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Did I like this book as a child? Yip, Armada cover included. Did I have a clue what was really happening? Nope. And that was fine. Now though, I find that the way to recapture my childhood enthusiasm is to dig into the text and to mine the connections between the author’s life and her work.

Enid locates the action of
The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage at what is effectively Old Thatch, the house where she lived for ten years. I’ve marked it with a green tack on the map below. The house is about a mile west of the middle of Bourne End and a few hundred yards from the north bank of the River Thames.

In the book it’s a Mr Hick who lives at this location and the street is called Haycock Lane rather than Coldmoorholme Lane. He lives there with various servants. In the book it is Mr Hick’s work-house, usually referred to as a cottage, which burns down. The valuable papers that go up in flames result in an insurance claim being made by Hick.

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Were there ever any valuable papers kept at Old Thatch? Well, Enid’s typescripts (she is banging one out in the image below) you might judge. But
Burnt Cottage was typed while sitting on the swing-seat in the south-facing loggia at Green Hedges (or indoors, depending on the weather), not at Old Thatch. It may well have been written in early 1943 when Enid was having a relationship with Kenneth Darrell Waters and waiting for her divorce from Hugh to become absolute, which would happen in June of that year. Hugh would also have had some important papers at Old Thatch, I expect. In the Thirties he’d been editing a major work by Winston Churchill, after all. Oh, don’t say that it’s Winston’s considered thoughts about The Great War that Enid was really setting fire to in Burnt Cottage!

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Below is how Old Thatch looks now, courtesy of the Google mapping project. Structurally, the house may have changed, but the side of the house that the sun is shining on in Google’ s photo is the same south-facing wall that Enid was photographed typing in front of in the 1930s. Although it looks from the photo below as if Enid was working quite close to the road, Coldmoorholme Lane would have been very quiet back in the 1930s. Besides, she is cut off from the sound and vision of road-users by sheltering green hedges.

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Here’s a glimpse into Enid’s mind back in 1943 as she typed out the first in the series of books that were to be, as well as much else, her revenge on Hugh. The sneak peek is courtesy of the artist, Joseph Abbey. I can’t help feeling Enid would have been very pleased with his dustcover design. I can’t help feeling that she carefully briefed her artist. I wonder if she even provided him with the snap of herself typing outside Old Thatch! The hedges are not as high as in reality, so that we, her privileged readers, can see what is going on. Someone has set fire to the beautiful house where Enid was inspired to write both the
Wishing Chair and Magic Faraway Tree, amongst so much else. Goon can only look on ineffectually.

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In Enid’s time, a large inn called The Spade Oak was located just to the south of Old Thatch. It’s still there now as the photograph below shows. It’s obviously the fictional inn where Fatty and his parents are staying over Easter in
Burnt Cottage. Psychologically, I think Enid wanted her alter ego to live immediately adjacent to the despicable Mr Hick, but she had a different Peterswood location in mind for Fatty and his parents for the rest of the series, as we’ll see when I get round to mapping the later books.

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Up the lane from Old Thatch is where Pip and Bets live. Several times in
Burnt Cottage, Pip explains to someone that he and Bets ‘live up the lane’ from the burnt cottage. The Hiltons live in a large, red, detached house with lawns and a drive, which I’ve marked with a blue tack on the aerial shot below. When Viking Star walked around Bourne End in 2008, he identified this house as the only real candidate for the Hiltons’ home and from my virtual scrutiny of the houses along Coldmoorholme Lane, courtesy of Google, I’d have to agree.

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No complaints about the weather when the Google plane passed overhead and took that bird’s eye view. The shot reminds me that
The Mystery of the Missing Necklace begins: ‘Pip and Bets sat in their garden, in the very coolest place they could find [perhaps in the shadow of the hedge!]. They had on sun-suits and nothing else, for the August sun was blazing hot.’

