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A couple of people have asked me to take a look at
The Mystery of the Secret Room, including Chrissie777 of the Enid Blyton Society, who may be familiar with the book in the German edition of the title, pictured above, as she is in the case of The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage. Well, I’m only too happy to oblige. It’s a superb book, whichever edition one reads. And my research has revealed a few things that I hope do justice to Enid’s ingenuity and vision.

The story takes place in the Christmas holidays, as some of the best ones do. Actually, here is a list of Mysteries taking place at Christmas rather than over the Easter or summer holidays:
Secret Room, Hidden House, Tally-Ho Cottage and Strange Bundle. Each one is either a Christmas cracker or a January joyfest. What do I mean? Just that, on a couple of occasions, Fatty is mysteriously away over Christmas itself.

In
The Mystery of the Secret Room, things kick off with Pip and Bets in their big playroom. The others join them and Fatty drops hints about what he could show them all if he was made leader of the group. (This is only the third book in the series and Enid is still manoeuvring elements into their rightful place.) Larry gracefully bows to the inevitable. A bloodless coup if ever there was one.

One of the tricks Fatty shows the others is how to get out of a locked room. For the demo, he asks to be taken upstairs to one of the box rooms on the second floor of the Hiltons’ house. The others lock the door and leave the key in the lock. Seconds later, Fatty rejoins them in the big playroom. How did he do it? In three easy steps. First, he pushed a sheet of newspaper under the door. Second, he pushed the key from the lock so that it fell onto the sheet of paper. Third, he pulled the paper back into the room.
Simples! Just to remind you where this is happening, below is the red house on Coldmoorholme Lane, Bourne End, which Viking Star identified as the Red House on Haycock Lane, Peterswood. Playroom on the first floor: check; windowless box rooms on the second floor: check; Fatty if not at home then in his element!

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Fatty’s next trick is writing in invisible ink. Before he gets going, the ink gets spilt, but orange juice makes a good substitute. Fatty writes a letter to Goon. The words are invisible but when Fatty runs a warm iron over them, the message can be read:

Dear Clear-Orf, I suppose you think you will solve the next mystery first. Well you won’t. Your brains want oiling a bit. They creak too much. Hugs and kisses from the five Find-Outers and dog.

Fatty thinks this letter is so good that he puts it in an envelope, disguises himself (jutting out teeth, curly black wig and foreign-looking cap) and, adopting a French accent, boldly delivers the letter to Mr Goon in person. Alas, Goon, showing unexpected initiative, runs a warm iron over the letter and is enraged. However, Fatty, realising that Goon might just have the wit to do this, writes out another letter in invisible ink. This one reads:

Dear Clear-Orf, I suppose you think you will solve the next mystery first. Well, as your brains are first class you probably will. Good luck to you! From your five admirers. The five Find-Outers and dog.

In disguise again, Fatty manages to substitute one letter for another so that by the time Goon hands the letter to Mrs Hilton (in the drawing room of the above Red House), Mrs Hilton can’t see what Goon has to complain about. What a playful preamble to whatever kind of mystery this is going to turn into! Below is how Joseph Abbey commemorated the invisible note-making in one of his illustrations to the original edition. What’s Buster doing? Trying to keep abreast of the oranges? The boys’ blazers seem to date the book much more than anything in Enid’s flow of ebullient prose.

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Pip then has a go at disguising himself. The Find-Outers know that Goon ‘always goes down the village and round the corner at half-past eleven’. So Pip waits round the corner. Pip scares an old lady who reports him to Goon back on the village street. Goon creeps up to the corner and very nearly catches Pip, who flees up the road he’s been waiting on, with Goon in pursuit. They race up the hill and over it, Pip making for the open country. Pip comes to a gateway which he knows leads up a drive to an old empty house. When he gets there he climbs up a tree in order to evade Goon who comes round the corner ‘puffing like a goods train’. Pip notices that there is a furnished room in the top floor of the empty house.

