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. 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.

How did Enid do it? Well, we know how she did it by now, so let's just get on with it.



Pip is making Xmas cards in the big playroom. His sister, Bets, is now 9. Larry and Daisy arrive, then Buster and Fatty arrive too quickly for Enid to say anything about L and D. Fatty has a present and a card for Inspector Jenks which the others look at and sign. Fatty is willing to show the other find-outers invisible writing, how to get out of a locked room, and how to disguise themselves. But he wants to be made leader of the group first, which condition Larry sportingly agrees to. They all go downstairs for afternoon tea.

Enid is doing lot of work behind the scenes. She establishes that this is the end of a yearly cycle. There have been Easter and summer mysteries, so now comes a Christmas mystery. Bets is a year older than at the beginning of the series and Fatty now becomes leader, with a lot of ideas to contribute.

Enid lays down very specific markers (invisible ink; escaping from locked room; master of disguise) that will all be worked through in this book.

Xmas. Fatty comes round to the Hiltons with a doll (that blinks) for Bets. He has his birthday between Xmas and New Year. However, he goes away to his grandmother's for a few days. Goon warns Bets about interfering in other people's business.

Joseph Abbey illustration.

Fatty comes back the day before his birthday. He is about to show the find-outers the invisible ink trick. Bets spills the ink. But never mind they can use the juice of an orange instead!

Jospeh Abbey is again the illustrator of the first edition, published by Methuen. He never drew a better picture than the one above, which was used as the frontispiece. Goon overbearing and threatening. Bets the epitome of openness and innocence. Blink. And on this occasion, the artist commissioned to do set of illustrations in the early '60s was Charles Stewart (Mary Gernat having been given that job for books one and two in the series).

Fatty writes out a facetious letter to Goon.

Peter Stewart illustration followed by Joseph Abbey illustration.

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.'

Generations of children laugh, from War children to baby boomers in the 60s to the Internet kids of today.

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!

Screen shot 2012-07-05 at 19.40.53

Either that or it's here at Green Hedges. As I said in my analysis of
The Mystery of Disappearing Cat, the Hilton house is effectively the Blyton household, transferred to Bourne End from nearby Beaconsfield.


Fatty’s birthday. He goes into town with his mother to buy disguises. Next day, in Pip's playroom, the other find-outers are visited by a French boy - a friend of Fatty’s. A hopeless French conversation takes place. The boy bursts into tears when his bad leg is mentioned. He flees. Later there is a phone call. The crazy French boy wants to see them again in the afternoon. Mrs Hilton is encouraged to make an excuse that the children will be out.

The disguise theme is introduced with much humour. It will come into the plot later, as will invisible ink and escaping from a locked room. Enid's under-mind is well-organised enough to see to that.

On the way to see Larry and Daisy, Pip and Bets see the French boy giving Fatty's letter to Goon. He then walks with them, to their horror. Then they realise it’s Fatty! At Larry and Daisy's place, the French disguise deceives them also. Much hilarity ensues.

Joseph Abbey illustration.

Calming down, they realise that something must be done about the insulting letter that Goon has been given.

VI: FATTY AND MR. GOON Fatty writes a second letter with invisible ink, this time praising Goon:

'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.'

Goon has read the first letter and is fooled by French Fatty into accepting its replacement. Goon goes to the Hiltons where Fatty follows. Goon is embarrassed when Mrs Hilton reads aloud the letter of praise. On the way home, Fatty picks up his disguise and puts it on again for no good reason. Goon spots him (as French). But Fatty has discarded the disguise by the time his mother calls him. Baffled, Goon resolves to arrest the French boy next time he sees him.

In a way those first six chapters, delicious as they are, are preamble. It's only now the mystery can get underway.

At Fatty’s house, Pip tries on a disguise. It is a foggy day. He goes out on the street and is nearly caught by Goon.

Joseph Abbey illustration.

Pip races up the street and over the hill to Milton House. In order to escape from Goon, he climbs up
a tree. From where he sees a furnished room in the empty house. It is significant moment. Pip reckons there is a mystery here…

Joseph Abbey cover.

Another significant moment in this chapter, is that it's a room in Fatty's house that is used for the dressing up. This is a first in the series and it surely comes about from Enid realising that it wouldn't make sense for the dressing up materials to be at the Hiltons' place. It was time to establish Fatty's den in his house as an actual place where things happen.

Back at Fatty’s place, in that newly established den of his, Pip tells his story. They need to return to Milton House to see if there is an estate agent’s board. In the meantime, afternoon tea, courtesy of Mrs Trotteville this time!