Pity it wasn’t such a sunny day when the Google van passed up Coldmoorholme Lane. On such a day, the children may have been indoors. Would the large window on the first floor be that of the play-room?
The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters begins: ‘Bets and Pip were waiting impatiently for Larry, Daisy and Fatty to come. Bets was on the window-seat of the play-room looking anxiously out of the window.

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There is tracking to be done re
Missing Necklace and Spiteful Letters, but for now I’m concentrating on Burnt Cottage. Towards the west (left) in the map below, the house of Pip and Bets is marked north of Fatty’s lodgings and the site of the burnt cottage. I’ve also marked the location of Goon’s house, which acted as the village police station, at The Parade, and of Larry and Daisy’s house on New Road (the blue tag furthest to the right on the map below). Several times in the series, Enid tells us that Pip and Bets Hilton had to walk past the police station to get to the house of Larry and Daisy Dawkins. It’s less than a mile as the crow flies, from the Daykins’ house to Mr Hicks’, but New Road is on a slight hill and from Larry’s bedroom window they could see the fire to the west of the village.

In 2008, when I was trying to help Viking Star locate all these places in advance of his field trip, I suggested that in
Burnt Cottage Larry and Daisy lived on the same lane as Pip and Bets. I came to this wrong conclusion because, on the first page of the book, Enid writes: ‘Larry and Daisy dressed quickly, and then ran down the stairs and out into the dark garden. As they went down the lane they passed another house and heard the sound of hurrying footsteps coming down the drive there.’ It was Pip and Bets they bumped into, so the implication is that Larry and Daisy live on the same lane. I now know that Enid, to help the pace of the narrative, had zoomed Larry and Daisy all the way along the A4155/Marlow Road without bothering to tell the reader. Why should she impose her Bourne End template on our Peterswood experience at every turn? No reason. Good. But that template was, I now suspect, always there in her mind as she was writing the Mysteries. It’s in The Mystery of the Strange Bundle that we get a second geographical fix on Larry and Daisy’s house - two down from the house of Mr Fellows, the ventriloquist’s assistant - but more of that another day.

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The fire was visibly burning at 9.30pm one night. The next day, Fatty and the others begin their investigation. Footprints found at the fringe of the Hick property - suggesting someone had been lurking - soon become key to the Find-Outer’s enquiry. Who made the footprints? They work out that several people were in the vicinity of the cottage on the night of the burning. Mr Hick’s valet, who had been sacked by Hick that morning. A tramp who was in the habit of stealing eggs from the Hick hen-house. And the learned Mr Smellie, who’d had a heated dispute with Hick about a scholarly matter.

Mr Smellie’s house turns out to be at the bottom of Larry and Daisy’s garden. By my reckoning, in Enid’s mental map of Bourne End, Larry and Daisy live on New Road and Mr Smellie lives on Highfield Road. The picture below shows how the back gardens sit back to back. According to Larry, Mr Smellie’s house ‘backs on to half our garden.’ That is very specific, and also pointless if it doesn’t mean something to Enid. I haven’t managed to track down this tantalising detail. The positioning I’m proposing for the Daykins' house comes out of information given in
Mystery of the Strange Bundle, which, as I say, I’ll go into anon.

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Larry throws his football over the wall to give himself and Daisy an excuse to climb over into the back garden of the suspect’s house. Mr Smellie sees Larry from his back window. A sheet of parchment falls from the window and Larry retrieves it for him, expresses an interest in Smellie’s work, and gets himself and Daisy invited into the house there and then. Those absent-minded professor-types are a pushover!

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Once inside, Daisy gets into the boot-cupboard and finds a shoe that looks as if it might have been responsible for the print the Find-Outers have so carefully studied. She sticks the shoe up the front of her jersey and sits down for an ‘eleven o’clock lunch’ with Mr Smellie and Larry. Somehow she gets away with this and they get away with the shoe. It turns out that the shoe isn’t an exact match to the print. But other evidence suggests that Mr Smellie may well be the guilty party, so a thorough investigation of his other shoes is decided upon!

