The literary heritage of Beaconsfield - Enid Blyton to Terry Pratchett
PUBLISHED: 15:35 11 November 2013 | UPDATED: 15:35 11 November 2013
The pretty town has an impressive literary heritage well worth celebrating, editor Jan Raycroft and photographer Maureen McLean discover
Very few towns the size of Beaconsfield can boast so many links with some of Britain’s most prolific authors of the past century or so, with hundreds of millions of their books read across the globe and translated into dozens of languages.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton – the Father Brown novelist better known as GK – for instance, may have been born in Kensington, but it was in Beaconsfield that he was to make his adult home. GK arrived in the town by chance in 1909. He caught a train from Paddington to Slough (which he apparently considered a strange place for trains to visit) and then walked to Beaconsfield with his beloved wife Frances.
The couple agreed that this was the perfect spot to settle, finding a house in Grove Road. While his priest-detective Father Brown was to become part of an extensive series of short stories later compiled into very popular books, there was much more to GK Chesterton. A prolific Fleet Street journalist, he wrote some 4,000 essays during his lifetime, as well as 80 books, poetry and plays. A biography of Charles Dickens revived interest in that author, and his works on St Francis of Assisi and St Thomas Aquinas were particularly well received by both the public and theologians.
Having wrestled with his faith for many years, GK Chesterton converted to Catholicism in the early 1920s. There was no Catholic church in Beaconsfield at the time so he was received into the church in a tatty hall attached to the then Railway Hotel (later to become the less than salubrious Earl of Beaconsfield pub and now the site of Waitrose).
When he died in 1936, GK was buried in the Shepherd’s Lane cemetery. A memorial window to the Chestertons of St Francis of Assisi (Frances died two years after him) can be seen in St Teresa’s Catholic Church in Warwick Road. Their original gravestone was crumbling so is now set in the wall of the church, with a similar replacement marking their resting spot in the cemetery.
Two ladies arrive
A couple of years after GK Chesterton died, two women writers, Alison Uttley and Enid Blyton, would arrive and make their homes in Beaconsfield. They might have been contemporaries and often working in similar genres, but since Uttley is said to have described Blyton as a ‘vulgar, curled woman’ it seems they had little else in common. The pair were once introduced for a snappy, snarling exchange in the local fishmongers, where Blyton told Uttley to look in Smith’s window if she wanted to know about her books.
Here were two ‘difficult’ women who both possessed the skill to take children into magical worlds with their books. Uttley would produce treasures such as The Little Grey Rabbit stories and introduce us to Sam the Pig, while Blyton’s work, from Noddy to the adventures of The Famous Five and The Secret Seven would go on to sell some 600 million copies across the planet.
Although 12 years older than Blyton, Uttley outlived her, dying in 1976. Her Beaconsfield home was named Thackers, after a house in her book A Traveller in Time. Blyton had loved life at Green Hedges, her home there. It was demolished in 1973, five years after her death at 71, with new houses built in what became Blyton Close.
This summer saw the first Enid Blyton Celebration Week in the town, which was a real credit to Kari Dorme of the Beaconsfield Society and her committee organising events, and sponsored by The Frost Partnership.
It included a gala film evening at the National Film and TV School and Noddy Weekend at Bekonscot Model Village. Those at the gala evening included Lucie Nottingham, a former child neighbour of Blyton, who recalled Enid telling her off for being too noisy in the garden. Blyton later included ‘Lucy Loud Voice’ in her 1948 Sunny Stories.
Beaconsfield Library hosted a fun-packed day for children with a Green Hedges Party with food provided by Jungs of Beaconsfield. County Cllr Adrian Busby announced that the County Council Community Leaders Fund would buy new Blyton books for the library.
There are now plans to put up a commemorative plaque to Blyton and hopes that more events will be held. But some people have even bigger ideas, including local TV producer Bob Massie. He’d like to see the Penn Road Town Hall converted to a family attraction celebrating Blyton and bringing more tourists to the town.
His wife Tina runs Knotty Green’s Red Lion pub, the author’s former ‘local’, which has a cosy Enid Blyton Snuggery full of books and original Noddy prints donated by the Enid Blyton Society. See the ‘My Beaconsfield’ Facebook page for links to a petition supporting this use of the town hall.
For Alison Uttley 1948 was a prolific year with publication of Grey Rabbit and the Wandering Hedgehog, John Barleycorn: Twelve Tales of Fairy and Magic, and Sam Pig in Trouble. Blyton was busy too, as Five Go Off to Camp was released. It was also the year when in another Beaconsfield household one Terence David John Pratchett would be born, taking his first steps as Noddy arrived in print.
Today Sir Terry Pratchett OBE is the famed and much loved author of numerous fantasy novels since his first book, The Carpet People, was published in the early 1970s. He attended the John Hampden Grammar School but says his education really came from Beaconsfield Library.
Terry went on to become a sub editor on High Wycombe’s Bucks Free Press newspaper, and the editor of this magazine was a junior reporter there at the time, lucky enough to have the delightful man as a mentor. Since then the Pratchett family have settled in Somerset and he has openly discussed on TV his battle with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease, raising and donating funds as well as raising the profile of this illness and the need for research.The 40th book in his Discworld Series. Raising Steam, is set to be published on 24 Octobe.
Find out more
www.littleflower.co.uk, St Teresa’s Church, Beaconsfield
www.chesterton.org, an American society which believes Chesterton should be raised to sainthood (‘a saint for our time’) because his personal writings had led many people to the Catholic faith
www.beaconsfieldsociety.org.uk, organisers of this year’s highly successful Enid Blyton Week in the town
www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk, a focal point for collectors and enthusiasts
www.alisonuttley.co.uk, fascinating site promoting interest in her life and work
www.terrypratchettbooks.com, the man his story, latest news and books