A little boy was sitting in the corner of a railway carriage looking out at the rain, which was splashing against the windows and blotching downward in an ugly, dirty way.
–Lucy Boston - The Children of Green Knowe - c.1954, 1994
Green Knowe series #1
Usually Toseland spends the holidays in boarding school, his father and stepmother are in Burma, but on this occasion he is off to spend Christmas with his great-grandmother. He has never met her before, and understandably, is a little nervous about heading off all by himself. He is seven years old and a little afraid of old people who are very old. And then to arrive in the middle of a flood, in the middle of the night, when he can’t really see anything apart from the dark pools of water over everything, is it any wonder that he is slightly apprehensive.
But as soon as he arrives at Green Knowe he begins to feel right at home. Mrs Oldknow, his great-grandmother (although he is to call her granny, whats a generation here or there), tells him that their family have lived at Green Knowe for generations and generations, and that he looks just like his grandfather, another Toseland. The Oldknowes reuse the same name generation after generations. There are Linnets, and Toselands, and Alexanders, and always a Boggis in service to them throughout time.
The Children of Green Knowe is such an atmospheric book. The Green Knowe of the title is the house’s name, although really it is more of a castle. Boston based it on her own home, The Manor in Hemmingford Grey, which you can visit today if you are in Cambridgeshire. The real manor is one of the oldest buildings in Britain that is still inhabited today. And in the book it is the same family that have lived in it all through those many many generations. And that same family who continue to haunt it when Tolly pays his visit.
Although haunt is rather a negative word. Sure the ghosts of Alexander, Toby1 and Linnet make their visits, but they are welcome ghosts, full of mischief and great company for a lonely little boy.
It is a strange book, in some ways, there is very little by way of actual plot, it is all about the setting, the house and garden and the spirits who live there. It is about home and a sense of really, truly belonging to a place, of having a history for every toy and every ornament that surrounds you. Which could be a very oppressive thing in a different story, but here Tolly is such an isolated little boy as the story begins, that it is almost as though that is what he was looking for all his short life. His only other home was a boarding school, a place where nothing really belonged to him, not everything is his, or at least his family’s which is, to him, the same thing.
And then there are the stories that Mrs Oldknow tells him about the previous generations, their adventures, their pets, and their belongings.
Which is where I need to sound one note of caution, there is a story about a “gypsy”, who is of course a stereotypical thief.
Whether the ghosts are real or simply Tolly’s imagination fueled by stories is never made overtly clear, but it doesn’t really matter all that much. It is a wonderful story full of wonder, sometimes creepy and unsettling, but always entertaining and it makes for a great read.
another Toseland ↩