PHILIP TURNER © Jim Mackenzie Page updated 31st January, 2008.
Philip William Turner was born in British Columbia in Canada on the 3rd December, 1925. He was brought to England the following year and later received his education at Hinckley Grammar School in Leicestershire and at Worcester College Oxford, receiving his B.A. degree in 1949.
During the Second World War he served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve from 1943-46 as a sub-lieutenant. He married Margaret Diana Samson in 1950 and was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1951.
Amongst the parishes in which he gave service were ones in Leeds, Crawley in Sussex and Northampton. During the later year of 1960s he became the Head of Religious Broadcasting for the Midland Region and then he took up teaching at Droitwich High School with later appointments as chaplain of Eton College and part-time teaching at Malvern College, Worcestershire.
He won the Carnegie Prize for children's literature for his novel "The Grange at High Force" in 1966. He is best known for his "Darnley Mills" novels written under his own name but he also has written under the name Stephen Chance producing four books about the Reverend Septimus Treloar.
Philip Turner passed away in 2006.
Bibliography as recorded at the British Library.
The "Darnley Mills" Stories
(See article below.)
Colonel Sheperton's Clock. OUP 1964
The Grange at High Force. OUP 1965
Sea Peril. OUP 1966
Steam on the Line. OUP 1968
War on the Darnel. OUP 1969
Devil's Nob. Hamilton, 1970
Powder Quay. Hamilton, 1971
Dunkirk Summer. Hamilton 1973
Skull Island. Dent 1977*
American Editions of the first two in the "Darnley Mills" stories were retitled as The Mystery of the Colonel's Clock. The Adventure at High Force.
Septimus Treloar stories written under the pseudonym Stephen Chance
Septimus and the Danedyke Mystery. Bodley Head 1971
Septimus and the Minster Ghost. Bodley Head 1972
Septimus and the Stone of Offering. Bodley Head 1976
Septimus and the Spy Ring. Bodley Head 1979
Books for younger children
Wigwig and Homer. 1978
Rookoo and Bree. illustrated by Terry Riley Dent 1979
Decision in the Dark. Tales of Mystery. Dent 1978
The Candlemass Treasure. Lutterworth 1988
Christ in the Concrete City. A play, etc. S.P.C.K. 1956.
Cry Dawn in Dark Babylon. A dramatic meditation, etc. S.P.C.K. 1959..
Tell it with Trumpets. Three experiments in drama and evangelism. S.P.C.K. 1959..
Casey. A dramatic meditation on the Passion . S.P.C.K. 1962.
The Christmas Story. A carol service for children. Church Information Office 1964.
Peter was his Nickname. [On Saint Peter, the apostle.] Waltham Forest Books: London, 1965. The good shepherd. retold by Philip Turner. illustrated by Bunshu Iguchi 1986
Three one act plays c1987
The Bible story 1989
The "Darnley Mills" Stories
Just where exactly in England is the countryside that surrounds the fictional town of "Darnley Mills" that is the centre of nine stories written by Philip Turner between 1964 and 1977 ? There are lots of clues scattered through each of the adventures but, in the end, the locations remain as enigmatic as they were when one reads the very first in the series.
That is one problem that confronts the reader who starts to get drawn into the different narratives. Later in this brief introduction to Philip Turner some suggestions will be presented and you can make your own judgement about which places are real and which are figments of a very special imagination.
The second problem is one that must be faced by all series writers - the decision that has to be faced by every writer who opts to carry forward the same set of characters from one tale to the next, and that is the dilemma of how to allow the personalities he creates to mature, and yet still retain the appeal that captured the readers in the first place.
Consider the readers who come to the "Darnley Mills" books at the age of 10 in 1964. If they stuck with the author until 1977, they would be young men or young women of 23 and most would be likely to be exploring many other fields of fiction. The ten year olds of 1974, it could be argued, would not want stories that were set in the 1960s and they would be too young for the issues that are explored in the more mature books of the 1970s.
And so, unless it is tremendously popular, most series (like Stephen Mogridge's 'New Forest' stories, for example) fade rapidly into the twilight zone of the second-hand bookshop and the dedicated collector reliving his or her youth. Fashions and lifestyles have changed so rapidly that a child in 2002 is highly unlikely ever to see a "Darnley Mills" story for sale. Moreover, as recent trends have shown, they are also likely to find that the early books are not available as libraries discard the previous decade's children's books and update their stock.
