Armada cover by Charles Stewart, 1963


I meant to save this one for last, as it's such a great book. But as there’s been a year between when I wrote the first batch of these Bourne End Forever pieces and when I found time to write the last, Vanished Prince, I thought I had better get this one out there while I was still in the zone.

The Mystery of the Hidden House is the sixth book in the Mystery series, published in 1948. As with Five Go To Kirrin Island Again, the Famous Five book published the year before, the sixth book in the Mystery series was intended to be the last. As with Kirrin Island Again, Enid put a great deal of effort and inspiration into the series finale. In Kirrin Island Again, Enid succeeded in imagining a tunnel linking Kirrin Island - setting of the first book in the Famous Five series, Five On a Treasure Island - to the mainland. And, as I argue and illustrate in Looking For Enid, she used this tunnel as a way to reconcile herself to her long dead, beloved father (through George’s relationship with Uncle Quentin). How did she manage to ‘up the ante’ in an equivalent way in the sixth Mystery book? Well, that’s what I hope to show you. But in a word 'Ern'.

Here is a scan of the wraparound cover of the first edition:

Methuen cover by Joseph Abbey, 1948

After Enid’s elder daughter, Gillian, died in 2007, her copies of the Mystery series were sold at auction. Her copy of
Hidden House, which I bought along with the rest of her set, comes in a dust wrapper as above. However, if you take off the dustcover, it’s apparent that the book spent time on the shelves at Green Hedges without any wrapper.


Not only is the printing on the cover faded, library codes have been placed over the spine, leaving marks when the Sellotape that held them in place was subsequently removed. This is probably what happened to all the books at Green Hedges when they were taken away from the to-be-demolished house and added to the library of Darrell Waters Limited. It is likely that at a later date Gillian removed certain books that she felt she had a claim to. It is also likely that she then got a second-hand bookseller to source a high quality dust-wrapper, as all the Mystery books in her complete set had dust-wrappers. The book itself is a first edition from 1948, but the wrapper lists
The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat and so is from 1949 at the earliest. I’ll be coming back to this bibliophilic stuff later, anal as it is, as there is more to say about Enid’s relationship with this actual copy of one of her favourite books, some of it speculative, some of it factual.



The book starts with the Find-Outers going to the station to meet Fatty. They mistake a plump boy for Fatty. This boy gives up his ticket at the barrier then stops outside the station. He must walk up a slope, because Enid writes ‘
He put down his bag at the top of the slope to rest his arm’. He walks on again, conscious that he’s being followed and there is a lot of banter between him and the Find-Outers who insist on calling him ‘Fatty’. Eventually, the Find-Outers are surprised because ‘the way he went led to the village, not to his mother’s house’. They are further surprised when he turns into Goon’s police house.

This is a bit awkward from a Bourne End = Peterswood point of view. On the map below I’ve marked Fatty’s house (top left) and the station (bottom right). Goon’s house is on The Parade and by walking towards it, Ern is also walking towards Fatty’s house. So it would have been much better (for my theory) if Enid had simply made Ern turn into the Police station and have the Find-Outers express surprise only at that point.

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 19.11.39

On enidblyton.net, Graham Wheeler mentions that there is no ‘slope’, mentioned above, from Bourne End station to Station Road, whereas there is at Beaconsfield, where Enid lived while she was writing the Mysteries. And he suggests Enid may have had Beaconsfield Station in mind at the beginning of
Hidden House. But if one looks in detail at the journey between Beaconsfield Station and Enid’s own home, Green Hedges (marked by house symbol on the map below), that doesn’t help much either. The old police station at Beaconsfield is to the south and so the boy would have walked in the opposite way as soon as arriving at the top of the ‘slope’ from the station to Station Road, not after walking along the road with the Find-Outers for some way.

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 19.13.20

That may seem like a dead end, and in a sense it is. It reminds me that the correspondence between actual Bourne End and fictional Peterswood can never be total. At any time, Enid can depart from her mental map either because she doesn’t choose to consult it, or because it is blurred in some respect, or because a plot detail demands it, or in order to intentionally keep things ambiguous. She knew there was a vital and comprehensive connection between Bourne End and Peterswood, but she didn’t necessarily want her readers to know it. She was careful not to use local names in the first five titles (a cycle ride to Burnam Beeches is mentioned in
Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, but it’s a single mention and is peripheral to the action). However, I think she wanted to put down a solid local marker in what she thought would be the last Mystery, hence the trip to Marlow - which lies three miles to the west of Peterswood, just as it lies three miles to the west of Bourne End - that I’ll be discussing soon. Actually, I think she wanted to put down a lot more than a solid local marker, but that will emerge as this goes on.

In the meantime, the reader has been introduced to Ern. As I've already suggested, humble Ern is the stroke of genius that will make this such a great book. Though that remains to be demonstrated.


The Find-Outers return to the station with Mrs Trotteville, who informs them that Fatty missed the previous train but is on the next one. They greet Fatty with an outpouring of affection and explain the mistake they made concerning the touchy boy who claims that Goon is his uncle.

Illustrations by Charles Stewart, 1963, and Joseph Abbey, 1948.

At home, Pip is worried that Goon will come round and complain to his parents about the treatment his nephew received from them. And sure enough Goon does turn up…

3. ERN

Goon warns off all the parents of the Find-Outers concerning his nephew, an innocent boy not to be corrupted by their influence. So it looks as if there will be no Mystery these holidays. Then when the Find-Outers are in the village, they meet Ern wheeling his uncle's bike. He seems good-natured enough, though they have trouble understanding what he says. 'SwotIsaid' and 'portry' in particular cause confusion in their middle-class ranks.