Next day all go back to Milton House. Buster is left on guard, sitting on Fatty’s jersey.
When they all climb the tree to see what Pip saw, that's the money shot as far as cover designers over the years are concerned.

Covers by Charles Stewart, Timothy Banks and an early German one by Egbert von Normann

The early German cover is surely a modernist masterpiece. I had to adapt the German title for the image that heads this page as I felt the German lettering would have posed a barrier to the reader, who should be hooked by now.

As the others continue to explore, Fatty goes off to find an estate agent to try and find out who owns Milton House. Meanwhile, Goon turns up at Milton House, but the find-outers are alerted by Buster. After a verbal tussle, old Clear Orf gets the kids to scram.

Jason Ford cover.

But really the red jersey is a red herring, and Jason Ford, talented illustrator that he is, might have chosen a more significant motif for the cover of this important book in the series.

Meanwhile, Fatty is first in with one unhelpful estate agent…

Joseph Abbey illustration.

…then another, younger one is
more helpful, bribed by sweets. Fatty gets the name and address of the woman who bought the house a year ago. Her address is: Miss Crump, Hillways, Little Minton. Fatty updates the others and goes to get Buster. Goon sees him and they banter.

The Find-Outers et off for Little Minton on bikes from the corner at top of Pip’s lane. Daisy is supposed to take the initiative here, but Buster does that. A dog-fight takes place between little Buster and. Much bigger dog.

Charles Stewart illustration.

With the ice broken, Miss Crump tells Daisy and the others that she bought the house and then someone offered to buy it from her. Pip hides her glasses so he gets to read out the name, John Henry Smith, and surreptitiously note his address.

They cycle back to Peterswood and split up at Pip’s corner, Larry having been given a job. Next morning Larry and Daisy try to find out whether John Henry Smith once lived at Milton House by asking their postman. Apparently, Colonel Duncan and his three daughters used to live there. Not a Smith; so Smith lied to buy Milton House.

Back at Pip’s. Fatty decides to ring Smith in Limmering. He speaks to him but doesn’t learn much, and Smith hangs up. Goon notices Fatty in phone-box and another episode of banter takes place. Find-Outers decide they must go to Milton House again to see if Smith has paid a visit in response to Fatty’s call.

Next morning, Goon is following the children. So Larry goes into his house, scribbles a note, and drops it to put Goon off the scent. Goon picks up the note but makes a false deduction and is still in pursuit at Milton House. “If I don’t sniff something out, my name’s not Theophilus Goon.”

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.

Charles Stewart illustration.

The children see from marks in the snow that someone has come and gone. They see that the room has been prepared for a visitor. And they spot an outside coal-hole. Fatty will come back later and get into the house that way.

At Pip’s playroom, Fatty’s night plan is discussed.

'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.'

Arriving at Milton House, Fatty sleeps in the summer-house until midnight. Then he goes down the coal-hole, giving him access to the whole house. He explores the secret room, including finding a book with codes in a wall-safe. Then he falls asleep on the sofa.

Joseph Abbey illustration followed by the equivalent Charles Stewart illustration

At half-past four a couple of toughs catch Fatty sleeping in the secret room and they set about torturing (yes, torturing!) him for information.

Joseph Abbey illustration.

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 2003 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’. So the violence isn't toned down that much.

Fatty writes an invisible message as well as the one that he's been strongly advised to write. At daylight the men come back and are happy with the note. Larry and Daisy call in at Pip’s. They have to go away for the morning. Pip goes up to Milton House and down flutters the letter, which has been thrown out of window by one of the toughs.

Pip and Bets are pleased. They take the letter to Larry and Daisy, who are back by this time. Bets thinks she can smell orange juice.

Joseph Abbey illustration (and a terrible one it is too).

They run a hot iron over it and there is Fatty’s real message, asking them to call for help. Unfortunately, the Inspector is not in. Meanwhile, Goon is at Milton House, lowering himself into the coal hole…

Fatty is transferred to a room on the second floor where the plan is that all the find-outers will be locked up. There is no carpet and a key in the lock, so Fatty can escape from it whenever he likes. It's late afternoon (getting dark) when he does so. He goes downstairs and through kitchen to door leading to the coal-cellar…


A frenzied meeting with Goon leaves Goon locked in the coal-cellar and Fatty triumphant (not knowing it’s Goon he’s locked in there, despite what the above image reveals). An aeroplane deposits more of the gang. Fatty bumps into Inspector Jenks outside the house.

