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


Enid Blyton tells us how she wrote her books in chapter 14 of her autobiography, The Story of My Life. She uses her 1937 story, The Enchanted Wood as her example. But I'm going to adapt her words to make it apply as best I can to the writing of The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage.

'Let us say I am going to write my first Find-Outers book. You all know the Find-Outers books, I expect. Well, I sit in my chair, shut my eyes and wait till my characters appear in my mind's eye. Remember, I don't know who or what they will be! There are always children, of course, or something to do with the world of children.'

Underlying photo by George Konig, 1949.

"Then as I sit still and look into my mind's eye, my characters appear. What do I see? Yes - five children, and I know their names - Larry and Daisy, brother and sister, aged 13 and 12, Pip and Bets, brother and sister, aged 12 and 8, and 12-year-old Fatty, who has a dog called Buster. They stand there in my mind's eye and I can see them as clearly as I see you when I look at you. I can see if they are tall or short, dark or fair, fat or thin. And more than that, in some queer way I can see into their characters too. I know if they are kind or unkind, hot-tempered, generous, amusing or deceitful! They stand there complete before me, exactly as they would in real life, and I can see every single detail of them. I do not have to invent anything, either in their appearance of their character. They are complete. As is Buster, the feisty, black Scottie."

Mary Gernat

"Well, not quite complete. For some strange reason no child ever appears in my mind's eye with a surname as well as a Christian name. I know their Christian names at once - but never their surnames. I have to confess that when I want those I go and look up suitable names in the telephone directory.

"As I look at my new characters, Larry, Daisy, Pip, Bets and Fatty, they seem to come alive. They move and laugh and talk - they are real to me now.They will be with me all the time I write my book."

"And now, having found my characters, I must find my 'setting'. This is important too. Mysteries cannot happen without characters to experience them, and a place to happen in! So once again, I look steadily into my mind's eye, and the setting appears.


"What do I see? I see a lovely English village - Peterswood! A broad river rolls through it. A railway line takes people from the village south into London. I am excited! This is a strange and thrilling setting. Anything might happen here!

"I look at Peterswood and I see little winding streets. Where do they lead to? My imagination tells me at once! In my mind's eye I follows the streets and lanes, and come to a house at the western edge of the village. This village that reminds me so much of Bourne End, where I lived with my first husband and we raised our two children, now eight and twelve.

"And I study this house and I see that there is a cottage nearby and that it contains valuable papers. In the house itself, lives an arrogant, bad-tempered man who dislikes children. He has
a cook, a house-maid, a valet, a chauffeur (but no wife) and each of them is a distinctive individual, with weaknesses and talents. Really anything could happen in that house. And when it happens the children will want to be there, to solve the mystery.

"I walk through Peterswood, which is so spread out that the children need bikes to get around. In the middle of the village is a police house, where the policeman lives. Goodness, he is a strange man! 'Clear-Off' he shouts whenever a child approaches. The battle between this policeman, Goon, and the children will be at the centre of my book. "The children will get the better of him," I think to myself. "I like that, and so will my young readers.

"And then I go back to the house at the edge of town and stare at it again. I can smell burning. What is that? Ah, yes, you know, because you have read the book. But at that moment the story hasn't even been written yet, so I don't know. I have to look and see what makes sense of the smell. And I see that the cottage beside the house is on fire. Not the house, but the outhouse, thank goodness. I don't think I could bear to have the house itself burn down.

"And I suddenly know something very clearly. I know that my new book is going to be about five children and their dog and they are going to explore Peterswood and investigate the burning cottage. They are going to discover clues and investigate suspects and they are going to have the most amazing adventures as they do so.

"Now I know what my story is to be about" I say, and I open my eyes. My hands go up to the typewriter on my knees, and I begin:

'It was at half-past nine on a dark April night that all the excitement began...'


The fire was visibly burning at 9.30pm. Larry and Daisy can see it to the west of the village. They make their way towards it, running into Pip and Bets as they do so. At the fire, a boy they don't know is helping out, much to the annoyance of the local policeman. Mr Hick, who has been in London for the afternoon, is loudly lamenting the loss of his valuable papers as the half-timbered walls come crashing down. Mr Hick is tall and stooping, with a tuft of hair sticking out n front. He has a long nose with eyes hidden behind big specs. Bets doesn't much like him.

