Enid Blyton’s Beckenham

Enid Blyton’s Beckenham   –   Map of the Clock House District

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Homes:195Chaffinch Road1897 to 1903
235Clock House Road1903 to 1907
331Clock House Road1907 to 1912
414Elm Road1912 to 1916
513Westfield Road1916 to 1917
634Oakwood Avenue1917 to 1924 (see separate map)
783Shortlands Road1924 to 1929 (see separate map)
SchoolsTresco Kindergarten79Cedars Road
St Christopher’s88Croydon Road (not shown)
St Christopher’s2Rectory Road
Baptist Church & Sunday SchoolElm Road
Important FriendsMary Attenborough9Beckenham Road
Phyllis Chase7Queen’s Road

 

On the Trail of Enid Blyton

On the day I meet up with Cliff Watkins from the Enid Blyton Society for my Enid Blyton tour it’s hot. So hot in fact that The Famous Five would’ve been taking off on their bikes and picniking on doorstop sandwiches, fruit cake and lashings of ginger beer, not walking around the streets of Beckenham. But I’m determined to see where this famous author who wrote 600 books, and who coloured my childhood with her stories, lived.

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Street in Beckenham named after the Malory Towers series.

I’ve gathered already from email that Cliff is an intelligent man, but in person he’s even more so. Ten minutes into the tour he’s already told me more about Beckenham than I’d probably learn in a history book.

In his 70′s at least, Cliff also posseses an old-school gallantry, worrying that he’s walking on the inside of the footpath and that I could be in danger if a car mounts the kerb. We stop briefly at the BaptistChurch where Enid was baptised when she was in her teens. He manages to secure me a glass of orange juice from the ladies who run the church as he’s worried about me dehydrating.

As we’re closer to the three middle houses she lived in we do the tour in reverse order by starting in Elm Road and Clockhouse Road. Cliff knows a lot about Enid’s parents, their separation and young Enid’s ‘adoption’ by the Attenborough family who encouraged her writing. It appears she didn’t have much time for her father, a cloak-maker who ran off with a mistress. Or for her mother either who tried to hide her failed marriage by asking Enid and her brothers to tell people her husband was away on business. In fact Enid didn’t show up to either of their funerals.

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One of Enid’s two childhood houses in Clockhouse Road.

I ask Cliff if he thinks that grumpy Uncle Quentin in The Famous Five series was perhaps representative of her absent father? Cliff seems perplexed about that, and is not sure. I gather he’s not read much of The Famous Five, as he is more interested in Carey Blyton, Enid’s nephew who was a composer and wrote a song which inspired the Australian TV show Bananas in Pajamas. Shame, I would’ve liked to have an indepth discussion about Uncle Quentin.

Moving on….we reach Enid’s first home in Chaffinch Road which is a quiet, green leafy street. Cliff is interested that the home has just been sold and takes down the details of the real estate agent from the sign outside the house. He says he tries to keep in touch with the owners of Enid’s houses and has been inside several of them. He wanted to knock on the door of one of the previous ones and ask the owners if I could look inside as I was all the way from New Zealand, but I wasn’t keen on that idea.

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Enid’s first home in Beckenham: 95 Chaffinch Road.

After Chaffinch Road we stop for lunch in a cafe and I buy us lunch, since Cliff is giving me the tour for free. I eat my cheese, ham and coleslaw sandwiches while he nibbles on his cheese and pickle and keeps talking until his tea gets cold.

By now I’m beginning to appreciate the depth of Cliff’s knowledge of Beckenham’s famous people and famous people connected with Beckenham by any means possible.

I hear about Charles Darwin whose mail had to have ‘Beckenham’ written on the address, as that was where the sorting office was, otherwise his mail ended up in Northern Ireland. Then there was Harold Bride a Beckenham lad who was a telegraph officer on the Titanic and who was the town’s hero because he’d jumped into the water (after helping lots of people) and managed to survive.

After lunch the tour continues and we catch a tram, and then a train, to visit Enid’s final two houses that she’d lived in when she was married. By this time she was starting to make decent money from her writing and had children of her own. I ask Cliff about this as I’d read she didn’t pay them much attention. He said this was pretty accurate and that her own daughter had described her as ’a bit of a bitch’.