Breaking in to the house at night is thought to be a boys’ job, so Larry is backed up this time by Fatty, not Daisy. Fatty leaves his Spade Oak bedroom at ten past nine at night in order to make the rendezvous (back garden of Mr Smellie’s house at 9.30pm). According to Enid, Fatty runs there. I’ve traced his path in the map below. Ignore the blue tack bottom left, though, as we’ll see, it indicates a place I feel Enid may have stood, quietly thinking about the course her life and marriage was taking. Fatty starts off from the Spade Oak which is the next blue tack up. The journey, which is 1.3 miles according to Google, really would take about twenty minutes at a jog. And in 2008 Viking Star did express his reservation that it could have taken Fatty 20 minutes to get to the back of Mr Smellie’s house if, as I then supposed, it was just a matter of getting to the top of Coldmoorholme Lane and looping back down for a hundred yards or so!

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Fatty and Larry do make it into Mr Smellie’s house as the back door is open. Larry is searching the study when Mr Smellie returns to the house via the front door to find what seems like a burglar ransacking the place. He locks Larry in the box-room upstairs then stumbles across Fatty who has been searching the boot cupboard. The boys have to explain what they’ve been doing. And Mr Smellie has to admit that he did return to Hick’s house the night of the burning. The boys come to accept that he did not burn down the cottage.

In fact, in the light of their investigation to date, the Find-Outers can’t believe that any of their suspects did the deed. So four of them cycle off to Burnham Beeches for a picnic and a day-off from Find-Outing. Burnham Beeches (bottom right in map below) is a real place-name, the only genuine local one in the text of
Burnt Cottage. Perhaps Enid leaves it undisguised because nothing happens there, it’s a completely neutral reference. Bets, four years younger than most of the rest, is too young to be included in the cycle ride, so she goes instead for a walk with Buster. Much more important to the story is the area that Bets explores. I’ve marked her (with Buster at her heels) in the top left corner of the map.

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Here is how Enid describes Bets setting off from her own house.

Bets went down the lane to the river. She chose a little path that ran along the river for some way, and then turned back again across a field that led to the stile where the children had seen the exciting footprints a few days before.

Bets spots similar footprints and is most excited. As is Buster. This illustration is actually from early on in the book. But it fits perfectly at this point.

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Along the muddy path they went, and then crossed a road to the other side. Then up another footpath, where they showed quite plainly, and then into a lane.’

Bets sees that the footprints are going towards a stile.

‘It was plain that the owner of the prints had crossed the stile and jumped down on to the field beyond.

‘Buster went across the field in a straight line.’

‘The footprints did not lead to the gap in the hedge. Instead they led to another stile and up the lane that led to Bets own house. But at Mr Hick’s gate the prints turned and went up Mr Hick’s own drive!’

Below may be the route that Bets and Buster took that day. Well, Bets could have turned right when she got to the river, but the footprints at the stile are on the right hand side of Coldmoorholme Lane, so I’ve assumed she turned left. There are many variations possible and I may revisit this map in the future. But it doesn’t really matter, you get the general idea. A walk to the lovely river and back through the fields, your mind filling with the everyday mystery of what the farmer is growing on his land and the exotic mystery of who fired the cottage.

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This may be the time to put the question: why does any of this matter? Well, in my opinion, it is great to be in Bourne End where we know Enid lived for a long and vital part of her adult life. It is wonderful - a return to innocence - to feel one is walking the lanes and fields in her footsteps and in the footsteps of her creations, the Find-Outers. The more specific knowledge we have about these movements, the closer we get to Enid’s creative process. That's the really rewarding thing. You can get there just from reading the books, possibly. But this is another way and might suit the way some people's minds work.

Let’s have a close-up of Bets and Buster in the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside. Bets following the footprints visually, Buster doing it with his far superior sense of smell. Think of the image as a postmodern alternative to the Joseph Abbey drawing of Bets and Buster!

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When Bets arrives back at Mr Hick’s house, having followed the footprints to the front door, she is given a frosty reception.