Illustrations by Joseph Abbey, 1948, Charles Stewart, 1963, and Mary Gernat, 1965.

Curious that all three of the book's illustrators have chosen to capture this quite important but essentially verbal scene.


Ern starts to visit the Find-Outers every day and his naivety and obtuseness annoy them all. In Pip's playroom they begin to work out a plan to send him on a wild goose chase, with a fake robbery and pretend clues.


Ern gets a note from Fatty telling him to meet the Find-Outers in the shed at the bottom of his garden. Until now in the series, meetings have been in the playroom of Pip and Bets. There is a fine paragraph describing Ern’s introduction to the shed, which is also the reader’s:

‘He arrived at the bottom of Fatty’s garden and heard voices in the shed there. It was Fatty’s work-room and play-room. He had made it very comfortable indeed. On this cold winter’s day he had an oil-stove burning brightly and the inside of the shed was warm and cosy. A tiger-skin was on the floor, old and moth-eaten, but looking very grand, and a crocodile skin was stretched along one side of the shed-wall. The Five Find-Outers were trying to roast chestnuts on top of the oil-stove. They had a tin of condensed milk and were each having a dip in it with a spoon as they talked.’

Fatty pretends that strange flashing lights have been seen on Christmas Hill. Whatever the kidnappers or robbers are plotting needs to be investigated. Ern presents a notepad and pencil purloined from his uncle, which Fatty takes objection to. Goon looks in at the shed's window and the meeting has to break up.

Illustration by Joseph Abbey, 1948.

Note the crocodile on the wall. Crocodile? SwotIsaid.


In trying to replace the notebook that he took from his uncle's drawer, Ern is seen by Goon and earns himself a slapped face. Goon then forces the crying boy to tell him what he knows about whatever Fatty's investigating. Something about lights on Christmas Hill, Ern admits. He is then confined to the house, but Fatty gets round this by dressing up as an old woman wanting to make a complaint. After half-listening to her stupid story twice, the third time she knocks, Goon tells Ern to deal with her, and so Fatty is able to hand Ern a note.


Ern is to watch for lights on Christmas Hill in the ditch by the mill at midnight and report back the next day. Ern gets a map of the area. He finds the mill to the right of the stream. If he follows the stream he can’t miss the mill. However, Goon sees him studying the map and spots the path that Ern has pencilled ‘
from the village of Peterswood to the old mill’.

Now there is a Winter Hill to the south of Bourne End but this is not relevant. The stream is the essential bit of geography. There is only one stream in the locality (not including the wide River Thames) and that’s the River Wye. ‘Bourne’ is an old English word for stream, and where the Wye flows into the Thames is ‘Bourne End’. This river is shown very clearly on the following Google map. The Wye used to have several paper mills along it, and some of these are still marked on maps that I’ll be reproducing further down this page. However, the mill that Enid is referring to, on a hill, would seem to have been a windmill, certainly Joseph Abbey thought so, as several of his illustrations, including the dust-cover, show a windmill. The hypothetical mill I’ve marked in Mill Wood on the map below is on a ridge that roughly follows a parallel course to the River Wye.

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 19.15.57

It’s Goon that turns up on the hill at midnight. He’s teased by lights shone by the Find-Outers, and Fatty - after trying out some rudimentary ventriloquism, a theme that will be much developed in
The Mystery of the Strange Bundle - jumps on Goon thinking he’s Ern. Fatty is surprised by how strong Ern is, before realising his mistake and scarpering.

Illustration by Joseph Abbey, 1948.


Meanwhile, Ern has followed the wrong stream. Moreover, he’s gone downstream rather than upstream. Now in ‘reality’, there is no other stream in the area and I’ll be coming back to this business soon enough. It’s after midnight when Ern sees a light, then a car without lights emerge from where the light shone.

Jason Ford cover from 2003.

Was it something to do with the Christmas Hill mystery? He overhears a conversation in which a man is addressed as ‘Holland’.

The next morning Ern goes to Fatty's shed and is directed by a note towards Pip's playroom. The Find-Outers take Ern’s mystery on board when he tells them about it, but persist with the fake one. They suggest that he goes up Christmas Hill during daylight, looking for clues, such as cigarette ends and footprints.


The Find-Outers go up Christmas Hill (perhaps up Windsor Hill, a road that goes from the River Wye to Mill Wood on the above map) and drop some false clues to find later.

Illustration by Joseph Abbey, 1948, and Charles Stewart, 1963.

Pip’s clue is a bit of paper with the phone number ‘Peterswood 0160’ written on it. Another of the clues is a hanky with the initial ‘K’ sewn into it. After they've dropped the clues, they bump into Goon who is angry with them, and Ern who is excited about the prospect of finding clues.

Illustration by Mary Gernat, 1965.

Let's quote a passage of the Find-Outers in Pip's playroom, having got their hands on a map.

‘Fatty put his finger on Peterswood, their village. He traced the way up to the mill, up the stream on Christmas Hill. Then he traced another way, alongside another stream, that at first ran near the first one and then went across fields.
“I think this must be the stream Ern went by last night,” he said. “Let’s see where it flows past. Nothing much, look! Just fields.”
The others all bent over the map, breathing down Fatty’s neck. They watched his finger go along the stream. It came to where a thick wood was marked. In the middle of the wood some kind of building was shown.
“Now I wonder what building that is,” said Fatty, thoughtfully.’

Yes, I wonder, as well. Stay tuned, dear readers!


