I posted last week about how pleased I was to have acquired the third book in a trilogy. It was the last in a series of books by Freda C Bond, about the Lancaster family. Here’s the first, The End House. I spotted it years ago in a second hand bookshop. I knew nothing about the author but it took my fancy and I was right, I liked it a lot. Mrs Lancaster has been widowed while only in her forties and with six children to bring up. The family has to leave a large house in the country, move to a much smaller one in a town and give up the cars, maids and gardener. ‘Poor’ is a relative term for them, as is usual with books of this type. Faithful Bridget goes with them to cook and clean, there’s no trouble affording paint and curtains for the new house and those children still at private schools stay there, if not for long. Nevertheless, there are problems ahead.
The book was published in 1943 but is set in 1937/8, so no war yet. There are four girls: June, the artistic, selfish one who doesn’t pull her weight at home; Alison the domesticated home-lover; Rosemary, sporty and fun but not obviously talented; nice, practical Susan, who loves gardening. For light relief there are the much younger twin boys Nicky and Dick and later in the story, a Siamese cat. How the family copes with changed circumstances and the older girls find jobs makes for an interesting story, with a camping holiday as part of a travelling theatre run by their cousins thrown in. I love to have original dustwrappers on these old books. The back of this one features the latest Lone Pine books by Malcolm Saville. Hardly the same market, I’d have thought, as The End House is definitely a book for older girls, like Jam Tomorrow or Gwendoline Courtney’s books.
By the time of The Lancasters at Lynford, war has broken out and like many other families across England, the Lancasters are on the move. They set up a joint household with their friends the Thurstons in an old manor house in Somerset, providentially left to Mrs Thurston. The twins and Martin Thurston go to school together; Susan and Priscilla are already best friends. It’s pretty much an all female household apart from the boys and a lazy old gardener. There’s romance for Alison and June, more gardening for Susan and an exciting discovery of buried treasure. Don’t they know there’s a war on? Apart from worries about Alison’s fiancé the war doesn’t make much difference to their lives and food is pretty lavishly provided (the author does point out a couple of times that neither food nor petrol had been rationed at the time of the story). The book is made much livelier by an addition to the household: a very sophisticated little Austrian refugee called Alex, who has his own story.
And so to Susan and Priscilla, quite different to the others because it’s really a school story and listed in The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories. Susan is bright and hard working; exceptionally pretty Priscilla is quite a dimwit in an amusing way. Pris is put out when she is left down a form and fails to get a good part in the school play; this causes trouble which good old Susan eventually sorts out. Themes in this book include pashes or, apparently the latest word then, ‘fizzes’ on mistresses, help given to a local ‘cripples’ home’ as it was then known and the entrée to a grand local house owned by obligatory admiral. The book ends with a holiday for the girls with a school friend at her island home (this sounds too, too Chalet School, bird watching and all) and a discovery which will help the war effort. Rather episodic but still enjoyable.
Of the three, I much prefer the first book, the struggling life rather than the over-convenient transition to a country existence similar to what they’d known before. Freda C Bond wrote another series of books, about the Carol family. These are also 1940s books but very different. The Carol parents are theatrical people, there’s plenty of money and they live in London. I like them a lot and here’s the list.
The Holiday that Wasn’t, 1947
The Week before Christmas, 1948
The Carols Explore, 1949
Squibs at School, 1951. Like Susan and Priscilla, a true school story. Imagine Maddy Fane (from the Blue Doors) at school and you’re there.
Freda C Bond is one of those authors in the second or third rank but well worth reading if you like the Girlsown type of book.