‘Well, what are
you doing here?’ he asked.

This is a key scene in the book. And as far as I’m concerned it draws on Enid’s disgust as to some of Hugh’s treatment of his daughters, as I explore more fully on the ‘Hugh = Goon?’ page of this site. His coldness towards them. Ultimatley, his lack of interest in them.

Hick doesn’t want to let her in, and certainly not the dog, but Bets knows something about the burning, and Buster will scratch the door down if he’s left outside, so reluctantly Hick lets them enter. Bets tells him in confidence that whoever set fire to the cottage has been to his house that very morning! Hick hears her story and promises not to tell anyone. He immediately breaks that promise by informing Goon, which greatly upsets Bets. Fatty tries to console her.

All the Find-Outers are requested by Mrs Hilton to apologise to Mr Hick for intruding on his property and his privacy. So they go back to Hick’s house and in the course of the interview seven Tempests fly overhead. Hick mentions that the seven jets flew past a few days before. In fact, Fatty realises, they flew past on the evening of the burning, when Hick was supposed to be in London.

The Find-Outers walk down to the river. Fatty says:
‘Look - we’re near the railway line here. The London train always comes by here, and there’s one due. Let’s see what happens.’ They climb onto the fence by the railway. They see a cloud of smoke in the distance. The train approaches. ‘It came roaring along - but when it reached one portion of the line, it slowed down, and finally stopped.’ Bets remarks that the train always stops there. And so they work out that Hick didn’t go to London for the afternoon in question. In the evening, he set fire to his own cottage, slipped back to the railway line and got into an empty carriage. He then got out of the train again when it pulled into Peterswood (Bourne End) station, where he would have presented his season ticket as usual and been picked up by his chauffeur.

Below is a representation of the actual view that Enid would have had, standing where her character Bets stood. She was actually standing alongside the branch line between Bourne End and Marlow that follows the course of the Thames, but she was no ordinary trainspotter. Across the river, she would have had a clear sight of the London train travelling north towards Bourne End station. If the train
did stop for a while before the station, perhaps that would be to allow the branch line train to set out from Bourne End towards Marlow in the west. As Enid watched the London train stop and start she would have a chance to wonder if Hugh was on the train, and, if on it, whether he was sober or not.

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Why was Hick so called? In
Burnt Cottage, there is this exchange:
The boys looked up at the window. Mr Hick stood there, a cup of tea or cocoa in his hand, looking down furiously.
‘Mr Hick and cup,’ said Larry with a giggle. ‘Dear old good-tempered Hiccup!’
Fatty exploded into a laugh. ‘We’ll call him Hiccup,’ he said.

But in Enid’s mind the following may be relevant. Dick Hughes was the name of the chauffeur/handyman at Old Thatch who lived in a small bungalow in the grounds of Old Thatch. The person who used to clear away Hugh’s empties from the cellar without telling Enid what was going on. Take the first letter from his surname and add it to all but the first letter of his first name: Hick. A different sort of drinking story, then. Hugh may have got the hiccups after a session in the cellar.

Imagining Enid standing on the bank of the Thames at Bourne End, reminds me of the quote her headmistress once made in front of all the pupils at St Christopher’s School for Girls in Beckenham. ‘
There is a girl currently at this school who will set the Thames on fire,’ was what she said. And apparently all the pupils knew who the head was referring to. How prescient was that headmistress, as I say in Looking For Enid. Hugh may have put a match to his marriage to Enid, putting Old Thatch up in flames, as it were. But that was a relatively modest blaze compared to the one that it gave rise to in Enid’s mind. Hugh’s behaviour provided the spark from which Enid set light to a torch, carried it to the river and... WHOOSH - a prophecy fulfilled!