Ern collects all the bits and pieces left for him to identify as clues. He makes a list of ten clues, five of which were actually planted by the Find-Outers:

1. Brown Button with bit of brown cloth (Larry)
2. Bit of paper with telephone number (Pip)
3. Broken shoe-lace, reddish colour. (Bets)
4. End of good cigar. (Fatty)
8. Ragged handkerchief with 'K' in corner (Daisy)

Useful to compare with the clues that the Find-Outers leave for Goon in
The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat. Pip provided a peppermint drop. Daisy came up with an old hair ribbon. Bets provided a blue button from her doll, Larry a brown shoelace and Fatty two cigar ends. Conclusion: Larry's favourite colour is brown while Fatty has a thing about smoked cigars.

Back at the police house, Goon bullies Ern again. Making him feel useless and reducing him to tears. However, Goon lets Ern go off to see the Find-Outers on condition that he reports back to him all they talk about. Instead, Ern proudly shows the ten clues that he's found.

'Lovaduck!' Said Fatty. 'Smazing! Impossible! Swunderful! Let's have look, Ern, quick.'

The truth is, Ern is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, his sadistic uncle is quite willing to bully and hurt Ern to get what he wants from him. On the other, Fatty, so much cleverer that Ern, is out to run rings round him.


Ern confesses that he's spying for his uncle. The Find-Outers are sympathetic and try to cheer him up. Back at Goon's, his uncle, conscious that he must use the carrot as well as the stick in order to get the most out of Ern, has made him bacon and egg, followed by a bowl of tinned peaches and creamy custard. But Ern knows where his loyalties lie, and tells Goon nothing of what's going on. In the night, Goon sneaks into Ern's room and gets hold of both the list of false clues (though Ern believes in them) and the false clues themselves, which is what Fatty reckoned would happen.

In other words, Ern is still caught in the middle, being manipulated by both the Find-Outers and Goon at the same time.


In chapter 12, Fatty finds a directory of Peterswood, but it doesn’t mention the building in the wood, only the wood which is called Bourne Wood. ‘
The little stream that flowed through Peterswood was called the Bourne, so Fatty imagined the wood was named after it.’ No mention of a second stream this time. I think Enid has only needed that for plot purposes and can now quietly drop it and have her characters walk along the one and only stream. Fatty is joined by the rest of the Find-Outers for his winter morning walk:

‘They crossed the little bridge and went along the bank beside the stream. It was still frosty weather and the grass crunched beneath their feet. The little stream wound in and out, and bare willow and alder trees grew here and there on its banks. The scene was a maze of wintry fields, dreary and desolate.’

I suspect this would have been a favourite walk of Enid’s when she lived in Bourne End, and perhaps when she lived in Beaconsfield too, in other words until the end of her life. As recently as 2011 an angler has mentioned checking out the river between Wooburn (middle of the above map) and Bourne End, and catching the blue flash of the kingfisher. This is one of the key sights in nature according to Enid, who must have seen kingfishers along the rivers of Bromley in South London when she was growing up. In the first volume of
The Teacher’s Treasury she describes the bird as follows: ‘Of all our native birds the kingfisher is the most beautiful in colouring. Those who see him for the first time can hardly believe that the brilliant streak of blue flashing past them like an arrow is merely a bird. The little kingfisher is a regular little king in his domain, as anyone will agree who has once seen that brilliant flash of blue gleam over the brown river.’ Enid repeats the adjective ‘brilliant’ not because she has a limited vocabulary, but because I’ve put together that quote from the beginning and end of a two-page descriptive passage about the bird.

Along the River Wye is the only place Enid would have been likely to see kingfishers when she stayed at either Bourne End or Beaconsfield, so how could she have stayed away from it’s hallowed banks? Here is the river in summer:

River Wye Bourne End April 2011 006

But back to the Find-Outers and their winter walk.

‘The stream wound endlessly through the fields... After some time Bets pointed to the left. “Look is that the wood over there?”
“Can’t be,” said Pip. It’s on our left instead of straight ahead.”
“I expect the stream winds to the left then,” said Fatty. And so it did. It suddenly took a left-hand bend and ran towards the dark wood.’

Remembering that it would be rising land to the right as the Find-Outers walked north along the eastern bank of the river, the wood is clearly in front of them and to the left. The River Wye does indeed bend left after Wooburn and it looks very much to me that the Find-Outers are zeroing in on Fennell’s Wood, which is marked in the top left corner of the map below.


Enid describes Bourne Wood as being made up of evergreen trees. Fennell’s Wood consists mostly of tall beech trees but it seems to share with Enid’s vision a dark, sinister appearance. Someone calling himself ‘Daytripdude’ has put on
Youtube a walk through the wood, from which the image below is a still. Fennels (the spelling seems to have changed over the years) Wood has also cropped up in local news recently for being used by motorbikes at night in an antisocial way:

Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 13.38.29

Is there an isolated building in the middle of Fennell’s Wood? That would be too much to ask. But Enid needed one in the middle of Bourne Wood so that she could get on with weaving a plot around the places she knew and loved. Below is how Joseph Abbey visualised the Find-Outers first encounter with the mysterious property in Bourne Wood, Harry’s Folly.

Illustration by Joseph Abbey, 1948.

I should say that the first German edition of the book goes with the title Mystery of the House in the Wood. Which is probably better than Enid's own title, which she gave approximately one second's thought to.

1st German edition published by Erika Klopp Verlag in 1955,
illustrated by Walter Born with the title Mystery of the House in the Woods


In Fatty's shed, the Find-Outers don't tell Ern about their walk to the wood. Instead they entrust him to find (non-existent) loot on Christmas Hill. Ern celebrates by taking out his poetry notebook and starting a poem, which Fatty continues with a flourish. Fatty then comes up with another poem off the top of his head, greatly entertaining everyone. Ern is in awe of Fatty's powers of spontaneous versifying. He leaves his notebook behind and Fatty takes the opportunity of writing inside it a rude poem about Goon in Ern's handwriting.