Hick wants everyone to go away. "Clear, orf, every one," shouts Goon.

Here is the scene as envisaged by the book's first illustrator, Joseph Abbey.

Joseph Abbey.

That's structurally, if not stylistically, similar to the cover of the paperback version that's currently on sale from Hachette, cover by Timothy Banks.

Timothy Banks.

These images are strong and pertinent. But I think what's below adds another dimension, because it reminds the reader that the fire isn't just taking place in a children's book. It's lighting up the mind of its author who has a metaphorical purpose. Enid is burning with long-suppressed rage. And by writing this book she is exorcising demons.

Joseph Abbey + George Konig = Duncan McLaren!

Let's have some more analysis before we pass onto chapter two's action. Enid locates the action of The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage at what is effectively Old Thatch, the house where she lived for ten years. I’ve marked it with a green tack on the map below. The house is about a mile west of the middle of Bourne End and a few hundred yards from the north bank of the River Thames.

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

Screen shot 2012-07-11 at 10.09.48

Were there ever any valuable papers kept at Old Thatch? Well, Enid’s typescripts (she is banging one out in the image below) you might judge. But
Burnt Cottage was typed while sitting on the swing-seat in the south-facing loggia at Green Hedges (or indoors, as shown third image from top of page, depending on the weather) in the nearby town of Beaconsfield. Not at Old Thatch. Given that it was published in December 1943, it was probably written in early 1943 when Enid was having a relationship with Kenneth Darrell Waters and waiting for her divorce from Hugh to become absolute, which would happen in June of that year. Hugh would also have had some important papers at Old Thatch, I expect. In the Thirties he’d been editing a major work by Winston Churchill, after all. Oh, don’t say that it’s Churchill’s detailed notes about The Great War that Enid was really setting fire to! All that war nonsense that Hugh used as an excuse to neglect his family.


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

Screen shot 2012-07-05 at 19.38.51

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

Joseph Abbey.

When I say 'someone has set fire to the beautiful house where Enid was inspired to write both the Wishing Chair and Magic Faraway Tree', the someone was her husband, Hugh Pollock. As will become clear as this analysis proceeds. Winston Churchill's right hand man, as it were. A proper pillock as far as Enid Blyton circa 1943 was concerned.

But I need to get back to the surface action.


The day after the fire, Larry and Daisy walk to Pip and Bets with the intention of exploring the site of the fire. At this stage, the four do not know Fatty, having just met him the previous night. However, thanks to Buster's running and licking, Fatty gets brought on board and the decision to be detectives is taken.

Fatty tells the others he is staying at the local inn close to the burnt cottage. In Enid’s time, a large inn called The Spade Oak was located immediately to the south of Old Thatch. It’s still there now as the photograph below shows. It’s obviously the fictional inn where Fatty and his parents are staying over Easter in Burnt Cottage. Psychologically, I think Enid wanted her alter ego to live immediately adjacent to the despicable Mr Hick, but she would go on to relocate Fatty and his parents for the rest of the series, as we’ll see when I turn to the later books.

Screen shot 2012-07-05 at 19.35.58

Up the lane from Old Thatch is where Pip and Bets Hilton live. Several times in
Burnt Cottage, Pip explains to someone that he and Bets ‘live up the lane’ from the burnt cottage. The Hiltons live in a large, red, detached house with lawns and a drive, which I’ve marked with a blue tack on the aerial shot below. It's the only real-life candidate for the Hiltons’ home along Coldmoorholme Lane.

Screen shot 2012-07-08 at 12.42.55

The shot reminds me that
The Mystery of the Missing Necklace begins: ‘Pip and Bets sat in their garden, in the very coolest place they could find [perhaps in the shadow of the hedge]. They had on sun-suits and nothing else, for the August sun was blazing hot.’

For this first Mystery we're in the easter holidays. See Buster scampering around between the five new-found friends. See them decide to be the Find-Outers and Dog.

