Although the Rev’d Philip Turner was born in British Columbia in 1925 his parents returned to England the following year, and he spent the rest of his life in various parts of this country, finally settling down with his wife and family in West Malvern. He wrote in a variety of genres under his own name and that of Stephen Chance, but he’s best known for four children’s books, (aimed at tens upwards, but enjoyed by good readers of a younger age) written between 1964 and 1977, and set in the fictional Yorkshire town of Darnley Mills.
‘The Grange At High Force’ despite being the second book in the set is the best known of the four, and won the 1965 Carnegie Medal in Literature from the Library Association, recognising the year’s best children’s book by a British subject. I came across it when I was a student teacher, fell in love with it immediately, and have read it many times when I needed something cheery to give me a lift.
It has a couple of similarities with William Mayne’s ‘A Swarm In May’, in that its three protagonists are choir boys, and their conversation is off-beat and unusual for books written at the time, but these three boys, David, Peter and Arthur are both older (middle Secondary School age, attending the local Grammar School) and very different in background to Mayne’s choir-school boys. Arthur is a farmer’s son; Peter is the rector’s son and a ‘barmy’ inventor of strange gadgets; and David is the local carpenter’s boy, and the quietest and most sensible of the three.
In this story, thanks to a mishap caused by one of Peter’s inventions, they get involved with a mystery concerning the whereabouts of a missing statue, columns and stained glass which had been removed from Darnley Parish Church, they also meet a retired Admiral and his manservant ‘Guns’ who are living in the Grange of the title.
All the characters, including Old Charlie the verger; Sergeant Mackintosh, the local policeman; and ‘Bos’n Jake’ the Swedish owner of a scrapyard down by the river, are sympathetically and vividly portrayed. The book will provoke many chuckles over the boys’ adventures and misadventures, together with a page-turning desire to discover what Sir Joshua Cadell, the hard-drinking eighteenth century squire had done with the window, the statue of Mary and the pillars when he’d taken them out of the Parish Church and replaced them with a horrid ‘Queen Charlotte’ window.
It’s obvious that Philip Turner had a delightful and boyish sense of humour, as this description of Peter’s bicycle demonstrates:
“Peter’s bicycle was called the Yellow Peril and it was doubtful if anyone but Peter could have ridden it at all. Sergeant Mackintosh, as he watched it pass morning by morning, had the gravest doubts about its safety, but could never actually point to any one feature that was positively dangerous. The handle-bars were upside-down, but there was no law against that, even though it meant that the brakes worked by pressure from above. Spring saddles were nowhere forbidden, even if they were so sprung that the rider bounced up and down like a man on a trampoline. And as for the complexity of the instruments, well, the Statute Book had never even considered that a bicycle could have a dashboard that would not have disgraced an airliner. There was, of course, a speedometer and a mileometer. There was also an altimeter out of a crashed German aircraft which Peter had bought for half a crown from Bos’n Jake. It gave the height in metres, so Peter had fixed beside it a table for converting metres into feet, in a neat perpex frame. There was a small ship’s compass, also aquired from Bos’n Jake, a clock converted from a cheap watch, two rear view mirrors, and an electric klaxon horn operated by a battery and a push button on the handle-bars.”
The two following books, ‘Sea Peril’ and ‘War On The Darnel’ concern the boys’ further adventures as Peter attempts to turn an old punt into a pedal-powered paddle-driven houseboat and takes it on the river; as Arthur plays in an important cricket match; and a new master at the school involves them in a search for a missing Roman fort.
If you can find these books give them a go, I promise you’ll be mightily entertained by them.