Ern retrieves his notebook. With Ern out of the way again, Fatty tells the Find-Outers that he’s discovered that Harry’s Folly is owned by Henry White. He can’t find out where he lives, so the Find-Outers must find out more about the man ‘Holland’ that Ern overheard the night he followed the stream to the wood. The telephone directory tells them that there are three Hollands listed and it becomes Fatty’s job to follow up the W. Holland and Co. who are garage proprietors based in Marlow.

As I said, Marlow is a real place three miles west of Bourne End. Having mentioned it in
Hidden House Enid mentions it in several of the subsequent books. For instance, in Holly Lane the character Marian lives in Marlow. In Missing Man Fatty jogs along the river to Marlow and back. In Strange Messages Daisy wonders if there might be a house called The Ivies in Marlow.


Ern and Goon read about a local robbery, which they both link to the supposed goings on at Christmas Hill. Pip and Bets try to find out about one of the local Hollands by talking to their parents. Larry and Daisy ask their postman if he knows any Hollands.

Illustration by Mary Gernat, 1965.

Fatty cycles to Marlow in disguise as Ern. He ascertains that the sinister garage owner does know Harry’s Folly, but the owner in turn works out that the boy with the dog called Buster must be the local mystery-solving Frederick Trotteville, remembering him from the Missing Necklace case.


Back in Peterswood, Fatty, still dressed as Ern, leads Goon a merry cycle dance round the village. (This is only a small part of the point of Fatty having disguised himself as Ern, as we'll see.) Goon then gives the real Ern an earful at home, until the next door neighbour insists that Ern has been working hard there all day, cleaning out Goon's shed. Ern is allowed to go to Fatty's after dinner, where he is told that there will be loot up at the old mill that evening, following the local robbery that everyone has read about. Ern can't wait to go up there and find it.


Both Ern and Goon have independent plans to search the mill on Christmas Hill. They wait until the middle of the night. Ern is trying to write poetry, but can't get past the line 'The pore old man lay on the grass.' Goon hears Ern reciting this line repeatedly, and asks him what on earth he's doing. Goon takes the 'portry' book off Ern and reads aloud the poem that Fatty wrote. Ern is amazed that
he could have written such a great poem. Goon reckons it was right down rude of Ern, who gets a caning. With that, Goon locks Ern in his room and goes off to Christmas Hill. Ern consoles himself with the thought that he is the poet who wrote:


“O how I love thee, Uncle dear.
Although thine eyes like frogs appear.
Thy body is so fat and round
Thy heavy footsteps shake the ground.
Thy temper is so sweet and mild
‘Twould frighten e'en the smallest child
And when thou speakest, people say,
“Now did we hear a donkey bray?”"


Goon goes off to the mill on Christmas Hill. He searches the filthy place and finds nothing.

Illustration by Joseph Abbey, 1948.

Goon goes back to his house where Ern is resentful of his treatment earlier that night and talks about running away. Goon retorts: "Run away! Stuff and nonsense. A boy like you hasn't the courage of a mouse. Run away, indeed!"


Ern tries to meet the Find-Outers. He tells Bets about his beating from Goon due to the good/rude poem. Then he gets kidnapped by the criminal who met Fatty when he was disguised as Goon. He is taken to a garage near Marlow owned by this Mr Holland.

Illustration by Mary Gernat, 1965.

Later he is taken to Harry's Folly via Peterswood. Passing through the village, he is able to throw the false clues out of the window.


The Find-Outers are worried about Ern who hasn't been seen all day. Then Goon drops by to the Hiltons' house to ask the Find-Outers if they've seen Ern, having found a few of the false clues. Everyone is worried, but it's Fatty who goes looking for more of the false clues


Fatty works out that Ern has been resourceful enough to lay down a trail to indicate where he’s been taken. Fatty to Bets:
'"Well, I feel rather bad about Ern. I feel as if he's had very bad luck all round - what with us pulling his leg - and Goon caning him for what he hadn't done - and then getting kidnapped because I'd once disguised myself as Ern. It's up to me to do something."' Too right it is. At 8.30pm, after having dined with his parents, Fatty sets out from home, following the stream to Bourne Wood and Harry’s Folly.


Larry and Pip meet Fatty when he reaches the wall round Harry's Folly. Working together, using sacks to protect themselves from spikes, and a ladder, they climb over the wall. The second of the book's most-illustrated moments:


Illustrations by Joseph Abbey, 1948, Charles Stewart, 1963, and Mary Gernat, 1965.

Harry’s Folly tuns out to be a huge mansion whose front door is up a flight of stairs.

Timothy Banks cover from 2016.

Nearby there is another enormous building, either stables or garages. The door to one garage is open. The boys hear a noise and see part of the floor disappear. Then the section of floor comes back up again, like a lift. There are three cars in the garage, all with sidelights on. One by one the cars drive out, flash their headlights, wait for the gates of Harry’s Folly to be opened, and then drive away down the cart-track. The floor disappears again, taking the only man left in the garage with it. The boy Find-Outers (it’s a shame that Daisy and Bets are left out of the action) follow, and soon they are underground, in an enormous workshop which, they work out, is a receiving place for stolen cars.