Even as this article is being written one of nine stories "Dunkirk Summer" is completely unavailable on the second-hand book market and "Devil's Nob" would cost you in excess of £40. Even the recent critics have neglected him – Victor Watson's "The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English" has no entry for "Darnley Mills" or for "Philip Turner". Yet he is there on the list of Carnegie Medal winners for "The Grange at High Force", a good book but by no means his best.
Let us move from the negative to the positive for, unlike many other authors who are very much to be enjoyed only when we are children, Philip Turner has qualities that can surprise, delight and move us if we meet these books for the first time as an adult. Without giving away too much and thus spoiling the intimate bond that each good writer builds with his readers, I would like to mention a little about each book and the world of Darnley Mills. Make no mistake about it, each story is entire and complete in itself but, once having invested in world that he creates, the gradual effect of the whole series builds up your rewards like money put out at compound interest.
The first thing to make clear is that there are two cycles of stories. Five books concern the lives of David, Peter and Arthur, boys who grow up in the 1960s and 70s contemporary with the first set of readers for whom Philip Turner began writing. The remaining four books are part of a historical cycle which begins with two stories about Darnley Mills at the time of the Industrial Revolution, continues with a First World War adventure and ends with the momentous events of 1940, including Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. For the sake of convenience from this point onwards I will call them "The Modern Cycle" and "The Historical Cycle". By far the best way to read them for the first time is to follow the order in which they were written, swapping between the past and the present as each story is told. Therefore that is the way in which they will be presented here.
Colonel Sheperton's Clock (Modern Cycle)
Two stories dominate the first of the Darnley Mills adventures. The first concerns David Hughes, the ten year old whose disabled leg sets him apart from the rest of the boys. Even Arthur and Peter, his special friends, are aware of how much frustration he feels when he can't be like all the rest of them. His retreat into a world of dreamy adventures in which he is the hero is only partly satisfactory, for the pressures of growing up bring out more and more strongly just what he is missing. The mystery of Colonel Sheperton's clock with its surprising conclusion is run in parallel with the account of David's submission to the surgeon's knife. This is a story about courage and about the way in which the present is bound up with the past. At times hilariously funny, whilst at others disturbingly moving, this is one of the best books in the series.
The Grange at High Force (Modern Cycle) (Carnegie Medal Winner)
Into the cycle of stories come more new characters whose influence is to expand the world of Arthur, Peter and David as each year passes by. One new link the boys forge is to the small valley settlement of Abbey Grange and another is to the world of ships and naval men. This story belongs as much on the high Yorkshire moors as it does in All Saints Church in Darnley Mills. There is another mystery to be solved; there is fun to be had in constructing a Roman ballista and there is danger to be faced when the blizzard closes round them once more.
Sea Peril (Modern Cycle)
It's intriguing to watch how the boys remain closely tied as friends even as their different character traits mark them out more and more as distinct and remarkable individuals. This book gives full rein to Peter's obsession with inventions and Arthur's passion for cricket. Arthur also learns the emotional discomfort and upset that can be caused by standing by his principles and declaring openly what he knows to be the truth. A journey upriver in their converted punt puts all three boys on collision course with the redoubtable Lady Bridgebolton, with the extreme forces of nature and with the malevolence of a selfish loud-mouth. Behind it all lurks the story of the Roman signal station and Marcus, the saintly centurion. David's courage is put to the test in a remarkable climax.
Steam on the Line (Historical Cycle)
The Industrial Revolution comes to Darnley Mills and the countryside around it. A whole way of life must change and Philip Turner uses the story of young Taffy Hughes and Sarah Thurgood to reflect just what happens. The Devils' Back and Darnley Mills Light Railway is at the centre of the change and at the heart of the story. Life is full of hard work, excitement, challenge and danger. Both Sarah and Taffy find themselves more deeply involved than they ever intended.
War on the Darnel (Modern Cycle)
Into the hills above Darnley Mills lead both the river and railway. The "Mad Yankee" millionaire who wants to reopen the old line has not foreseen the opposition of Lady Bridgebolton whose land it crosses.