The room had plenty of furniture in it - a couch that was big enough for a bed, an armchair, two smaller chairs, a table, a bookcase with books in, a carpet on the floor. It was all most extraordinary.

And therein lies the mystery. What is this secret room? And here comes my own solution to that, courtesy of a grade 3 ‘O’ Level in English Literature, an honours degree in Geography from Cambridge University, and the input of a local man, brought up in Bourne End and living there in his maturity.

First, let’s establish which road Enid has in mind when she has Pip running up over the hill into the countryside. Well, in the aerial shot of Bourne End below, I’ve drawn a blue rectangle round the old police house, which served as such for decades, including the years Enid lived in Bourne End and Beaconsfield, This is now an empty property which was recently bought by Tesco, who will be bulldozing it next year. That will be a cultural catastrophe for Bourne End and Buckinghamshire, in my opinion. But more of that at a more appropriate time.

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When Enid writes that Goon walked down the village, she means he either turned left along The Parade, towards the station (off the bottom of the map below), or right, along the Parade, in the direction of Fatty’s house (further north than the map’s top edge). Whichever way he went he did not cross the road, because that direction leads downhill to the river. I believe Goon went right and that it was Blind Lane where Pip was waiting, because this makes most sense in terms of running up the hill into the countryside and coming across a lone property. It’s also just possible that Enid had in mind the corner of New Road and the A4155, but this would have involved Pip running past Larry and Daisy’s house. My instinct says it was Blind Lane, and so, I have to say, does something else.

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On the aerial shot below, I’ve marked the modern boundaries of a property which is reached by a drive that leads off Blind Lane. The house, which used to be called Chalklands and is now the Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre, has tantalising Blyton associations, which I’ll attempt to describe. But first, see Pip and Goon running all the way from the red marker at the corner of the ‘village street’ and Blind Lane all the way uphill to Chalklands, through what would have been open countryside at the time. It’s only a little over half a mile but I think Pip would have climbed his chosen tree several light years before Goon showed his purple face. No matter. Goon, we have to remember, was persistent.

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Let’s pause at this juncture, with Pip up the tree and in position A. In 1929, the year that Enid bought Old Thatch on Coldmoorholme Lane, Edgar Wallace bought Chalklands off Blind Lane. Enid was an up and coming writer then, but of the phenomenal Edgar Wallace at that time, one of his publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were by him. He wrote 170 books, which have been translated into 28 languages, with sales exceeding 50 million copies. One particular book was called
The Lone House Mystery, which came out in 1929, and I suspect Enid was amongst the thousands who read it, intrigued as she would certainly have been by the physical proximity of the bestselling author. But I’ll hold back on that gem for the moment.

Other novels published by Edgar Wallace in 1929 were,
Again the Three Just Men, Red Aces, The India-Rubber Men, The Fourth Square, The Sinister Yellow Sign, The Green Ribbon, and no less than fifteen collections of short stories. What an incredible output. I can easily see Enid walking up Blind Lane, climbing a tree and staring into Wallace’s study. All poor Enid had to show in the way of books coming out in 1929 was a few short stories published obscurely by Birns Bros and a volume called Enid Blyton’s Nature Lessons.

So if Enid had sat in a tree, looking in on Wallace the thriller writer, what would she have seen? A man who got up fresh at 6am after just five or six hours sleep. According to his biographer, Margaret Lane, Wallace did two or three hours work before breakfast, nourished by sweet weak tea and endless fags. Apparently, Wallace would sit on a swivel stool in his dressing gown all day, speaking his book into a dictaphone, day after day, until the book was done and he could get back to what he loved doing best: spending money. I prefer the picture of Enid sitting with a typewriter on her lap between the hours of 10am and 4pm, writing for an audience of eager children and not for the financial reward. But let’s stick with Wallace for a minute. (Not forgetting Pip.)