Fatty tells Inspector what he knows. Then speeds off to Pip’s. The Find-Outers all come back to Milton House and watch the arrests being made.

Joseph Abbey illustration.

But, apparently, there is one more villain 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. Fatty takes off his own disguise. Inspector Jenks invites himself to meal hosted by Mrs Hilton. All the parents and children there. They both experience triumph and feel sorry for Goon. Who they decide to give a bar of soap and to return his helmet. But not flowers, Fatty insists that flowers and Goon do not belong together.

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. What the villains had been up to in The Mystery of the Secret Room is beside the point.

Sub-text. All is sub-text.


The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage was effectively a chance for Enid to let off steam concerning her treatment by her first husband when they lived at Old Thatch. And The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat concerned her relationship with her immediate domestic environment at Green Hedges, as represented by the despised gardener and her beloved Siamese cats. So what is The Mystery of the Secret Room about? Well, as far as I can see it's about her vocation as a writer in the period after giving birth to her first daughter, when she maybe needed some encouragement.

Let me try and justify that ambitious statement. First, let’s establish which road Enid has in mind when she has Pip running up over the hill into the countryside in chapter 7. 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.

Screen shot 2012-09-13 at 15.27.03

When Enid writes that Goon walked down the village, she means he either turned left along The Parade, towards the railway station (off the bottom of the map above), 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.

On the aerial shot below, I’ve marked in inky blue 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.

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!

Screen shot 2012-09-18 at 17.02.05

Let’s pause at this juncture, with Pip up the tree and in position A. Not to be confused with PC Goon, back on the beat down in the village.


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.)

Screen shot 2012-09-18 at 13.45.25

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-west.

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.


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.


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 90 years ago. Is there an elderly person in Bourne End, or elsewhere, who might be able to help us here? I doubt it.

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


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.

A bit later on in the book, in chapter 9, 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.

Well, why not? The master has come back into residence.


As we know, in chapter 15 of
The Mystery of the Secret Room, the plan was for Fatty to come back at night, in disguise, and gain access to the house. 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!


'Fatty walked into the room. It had evidently been roughly cleaned and thoroughly dusted not long before. A little pile of tins of meat and fruit stood on a shelf. The kettle on the stove had water in it. A tin of tea was on the table. Books stood on the window-sill, and Fatty turned over the pages of some. They were in a foreign language and he couldn't understand a word.'

That's a tantalising description. Tea and books! I wonder if the books being in a foreign language is dig at the master's style. His protagonist's point-of-view is bit too macho for me, littered with sexism, racism and an exaggerated opinion of his own powers.

Fatty sees that the sofa has been prepared as a kind of bed. It’s a quarter past one in the morning and he 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. The Mystery of the Lone House?


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.

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.

I don't know what Edgar Wallace thought of himself. A thin man locked in a fat man's body? Or vice versa?

Let’s compare the regimes of Edgar Wallace and Enid Blyton. This is 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

images image-32477-galleryV9-zpxe_2

Enid didn’t really live in Milton Mount, she changed the house’s name to Green Hedges. Maybe she didn't want jokes about the authors Milton and Blyton.

Edgar didn’t really live in Milton House, that’s just the name Enid gave to Chalklands in a work of fiction. Maybe she
did want to draw attention, albeit in a subtle way, to the fact that a writer lived here.

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.


The above piece was first researched in autumn 2012. But in summer 2016 I was contacted by another former resident of Bourne End necessitating a
volte face. It seems that Enid may not have been specifically thinking of Chalklands when she was composing The Mystery of the Secret Room. But I now know the house that 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.

Screen shot 2016-10-03 at 13.18.35

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

img446 - Version 3

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.'

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. There is even a lane that corresponds to Chestnut Lane leading off Chapman Lane to Sedgmoor.


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


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?


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 took Joseph Abbey for a walk before he came up with the cover art for the first edition.


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.

Enid would have known both Chalklands and Sedgmoor House. She would have walked up both Blind Land and Chapman Lane. Up Blind lane and down Chapman Lane. Up Chapman lane and down Blind 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!


At the end of 2017 I had access to Enid Blyton's diaries which are kept at Seven Stories in Gateshead. I made a few notes and now (December 2019) is the time to follow them up.

Seven Stories has transcribed some of the diary entires, and in 1928 we have:

'We had dinner at Scott’s, and went to see the talkie-movie “The Terror” at the Piccadilly, by Edgar Wallace - the first we’ve seen. It was v. good.'

So Enid Blyton did know who Edgar Wallace was. Of course she did - everybody knew the king of crime!

