be an actress like her mother, but she doesn’t dare tell her mother, who has sent her to stay with a friend (who Shandy calls Aunt Harriet) to have a healthy country upbringing away from town and theatres. Mary Marraine visits and takes the whole Club to Stratford, where they see a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shandy is desperate to play Puck), but she still doesn’t manage to pluck up the courage to tell her mother.

Later they meet up with Sorrel and Nick’s Uncle Hilary, who is travelling round the country in a horse drawn caravan, and writing a book about his travels. He also writes plays, and shows them his latest, which has been written for Mary Marraine, but they are having trouble finding a young actress who can play her character as a young girl. Shandy learns the part, and practices in the woods, and eventually, with Sorrel’s help, her mother sees her there and takes her back to London to take the part in the play.

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Uncle Hilary takes the remaining members of the club away for a few days in the caravan, all except Caroline, as her grandfather refuses to allow it. She decides to run away after them, but they have changed their mind about their route, and she doesn’t find them, so she decides to sleep at Cloud Ridge Manor. In the meantime her parents have returned, along with Sorrel and Nick’s, and a hunt is launched for her. Joy wakes to see flames coming from the old manor house, and guesses that Caroline is hiding there. They find her safe if a little dazed, her torch battery had died and she was using matches to find her way about, and accidently set fire to the old building, which is destroyed.

It is decided that Sorrel, Caroline and Joy will all attend the new boarding house at the high school from the next term, and that Nick will live with his aunt and uncle and go to school with Tony every day.

The book ends with the Club all going to the London theatre to see Shandy in her mother’s play.

Characters

Sorrel Richmond (aka Sorry), aged 12

Nicholas Richmond (k/a Nick), aged 11

Caroline Brackendon, aged 11

Joy Mann, aged 8, Sorrel and Nick’s cousin

Tony Greenwood, aged 12

Mary (k/a Shandy) Mortimer, aged nearly 14

Bill Baker, a friend of Tony’s

Mary Marraine, famous actress and mother of Shandy

The Earl of Wyndstane, Caroline’s grandfather

Miss Todd, Caroline’s governess

Locations

The book opens in London, where the Richmonds live in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea (also home to Nancy Mitford’s Linda).

The rest of the book is set in the Cotswolds. A friend had a cottage on the hillside above Winchcombe, which MEA stayed at in 1935 (The Background Came First), and became Wyndstane on the Water in the book. The local big house is Stanway House – was this the basis for Wyndstane Court?

The Club meet at the Roman villa in the woods on the Earl’s estate, which includes a shed which protects the remains of a mosaic floor. This is the villa in Spoonley woods, first excavated in 1880, although some of the mosaics were actually removed and replaced – I wonder if MEA knew this? In The Background Came First, she says, “ I learned to know a wood where there was a totally unvisited Roman villa entangled in bushes and briars. They said that the white snails the Romans liked could still be seen. There were no tourists there! Unless, of course, I was a tourist. But I never felt like one.”

Roman Villa

(© Copyright Michael Dibb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

She also says, “I thought those golden villages and towns were the most beautiful places I had ever seen, and really they were. I fell violently in love with that country.”

The Club also visit the local Neolithic barrow, “Look! There are low walls all around, and here’s where the entrance was, only it’s bricked up.” Presumably based on Belas Knap (click for more info and lots of photos) – the entrance seems to have been opened since MEA was writing.

The Club visit Stratford with Shandy’s mother, and visit the theatre.

On their trip with Uncle Hilary, the Club visit the abbey of Monks’ Cloud, which is probably Hailes Abbey.

Caroline goes on holiday twice during the book, once to North Wales, and once to Cornwall, both locations MEA wrote about often, although we get no further details here.

Thoughts

This is a very pleasant and enjoyable book. The plot is extremely predictable (especially the Mary Marraine and Uncle Hilary storylines), but it’s none the worse for that.

MEA takes the absent parent theme somewhat to extremes in this book, with no less than three lots – Sorrel and Nick’s are in America with her father’s orchestra (shades of Elsie Oxenham!), Caroline’s are in Peru with her father’s company (MEA’s father also often visited Peru), and Shandy’s mother has left her with an old schoolfriend whilst she is acting in London. Her father isn’t mentioned. Somewhat unusually Sorrel at least misses her parents, unlike most children in books of the time, who seem to take separation as a matter of course. Caroline wants her parents to come home so she can go to school, but doesn’t seem to miss them otherwise.

Sorrel keeps a diary throughout the book, but this doesn’t lead anywhere, plot-wise.

The school Sorrel and Shandy attend is a standard High School, with the usual forms and prefect structure – no hints of progressiveness here. There are even boards with lists of the head girls going back to 1835, which seems a little excessive!

There are two adult writers in this book – Shandy’s Aunt Harriet, and Sorrel and Nick’s Uncle Hilary, who conveniently announce that they are to marry at the end of the book. Aunt Harriet prefers to write in an upstairs room, shades of MEA’s own study which was given to her when she was twelve, “there was an extra room looking out on the garage roof, and it was given to me to be my study.” (To Be An Author).

There was a sequel to this book, but it was never published – in More About Being an Author, MEA says “….I wrote a long sequel….All trace of it, including the file envelope, has gone. But I think it was called The Mystery of Jermanda. Jermanda, who came to stay with them all in the Cotswolds, had a secret, but I no longer remember why it had to be a secret. She wanted to be, or was, a ballet dancer. Museum Press didn’t like the book, and being a straight sequel, it was unlikely to sell anywhere else. I hadn’t then learned the very important lesson….never write an unsolicited sequel. Get approval, or preferably a contract, first.” But a fragment does survive, in the form of a published short story, The Silver Rose, as mentioned in The Background Came First (see below).

There are numerous mentions of farming throughout the book, as the Club help on the various farms on the estate – presumably MEA was drawing on her wartime experience in the Land Army.

In The Background Came First, MEA writes about a visit to Stratford in 1944 or 1945, “…the wonderful time when Mary Horner from the then Vic Wells Ballet was acting at Stratford….she was an unforgettable Puck…the whole thing was wrapped in magic.

Shandy walks through the hills singing ‘Early One Morning’, which is the song Cicely rewrites for Miriam in EJO’s Girls of the Hamlet Club – Miriam is also fond of singing whilst walking through the hills.

Twice in the book Caroline mentions that she wants to “be the naughtiest girl in the school…like that book I was reading.” Presumably MEA is thinking of Enid Blyton’s book, but one has to wonder whether she had actually read it, as Elizabeth very definitely doesn’t want to go to Whyteleafe, completely unlike Caroline!

Connections with other books

The location of The Adventurous Summer is the same as that of School on Cloud Ridge – the new school is built on the site of the old house which burns down at the end of the book – but none of the characters overlap, sadly, although there is a passing mention of the Earl being ill.

The Silver Rose

Details to follow

The New Housemistress

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This story is also set in Wyndstane-on-the-Water – Wyndstane Manor School is described as being ten minutes’ walk from the station, past the gates to the Court – but there are no other connections.

It was originally published in a Blackie Annual called For All Girls, then MEA republished it herself in her collection The Two Head Girls and other school stories. In her notes to the collection, she says, “This story was sold in 1951….[it] is much more definitely Cotswold, being set in the semi-imaginary Wyndstane of my early book, The Adventurous Summer. It was really the country around Winchcombe, with its many wonderful old houses.” She goes on to say that the story was based on her own experience as a housemistress at Hampden, but that she moved in from Buckinghamshire to the Cotswolds, because it was quite recent.

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