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Caldicott Place

Caldicott Place was first published in 1967. The US edition (1968) was entitled The Family at Caldicott Place. It is now out of print.


Story | Background | Thoughts | Editions and Availability

Story

Bill, Carol and Tim Johnstone live, with their parents and their dog, Jelly, in a house with a garden and garage. In August of the year when Bill is twelve, Carol eleven and Tim seven, their father is involved in a car accident. A chauffeur driven car comes out of a driveway and crashes into him. The chauffeur is killed instantly, and the children's father and the passenger of the other car are taken to hospital unconscious.

It is three weeks before their father recovers consciousness, and when he does he has changed. He has no memory of the accident, and doesn't seem interested in what is happening to him, or to the family: there are plans to move him to a psychiatric hospital. Bill is allowed to visit him before he moves, and is shocked by the change. Carol and Tim are not told that the accident has affected him, and are upset that they are not allowed to visit.

Not knowing how long the children's father will be ill, their mother decides that they will move out of the house to a small flat in London. This means that they will be able to rent out the house, and she will be able to get work as a secretary. The problem is that the flat only has two bedrooms, so Bill and Tim will have to share one of them, and the other will be shared by Carol and her mother. Even worse, the flats do not allow pets, so Jelly cannot stay with them. Fortunately, the people who are taking the house will look after him. The children are horrified: they are used to having their own rooms, and Tim cannot believe they would leave Jelly behind. Carol is also upset that she will have to leave her dancing school.

Tim is determined to talk to his father about it: he is sure he will understand, and be able to fix everything. Taking gladioli from the garden, he makes his way to the hospital. However, he is not allowed into the ward. Wandering around in the hospital, he finds himself in the private wing, and hears a woman moaning. Looking at the name on her door, he discovers it is Lady Paine - the person who was in the chauffeur driven car that caused the accident. He goes in to see her, and finds himself telling her everything that has happened to them since the accident. When he goes, he leaves the gladioli for her: there are no other flowers in the room, and it seems "sad to leave her alone with a broken leg and no flowers" (Caldicott Place, 1967:37).

The family moves to the flat, and they all hate it. Then one day they receive a letter: Lady Paine has died, and she has left Tim a house in the country - Caldicott Place. Tim is determined to move there, as it will be a good place for Dad to convalesce, and there is heaps of room for Jelly. Their mother does not see how this can be managed, until one of Lady Paine's solicitors has an idea: the firm has three children under their care who, for different reasons, have plenty of money, but nowhere to stay during school holidays.

So Tim, Carol, Bill, their mother and Jelly move to Caldicott Place, where they are soon joined by the other three children: twelve year old Freddy, the son of a Baron who lives in Australia and does not want him; eleven year old Athene, whose parents must travel the world looking after their business interests; and Sophie, nine, a "problem child" who was rejected by a couple who were planning to adopt her, and has since run away from four different schools.

Background

Nancy Huse describes Caldicott Place as "one of many books in which Streatfeild explored her childhood memories of her grandparents' house" (1994:119).

Thoughts

(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have not read the book.)

Caldicott Place is the only one of Noel's books for children in which she touches on the idea of a family falling apart under stress. This is not, of course, the main aspect of the book: it is at the end of the first quarter of the book that Tim inherits Caldicott Place, and the remaining three-quarters focus instead on the healing effects of the house.

However, it is quite interesting to consider why this family almost falls apart, whereas other families in Noel's books for children are mutually supportive. One reason is, of course, that the Johnstone family is subjected to far greater trials than the other families - their financial difficulties are far more immediate and pressing, and there is the added stress of Mr Johnstone's illness, which seems more acute and distressing even than John Winter's (The Painted Garden).

However, another reason is the family dynamic, which seems closer to that in Noel's adult novel Saplings than to anything in her writing for children. In Saplings, Noel had looked at the destructive effects war has on children, by presenting a family which disintegrates after the father is killed. While it is unfair to draw too close a comparison between Lena Wiltshire and Mrs Johnstone - Mrs Johnstone is far less dependent on her husband, and also less distant from her children - it is nevertheless true that in both books it is the father who is the emotional centre of the family.

In her children's books, Noel usually presents families who provide a mutually supportive network. In Caldicott Place, however, it soon becomes apparent that everyone's primary connection has been with Mr Johnstone, and only after that with other members of the family. When he is ill, therefore, the family unit begins to disintegrate. All of the children feel that their father would have understood their problems, in a way that their mother and siblings do not. Even though they all try desperately hard not to blame each other, all of them feel alone, rather than part of a supportive family.

In Saplings, this family disintegration is complete, with all of the children emotionally traumatised by the end of the book. However, the implication is that they may yet recover ... healed by a house in the country, and the support of the people who belong there. None of the Johnstone children suffers the psychological scarring of the Wiltshires, and the book finishes with family stability returned even more strongly than it had been at the beginning. However, the potential was there, and may only have been averted because the Johnstones attained their house in the country at the end of Chapter 6, rather than at the end of Chapter 60.

Editions and Availability

UK Editions

Caldicott Place was first published in 1967 by Collins, and reprinted in 1984. It was illustrated by Betty Maxey, and these illustrations appear to have been retained for all subsequent UK editions.

An Armada Lion paperback was released in 1971. This edition was reprinted in 1973.

In 1989, Chivers Press/Swift released a new hardback edition with illustrated boards.

In 1990, a new paperback edition was released by Red Fox.

US Editions

It was released in the United States in 1968, by Random House, as The Family at Caldicott Place. This edition was reprinted in 1970.

There does not appear to have been a paperback release in the US.

As I have not read the US edition, I do not know if the text was in any way amended.

Out of Print

Caldicott Place/The Family at Caldicott Place is out of print. In February 2004, second hand copies through online booksellers start in price at about 3. (Source: Addall Used and Out of Print Book Search.)


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© 1967 Noel Streatfeild

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