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Above is a Google view of what used to be called Chalklands. A Buddhist group owns it now, and the photograph below, downloaded from the Vedanta Centre’s website, shows the front of the house facing south. To begin with I was puzzled, because the frontage in the photograph does not match the Google aerial view of the building marked as the Vedanta Centre, which is on the right of Blind Lane. My Bourne End advisor (known as Lorry1 on the Enid Blyton Society forums), was able to clear up the confusion. He used to play in the gardens of Chalkllands, with the permission of the then owners, climbing trees and the like (Pip2 might be a better name for him). Pip2 stayed away from the place once it was bought by a religious sect (not the present organisation), because bumping into zombies walking round the grounds - at all times of day and night - was disturbing for the lad.

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Anyway, be careful if you’re looking for the house using Google maps. The house to the left of Blind Lane is the correct one. I mean it’s where Edgar Wallace used to live as the picture below proves. The steps and balustrades match. That’s Edgar second from the left in the front row, smoking a cigarette on a long black holder. You might take him to be landed gentry or a gangster. But, no, he was an inordinately successful writer of popular fiction. No more and no less.

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Margaret Lane says this about her subject:

His quick brain, which grasped at ideas and charged them at once with superficial drama, made him impatient of considered thought or emotional development; his was the mind of the brilliant artificer and puzzle-maker; taking an immense pride in ingenuity for its own sake, and rich in the invention of surprising and picturesque solutions. The intricate problems he set himself in mystery and plot fascinated him far more than the hidden and difficult discipline of good writing. His very inventiveness produced a vanity of its own, making him boast of his fertility of ideas and his speed of working, and completing the vicious circle of forcing him to live up to the phenomenal legend which he himself had created.

Remind you of anyone? Not that Enid boasted about her productivity. She was matter of fact about her creativity, as in her letters to Peter McKellar. All the same, there are similarities. Perhaps Enid Blyton met Edgar Wallace at a Bourne End dinner party. And perhaps the senior writer whispered in the junior’s ear the secret of his success, passing on the mantle of easy invention and fertile plotting. If he did, Enid had the last laugh when she created the Mystery series, as the books connect up with so much that was important in her personality and her life. Good writing may indeed be a hidden and difficult discipline, but the secret wasn’t hidden from Enid. It was not at all difficult for Enid to write well, as
The Mystery of the Secret Room amply demonstrates.

Did, in fact, Enid ever meet Edgar? Well, if one Googles ‘Enid Blyton and Edgar Wallace’, one draws a blank. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t meet. Neither writer was taken very seriously by commentators in the 20th Century, though Margaret Lane and Barbara Stoney did what they could to redress the balance. 1929 is now more than 80 years ago. Is there an elderly person in Bourne End, or elsewhere, who might be able to help us here? Over to Lorry1 on that score. Here’s hoping that by keeping his antennae out he may be able to come up with something.

OK, where were we again? With Pip sitting in the bare branches of some tree or other.

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It’s a deserted house that he’s staring into. Interesting, in this context, that Edgar Wallace was often not in residence at Chalklands, Bourne End. He was often staying at the Carlton Hotel in London. And in November 1931 he went off to Beverley Hills, California. There he wrote a couple of screen plays, including
King Kong. He then became ill, was diagnosed as having had diabetes for years, and suddenly died in February, 1932. That spring, Chalklands was put up for sale. I don’t know how long it remained empty, but it may be that Enid walked past the house during this period, conscious of the sad state of affairs.

OK, let’s try again to get back to
Secret Room. Pip gets down from the tree and makes his way to Fatty’s house. Enid then introduces us to another secret room, at least a room she’s not mentioned before:

Fatty had what he called a ’den’ - a small crowded room, full of books, games, sports things, and a cosy basket for Buster.

In Fatty’s den, the Five discuss what they’re going to do next, and the following day they go off to Milton House again to take a look at the house-agent’s board.

Milton House lay over the hill, rather off the usual track. Beyond it lay the open country, and big empty fields stretched away for miles.

Actually, the Vedanta Centre is near the top of the hill rather than over it, but I’m not going to worry about the odd minor inconsistency. Otherwise this exercise would never get anywhere.