Walking back up a spiral staircase they come across doors that they suspect lead to the ground floor of the mansion. A cough from behind a door alerts Fatty to Ern’s presence. Soon Ern is throwing his arms round Fatty for finding him. But Fatty has something to ask of Ern. He asks if he’ll remain locked up all night so that the rest of them can get away and report what’s happening here to the police. Bravely, Ern accepts his fate. But let me quote Enid at this point:

‘“All right,” said Ern, “I’ll do it, see? I’ll do it for you, Fatty, because you’re a wonder, you are! But I don’t feel brave about it. I feel all of a tremble.”

“When you feel afraid to do a thing and yet do it, that’s real bravery,” said Fatty. “You’re a hero, Ern!”’

In the event, the Find-Outers can’t get out themselves until morning. First, they can’t get out of the mansion, which is locked and shuttered. So they retreat back into the underground workshop and find a dark corner to keep a lookout from. At 7am they take the opportunity to creep into the back of a lorry which is about to be raised to ground level by the moveable floor. They then skip out of the lorry while it’s waiting for the gates of the grounds to be opened, and make their way round to the rope ladder by which they got in.

Illustrations by Charles Stewart, 1963, and Mary Gernat, 1965.


Here is a photograph taken in Fennels Wood at sunrise. There is a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ feel to it, so perhaps it’s appropriate to place here. Hurry home, Fatty, Larry and Pip!
Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 13.44.05

The boys eventually find the cart-track which leads to the stream which they stumble along all the way to Peterswood. Goon has been explaining to his boss that his nephew has disappeared. Goon is genuinely concerned for his nephew's wellbeing, partly because he feel guilty about the way he caned his nephew. The three exhausted boys walk in to be given cocoa and for Fatty to begin their tale.


After explaining the situation, Fatty is given permission to return to Harry's Folly with the police. Ern is delighted to see Fatty and all ends well. The Inspector wants to hear the poem that Ern wrote about Goon, but Ern takes pity on his uncle and informs hi he'll tear it up. Goon, humbly suggests that he will cook bacon and eggs for Ern, who is starving.

Fatty is taken home where he falls asleep, dreaming of Ern crowned with laurel leaves, a hero.

"Lovaduck!" Said Fatty and woke up.


To wrap up
The Mystery of the Hidden House, I’m making the short walk from Fennels Wood to Beaconsfield, and by track and lane I will soon arrive at Green Hedges, the house Enid lived in from 1940 until 1968. If you look at the map of the River Wye reproduced below, showing Fennell’s Wood on the left and Beaconsfield on the right, and find the orange road coming south into the map from the top right corner, Green Hedges is the third house down, on the right. As I show in more detail on the Disappearing Cat page.


Yes, to wrap up this mystery, which was published in 1948, but which is partly based on Enid’s Bourne End years of 1929 to 1938, we need to have a word with the book’s author. And having walked north from Bourne End along the River Wye to Fennell’s Wood a few times, back and forth - if only virtually - and having seen the blue flash of the kingfisher, as recently as last week, I feel I’ve earned the right to be here. Thanks to photographs taken by Rolf Adlercreutz, my head-to-head with Enid takes place, not in 2013, when I first drafted this piece, nor in 2020, when I added the chapter summary, but in 1968. Oh, what a lot of years have passed since Enid raised Gillian and Imogen in Buckinghamshire! Oh, what a millennium it seems.

blyton680308-001 - Version 14

Enid asks who I am.


“Ha ha. That is a good start.”

“I want to give you a special book.”

“I have quite enough special books already. But let me see... Oh, it’s my own copy of my favourite Find-Outers story. I wrote that exactly 20 years ago. Thank-you so much for returning it.”


Before I hand Enid her book, I ask “Can you tell me why the cover print is so faded in places?”

“Yes, I can tell you that. It’s faded because I love to stroke the cover of this particular book. You try it, if you like. Put your right index finger on the fingerprint at the bottom of the book - which I feel you are entitled to do because you have read my story - and move your finger to the magnifying glass and back. Do that over and over again.”

“The phrase ‘hand and eye co-ordination’ comes to mind!”

“You can also do the same sort of movement with several fingers of your right hand between the title of the book and the name of the author,” says Enid smiling. “But you can only really do that if your name’s ‘Enid Blyton’, as mine is.”

I smile too, and open the book. “Speaking of which,” I say. Then I read what Enid has written on the front end-page of her personal copy of
The Mystery of the Hidden House.


“This book belongs to Enid Blyton. Green Hedges, Penn Road, Beaconsfield. Please return it to above address.”

I go on. “So, you see, I’m returning your book at your request.”

“Thank you, but how did you get it in the first place.”

“I got it from Gillian.”

“Oh, she must have removed the book from Green Hedges without asking my permission. She shouldn’t do that. She has her own collection of books including many, many that I have given her. Really, she has no need to purloin her mother’s personal copies!”

I try and hand the book to Enid, but she tells me to turn over the page. She asks me to look at the frontispiece and read out its caption, a line about Ern.


“Out went the next clue - the hanky with ‘K’ on it.”

“That’s K for Kenneth, my dear husband, but something tells me you’ve already worked that out.”

“I must admit, I was curious. I first began to wonder if there was a connection between Green Hedges and the Hidden House when I read that Pip’s false clue for Ern was a telephone number, ‘Peterswood 0160’, because I had remembered that your own number was ‘Beaconsfield 1091’. There seemed a vague and tantalising resemblance between them.”

“Do you know about Kenneth’s Folly?” asks Enid.

“You mean his cars?”

“Kenneth spent a fortune on cars. At any one time we would have a Bentley, a Rolls Royce and an MG, at least. But my husband was always buying new cars and getting rid of the ones he was bored with.”

“You have garages at Green Hedges?”

“Yes. And one garage has both a loft, where apples are kept, and an inspection pit where the chauffeur can get under a vehicle and work away on it. Kenneth’s man could work wonders from that inspection pit, my husband often told me.”

