Sunday, 27 April 2008

Swimming in Fiction: Enid Blyton's Malory Towers

The Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton was a favourite of mine during my childhood. Darrel Rivers, the main character is a jolly-hockey-sticks all round good egg, who manages to get into a few scrapes on her inevitable journey to Head Girl.

In first term, we meet most of the characters who remain throughout the series. Mary-Lou is a scardey-cat, frightened of everything: spiders, the dark, the swimming pool. The pool is a rock-hewn one, at the base of a cliff in Cornwall.

Gwendoline, a particularly nasty girl doesn't like the pool either. She ducks Mary-Lou in the pool, holding Mary-Lou under too long. Darrel sees her and gives her a whack. For her troubles she is ordered out of the pool by Head Girl, Katherine.

Eventually, Darrel, and best friend Sally orchestrate a near-drowing so Mary-Lou must save Darrel, and thus gain confidence.

Swimming and the pool feature again in the final term, when sporty and boastful new girl Amanda, an Olympic hopeful, arrives from the burned down Trennigan Towers. Amanda has been banging on all term about going swimming in the sea rather than just the pool, and ignoring warnings about strong currents. Of course she gets into trouble and has to be saved by another girl. All that pride and a lesson hard learned!

"One of the things that Darrel liked best of all was the big swimming pool down by the sea. This had been hollowed out of a stretch of rocks, so that it had a nice rocky uneven bottom. Seaweed grew at the sides, and sometimes the rocky bed of the pool felt slimy. But the sea swept into the big natural pool each day, filled it, and made lovely waves all across it. It was a sheer delight to bathe there.

The coast itself was too dangerous for bathing. The tides were so strong, and no girl was allowed to swim in the open sea. But anyone was safe in the pool. One end was quite deep, and here there were diving boards and a chute, and a fine spring board for running dives."
- First Term at Malory Towers (1946)

The pool, and the swimming incidents have featured on the covers of various editions:

In her book The Dorset Days of Enid Blyton, Vivienne Endecott discusses the Malory Towers pool:
"It was a school swimming pool like no other, and countless Blyton readers have dreamt about midnight feasts on moonlit nights around its rocky perimeter. Whilst the pool itself never existed outside Enid Blyton's imagination, it is likely to have been based on two seawater pools, one in Cornwall and the other in Dorset.

The Malory Towers pool was big. It was deep and had high diving boards. It even had a water chute. It had everythign that could be ebjoyed at the most fashionable of 1930s lidos. When Enid Blyton remarried in 1942 she had honeymooned in Cornwall, and it is possible that she would have seen the fantastic Jubilee Pool at Penzance that had diving boards and water chutes, and was filled with sea water." (see postcard below)

"For a school to have a pool in the 30s or 40s was very unusual. Yet there was a school at Langton Matravers near Swanage that did have a pool of its own, on the rocks at the base of the cliff. Durnford Prep School had a tradition for the boys to swim naked in the sea from Dancing Ledge, but their headmaster knew that thr coast was dangerous. So he ordered that a small swimming pool be blown out of the rocks so that the boys could bathe in safety. School children and countless tourists have used the pool ever since. Enid Blyton may have swum there as well since it is only a three mile walk along the coast path from Swanage. "

In June 2008, I re-visited Dorset (where I used to live) and did the walk along the coast path from Durlston Head to Dancing Ledge. Here's some pics I took of the rock pool at Dancing Ledge mentioned above:

"It would not have taken too much imagination to combine the real location of a school swimming pool that was down in the rocks and the elaborate facilities of the pool at Penzance to devise the most famous school swimming pool ever written about." Here's a more recent pic of the Penzance Lido:

To my mind, however, Blyton's Malory Towers pool is more reminiscent of either this pool at Bude in Cornwall:
or Westward Ho! in Devon:
"Among the rocks on the southern end of Westward Ho! beach, this pool has been in existence for at least 120 years and was renovated in the spring. Local people are passionate about the pool, which the local council, like other authorities, regards it as a bit of a health and safety nightmare." From this Guardian article.
or even this pool hewn into Table Rocks at Whitley Bay, in Northumberland:


PoolShark said...

I accidentally ran into your blog - I'm usually interested in different kind of pool - but found it very interesting. On the subject of swimming in literature, I wanted to recommend on "Swimmer" by Bill Broady, published in 2000 by Flamingo. It starts with beautiful descriptions of swimming, but then gets kinda cliche. Still recommended though. I'd love to hear your opinion if you've read it.

Anonymous said...

I love the Malory Towers books, and am interested in the pool in which Enid Blyton interpreted into her books. Is there maybe a large mansion, house or even a small castle nearby any of these pools that she may have based the school on? I am intrigued to know!

Sally said...

anonymous - I hope you come back to read this. I have updated this entry with 2 pictures I took recently (June 2008) of the pool at Dancing Ledge, which is the one blasted out of the rocks mentioned in the text.

Angie Butler said...

Maybe the beach rock pool was the one at Mousehole near Penzance?
Greaat to read about my fav. childhood author and the Jubilee Pool on the same page.
Angie butler friend of the Jubilee pool, Penzance, Cornwall.

steve cox said...

swam in the pool at dancing ledge at the weekend, great but be careful. Huge wave washed us right out of the pool and into the sea from where its very difficult to get back onto rock ledge. Did manage it but only with lots of cuts and scrapes which meant trip to hospital. So get somebody to be on wave watch just in case. Locals tell me this has not happened before, as far as they know