They walked over the hill and made their way down the rather secluded lane to Milton House. It looked a lonely and desolate place. The house itself was large, high, and rambling, and had two or three absurd little towers.

Pip reminds the others that the house that appears completely empty has a furnished room at the top of it.

The children felt a little shiver go down their backs. It was exciting. Probably no-one but themselves and the one who furnished the room knew about that secret.

There is no For Sale sign at Milton House. (Milton House? Could that be Enid facetiously comparing Edgar Wallace to the poet Milton?) Fatty puts Buster on guard by throwing down his red jersey and asking Buster to guard it. They all take turns climbing Pip’s tree and looking into the secret room, then Fatty goes back into the village to call in on the estate agents. Meanwhile, Goon turns up at Milton House and tells the rest of the Find-Outers to clear off. Fatty finds out from the second agent he calls on that a Mrs Crump of Hillways, Little Minton, bought Milton House about a year before, after the house had been empty for four years, but that she doesn’t live in it. Armed with this info, Fatty returns to Milton House. On the way, he meets the rest of the Find-Outers, who tell him about Goon. But Fatty has to go all the way on to Milton House for a bit of aggro with Goon, because Buster is still guarding the jumper. I’ve only summarised all that because the following book cover shows Buster sitting on the red jersey. But really it’s a red herring, and Jason Ford, talented illustrator that he is, might have chosen a more significant motif!

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The Find Outers travel to Little Minton. This is not a real place, Enid didn’t use any real place names until the sixth book in the series,
The Mystery of the Hidden House. She had planned that Hidden House would be the final book, having taken her Find-Outers through two years worth of Easter, summer and Christmas holiday mysteries. I don’t think she could bear not to leave some geographical clue as to where her special village was, so in Hidden House she tells us that Peterswood is on the river, three miles from Marlow. But I digress...

The Find-Outers find out from Mrs Crump that after she’d bought the house, a Mr John Henry Smith got in touch, pleading to buy it from her as he had been raised there. Larry and Daisy establish from their own postman that no Smiths ever lived in the house. Fatty makes a phone call to John Henry Smith but is treated with great suspicion. All very mysterious. So what next? Back to Milton House, of course.

The five get into the tree and take another look at the secret room. They notice a kettle which wasn’t there before, tins of food on a shelf and books in a foreign language on the window-sill. The tree must be very close to the house because Bets even notices that the room’s been dusted! They conclude that the secret room has been made ready for a visitor.

Fatty finds an outside coal-hole. He thinks this will lead down into a coal cellar which will give access to the house via the kitchen. (Did Jason Ford not read this bit? It’s the key to some great imagery later on and would have made a lovely cover. Perhaps Jason would reply that the red jumper is more visually stimulating. And there’s nothing to stop the reader/viewer from thinking of Buster sitting on the red jumper to be a metaphor for the barrel resting on the coal-hole lid, an image that crops up towards the end of the book.)

The plan is for Fatty to come back at night, in disguise, and gain access to the house. Fatty’s plans are discussed in the comfort in Pip’s playroom. They decide what Fatty should do if he’s caught. He should write a letter to them in invisible ink and chuck it out the window. So that’s sorted. Game on!

At about ten o’clock Fatty slipped out of the house. The Moon was almost full, and shone brightly down on the white snow. Fatty’s footsteps made no sound at all. He went down the road, took the way over the hill and at last walked down Chestnut Lane, keeping well to the hedge, in the black shadows there. He saw nobody.

Actually, of the six Mysteries that I’ve so far investigated, every one except Disappearing Cat has one of these night prowls of Fatty’s. They’re particularly atmospheric sections of the books. Brave Fatty pitting himself against all that the night’s darkness can throw at him!

Fatty makes his way to the little summerhouse at Milton House and wraps himself in rugs. The church down in the village strikes 11. He falls asleep, but the midnight chimes awaken him. He decides it’s late enough to try the coal hole. He opens it, makes his way into the cellar then climbs a flight of stone steps which lead to a door. Luckily for us all, the door opens. Fatty passes from skullery to kitchen...

