The Secret Passage

My grandparents’ house had a secret passage.

When we stayed at their beautiful stone house in Langford, Oxfordshire, England, my two brothers and I slept in two upstairs bedrooms. One day we looked behind the red curtain which hung on the wall behind the dresser in one of the rooms.

There was a door.

It was clearly (in our imaginations)  a secret door that Granny and Grandad wanted noone to discover. Everything became instantly more interesting.

We opened the door and found the best thing a child could possibly find in an old stone house: spiral stairs leading down. Whispering all the way, my brothers and I crept down into the darkness.

At the bottom there was another curtain. We had no idea what to expect if we drew it aside. We could have ended up in some underground lair or a passage to London. We peeked carefully, not knowing if there would be bad guys on the other side or monsters.

It was the sitting room.

Did someone tell me it was used as a servants’ passage or did I make that up? I can’t believe such a small house ever had servants scurrying about in passages.

There was an off-shoot passage halfway down the spiral staircase that had a very small door. Behind the door was the room above the garage. I stayed in that room later when I visited my grandparents as a young man travelling on my own. Good memories.

That house was magical for three boys. The large English garden with its stone work, paths and fishpond, the thick stone walls, the wooden floors and the smell and the echoes. And the secret passage. It was all fantastic.

It’s the kind of experience you want to give your own children.

I shared with you a little of what Hammond Forever House was like when we first moved in. The closets between the upstairs bedrooms share a wall. In the summer when it became unbearably hot up there, I considered cutting a hole in the wall and mounting a fan to create a draft from one room to the other through the closets. With the windows open that might cool the rooms a bit.

Upstairs as-is
Upstairs as-is

I joked that we could cut a door–a secret passage–when the kids were too young to notice and then let them discover it when they were older. I could imagine their expressions and how their eyes would bug out just like mine had all those years ago.

Back-to-back closets
Back-to-back closets

By the time Leanne and I were certain that we would put a bathroom between the kids’ bedrooms in place of the awkward closets, the kids were too old to fool so easily. There was no reason not to alter the closets since they would be gutted anyway.

The plan -- any room for magic?
The plan — any room for magic?

I told them the story of the secret passage in Middle House, Langford and got them good and worked up.

Then one day I cut a hole, sanded it down and showed them. They loved it and still do. It is a major attraction to any child who visits the house for a playdate. The only down side is the hole makes the closets even less useful for storing anything. One is full of stuffed toys (soft to clamber over as you head to the passage) and the other is just a small playroom, really.

The Secret Passage in the girl's room
The Secret Passage in the girl’s room

Just like the bathroom walls, covered as they are in memories and child-art, we will be sad to see the secret passage be destroyed for the sake of progress.

My son who is 6 has been very excited about the prospect of having a trapdoor that leads to the basement, but I had to let him know today that it will probably not happen. He took it well.

I believe it is important to build magic into your plans. Annabel the Architect told us that she may be able to find a place for a secret passage or two. Now if only magic were free.

The Secret Passage in the boy's room
The Secret Passage in the boy’s room

PS: After my Grandad died Granny couldn’t live in the house any longer and it was eventually sold. I wonder if anyone has since tried to turn it into a net-zero energy house? It would be an even bigger challenge than the one Leanne and I face.

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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