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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 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.

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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.

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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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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.

Glen Castle Mystery

This was MEA’s first published book, although she did write several before it which didn’t see the light of day. It was written in 1939 and accepted for publication by Black, but was then sent back in 1940 due to ‘the changed circumstances of war’ (MEA – To Be An Author). In 1945 she sent it to Warne, who offered to buy it for £30 outright, which as she says was dreadful even for the time, but she was beside herself with joy at finally having a book accepted, and it was finally published in 1948. The publishers changed the title without MEA’s consent – her title was Grim Glen Castle.

MEA didn’t approve of the illustrations, either, in More About Being An Author she says –

…shock number two was the jacket design, with the castle on a hill, not deep in the glen, and Bride MacRanald looking much too old and more like a stylised gipsy (a stage one) than a Highland child. What is it that makes illustrators visualise Highland or Hebridean young people in this stagey way? Furthermore the spine had a horrid picture on it, and the frontispiece was awful.

Synopsis

The story opens with Annabelle, Walter and Pie meeting family friend Parrot from the station, much to their disgust, as she is seen as wet and unadventurous. She is an orphan who spends part of each holidays with them, her father was a friend of Mr Denton. On their arrival home they hear that a distant relation of Mrs Denton’s, Uncle Donald MacRanald, has died and left his castle, Glenn Dorcha, to Walter, as his estranged son has died abroad. Mrs Denton visited the castle in her younger days, and rechristened it Grim Glen Castle, being unable to pronounce the Gaelic.

Soon after they arrive at the castle, Parrot and Pie go missing, and are found in a room with lots of shrouded furniture, apart from one chair which is arranged to look directly at one of the oil paintings. When they return later the chair is under covers once more. Later they play with some of the broadswords, but when they return they have been put back in their rightful places.

The only other dwelling nearby is ‘More Farm’, which is inhabited by Mrs Glennie, five children – Bride, Maire, Morag, Colin and Calum – and a ‘lady writer’ who is staying with them, to help out with household expenses. The Denton children would like to be friendly, especially with Bride, but she will not speak to them. Later Parrot falls off her bike and Bride sends one of the younger girls with a damp handkerchief to bandage her injured knee, and this is the beginning of a secret friendship between the two.

Bride is kinder to Parrot than the Dentons are, and Parrot gains confidence, this is further boosted when Bride shows her a secret passage from the glen to the drawing room of the castle – no one else knows about this apart from the old housekeeper, who has gone to stay with her sister on Skye.

The next adventure is Walter and Annabelle’s attempt to climb Beinn Fraoch, the nearest mountain, because they have heard that the Glennies have climbed it. They reach the top, but as they descend the mists come down, and eventually Bride rescues them, but she is still not friendly, and disappears as soon as they are safely down.

A few days later the inhabitants of the castle are disturbed late at night by Mrs Glennie, as Bride is missing. Search parties are sent round the glen, but there is no trace of her. Then the Glennie’s guest arrives, and tells them that she is Bride’s mother, and that she was the wife of Donald MacRanald’s son, Revie. Eventually Parrot remembers the secret passage and finds Bride there with a badly twisted ankle.

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On hearing that Bride is Revie’s daughter, Walter immediately declares that the castle should belong to her, and that he is going to give it to her. His family do not demur, and the rest of the holiday is spent making friends. Bride returns south with the Dentons and Parrot, for a fortnight’s holiday, and they plan to spend summer holidays at the castle.

Main Characters

Annabelle Denton (age 12)

Walter Denton (age 13)

Simon (k/a Pie) Denton (age 6)

Pamela Alice Rachel Olga Tomlinson (k/a Parrot) (age 12)

Mr and Mrs Denton

Mrs Meddle (Meadows) – the cook/housekeeper

Polly Sue (age 15) – the maid

Bride MacRanald

Maire, Morag, Colin and Calum Glennie

Mrs Glennie

Mrs MacRanald

Locations

The book opens at the Dentons’ house (Orchard Gate) in Silverthorpe. The exact location isn’t given, but the family catch the train from King’s Cross to go north, so presumably it is in the south of England.

The castle is three miles from ‘Ardglen’, which MEA states in ‘The Background Came First’ is Glenelg, on the Sound of Sleat, opposite Skye, a favourite place of hers. Buntawe is also mentioned as a local town, from which clothes can be purchased, and where there is a good girls’ school, which Bride will attend.

The journey from London to Ardglen is made first by train, then by boat – the interchange point is not named.

Thoughts

The family have two servants, 15 year old Polly Sue, and cook/housekeeper Mrs Meadows, known as Mrs Meddle, which would seem to show the pre-war origins of the book. The staff and the local postman refer to the children as ‘Master Walter’ and ‘Miss Annabelle.’

MEA was influenced by the writing of Elsie J Oxenham, and this book has overtones of The Girl Who Wouldn’t Make Friends, with the ‘rightful heir’ being unfriendly to the new (youthful) owner. It’s a much more simplistic story though, and the easy way in which the ownership of the castle is given to Bride is at odds with EJO’s insistence that Robin has to be of age before she can give even part of her property away.

This feels very much like an early book, there are plenty of odd paragraphs which don’t add much to the story, or promise later revelations which don’t come to anything, but it’s a competent story for all that.

Connections to other books

Parrot reappears as a pupil at Bryngarth School in New Schools for Old. Bride is mentioned as living in the castle, the Dentons are referred to as her adopted cousins.

Walter and Annabelle reappear in The Secret Valley, they mention Parrot a couple of times, although they do not refer to her by name.