He looked into room after room. All were completely empty. He explored all the ground floor, the first floor and the second floor. The secret room was on the third floor, at the top of the house. He came to the top floor. He looked into the first room he came to. It was empty. He looked into the next room; that was empty too. But the third one was the secret room!

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Fatty (Not in disguise, I can’t help noticing) sees that the sofa has been prepared as a kind of bed. It’s a quarter past one in the morning and Fatty decides he will rest up on the comfy sofa for a bit. This is asking for trouble, as he promptly falls into a deep sleep. But let’s leave Fatty sleeping on the sofa-bed just as earlier we left Pip sitting in the tree. I want to say a little more about Edgar Wallace and his
Lone House Mystery.

It’s a police story, in that Superintendent Minter is on the case. John C Field, the victim-in-waiting, is introduced by Minter:

I met him in the following way. He lived in a smallish house on the banks of the Linder. I don’t suppose you know the Linder - it’s a stream that pretends to be a river until it runs into the Thames between Reading and Henley, and then it is put into its proper place and called the “Bourne”.

There is Edgar Wallace alluding to Bourne End, the part of the world that he’d moved to in the year
Lone House was published. A lesson in geog-lit that Enid filed away in her own memory, perhaps.

John C Field ends up dead on the floor of his study with a knife in his back. When investigating, Minter comes across Field’s beautiful secretary in a locked room which leads to the study. The key is in the dead man’s pocket. This aspect is highlighted by the blurb on the back cover of the book, but, as with the locked room business in
Secret Room, it’s not a fundamental part of the mystery.

What
Secret Room and Lone House have in common is a criminal element. A couple of toughs catch Fatty sleeping in the secret room and they set about torturing him for information. Who is he and who else knows about the room? Fatty won’t tell. That is, until they starting twisting his arm behind his back and punching him in the head. (In the recent Egmont edition, Fatty isn’t punched but choked. A toning down of the violence perhaps, though Fatty feels he would rather give away the whole mystery than be ‘choked to death’.) Shocked, Fatty is forced to admit that his friends, the Find-Outers, know about the secret room and that the others will be back in the morning.

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The thin-lipped of the two villains forces Fatty to write a note and they leave him locked in the room to do that. Fatty writes the note which he signs ‘Freddie’ as instructed. However, between the lines he writes the following alternative note using juice from the rather squashy orange he has in his pocket:

Dear Find Outers Don’t take any notice of the visible letter. I’m a prisoner here. There’s some very dirty work going on: I don’t quite know what. Get hold of Inspector Jenks AT ONCE and tell him everything. He’ll know what to do. Don’t you come near the place, any of you. Yours ever, Fatty.

The Find-Outers are scared when they realise Fatty isn’t home the next morning. What’s happened to him? Pip goes up to Milton House. He hears a whistle and to his surprise a sheet of paper floats from one of the second storey windows. Pip reads what seems like good news and runs with the note back to his house where he updates Bets. They then run round to Larry and Daisy’s house.

Let’s take the opportunity to consult a lovely map of Peterswood/Bourne End. The blue pins mark, from left to right, Pip and Bets house, Fatty’s house and Larry and Daisy’s place. Oh, what a paradise it seems!

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Bets starts to worry about the fact that the note is signed ‘Freddie’. Then she smells orange. Pip takes the note and smells it too, as this weirdly incompetent drawing from the first edition attempts to illustrate.

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It’s Daisy who fetches the iron and soon the Find-Outers are reading the note that Fatty hoped they would. They try and get a message to the Inspector but he’s gone out and won’t be back for an hour.

Meanwhile, Goon has got up early and gone off to Milton House for a look round. He finds the coal-hole with the lid off. He reckons the Find-Outers are in the house. His plan is to follow in their footsteps and scare the life out of them.