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The spark was ignited in the summer of 1938, when Hugh’s private drinking hole inside Old Thatch became known to Enid. A month or two later, Enid and family had moved the three miles to Green Hedges, Beaconsfield. They’d even stayed in a rented house for a few weeks, leaving Old Thatch empty. Another spark may have been ignited when an inn (not the Spade Oak) went on fire near the river in October 1938, lighting up the sky over Bourne End, and causing many people to collect on the riverbank as fire fighters did their best to control the blaze. But the
bonfire that I’d travel far to admire was lit in 1943 when Enid sat down to write The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage.

In the picture below, Enid is looking pensive in the grounds of Green Hedges, the replacement for Old Thatch. I would like to know whether she chose to revisit Bourne End, to revisit the lanes that she walked with her first-born, Gillian, before getting down to the writing. Or whether she just sat down with her typewriter one day and went for it.

What am I talking about? - I do know that she revisited Bourne End. Barbara Stoney, in the 1991 postscript to her biography of Blyton, tells us that a diary covering 1937 to 1940 was found in the 1980s at the offices of Darrell Waters Ltd. The diary revealed that Old Thatch was owned by Enid and Hugh until 1940 and that Enid and/or Hugh would travel with Gillian and/or Imogen to their old house in connection with tenants moving in and out. Imogen too recalls being driven to Bourne End by Enid. Did these visits go on after Old Thatch had been sold and once the Mystery series had begun? Did Enid pay particular attention to the thoughts and actions of Imogen as they walked together that time? That I don’t know, but I’ll be continuing to bear in mind the possibility.

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In
The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, Hugh is effectively sited in the character of Hick, master of the house. But in subsequent books in the series, one could say that the spirit of Hugh migrates into the figure of Goon, whose physical form is set in the first book but whose character is left partially undeveloped. See the ‘Hugh = Goon?’ chapter on this website for details, speculative and not so speculative. This migration of a malign essence reminds me of David Lynch’s marvellous TV series, Twin Peaks. In that, the parasite Bob lives within Leland Palmer, father of Laura. In the form of Leland, Bob kills Laura Palmer. At the end of the series, with Leland in jail on suspicion of murder, Bob manages to migrate into the person of PC Goon, I mean Agent Cooper. Yes, perhaps Lynch was an Enid Blyton reader in his childhood, and soaked up the underlying structures of her Mystery series by osmosis!

But let’s get back down to earth. The great thing about the Google Map facility is that it’s interactive. So I’m going to share the map that I’ve made, complete with
Burnt Cottage locations and Fatty’s night route, via a link. I hope it works for you. If it does, then you’ve got a powerful tool at your fingertips, almost as powerful a tool as Enid’s typewriter. Bourne End (Burnt Cottage)

Use the slider control to zoom in and out. To begin with, you may be looking at the whole UK, but the zoom function will take you straight down to Bourne End. Using the four points of the compass in the top left you can then move left and right, north and south on the map. You should be able to flip back and forth from ‘Map’ mode to ‘Terrain’ mode, as I’ve done throughout this piece. Use the little man figure located above the zoom slide control to switch from bird’s-eye view to street view, a particularly valuable tool. It’s what you need to be in to see the photos of Old Thatch, the Spade Oak and the Red House as they appear above. It’s what you need if you want to go night-jogging with Fatty and get the full effect. Street view only works on roads though. Otherwise I’d have given you a more conventional view over the Thames towards Cookham from where I had Bets/Enid standing at the end of the story. But never mind what Google
doesn’t give you. Concentrate, if you will, on what it does deliver!

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Acknowledgements: The basic scan of the dust-wrapper from The Mystery of the Burning Cottage, and internal illustrations from the Mystery series, are taken from the Cave of Books on the Enid Blyton Society website, which is the work of Tony Summerfield. Thanks to Viking Star for his invaluable work on the ground and in the thread ‘Looking for Fatty and Co. in Peterswood/Bourne End’ in the forums of the EBS. Thanks to all those who contributed to the thread ‘A Map of Peterswood’ on the EBS site, an online initiative led by Aurélien Arkadiusz and Fiona1986. Thanks to Google for making this literary mapping exercise not just possible but a cakewalk.

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.