Screen shot 2012-07-05 at 19.40.53


After lunch of that second day, the five meet again, this time in the big summer-house in Pip's garden. Larry is the leader at this stage of the series. Bets is delighted that they'll be 'looking for glues'. They discuss what they will do next. They need to find out more about the tramp who was seen by Fatty lurking around that night. And they need to interview Mr. Hick's cook.

Just a quick reminder of where we are. All the action so far has taken place on a lane to the west of Peterswood. That's the three blue tacks towards the left of the satellite view of Bourne End below. The whole of the village will be engulfed by
The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, but let that unfold chapter by chapter.



The Find-Outers begin their investigation. Footprints found at the fringe of the Hick property suggesting someone had been lurking there.

Joseph Abbey

The above is by Joseph Abbey who illustrated with nine drawings the first edition in 1946 . The drawing below is by Mary Gernat, who made fresh drawings for the paperback edition of 1966. Fresh being the operative word.

Mary Gernat.

As Pip puts it. The only reason for standing in nettles in a muddy ditch was to hide. They take a detailed note of the footprint made by a rubber sole.


Next morning (day three) they meet again in the old summerhouse. Fatty and Larry go off to interview Thomas, the chauffeur of Mr Hick's. Thomas telling them that Hick's valet, Mr Peeks, resigned from his job on the day of the fire, after a fall-out with Hick.


Meanwhile, Daisy and Pip interview Mrs Minns, Hick's cook. They learn that after Mr Peeks was given the sack and walked out, Mr Smellie came along and had an argument with Hick. Then the tramp was caught by Hick stealing eggs from the hen-house. And after that there was the fire! So that's three clear suspects. Hick brings the talk to an end by shouting at them to get out of his house.


Another meeting in the old summer-house to discuss things. Bets enters in the middle of it to announce that she and Buster have come across the tramp beside a hay-rick. So the Find-Outers run out there. Larry tries to look at the soles of his shoes but the tramp wakes up and Goon arrives, scaring him off.

Joseph Abbey and Mary Gernat versions of the same scene.


Larry and Pip catch up with the tramp and manage to talk to him. His soles are smooth leather and so weren't responsible for the footprints. He agrees to go to Pip's the next day to collect a better pair of old boots, and to talk bit more about the day of the fire. After lunch the find-outers meet again, Fatty is a bit out of sorts as he fell off the hay-rick while spying on the tramp.


Daisy, Larry and Pip go to Mr. Hick's house to try and interview the cook, Mrs Minns. Lily the housemaid is there, and so is Mrs Jones, the sister of the cook. Through this sister, the Find-Outers realise that Mrs Minns has bad rheumatism and was stuck to her seat the evening of the fire. They also try and get Horace Peek's address, which they succeed in doing despite Mr Hick's shouting at them again and Goon turning up.

Joseph Abbey.


Fatty and Bets are updated, then after tea Larry, Daisy and Pip cycle the five miles to where Peeks lives with his mother. They manage to speak to him, but he gets suspicious and the three have to cycle back without finding out too much, except that Peeks had gone out the evening of the fire.


Back at Pip's place, all five talk in the summer-house. They realise that Mr Smellie, an elderly scholar, lives at the back of Larry and Daisy's house. So they plan a visit before Fatty walks home and Larry and Daisy cycle home. The next day (day four), Pip, Bets and Fatty hang about Pip's garden until the tramp shows up. All they get from him is that there were two people lurking together in the bushes on the night of the fire.


Mr Smellie’s house turns out to be at the bottom of Larry and Daisy’s garden. By my reckoning, in Enid’s mental map of Bourne End/Peterswood, Larry and Daisy live on New Road and Mr Smellie lives on Highfield Road. I need to go into the geography of this a bit.

Towards the west (left) in the map below, the house of Pip and Bets is marked north of Fatty’s lodgings and the site of the burnt cottage. I’ve also marked the location of Goon’s house, which acted as the village police station, at The Parade, and of Larry and Daisy’s house on New Road (the blue tag furthest to the right on the map below). Several times in the series, Enid tells us that Pip and Bets Hilton had to walk past the police station to get to the house of Larry and Daisy Dawkins. It’s less than a mile as the crow flies, from the Daykins’ house to Mr Hicks’, but New Road is on a slight hill and from Larry’s bedroom window they could see the fire to the west of the village. Which is exactly how chapter one begins.