I should mention that in
The Lone House Mystery, the superintendent is aided by another super, the Goon-like Gurly. This is what Minter says about his colleague:

He’s fat and I don’t like fat men, but I’ve known fat men I could get on with. I never could get on with Gurly, ever since we were constables together. He was the sort of man who knew everything except how little he knew, and naturally, the first thing he did when he came on the spot was to take charge of everything, give orders to my men and generally make himself conspicuously useless.

OK so what about Fatty? He’s been moved from the secret room into a less comfortable room on the second floor. However, Fatty is pleased about this, because the floor has no carpet and the key has been left on the outside of the door. In other words, conditions are perfectly set up for his ‘escaping from a locked room’ trick. After duly letting himself out of the room, Fatty cautiously makes his way downstairs and creeps through the kitchen to the door that leads down into the coal-cellar.

He locks the scullery door behind him and pockets the key. Enid makes sure that Fatty does that, so that Goon can’t get out of the coal cellar once Fatty has run past him, climbed up the heap of coal, escaped out of the coal-hole and placed a heavy barrel over it. Fatty doesn’t know that it’s Goon who’s been locked in the cellar and Goon thinks it’s ‘that Frenchy fellow’ who has locked him in, as Fatty is - as Enid has told us even though her illustrator didn’t take it on board - still in disguise.

Outside, Fatty hears an aeroplane landing. Several passengers get out, presumably gangsters. At this point, Inspector Jenks appears on the scene. Once Fatty has told him the whole story, there is ten minutes to wait until back-up arrives. Fatty uses the time to dive back into the village and fetch the other Find-Outers who are all at Pip’s place. (See the last map again.) They get back up the lane in time to see a police car rush by. What happens next? Enid tells us, and so does this illustration that wouldn’t look out of place in an Edgar Wallace book:

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What had the villains been doing in the secret room? Oh, meetings, storing valuable goods, whatever Enid could think of in the nano-second she gave to this aspect of the plot. The Find-Outers see the crooks when they are led out of the building. But, apparently, there is one more locked in the coal-hole. It’s Goon, of course, and he emerges without his helmet, face blacked with coal dust. He’s angry, afraid and puzzled. He gapes at the Inspector. Gapes again at the children. Only Buster recognises Goon and joyfully goes for his ankles.

Goon is identified and asked to explain himself: ‘I were locked up in that filthy coal-cellar!’ he says pathetically. In
Looking For Enid I talk about Goon being, in some ways, Enid’s revenge on Hugh, her first husband, who had a secret room at Old Thatch. That’s to say, in a cellar under the stairs, only accessible via the maid’s room, he sat drinking by himself. Enid only got to know about this when Hugh became ill and she came across the empty bottles.

The name ‘Theophilus’ is used just once in
Secret Room, as it was in Disappearing Cat, and in exactly the same way. That is, in a sentence that ends ‘my name’s not Theophilus Goon’. ‘Theophilus Goon’ is an anagram for ‘O Hugh spoilt one’, or ‘O soil on Hugh pet’, or ‘O let Hugh poison’. if you want to know more about this, have a look at the Hugh = Goon? page of this website.

But I mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the secret room that matters to me today is the one at the top of Milton House.

Enid published
The Mystery of the Secret Room in 1945. That same year she published The Caravan Family, The Family at Red Roofs, Fifth Form at St Clare’s, Five Go to Smuggler’s Top, Hollow Tree House, and The Naughtiest Girl is a Monitor. If, in 1929, she had effectively been in Pip’s position, looking in on the secret room, a room inhabited by Edgar Wallace in his phenomenal prime. By 1945, she was no longer on the outside looking in. Rather, she was in the position that Fatty was for an important part of Secret Room, comfortably occupying the special place, thank you very much.

Let’s compare the regimes of Edgar and Enid. This is Pip - in the form of Sir Patrick Hastings - reporting on Edgar Wallace one weekend at Chalklands, as recorded by Margaret Lane.

