Members of the EF Benson Society paid a visit to Horsted Keynes in West Sussex last Saturday, September 11, which is believed to be the setting for the first book in the Mapp and Lucia series. Two books were set in and around Riseholme before EF Benson moved to Rye and decided to mirror that town as fictional Tilling.
The society had originally planned the visit last year, which was the 100th anniversary of the publication of Queen Lucia. About twenty members from across the UK and a visitor from the US participated.
Broadway in the Cotswolds is often cited as the inspiration for Riseholme, but Allan Downend, the secretary of the society believes that Horsted Keynes is a much more likely candidate.
While Riseholme is certainly not modelled on Horsted Keynes as much as Tilling is on Rye there are definitely some clear pointers.
Mary and Maggie Benson, EF’s mother and sister, moved to Horsted Keynes in 1899 and EF visited frequently. The society began the day at Sheffield Park, a National Trust property, the name which EF borrowed for Sheffield Castle, where Duchess Poppy lived. We then went to the station which is part of the Bluebell Line, where Richard Crowest gave the first of his readings from Queen Lucia.
Then we visited the church, where there was a plaque commemorating Mary Benson. Lunch in the Crown followed and then a visit to the house where Mary and Maggie Benson had lived. The current owners very kindly allowed us to walk around the amazing gardens and even peep into the house.
The area abounds with names that are familiar to Bensonsites. I saw a sign to Ardingly, which is used in one of the books as a place visited by the Prince of Wales. We even saw a house called Lucas, which was Lucia’s married surname.
The village green is smaller than the one in Riseholme but we could imagine it being used to collect and spread gossip easily enough.
Image Credits: Seana Lanigan .