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Enid’s final house in Beckenham at 83 Shortland’s Road before she moved.

Perhaps ‘George’ in The Famous Five was actually Enid’s alter ego then? And if she’d only had two children why was there Julian, Dick, Anne and George in the Famous Five? Unfortunately Cliff was not forthcoming about this side of things. But he does tell me there was a BBC TV drama starring Helena Bonham-Carter as Enid, and that there was a ‘primitive’ scene where Enid/Helena told the maid to ‘remove the child’ as she couldn’t bear it screaming while she was trying to write. Cliff thinks this is a bit over the top but says I should watch it anyway, even if it wasn’t filmed in Beckenham.

By this time it is mid-afternoon and I’m drooping from the heat. In contrast Cliff still seems quite lively and able to talk for at least another hour. We catch a bus and head to his house to meet his wife Veronica who kindly makes us sandwiches (better than the cafe’s) and gives us orange juice. Cliff then sells me a book he’s written on Beckenham for £6, discounted from £8.

Finally he escorts me to the bus-stop and waits with me until the bus arrives. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my Enid Blyton tour, even if it wasn’t about Uncle Quentin or George, it’s that chivalry is definitely alive and well in Beckenham.

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Enid Blyton’s first known published works

At the age of three months, Enid Blyton arrived in Beckenham where she lived in seven different houses. Life at home was disrupted after her mother successfully petitioned for a legal separation in 1911 following her father’s three years of adultery. At that time Enid was at St Christopher’s  a typical small private school run by two ladies in a large converted Victorian house in Rectory Road, Beckenham.

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There were just 50 pupils (see photo c. 1914- Enid is seated with tie and a pony tail) and hardly more than ten girls in Enid & Maud’s peer group.  They all knew each other.  Enid was the leader of a group of four close friends – the others being Phyllis Chase,  Mirabel Davis and Mary Attenborough. Enid had being trying for years to be recognised as a writer before her first known published work appeared in 1917. As she explained to her nephew, Carey Blyton forty years later:   It’s very difficult to get a start in anything – I had  over 500 rejections when I first began writing!  You don’t put me off with the tale of your disappointments – such a tale is quite usual – most of our well known music writers would be able to vie with your disappointing beginnings!

In 1917, three poems appeared in Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine by or related to Enid. They were: Title                             Date                 Author                         Author’s Home           

“Have you ———?”   March 1917     Enid Blyton                 Beckenham, Kent

“I Have  ——–?”        June 1917        Maud Dyrenfurth         Sydenham, Lewisham

My Summer Prayer      August 1917    Enid Blyton                 Beckenham, Kent

The poems were not for children.  Previous contributors to Nash’s Magazine included Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, and HG Wells.

Who was Maud Dyrenfurth?  There was only one Dyrenfurth family in the UK in the 1911 Census. In 1917 they were living on the border between Lower Sydenham and Beckenham.  Like Enid, Maud might have been a pupil at St Christopher’s School in Rectory Road, a one mile pleasant walk across farmland from her home.

Enid had been trying to have her work published for some time. Was Maud the author of the second poem or did Enid steal Maud’s name to reinforce recognition for her first Nash poem?  If so this ploy worked because Nash published the second poem in June and a third in August.

March 9th 2013 saw the world premiere of Gordon Carr’s setting of the three 1917 poems to music in St George’sChurch, Beckenham. Both Gordon and Enid Blyton came from Beckenham. The musical accompaniment was by members of the Lewisham Concert Band whose DirectorLeslieLake was educated in Beckenham.

Subsequently, the soprano Marie Vassiliou who sung Carr’s songs, and local poets were firmly of the opinion that Enid had written all three of the poems.   In 1917 when the poems appeared in Nash’s Magazine, Britain was embroiled in war with Germany. People who bought the magazines were asked to stick a stamp on the cover and take them to a local post office whence they would be sent to the troops.

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I have yet to learn the thoughts of  any of the front line troops, who spent much of their time living a Hobbit like existence underground waist deep in water and suffering with lice and various diseases,  when they were given magazines advertising beauty soap and shampoo.