Sir Patrick saw Wallace dictate a full-length novel,
The Devil Man, between Friday night and Monday morning, and had been aghast at Edgar’s airy assurance that the feat was nothing extraordinary. Edgar had disappeared during dinner on Friday evening. During the night, Sir Patrick, who was sleeping badly, had got up and gone to Edgar’s study, where he found him sitting at his desk in a dressing gown, dictaphone mouthpiece in his hand, and a cup of tea at his side. He had listened to the dictation for an hour or two, and had watched Edgar drink a cup of sweet tea every half-hour brought in by a servant who remained on duty all night for that purpose. He had then gone to bed, leaving his host still working. Edgar continued at his desk, with only a couple of hours sleep, all that night and all the following day. He slept till noon on Sunday morning, and then worked throughout the afternoon and the whole of the night. By nine o’clock on Monday morning, pallid, unshaven, and with almost hysterical fatigue lining his face, he announced that he had finished his 80,000 word novel on the life of Charles Peace, and went to bed for two days with the satisfaction of knowing that he had earned £4,000 (the equivalent of £200,000 today) in sixty hours.

Enid also wrote quickly. And she liked to finish a book once she’d started it. But she was more controlled in how she went about this. She liked to work from Monday to Friday and from 10am to 4pm with a short break for lunch. In other words she made space for family life. She found a way of linking her extraordinary productivity to the ordinary rhythms of family life.

But in the end, the similarities with Edgar Wallace are more obvious than the differences. Here is Enid talking about the way she wrote:

I could write a whole book at one sitting if only I didn’t have to eat or sleep. When I begin a book, I know it is complete and whole in my imagination, that every detail will be there, and that beginning, middle and end are already prepared, so that the story moves on swiftly, grows and develops, and will round itself off satisfactorily at the end. It is easy for a writer with a powerful and practised imagination to write ten or twelve thousand words in a day. I could write much more if only my arms didn’t get tired of being positioned over my typewriter. If you could lock me up into a room for two, three or four days, with just my typewriter and paper, some food and a bed to sleep in when I was tired, I could come out from that room with a book finished and complete, a book of, say, sixty thousand words. I would not be tired at the end of it because I should have used my imagination, as distinct from my brain. Brain work is tiring. Using one’s imagination is not.

The only real point of difference is that Enid would end the exercise fresh, whereas, Edgar would be knackered. But that might have been the effect of the fags and the sugary tea. The sugar that killed him and the fags that would probably have killed him if the diabetes hadn’t come along first.

So let’s move, in the blink of an eye, from Chalklands - or Milton House - in 1929, to Green Hedges - or Milton Mount - in 1945. Milton Mount being the name of the house in Beaconsfield before Enid had it changed to Green Hedges. Perhaps I should go over that again:

Chalklands / Milton House________Green Hedges / Milton Mount

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Enid didn’t really live in Milton Mount, she changed the house’s name to Green Hedges.

Edgar didn’t really live in Milton House, that’s just the name Enid gave to Chalklands in a work of fiction.

For a while both of these geniuses were living in Bourne End. How marvellous must that have been, though no-one seems to have taken a blind bit of notice of the conjunction. Except, I’m suggesting, Enid did in retrospect. It brings to mind a verse from a poem that she wrote when she was happily married to Hugh, before they moved to Bourne End. Hugh used to call her ‘Little Bunny’ in that honeymoon period. But, reading the verse now, it’s not Enid and Hugh I’m thinking of, it’s Enid and someone else:

The only persons in this town
Who’re really worth your trip
Are Binkle, with his whiskers fine
And naughty little Flip.



POSTSCRIPT

The above piece was posted in autumn 2012. But in summer 2016 I've been contacted by another former resident of Bourne End necessitating a
volte face. It seems that Enid was not specifically thinking of Chalklands when she was composing The Mystery of the Secret Room. But I now know the house that clearly did inspire her.

Does this cancel all the analysis up to this point? Not for me it doesn't. I think it's been useful to bring Enid Blyton and Edgar Wallace together, two giants of the best-seller, living in the same small English village from 1929 to 1931.