However, the old lady has not taken into account the resourcefulness of her grand-daughter, Lady Jane, and the firmness of her friendship with Peter, David and Arthur. Only the little girl knows that in a shed on the estate is a relic from the past that turns out to have a profound significance for David. Downstream from Darnley Mills lies the estuary and the new home of the retired Admiral. On an island the deadly rivals of our old friends lie in wait to play their part in the war between schoolboys that is about to break out. None of them can suspect that after the campaign is over the weather will change and the real danger begin. All the boys know that the time for youthful adventures will be soon over and they will have to face the real world.
Devil's Nob (Historical Cycle)
The struggle of Taffy Hughes to help his childhood friend, Sarah Thurgood, look after her motherless family, makes deep demands on his courage and determination. Rewards do not necessarily come from hard work alone. The demands of slate quarrying and the ugliness of poverty are well conveyed. However, there is also the tenderness and strength that comes from a relationship that will ultimately be fulfilled.
Powder Quay (Historical Cycle)
The hero of both "Steam on the Line" and "Devil's Nob", Taffy Hughes, has a smaller part to play in this story of the opening year of the First World War. Yet, in the face of his double personal tragedy, he forces himself on to make his contribution to the country's efforts. Young Midshipman Richard Bridgebolton has an even more demanding ordeal to go through, involving survival in an open boat with injured men and a sketchy notion of which direction to go in. Sustained by the thoughts of lovely Emma, he rallies all his resources in an effort to prove himself worthy of the family name
Dunkirk Summer (Historical Cycle)
This is perhaps the best book of the nine. It's the story of a community awakening to the full horrors of the war and of young man and a young woman realising for the first time the full possibilities of their love. For a long time, like Andy Birch, the hero, the reader comes to Darnley Mills as a stranger once more. Then the charm of the familiar places, especially All Saints Church and its rectory, and some of our old favourite characters begins to exert itself. Twenty years later it is the world that will be inherited by David, Peter and Arthur but only if the community survives Hitler and his bombs. No longer a boy, not quite a man, seventeen year old Andy faces up to his future.
Skull Island (Modern Cycle)
Peter and David have taken their 'A' levels. Arthur is already at agricultural college. Their boyhood is behind them. The world beyond Darnley Mills beckons to each of them. Yet for one last adventure they are together again. The old Darnley Mills is still there for them to return to but their voyage takes them to the Shetland Isles in pursuit of a mystery which deeply concerns Peter's aunt. Once again the sacrifices of the past are shown to have a profound effect on the present as, for the last time, Philip Turner shows us how each generation is bound to the next. The themes of lost love and reconciliation bring both cycles of stories to a fitting end.
Somewhere in the North-East
There is a waterfall in north Yorkshire called "High Force". Is it the same waterfall in the Darnley Mills stories ? That would make the River Darnel of the stories the River Tees in reality. Are there enough slow loops and meanders in the Tees to suggest the river that flows past Bridgebolton Manor ?
Other clues that can be followed are even more puzzling. In "Sea Peril" we learn that High Force is eleven Roman signal stations to York in one direction and twelve to the Roman Wall in the other. In "Dunkirk Summer" the German raiders have the three industrial areas to pick on – the River Tyne and Newcastle, the River Wear and Sunderland and finally the area around the estuary leading up to Darnley Mills. This surely makes it the River Tees.
So where is the town of Darnley Mills ? Is it Stockton ? Have I picked the wrong valley and it is really all about the Esk which flows into the sea at Whitby ? There are suggestions of Barnard Castle in some of the descriptions and Darlington is mentioned as the place where Arthur Ramsgill is spending his time at agricultural college. After all Stockton and Darlington are appropriate places to set a story like "Steam on the Line" which is partly about the early days of the railway.
Yet one thing we do know for certain is that the railway descriptions in that story are based on the Festiniog Railway in Wales.
Perhaps this transplanted Welsh railway system is, after all, our best clue as to where the real landscape of Darnley Mills lies – it lies in the imagination of the author and of his readers. The places and landscapes I have mentioned are no more than mere hints about the "truth".