BLYTON, Enid (1897-1968)
Plaque erected in 1997 by English Heritage at 207 Hook Road, Chessington, KT9 1EA, Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames
ENID BLYTON 1897-1968 Children's Writer lived here 1920-1924
Enid Blyton is best remembered for her series of children’s books, the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. A blue plaque commemorates her former home at 207 Hook Road in Chessington, where she started to develop her storytelling skills.
‘THE FOUNDATION OF ALL MY SUCCESS’
Born in East Dulwich, Blyton turned to writing in her teens, but decided in 1915 to train as a teacher. In January 1920 she was employed as a governess by Horace and Gertrude Thompson at 207 Hook Road, then known as Southernhay. The Thompsons’ four sons – David, Brian, Peter and John – were Blyton’s charges until she left in April 1924.
It was while at Southernhay – where she was given her own small room at the back of the house – that Blyton started to develop her children’s stories. She later wrote to Brian of being ‘so happy’ at the house, and described her time there as ‘the foundation of all my success’.
Blyton’s charges were quickly joined by other local children, forming a small ‘school’, and it was on this group that she ‘practised’ writing and reciting plays, poems and songs for their education and enjoyment. The group, in turn, provided her with further inspiration. Locking her door when the day’s duties were done, she produced works including her first success, the poetry collection Child Whispers (1922).
A full-time writer from 1924, Blyton was extraordinarily prolific, her many best-sellers including the Secret Seven, the Famous Five, the Faraway Tree and the Malory Towers series. The majority of these books were written at Green Hedges, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, her home from 1938, which has now been demolished.
RACISM IN BLYTON’S WORK
Blyton’s work has been criticised during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit. A 1966 Guardian article noted the racism of The Little Black Doll (1966), in which the doll of the title, Sambo, is only accepted by his owner once his ‘ugly black face’ is washed ‘clean’ by rain. In 1960 the publisher Macmillan refused to publish her story The Mystery That Never Was for what it called its ‘faint but unattractive touch of old-fashioned xenophobia’. The book, however, was later published by William Collins.
In 2016, Blyton was rejected by the Royal Mint for commemoration on a 50p coin because, the advisory committee minutes record, she was ‘a racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer’. Others have argued that while these charges can’t be dismissed, her work still played a vital role in encouraging a generation of children to read.