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

Screen shot 2012-07-07 at 11.41.49

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

Screen shot 2012-07-10 at 10.05.03

Enough geography, back to the story.

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

Joseph Abbey and Mary Gernat versions of the same scene.

Once inside, Daisy gets into the boot-cupboard and finds a shoe that looks as if it might have been responsible for the print the Find-Outers have so carefully studied. She sticks the shoe up the front of her jersey and sits down for an ‘eleven o’clock lunch’ with Mr Smellie and Larry. Over lunch Mr Smellie talks about the dispute with Mr Hick, as to whether some old documents were written by a man called Ulinus or not! Somehow she gets away with having a shoe stuffed up her jumper throughout the meal and they get away with the shoe.


Upon investigation, the find-outers realise the shoe is not the one that made the print. But other evidence suggests that Mr Smellie may well be the guilty party, so a thorough investigation of his other shoes is decided upon! In the meantime, they go and see Lily after lunch. She admits that she and Horace are an item and that the pair of them were in the Hick garden on the night of the fire so that Horace could retrieve some of his things. Horace saw Mr Smellie going into the house that night. By the end of the interview the find-outers reckon that Horace didn't do it but that Mr Smellie might have.


They return to Pips just before tea to plan what to do next. The others go off for a bike ride without Fatty, which upsets him. But he is welcomed into the group again and the plan is that Larry will creep into Mr Smellie's house. Breaking in is thought to be exclusively a boys’ job, so Larry is backed up this time by Fatty, not Daisy. Fatty leaves his Spade Oak bedroom at ten past nine at night in order to make the rendezvous (back garden of Mr Smellie’s house at 9.30pm). According to Enid, Fatty runs there. I’ve traced his likely path in the map below. Ignore the blue tack bottom left, though, as we’ll soon see, it indicates a place I feel Enid may have stood, quietly thinking about the course her life had taken. Fatty starts off from the Spade Oak which is the next blue tack up. The journey, which is between one and two miles according to Google, really would take about twenty minutes at a jog.

Screen shot 2012-07-07 at 21.08.53

Goon is spying on the Smellie house and is surprised when Fatty turns up. Fatty has to let Goon have the shoe that was going to be replaced, but is able then to get away from Goon, run up the road and double back along Larry's road and over the fence into Mr Smellie's back garden.


Fatty and Larry do make it into Mr Smellie’s house as the back door is open. Larry is searching the study when Mr Smellie returns to the house via the front door to find what seems like a burglar ransacking the place.

Joseph Abbey.

He locks Larry in the box-room upstairs then stumbles across Fatty who has been searching the boot cupboard for likely rubber soles. The boys have to explain what they’ve been doing to Mr Smellie and his housekeeper, Miss Miggle. And Mr Smellie has to admit that he did return to Hick’s house on the night of the burning, but simply to collect the papers that he and Hick had been arguing about earlier in the day. The boys come to accept that this gentle, intellectual man did not burn down the cottage.

Perhaps this is good point to take an overview about what Blyton is achieving here. First, the last ten or so chapters have been an incredibly fluid rollercoaster ride of a read. The five find-outers have been splitting into sub-groups for activities, regrouping at the Hilton household for briefings, then going off again in new combinations. Pip, Daisy, Fatty, Larry and Bets are thoroughly tried and tested. The investigating of Mrs Minns, Horace Peek, the tramp and Mr Smellie has been done in different stages, the separate investigations constantly interweaving with each other. And each of the suspects is not simple, each (except the tramp) lives with someone else, in a particular place, has personality, has movements to be retraced, alibis to be assessed. It's remarkably complex, and all achieved by Enid's under-mind without help from her conscious thought. When discussing her writing process, Enid tells us that when something odd happens, she is tempted to correct it, but knows from experience that she mustn't do so. She mustn't consciously think about anything. She must keep typing away, keeping up with the story that has been perfectly formulated by her under-mind. Impressive or what? Well, generations have children have been impressed.