But let's cut again to the chase. Literally. Instead of Goon chasing Pip up Blind Lane, let's say he was just a bit further along the main road and it was Chapman Lane that they ran up. That is, the slightly longer route marked on the map below.

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Why is this alternative being suggested? Because former resident of Flackwell Heath, Deirdre Alden, has told me that this is where Sedgmoor House used to be. There were two great things about Sedgmoor House. The first is that it was over the hill as you headed north out of Bourne End.

In this old Ordnance Survey map of the area, both Blind Lane and Chapman Lane are marked as brown roads. 'Sedgmoor' is marked in the equivalent place to where I've placed it in the above map. A study of the contours suggests that the house is indeed over the hill between Bourne End/Well End and Flackwell Heath

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Enid says this about Milton House, its location relative to Peterswood:

Re Pip and Goon: 'They tore up the road. They raced up the hill and over it.'

Re the Find-Outers: 'Milton House lay over the hill, rather off the usual track. Beyond it lay the open country, and big empty fields stretched away for miles.'

Re the Find-Outers: 'They walked over the hill, and made their way down the rather secluded lane to Milton House.'

Re Fatty: 'He went down to the road, took the way over the hill, and at last walked down Chestnut Lane, keeping well to the hedge, in the black shadows there.'

'Pip went over the hill and down Chestnut Lane.'

Re Goon: 'He set off over the hill, and came to Chestnut lane.'

As I said in my 2012 piece, it always bugged me that Chalklands lay on
this side of the ridge between Bourne End and Flackwell Heath. The map below is another representation of both Blind Lane and Chapman Lane (leading to Sedgmoor) and the going over the ridge aspect is made more obvious via shading.

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The second great thing about Sedgmoor House is that it looked like this:

SedgmoorHouseHaroldPeacock

Enid described Milton House as follows. "It stood well back in its own overgrown grounds... It looked a lonely and desolate place. The house itself was high and rambling with two or three absurd little towers".

Sedgmoor House may only have had one absurd little tower obvious from the angle that the above photo was taken from, but the building was certainly high and rambling.

And what about the tree that stood very close to the house?

SedgmoorHouseHaroldPeacock

Would that tree not be irresistible for Pip (in Enid's mind's eye) to climb? First, by climbing it he gets away from Goon. Second, he sees into the secret room. One is tempted to think that Enid even briefed Joseph Abbey before he came up with the cover art for the first edition.

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When Fatty investigates Milton House it comes over as a large place. 'He explored all the ground floor, the first floor and the second floor. The secret room was on the third floor, at the top of the house.'

Sedgmoor House was demolished in the late fifties, but it was still standing proud, set in 11 acres of land, when Enid was exploring Bourne End and environs. Deirdre Alden didn't know of the house itself, as she only moved to the area in 1957, but she knew about it. I think it's an imaginative bit of research that enabled her to find the historic photo of the house. I'm just glad that reading my 2012 piece inspired her to reject my conclusions and to set off on her own track.

So there you have it. Another stab at identifying Milton House. Enid would have known both Chalklands and Sedgmoor House. She would have walked up both Blind Land and Chapman Lane. In the end, maybe she's blended her actual observations into a composite, fictional scene. But that doesn't mean that there were no original impetuses for her fiction.

Looking at Sedgmoor House... Thinking about Edgar Wallace... How could she not have come up with a fantastic third investigation for Fatty and the Find-Outers!



Acknowledgements: Internal illustrations from the original Methuen edition of The Mystery of the Secret Room are taken from the Cave of Books on the Enid Blyton Society website, which is the work of Tony Summerfield. Thanks to Google for their mapping facilities. Many thanks to Lorry1 for mentioning to me that Edgar Wallace used to live up Blind Lane and for clarifying the location of Chalklands. Many thanks to Deirdre Alden for drawing my attention to Sedgmoor House and clarifying its location.

Note: If any copyright holder wishes an image to be removed from this page then they should contact me and I will do as they ask.