Bill and Susan Melbury live with their mother in a rented flat, barely making ends meet after their father left, when suddenly the bequest of their mother’s Cousin Fay changes everything. Fay has left her a cottage beside a lake in England’s Lake District on the condition that she and her family live there year round. The Melburys decide to make the move, and are soon living in the cottage outside the small town of Bannermere at the southern end of the lake of the same name, in Bannerdale Valley, under the shadow of Black Banner, a crag hanging over the east side of the lake. They all love the small cottage and the surrounding wild lands. Bill and Susan’s mother is not sure how she can make a living there, but an idea arises when a hiker arrives and asks if they serve tea. Before long, the cottage is serving tea and scones to hikers regularly. Cousin Fay has even left them a small rowboat housed in a boathouse on the lake’s edge across the road from the cottage. But when Bill and Susan take the boat out to a small island in the lake opposite the big manor house of the local rich landowner, Sir Alfred, they are soon in trouble. Sir Alfred turns up with complaints to their mother and insists that no boats are allowed on Lake Bannermere. He doesn’t exactly own the lake, but he owns most of the land around it, including the patch where the boathouse is, so the children reluctantly give up their imagined boating adventures. Everyone is annoyed about this, including their farmer neighbor, who has nothing good to say about Sir Alfred.
Bill and Susan are enrolled in schools in nearby Winthwaite, each segregated by sex. Bill is intimidated by the stern aged headmaster of his school, but he soon makes a good friend there, Tim, who fancies himself an amateur detective. Susan also finds a good friend, Penny, and the four children begin spending time together on weekends and after school. Sir Alfred’s odd, secretive behavior becomes their obsession. They’re sure he’s hiding something, and digging operations on his land suggest he might be looking for buried treasure. Gradually the children find out more, while barely escaping Sir Alfred’s men. What are they after, and is the small island in the lake part of the mystery?
I’m not sure when I first read this book, but probably in the 1970s. I knew the author’s historical novels, I’d tried a few and liked them pretty well, but this one about more modern children and a mystery about buried treasure was much more to my liking. A few years ago I learned that it was the first book of a five book series, but the only one published in America. The Bannermere series had been popular enough in England, but I guess Trease’s American publishers didn’t think it would sell well enough here to put out the rest. I looked for them online and found them rare and high priced. Books two to five had even been reprinted by a small specialty publisher of British school stories, Girls Gone By, in the early 2000s, but those editions were also scarce, out of print, and highly priced. This year I decided my curiosity needed to be satisfied, and I bought the rest of the books, paying more than I’d like. I’ve read and enjoyed them all, but hesitate to recommend them here, as I know they are priced out of most readers’ budgets. Perhaps if you’re in England you’d have better luck finding them in libraries. I enjoyed them all, the series is a rare one where the children grow and age through the series, ending in college years, and each book has its mystery, but the real charm is the engaging characters.
Meanwhile, “No Boats On Bannermere” is not too hard to find in America in libraries and perhaps as a used book, and if you can find it, I think you’ll enjoy it. Someone could make money getting the rights and putting these out as ebooks.