Author of adventure
stories for children, set in various parts of England
with various characters, but the majority of them are about the Lone Pine Club
and set in the beautiful and lonely
valleys of the Long Mynd
, in Shropshire
near the Welsh border.
It was founded when the Morton family came to stay at a house called Witchend near the village of Onnybrook, and became friends with two of the locals, and (naturally) had a terrific adventure. David Morton was 15 and the irrepressible twins Mary and Dickie were 9, and they had a Scottie dog called Mackie (for Macbeth). They met Petronella Sterling, always called Peter, who was also 15; she lived with her father in a cottage called Hatchholt by the mountain dam he was caretaker of; and she rode the countryside on her pony Sally and knew and loved it as few others did. They also made friends with Tom Ingles, about David's age.
Their first adventure, Mystery at Witchend cannot be better related than by Peter to her school chum, near the beginning of the second book:
"When it was all worked out, we discovered that David was right. Mrs Thurston was a German spy and all the strange men were spies dropped from aeroplanes at night, and their job was to destroy dams all over Wales and the Midlands. The twins' pilot officer was one of them of course, and so was the old man we'd seen on the first day, and so was that old beast Jacob, but Evans was the worst and had actually blown up our dam... Anyway, it's mended now, and that was the end of that adventure... But it was super, wasn't it? Sometimes I wish we could have it all over again, but I'm glad I wasn't the twins lost in the fog that night. They were the real heroes... and my friend David, of course," she added hurriedly, going a little pink.
Together they formed a secret club
, and made a headquarters
by a lone pine
in the woods behind Witchend
, signing the founding articles with blood
. Their sigil
was a pine cone
and their secret
call was the cry of the peewit
. David Morton became the Captain
of the club.
In their next adventure they enrolled Jenny Harman, who lived by the mysterious and brooding rocks known as the Stiperstones, including the one known as the Devil's Chair. In later books they enrolled cousins Jon and Penny, and had adventures in Rye, in London, and on the Suffolk coast, but ever and anon strange things would happen to them in the wild moors of Shropshire.
The German spy dates the first book, of course, and the series went on for years, and they hardly ever got older at all. Later books are shifted into the sixties. But they do, insensibly, grow up, and at a few key points we see it happening. In the fourteenth book, Not Scarlet But Gold, David draws Peter aside at a fair and kisses her. "Growing up is wonderful," she sighs. In the final book they are 18, and get engaged. There are three couples altogether in the books (Tom and Jenny is one, Penny and Jon another), but these two in particular are luminously real and human all the way through. The Lone Pine series forms a compelling love story, which younger children can ignore completely for the adventure, and which adults who grew up on it will treasure.
I am not going to give a complete Malcolm Saville bibliography, as to me only the Lone Pine books are important. The other series are felt to be derivative. Fair-haired, nut-brown Peter, with her courage, generosity, and kindness, in particular has been an ineffaceable formative influence on me. The Lone Pine books are:
- Mystery at Witchend (1943)
- Seven White Gates
- The Gay Dolphin Adventure
- The Secret of Grey Walls
- Lone Pine Five
- The Elusive Grasshopper
- The Neglected Mountain
- Saucers over the Moor
- Wings Over Witchend
- Lone Pine London
- The Secret of the Gorge
- Mystery Mine
- Sea Witch Comes Home
- Not Scarlet But Gold
- Treasure at Amorys
- The Man with Three Fingers
- Rye Royal
- Strangers at Witchend
- Where's My Girl?
- Home to Witchend (1978)
Witchend and Hatchholt and Onnybrook are invented, but all the scenery is real, and conveyed with Saville's enduring love of it. People tend to think of Shropshire as the plains in the centre with the bigger towns, and the low hills of Wenlock Edge in the east, made famous by Housman. The moors of the Long Mynd are still a secret and undiscovered country, comparable in beauty to those of North Yorkshire.
I have stood upon the Long Mynd, climbed its narrow valleys, rested by its burbling streams, and thought that in such or such a place Peter might have been startled by the diamond-backed adder and turned pale beneath her tan. I have seen the twisting of the pines, exposed to the wind and gripping the earth. I have scrambled over the Stiperstones and struggled as far as I could find safe foothold in the Devil's Chair. But do not be caught there at night, for it may be in use.
The best way to find it is to stop half way between Shrewsbury and Ludlow, at the little town of Church Stretton. There is much to recommend in the town itself, an old church, the second-hand-book shop. Turn west from there and ascend the mountains.
Leonard Malcolm Saville was born in Hastings on 21 February 1901 and never lived in Shropshire, but first visited in 1936, staying at a house called Prior's Holt, the basis for Witchend, and came back often. He lived for many years in Winchelsea, the little town near Rye that once had been a port and now was far inland. As I happened to be exploring the church there one day I saw the memorial book open at that date, requesting prayer for those whose anniversary it was, and Malcolm Saville was among them, having died in 1982.
There is a Malcolm Saville Society at www.witchend.demon.co.uk.