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Archive for the ‘Wales’ Category

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

School under Snowdon 1st

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

reprint dj

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

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters

Verity Armitage, aged 14

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

Idwal Griffith, Daffila’s brother, aged 12

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

Ivor Roberts, Gwyneth’s twin brother

Gwenllian Davis, aged 14

Stephanie Rossiter

Trudy Amberley

Jane Vincent

Mark Lane

Owen Llewellyn, aged 17, chair of the school council

Sarratt Marlow

Miss Moon

Mrs Anna Griffith, Verity’s aunt

Locations

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connections with other books

None known

Connections with short stories

The Guest at the Castle

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

P1020712

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

Unwillingly to Wales

Unwillingly to Wales 1

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

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

Unwillingly to Wales

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

P1020721

Gwyneth’s Mountain Problem

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

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

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

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

P1020722

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

The School that Wasn’t Welsh

The School that Wasn't Welsh 1

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

The School that Wasn't Welsh

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

Adventure on the Island

Adventure on the Island

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

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P1010807

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.

P1010808

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.

P1010809

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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P1010801

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.

P1010805

Synopsis

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.

P1010806

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

Locations

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.

Thoughts

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.

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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).

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

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Connections to other books

None noticed so far.

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