“Actually, Imogen has told me that it was while climbing the ladder to collect apples from the loft that you fell onto the concrete floor of the garage and lost the baby that you and Kenneth were expecting. Though I do apologise for bringing up what must be a most painful memory.”

“Yes, that was very sad. It wasn’t long after the miscarriage when I sat down to write
The Mystery of the Hidden House. Perhaps a year, or maybe two. The negative feelings I had toward that garage possibly did feed - via my under-mind - into the portrayal of Harry’s Folly.”

“I wonder if Imogen’s behaviour that day was also an influence on the book. I believe she’d accompanied you into the garage to help collect the apples, but ran from the scene after your fall. And, instead of calling for help, didn’t come back to the house until much later. I have to say I’m thinking here of Ern’s cowardice in
Hidden House, displayed several times during the book, which - entirely to his credit - he eventually overcomes when he agrees to stay in Harry’s Folly overnight. As I feel sure Imogen overcame her own cowardice once she confronted it later in life.”

“I thought that it would be the last Mystery,” says Enid, not directly responding to my words. “Just as I thought I’d written the last Famous Five book the year before. But my children - the world’s eager children - wanted more.”

blyton680308-001 - Version 12

“Of course, we wanted more! If you’d stopped at
Hidden House we wouldn’t have had The Mystery of the Missing Man or The Mystery of the Strange Bundle. Indeed, we wouldn’t have had Vanished Prince or Tally-Ho Cottage. In other words, we wouldn’t have had any more Ern!”

“You’re very kind, Dunc-

“No, you’re the kind one. Though brilliant is the word that best describes you. It was brilliant the way you came up with a tunnel between Kirrin Island and the mainland, a device to reconcile you - via George - to your father. And, a year later, it was brilliant the way you used a river to link your present family life at Beaconsfield with your past at Bourne End. And all sub-text, too. Absolutely brilliant!”

“Nice of you to say so. Though I feel that the special thing about the book is the presence of Ern, sandwiched between lovely Fatty and horrible Mr. Goon. They both manipulate Ern terribly, but they both come round to helping him. Or at least Fatty helps and Goon feels helpless to help. Please keep the book. By standing here today and saying what you have done, you’ve earned it.”

“I’ve Ern-ed it?”

“You’ve Ern-ed it, Fatty.”

“Thank-you, Enid. I’ll treasure this book on behalf of all the children who have read and loved
The Mystery of the Hidden House, its humour and excitement, its characters and scenarios. Especially the children of all ages who are members of the Enid Blyton Society.”

“But don’t tell anyone that the book - that the whole series - is set in and around my beloved Bourne End.”

“Your secret is…er… safe with me.”

As Enid is walking back to the house I can’t resist raising my voice to ask her: “By the way, I know that Bourne End is an anagram of Ern bound. But did you mean that in the sense of ‘Ern tied up’ or ‘on the way to Ern’?

Enid stops walking. She says in that crystal-clear voice of hers: “Actually, ‘Ern bound’ is not an anagram of 'Bourne End', there is an extra 'e' in the latter. ‘Ern bun ode’ is the best one can make of it.”

Having said that, to my delight, she starts to recite:

“Oh have you heard of Ernie’s clues,
Ernie’s clues, Ernie’s clues,
A broken lace, our Ernie found,
a smoked cigar-end on the ground,
A match, a packet and a hanky,
Honest truth, no hanky-panky!
A rag, a tin, a pencil-end,
How very clever is our friend!”

The true genius walks on towards her house, Green Hedges. The house set in a metaphorical wood, Bourne Wood.

I shout again. “Oh yes, and what’s going on at the station? I can’t make that work at all, even though you give us another shot at it in
The Mystery of Holly Lane.”

Enid turns round and, to my surprise, slowly walks back.


"I've changed my mind. Hand me the book, please, Dunc-ern."


When I do so, so she turns to the end of the chapter called 'A Little Portry', and looks up with a little smile. "I see you've taken the liberty of writing a poem in my book."

"How do you mean?"

"Is that your handwriting?"

"Well, yes. I think so."

"Let's see what kind of a poet you are."

And she reads aloud:


“O how I love thee, Enid dear.
Although thine books give little cheer.
Thy plots they just go round and round
Fat-headed characters abound
Thy themes they are so sweet and mild
‘Twould bore to tears the dimmest child
And when thou wraps up, people say
“Now did we hear a donkey bray?”"

"I don't remember writing that. It's not bad though."

"I beg to differ. It's downright rude, Dunc-ern!"

"I must have written it in my sleep," I say. "Talented people do queer things. Fancy me writing a good pome like that. It's better than anything Fatty could have done. Perhaps I'm the genius after all!"

"Well, I can give you the genius test, if you like."


"How do you mean?"

"How old are you?"


"Lie down on the grass."

I lie down on the grass.

"I'll give you the first line of poem and you've got to repeat it, then let the rest of the poem simply pour out of you, like Fatty would do if he was here. Ready? Here goes: '
A pore old man lay on the grass…'"

A pore old man lay on the grass…" I stop there. The second line refuses to come. I try again. "A pore old man lay on the grass…" Nope, nothing. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. "A Pore old man lay on the…" Why is this so difficult? Is it something to do with the line itself? "A pore old man lay on…" This is getting harder and harder. "A pore old man lay…" It is embarrassing. What must Enid be thinking? Go on, make a special effort for the special one. "A pore old man…" Jesus. "A pore old…" Come on. Come on. "A pore…" I can't go on. I'll go on. "A…" Damnation!