Group meeting next morning (day five) at Pip's place. In light of their investigation to date, the Find-Outers can’t believe that any of their suspects did the deed! They revisit Hick's garden and think about the footsteps which all lead towards the house from the fields. But that doesn't get them anywhere.

The oldest four cycle off to Burnham Beeches for a picnic and a day-off from Find-Outing. Burnham Beeches (bottom right in map below) is a real place-name, the only genuine local one in the text of
Burnt Cottage. Perhaps Enid leaves it undisguised because nothing happens there, it’s a completely neutral reference. Bets, four years younger than most of the rest, is too young to be included in the cycle ride, so she goes instead for a walk with Buster. Much more important to the story is the area that Bets explores. I’ve marked her (with Buster at her heels) in the top left corner of the map.

Screen shot 2012-07-09 at 13.31.31

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

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

Bets spots similar footprints to the ones in the garden and is most excited because they are fresh. The illustration below is actually from early on in the book. But it fits perfectly at this point (except Bets hasn't got rubber boots on).

Joseph Abbey.

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

Bets sees that the footprints are going towards a stile.

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

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

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

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

Screen shot 2012-07-09 at 13.42.52

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

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

Screen shot 2012-07-09 at 13.42.52

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

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

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

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


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

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

Screen shot 2012-07-09 at 14.53.49

At this stage, Buster smells out the pair of shoes that made the distinctive prints. Clearly Hick had dumped them after Bets had revealed her story to him.

The Find-Outers go to the bank of the river to discuss their sudden certainty that Hick burnt down his own cottage.


Down by the river a fisherman overhears the Find-Outers. This moment is captured by the book's two primary illustrators, also by Rodney Stone whose illustrations are copies of Mary Gernat's, and only appear in a single paperback edition from 1991.

Joseph Abbey and Mary Gernat and Rodney Stone versions of the same scene.

The friendly fisherman suggests that they all meet at the police station the next day at 10am.


The next morning (day six) the Find-Outers arrive at the station. Goon is there. And the fisherman is revealed to be the local inspector of police. He has found the tramp that the Find-Outers told him about, and the tramp is forced to describe everything he saw on the night of the fire, including the presence of Hick in the garden. So the inspector goes off to interview Hick. Later, he tells the Find-Outers that Hick confessed to the crime when confronted with the multi-jet fly-by evidence.

And that's it. End of Mystery. But there is a little more to say on a biographical level.

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

Screen shot 2012-07-09 at 14.53.49

Why was Hick so called? In Burnt Cottage, there is this exchange:

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

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

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

Screen shot 2012-07-09 at 18.43.04

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


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

George König mostly.

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

The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, Hugh is effectively sited in the character of Hick, master of the house. But in subsequent books in the series, one could say that the spirit of Hugh migrates into the figure of Goon, whose physical form is set in the first book but whose character is left partially undeveloped. This migration of a malign essence reminds me of David Lynch’s marvellous TV series, Twin Peaks. In that, the parasite Bob lives within Leland Palmer, father of Laura. In the form of Leland, Bob kills Laura Palmer. At the end of the series, with Leland in jail on suspicion of murder, Bob manages to migrate into the person of PC Goon, I mean Agent Cooper. Yes, perhaps Lynch was an Enid Blyton reader in his childhood, and soaked up the underlying structures of her Mystery series by osmosis!

George Konig photo and Joseph Abbey cover.

I can't seem to stop using the image of Enid standing in her garden looking towards the statue of a female child. The photo was taken the same day as the one I've placed third from the top of this page, the one I've used to suggest Enid sitting in her armchair getting ready to write a book. It seems to me that this photo in the garden shows Enid after her day's writing is complete. Indeed, after her week's writing is done and another full-length book has been written.

Although it was taken in 1949, when Enid was 52, she looks young enough to pass for the 46-year-old who wrote
The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage. Also known as The Mystery of the Thames on Fire.

George Konig and Duncan McLaren.

