Childrens' Authors in Buckinghamshire
Born in Wales to a Norwegian family, Roald Dahl was nevertheless one of the area’s most famous authors, beloved by children and adults the world over. The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden give a fascinating glimpse into the writer’s life and imagination, as well making for an entertaining day out for the kids. Dahl lived in Great Missenden with his first wife Patricia and their children, and then later on with his second wife Felicity, who has continued to live in the village since Dahl’s death in 1990.
The centre’s objective remains to promote the education of the public in the art of literature and storytelling, via the means of the Story Centre and two galleries out lining the biographical details of Dahl’s life, the experiences which shaped his imagination. The story centre allows for play, dressing up, arts and crafts and of course story and poetry writing.
Exceptionally tall, around 6 foot 6, Dahl grew up based at a boarding school in Derbyshire which was local to a Cadbury factory, where Dahl and fellow pupils would go to try out new products, possibly germinating the seeds of possibly his most famous story, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. After a stint in the RAF where Roald Dahl was shot down and suffered some spinal injuries, he married the actress Patricia Neal. The couple had five children, but tragically his daughter Olivia died from a measles related complication, his son Theo was brain damaged in an accident, and Patricia went on to have several strokes. Although Dahl had written adult fiction, his only children’s book had been The Gremlins, intended to be made into a Disney animated film. Throughout these incredibly difficult times with his family however, Dahl began to tell his children the stories that would eventually end up written as James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, bringing laughter and wonder to children everywhere. Dahl’s books display a fantastic, timeless, almost subversive humour, and a nod to the gore and terror loving nature of kids.
Not a million miles away is the former home of another legendary children’s author. Old Thatch near Bourne End in Buckinghamshire was the residence of Enid Blyton from 1929 until she moved with her family to Green Hedges Beaconsfield in 1938.
Born in 1897 in East Dulwich, Blyton is well known for the prolific nature of her writing, turning out as many as 800 books over her career, many of them part of long, involved series. Blyton was also married twice, divorcing the father of her children in 1941 in order to marry her second husband Darrell Waters, a London Surgeon; and settling into the life of a Doctors Wife.
Well known for her Noddy stories, Blyton’s books also included the Adventure series’ about The Secret Seven, the well beloved and in later years often parodied Famous Five, and a variety of school series including Malory Towers. Her stories catered for a variety of ages, taking a more traditional tone than Dahl’s rather more naughty children, but her great imagination led to her becoming one of the most famous children’s authors in the world.
Green Hedges in Beaconsfield was knocked down after her death to make way for new properties, although there is now a road names Blyton Close near to the location of the old house. Old Thatch is still standing, and the gardens are open to visitors between May and August (check website for details) each year. The house is a beautiful as it was in Blyton's day - the author was utterly enchanted by it on arrival:
"It is perfect both outside and in ... just like a Fairy Tale house ... roses bloom everywhere - there are dozens all hanging gracefully down."
"You enter through a funny old lychgate. There are big fruit trees shading one end of the house and a lovely silver-leaved tree at the other end."
The gardens are a quiet, peaceful attraction, with tea and cake available, but the house is not a museum or educational centre, and is perhaps better suited to older visitors who remember Blyton’s work or want to enjoy the tranquil setting.
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