I sit up. The garden is still and quiet. Somewhere in the distance a door slams shut.


May, 2021. I've just had a most interesting email from Russell Calvert, the reader who pointed out that Wilmer Green in
Mystery of the Burnt Cottage was surely based on Holmer Green near Bourne End. This time his intervention is a lot more fundamental to a Mystery. This Mystery:

Hi Duncan,

While I've found most of your efforts to match up places in the Mystery books with real places to be very convincing, The Mystery of the Hidden House is an exception. Too many things don't really fit, such as the following.

(A) There are chance meetings between the various characters that suggest that Christmas Hill is very close to their homes.

(B) The River Wye is a much larger watercourse than the little streams described in the books.

(C) "The scene was a maze of wintry fields, dreary and desolate" doesn't sound much like the Wye valley.

(D) There's no point on the banks of the Wye where Fennell's Wood would be visible before the left hand turn because the intervening hillside gets in the way.

(E) Fennell's Wood is on a hillside, whereas there's no mention of anything like that in Bourne Wood.

(F) There's no 'hidden house' in Fennell's Wood that would serve as the inspiration for Harry's Folly.

My first two attempts to come up with something better were a miserable failure, largely because I was using modern maps, which makes it impossible to get a realistic idea of what the area was like seventy years ago. However, when I studied a map from the appropriate time, suddenly all became clear. So, without further ado...

Christmas Hill, Bourne Wood, and Harry's Folly

Here is a 1937 OS map, with the significant places in the book marked:


(1) This is Christmas Hill.

(2) This is the stream running down Christmas Hill. While there's no stream marked on the map, it's clear from the contours that a stream has cut this valley at some time in the past. It was probably a stream that only flowed during the wettest periods, and was dry most of the time. On the map, it suddenly emerges on the far side of the A4155, at point (4).

(3) This is the mill near the stream, where the screech owl lived and the loot was supposed to be hidden. It's marked on the map as a wind pump rather than a wind mill, but there's no a great difference between the two, and Enid probably converted it into a wind mill because most readers wouldn't know what a wind pump was. Unfortunately, I've not been able to find a photograph of it to see exactly what it looked like. Since a wind pump extracts water from underground, it's presence would have the effect of lowering the local water table, which might explain the depleted state of the nearby stream.

(4) This is where Ern went wrong when he went to see the lights flashing on Christmas Hill. Instead of following the right (east) bank of the stream uphill, he followed the right (west) bank of the stream downhill towards the Thames. For a few hundred yards, he was walking in the same direction as the stream flowed, as described in the book.

(5) This is where the stream that Ern was following meets the stream flowing in from the west. Ern continued following the right bank, and headed north-west along the second stream.

(6) Here is the "maze of wintry fields, dreary and desolate", and where Bets spotted the wood on the left, apparently on the opposite side of the stream.

(7) The Find-Outers following the stream have now turned to the left, and are heading straight towards the wood.

(8) This is where Ern saw the light and heard the sound of a car engine, and (9) is the car itself.

(9) This is where Fatty had a conversation with the postman after Peters directed them back to Peterswood / Bourne End.

(10) This Bourne Wood. Sadly, most of it has now gone.

(11) Last, but not least, hidden in Bourne Wood, is Harry's Folly - Westhorpe House in real life. It's still there today, but no longer hidden by the wood. It looks very like the mental image of Harry's Folly that I get from reading the book:


Other Notes

Harry's Folly / Westhorpe House isn't far from Marlow, which might be why Enid decided to locate Holland's Garage in Marlow.

When the kidnapped Ern is taken from Marlow to Harry's Folly, the car goes via Peterswood, which doesn't fit the scenario laid out above. I guess that Enid had to break from reality here because going via Peterswood was essential for the plot. There's a similar problem with Candlemass Lane, but that is also essential for the plot.

I've not been able to figure out exactly where Maylins Farm is or where Ern was kidnapped, but somewhere up Blind Lane (not far from the mill on Christmas Hill) matches the descriptions in the book. In at least two places in the book, there's a mention of having to go through the village to get there when starting from the Hiltons' house, and there isn't really any plausible alternative.

The area has changed drastically since the book was written. The lower part of Christmas Hill has been built on, the wind pump / mill has been replaced with 'Sarah's Play Days' (according to Google Maps), most of the dreary and desolate fields have been replaced by gravel pits followed by lakes and a sewage works, most of Bourne Wood has been replaced by fields, and the A404 bypass has appeared on the west side of Bourne Wood. Of the significant features in the book, only Harry's Folly / Westhorpe House remains much as it was in Enid's day, and even that is no longer 'hidden'.

Russell Calvert

Do I find Russell's argument convincing? Was I barking up the wrong tree in leading the reader north to Fennell Wood en route to Green Hedges in Beaconsfield? Well, let's see…

Ern is the key character here. Let's revisit him in chapter seven:

'He decided to get a map of the district out of the book-case and study it.'

Which is exactly what Enid must have done.

'Ern slid the map from the shelf, opened it and looked for the mill. Oh yes - there it was - on the right of the stream. If he followed the stream he couldn't help coming to the mill. Ern shivered in delight when he thought of creeping out all by himself that night. He marked where the mill was, and then with his pencil followed the way he would go, right up to the mill.'


Reading chapter eight, we can catch up with Ern on the night of the Christmas Hill adventure:

'Ern, most unfortunately, had followed the wrong stream, so that it did not, of course, lead him to the mill on Christmas Hill. It meandered through frosty fields, and didn't go anywhere near a hill at all. Ern was rather astonished that he had no climbing to do, but he clung to the stream, hoping that sooner or later it would take him uphill.'