It was in 1929 when both Enid Blyton and Edgar Wallace moved to Bourne End. Blyton's diaries for 1929, 1930 1931 and until Wallace's death in 1932, need to be checked for relevant diary entries. I did have a quick look through the diaries, but I was only there for the one day, looking up something else, and may have missed a relevant entry. But here's something I
didn't miss, from June 14, 1933. It's not included in 'Sample and Significant Diary Entries', it's an entry I came upon myself:

'Worked til lunch. Mrs Oetzmann called in and we went calling on Mrs Lancaster-Cooper up at Edgar Wallace’s old house and also on Dr McAdamson. Went to tea at Mrs Kisky’s - a bird tea to which we all took lists of birds seen in or from garden.'

Mrs Oetzmann, Mrs Lancaster-Cooper, Dr McAdamason, Mrs Kisky. Who are these people? These ladies who make lists of birds that can be seen from their windows? Let's leave that unanswered for now.

So let's get this straight. Enid Blyton, having published nothing except her usual
Teacher's World page and her Sunny Stories magazine throughout 1931 and 1932, is, in 1933, visiting the very house where Edgar Wallace had lived up until the year before. She gets to see for herself where the master hung out.

In 2015 a new biography of Edgar Wallace appeared, under the name
Stranger Than Fiction, the Life of Edgar Wallace, the man who created King Kong, written by Neil Clark. He tells us that 'Housekeeping for a Genius', a piece on 'the world's hardest working writer' written by Jim Gliddons, appeared in The New London Magazine in December 1930. Enid would have read the piece. There is no way that she, Mrs Oetzmann, Mrs Lancaster-Cooper, Dr McAdamson and Mrs Kisky would all have missed that. Not those eagle-eyed, fledgling Find-Outers!

So Enid would have known about Wallace's study, with its soundproofed double-glazed window with six inches between the panes and its heavy padded door…

From the Jim Gliddons piece we learn:

'In the middle of the room is Edgar Wallace's desk. He works with his back to the windows, facing the cream-painted wall. To avoid having to bend over the manuscript a piece had been cut out of the oak desk, so that he can't sit upright in his chair and have his paper in direct line.'

I don't quite follow that last bit.

'We were told that Wallace started work at 4am every morning using a small room on the first floor where he slept when he decided to cut the night short. "My husband has that lucky gift of being able to sleep at will," said Jim. "If he feels tired, he comes up here and takes one or two hours sleep and wakes up the minute he wishes to. I think that's why he is able to keep going at the rate he does."

"Try it, Enid," says Mrs Oetzmann. "First go into the little room on the first floor."

Enid goes up to the little room on the first floor. She lies down on the sofa there.

"Now pretend it's 4 o'clock in the morning," says Mrs Lancaster-Cooper. "Up you get and come through to the studio."

Enid gets up and goes through to the studio. She sits at the desk. Suddenly she feels serious. Is she going to keep at this writing business? Of course, she is. Is she going to up her game?

"Now you get on with it!" Says Dr McAdamason. "I want to see a finished manuscript in 72 hours."

"Where's my tea? And my cigarette holder? And my smokes?" Says Enid, reasonably enough.

Mrs Kisky flies from the room. "Tea, tea, tea. Enid needs tea!"

"Make sure it's sweet enough," shouts Enid, "Two sugars, please. But already she is getting down to the writing. She is inspired by both her friends encouragement and the example of the master, who began life as
a working class boy in London.

"I'm going to see what this looks like from outside," says Mrs Oetzmann. So out she goes and up the tree until she is in position A. Looking in on the action."

"How does it look?" Shouts Enid, looking out the window at her teasing chum.


"Oh, come on, Enid. Get into character!"

"How's this?"


Mrs Oetzmann: "Crazy!

Mrs Cooper-Lawrence: "Today, Enid Blyton, you
are Edgar Wallace!"

Mrs Oetzmann: "Oh my God! What's she doing?"

Dr McAdamson: "I see a genius squatting over a bedpan.The tea is simply pouring out of her…"

Mrs Kisky: "See how she opens the sluice gates and out it jolly well rushes!"

It didn't come out that fast. Not for a few years yet, as I explain in
Enid's 1937-40 Diaries. But buy 1939 it was coming out fast. Did she really have Edgar Wallace to thank for that? I don't know if she did. But I think she was fascinated by the set-up at Chalklands. I don't think she ever lost her fascination for the 'secret room' in the 'lone 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.

Enid Blyton. Edgar Wallace. Enid Blyton
and Edgar Wallace. Legends of Bourne End.

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.

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