I first read this book when I was 9 or 10, which is to say in 1966 or 1967. I read it again, several times it seems, in 2006, and wrote notes on the inside front cover of my Methuen edition of the novel. The second note reads:


The last para of that is alluding to the note I made on the book's facing page. This note:


Which sets things up nicely for the second book in the series The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat. But will I ever be finished with The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage? I say that because this essay was first written in 2012 and completely rewritten in November, 2019.

And I'm still not sure it does justice to Enid Blyton's under-mind.


April 2021. This week I received an email from a reader. It draws
my attention to something geographical that I missed when researching and writing the above. Over to Russell Calvert:

Hi Duncan,

I've just been listening to this excellent reading of "The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage":

At the same time, I was studying your analysis of the story:

I was particularly interested in how you'd matched up the places in the book with real places around Bourne End. However, you skim over Chapter 10 in just two sentences, without any mention of Wilmer Green. There were several indications in that chapter that gave me the impression that Enid was thinking of a real place, particularly the following three excerpts:

"So now Pip and Daisy and I are going on our bikes to Wilmer Green," said
Larry. "It's only about five miles. At least, we'll have tea first and then

After some hard cycling they came to the village of Wilmer Green. It was a
pretty place, with a duck-pond on which many white ducks were swimming. The
children got off their bicycles and began to look for Ivy Cottage. They asked
a little girl where it was, and she pointed it out to them. It was well set
back from the road, and backed on to a wood.

They mounted their bicycles again and set off. They free-wheeled down a hill
and round a corner. Larry went into some one with a crash! He fell off and so
did the other person!

I thought I'd have a go at finding where Enid was thinking of, and it turned out to be surprisingly easy. Holmer Green is about five miles north of Bourne End, and is only two letters different from Wilmer Green. It has an attractive duck pond at the centre, at the east side of the junction of Pond Approach and Earl Howe Road. Here is a 1937 OS map of the area, with the Hilton's house left-of-centre at the bottom and Holmer / Wilmer Green at the centre top:


There was even an Ivy Cottage nearby on the Earl Howe Road, and as the map shows, the houses were all on the west side of Earl Howe Road, and backed onto a wood (it's now a housing estate), as Enid described:


I tried to locate Ivy Cottage (or Cottages) using Google Streetview, but without success. I found myself looking for ivy covered houses, just like the Find-Outers in "Strange Messages"! I suspect that Ivy Cottage (or Cottages) has been long since demolished and re-developed.

It's by no means obvious which route the children would use to travel from Peterswood / Bourne End to Wilmer / Holmer Green, but the return journey would certainly involve travelling down at least one hill. Hammersley Lane, about 1/4 mile before it joins the A40 looks a likely location for Larry's collision with Goon. Here's a Google Streetview image, with the left-hand corner following the downhill section:


That's as far as I've got so far, but I hope you find it interesting. If there's anything that you can add, please let me know. I wonder if Enid had any connection with Ivy Cottage in Holmer Green, or just took the name from the 1940 newspaper article.

Russell Calvert

Thank-you, Russell. So why did I not spot that? I may not have looked for Wilmer Green for more than a few seconds, as I felt the village played
a minor role in the story. But Holmer Green clearly has a nice feel to it, and I will be cycling out there and back to Bourne End at the first opportunity. Crashing into Mr Goon as I freewheel down Hammersley Lane seems like the way to go.

Oh, here's Russell again:


Hi Duncan,

I think I might now have found Ivy Cottage. It's opposite the Earl Howe pub on the Earl Howe Road. It's an ivy covered cottage that is obviously old enough to have been there in Enid's day, and is just over 100 yards from the duck pond. As described in the book, it's well set back from the road, and would have backed onto woods 70 years ago. It's even got an old wooden gate!

Irrelevant, but interesting: if you look further down Earl Howe Road on Google Streetview, there's an ancient black police car parked at the west side of the road. It's registration number WFF 364. A friend tells me that it's a 1938 Austin, so just right for Inspector Jenks to have made use of!



"Gah!" Mutters a voice. Goon always fancied a car. Especially every time he gets knocked off his bike at the bottom of Hammersley Lane.

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

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