Sleuthing students solve Wodehouse castle mystery
Blandings theory overturned
PG Wodehouse invented eccentric, aristocratic characters who lived in big country houses and popped up again and again, and he frequently located them at Blandings Castle, somewhere in Shropshire.
Wodehouse himself never revealed the identity of the castle in which the absent-minded Lord Emsworth lived through seven novels, with his brother Galahad and their 10 formidable sisters. But the search for the mysterious Blandings has preoccupied Wodehouse fans ever since.
Three books have already been written on the subject, putting Blandings in different places. One clue was the train to Market Blandings station - three hours and 41 minutes from London, and supposedly two-and-a-half miles from the castle; Edwardian train timetables were examined.
Norman Murphy, retired president of the PG Wodehouse Society, spent almost two years in the British Library looking for clues. He then visited every big house in Shropshire to compare the descriptions in the books with the physical features of the houses and parks. He came up with Weston Park, Telford, for the park, and Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire for the house.
But at the Royal Geographical Society Conference in London, two geographers who used the latest computer technology yesterday announced a different answer: Apley Hall in Shropshire, which they reckon a 98% certainty.
Ian Greatbatch, 30, and Daryl Lloyd, 25, both admit to being obsessive Wodehouse fans. Their research at University College London involves interrogating computer maps to find the best place for Tesco supermarkets. Over a pint one night they decided that it might be more fun using their Geographical Information Systems to build a computer model to find Blandings.
The first thing they did was to re-read all the Blandings novels, and the short stories that mention the castle, for geographical references.
Key clues were that the river Severn ran through or close to the grounds, there was a boating lake, the driveway was three-quarters of a mile long, and it was possible to see the highest point in Shropshire, the Wrekin, from the grounds. Another clue was that the castle was a 45 minute drive from Shrewsbury - in the 1920s that meant 20 miles an hour.
They fed all the information into their mapping system and the computer identified just one area that matched all the clues: Hifnal near Telford, which led them to Apley Hall.
Daryl Lloyd said: "It was a very nice result. We looked up the house on the internet and there it was - Blandings Castle, tower and battlements, exactly like the description in the books." Mr Greatbatch added: "What was uncanny was that Norman Murphy looked at Apley and thought it matched but later settled on Weston Park. But he was looking at different features, like the architecture and features in the books that were not to do with geography. We looked at completely different clues and came up with the same name."
The house was built in 1811, and the castle features were added in Victorian times. Apley Hall was a private house until 1962 and then a boarding school until 1987, when it began to fall into disrepair. It now has a new owner and is being refurbished.
The claim is likely to divide Wodehouse fans. Mr Murphy, now 70, said: "I think it's a nice try, but rubbish. Apley is not old enough, it does not have a cedar tree in the kitchen garden or an odd-shaped pond.
"Blandings was 15th century and Sudeley Castle is 1441, perfect."
The Apley Hall identification will not go down well at Sudeley either. Its owner, Henry Dent-Brocklehurst, runs an annual Wodehouse festival. No one at the castle was available to comment yesterday.