Those who’ve been following my vademecum as I explore Joan Aiken’s The Cuckoo Tree will realise that, unlike some of the other Wolves Chronicles, the author has based many of her fictional places on ones still existing in our world. For example, the Dolphin Inn in Chichester, where Dido hired a carriage for the wounded Captain Hughes and herself, is an 18th-century coaching inn just north of and opposite the cathedral, and now a Wetherspoons pub known as The Dolphin & Anchor. It’s from here that landlord Ben Noakes lent two of his horses and where ‘Bosky’ Dick proved the least reliable carriage driver to take the pair overnight to London.
In this illustrated post we’re going to follow the hapless passengers through a small part of West Sussex; later we’ll be plotting Dido’s journey through Petworth and on towards London.
From Chichester to Petworth it’s a mere 14 miles, but the carriage-and-pair doesn’t even make it that far. The road follows the course of Stane Street, the Roman road to London, only a little beyond Halnaker, about four miles out from Chichester. The present A285 then diverges north from Stane Street over the crest of Benges Hill, and at roughly five miles from Chichester Bosky Dick crashes the carriage. The carriage had left the Dolphin at 5 o’clock so it we can suppose it’s between 6 and 7pm at this stage.
Leaving Captain Hughes (who has fainted) in the crashed carriage Dido rides one of the horses along the muddy lane — now the A285 of course — in a north northeasterly direction. After about a ten-minute trot she comes to a crossroads (more accurately, “a spot where four or five tracks meet”). There are a couple of options here when identifying where this might be. It could be by present-day House Farm, Upwaltham, near where the little 12th-century church of St Mary’s sits in glorious isolation, and where various farm tracks congregate; alternatively it’s a little further along, by Littleton Farm, Upwaltham, where crop marks in a field indicate the presence of what one assumes is part of the lost village of Upwaltham. Nevertheless Dido spots no lights or houses anywhere on this dark evening.
The Wineberry Men direct Dido up a track to the left toward Tegleaze Manor. From the endpaper map of the novel’s original hardback edition it appears this is up a track heading east from the vicinity of Upwaltham House Farm, though the farm is naturally unmarked. Unfortunately for our purposes there is no manor anywhere near this position, nor is the map reliable as the directions Dido is given don’t quite correspond. So we may discount Tegleaze Farm just off the South Downs Way on Tegleaze Down (its highest point is Crown Tegleaze) as too far and too isolated.
Tegleaze needs a bit of explanation. Teg is a dialect word for a yearling sheep, that is, an animal (usually a ewe) in its second year, while leaze here refers to land reserved for pasture. It’s therefore unsurprising that the ten Wineberry Men choose to identify themselves with numbers taken from two sheep-counting systems, or that Dido makes friends with the blind shepherd Tom Firkin at Dogkennel Cottages. However, the manor itself has no obvious connection with sheep. The name of the former hamlet in this area, Waltham, was originally Old English weald-ham or ‘settlement in the wood’, an indication of what actually existed here in the Anglo-Saxon period — a swathe of trees.
From the road Dido follows a “loamy ride, under an avenue of tall trees”. She soon comes to “a pair of massive stone pillars”. Passing between them the path takes her on a sharp bend to the left round “a hummock of ground”. After another five minutes she arrives at what is plainly
a very large mansion, set in a fold of the hillside, with a dark mass of trees behind it and a broad sweep of grass in front.
A portico with white marble pillars form the main entrance. “Coo, it’s a big place, ennit?” Dido remarks to Gusset, the aged butler. It’s impossible to identify which mansion Joan Aiken may have based Tegleaze Manor on. It’s tempting to suggest Petworth House, which has parkland and an approach from the west through an avenue of tall trees, like Tegleaze’s beech avenue. Goodwood House back towards Chichester has an impressive portico. It’s unlikely that Joan had anything less impressive than these Restoration or Georgian neoclassical piles in mind for Tegleaze.
The exterior of the mansion is much easier to fathom from the page than the interior. A high yew hedge borders the lawn. (The yew is traditionally a tree associated with death, for centuries planted in churchyards, its berries and foliage poisonous to humans and livestock respectively.)
When Dido first visits she arrives unannounced at the front door under the portico, but when she visits Tobit on his own she takes a slightly different route. She has to follow the drive (what he calls the track) but then has to turn right at the top — presumably the top of the drive — and go across a sunken lawn that was formerly a tilting yard. (Tiltyards were originally enclosed spaces dedicated to medieval jousting.) The Tegleaze tilting yard had later been planted with yews in pairs clipped into pineapple shapes but now grown into odd forms after years of neglect.
Dido then had to go up the steps at the end of the house, along a terrace, through the walled garden known as the Lavender Court to the South Door, hidden under a south-facing vine.
The interior is more confusing to navigate. There is a large hall reached from the porticoed entrance, several flights of stairs, private rooms and so forth. A small room off the main hall belongs to Cousin Wilfred, and features a doll’s house, a perfect miniature of Tegleaze Manor. Its windows overlook the tiltyard. The whole house is shabby, having seen better days, and the only obvious servants are a pair of bewigged footmen and the old butler.
From the crashed carriage site the chalk road continues north, past the long beech avenue of Tegleaze Manor on the left, then along gentle grassy slopes and
into a long shallow valley at the far of which, under a hill round and bare as a bald head, Dido could see a little row of cottages with one or two outbuildings and a couple of haystacks. ‘Them’s Dogkennels,’ Pelmett said with relief.
The round eminence behind Dogkennel Cottages is Farm Hill. Dido’s impression is of flint-built poverty-stricken dwellings, with broken windows and derelict gardens. Apart from two of the cottages — those of Mrs Daisy Lubbage and Mr Tom Firkin — the buildings are empty.
Into one of these Captain Hughes is placed to rest and recover, with Dido to administer to him. If only he could remain safe here until he’s able to travel on to London.
North of Farm Hill is another chalk eminence, Barlavington Down (or Barlton Down, in the local dialect) and it’s up this hill that Dido goes to find one particular yew, the Cuckoo Tree.
While the Tegleaze Manor yews are redolent of sinister mysteries and, ultimately, death, the Cuckoo Tree proves to be a quiet haven for Cris and a safe rendezvous for the Wineberry Men: a symbol of life perhaps.
A future post will feature Petworth, a town in which Joan Aiken’s family lived for a while and where Dido gets embroiled in further adventures. Then we will follow Dido’s rapid mission to save the future King Richard IV at his coronation in London‘s St Paul’s Cathedral.