Now this could mean that the correct stream was the River Wye, as I had been assuming. But, the fact is, if you follow, the Wye you don't climb a hill. But in any case, I agree with Russell's suggestion that the now dry valley is the path that Ern should have taken, and I've pointed to the key area on the above map. Big mistake of Ern to go downhill instead of uphill to the windmill, but he was not always the brightest, so let's accept his action.

Back to Enid in chapter eight:
'If he had cared to flash his torch on the water he would have seen that the stream was going in exactly the same way as he was, and could on no account be expected to run uphill, but Ern didn't think about that. He just went on and on.'

Actually, Enid's being a little unfair on Ern, as Russell mentions. What she suggests was true while Ern was walking south, towards the Thames, but when he turned right to walk west along the stream, this was
another tributary and he was walking against the current. So any shining of torch onto the water at this stage would have suggested he was indeed going slightly uphill.

What's happening here comes as a revelation to me. Ern is walking through the middle of what is the very straggly village of Bourne End cum Peterswood. Fatty's house is to the north, Daisy and Larry live to the north and east, while he will walk fairly close to where the Hiltons live on the lane with the pub, next to where the cottage outhouse was burnt down in
Mystery of the Burnt Cottage. And it is, of course, here, next to the Spade Oak, marked on the map, where Enid Blyton lived in the thirties, when the raw ingredients of these stories first entered her brain.


So let's walk with Ern (and with Enid) past Little Marlow and to the wood that surrounds Westhorpe House. Enid may have made this walk often, perhaps walking west along the towpath on the north bank of the River Thames. Then cutting north along the track marked, glimpsing Westhorpe House in the trees as she skirted the south east corner of the wood. No doubt she explored the wood on occasion, and had a look at the mysterious front of the north-facing building, or tried to. And then home, either along the stream that Ern had walked out on, or along the parallel path, to Little Marlow.

But Enid placed Ern as following the stream (standing where I've marked on the above map), when this happened:

'Then he heard a noise. He listened. It was a loud purring noise, like a car. It came from the same direction as the light he had seen. He couldn't see the car at all, but it must have passed him down some path or lane not very far from him, because the purring of the engine grew louder and then faded as the car was driven further away.'

Ern walks a bit further along the stream, where he hears a snippet of conversation. "Goodnight, Holland. See you later."

'Ern turned back. He put up his coat-collar and tightened his scarf, for now he was meeting the wind. He kept close to the stream and walked over the frosted grass as fast as he could. Oooh! It was cold!'

'He came at last to the bridge he knew, that crossed the stream and led into a little lane. He went up the lane…' (Enid would have turned down it to head home) '…turned into the village street and made his way quietly to his uncle's house.'

Have you had enough of the map of Bourne End circa 1930 yet, dear reader? I haven't. And neither have the Find Outers. So let's go into chapter nine:

'Pip found the map and he took it upstairs. Fatty put his finger on Peterswood, their village. He traced the way up to the mill, up the stream on Christmas Hill. Then he traced another way, alongside another stream, that at first ran near the first one and then went across the fields. "I think this must be the stream Ern went by last night," he said. "Let's just see where it flows past. Nothing much, look! Just fields."'

'The others all bent over the map, breathing down Fatty's neck. They watched his finger go along the stream. It came to where a thick wood was marked.

"Now I wonder what building that is," said Fatty, thoughtfully. "Any one been along that way?"

'Nobody had. Nobody even knew the wood well, though they had sometimes passed it. Not one of them had even known there was any building in the wood.'

Follow me into chapter twelve as the tension mounts…

'They crossed the little bridge, and went along the bank beside the stream. It was still frosty weather and the grass crunched beneath their feet. The little stream wound in and out, and bare willow and alder trees grew here and there on its banks. The scene was a maze of wintry fields, dreary and desolate.'

'The stream wound endlessly through the fields. Here and there Fatty pointed to where Ern must have stumbled the other night, for marks were clearly to be seen on the frosty bank.

After some time Bets pointed to the left. "Look! Is that the wood over there?"

"Can't be," said Pip. "It's on our left instead of straight ahead."

One can think of the Find Outers as being where the stream goes through the letter 'P' below Little Marlow on the map below.

"I expect the stream winds to the left then," said Fatty. And so it did. It suddenly took a left-hand bend and ran towards the dark wood..

They followed the stream again until they had almost reached the wood. Not far off was a narrow lane, almost a cart-track it was so rough.

Fatty stopped. "Now," he said, "We know that a car went by not far from Ern, when he stood by the stream. It seems to me that the car must have gone down that lane. It must lead to the road that goes to Peterswood. I saw it in the map."

"Yes," said Larry. "And this little lane or track must come from the middle of the wood - from whatever building is there. Let's go to the track and follow it."


How skilful of Enid Blyton, in what was intended to be her final Mystery, to weave her Find-Outers right into the centre of the world she had created. To make Ern walk in between the well-separated houses of the Hiltons, the Daykins and the Trottevilles and to investigate a local landmark, a place that must have haunted her imagination for about fifteen years by the time she sat down to write about it.

So there we have it. Still standing in a landscape transformed, Enid's
Hidden House unveiled thanks to a Find-Outer from Nottingham called Russell Calvert:


Some readers might suggest that I remove my earlier theory from this post. But I don't think I'll be doing that. One wrong turn doth not a wasted journey make. Not when it takes you to the front door of Green Hedges.

Acknowledgements: Internal illustrations from the original Methuen edition of
The Mystery of the Hidden House are taken from the Cave of Books on the Enid Blyton Society website, which is the work of Tony Summerfield. Thanks to Google for the use of their mapping facilities.

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.