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Here be treasure

June 16, 2011

The problem with having a pirate in the family is that the lust for treasure does tend to take over all our lives occasionally. Not only treasure, in fact, but also the hunt for the perfect chest to put it in. We have made treasure chests out of cardboard, clay and paper. We have painted them, drawn on them, stuck stickers on them. We have even saved up pocket money and bought a sturdy little plastic one. But none of them is quite right.

Last weekend, the pirate’s father had a brainwave. ‘I think,’ said he, ‘I know where we might find a real treasure chest. I think there might be one in… the dungeon.’

This is the wonderful thing about growing up in a castle. There really is a dungeon. Well, no, that’s not quite true. As far as I know it was never actually used for chaining up disagreeable guests. It used to be known as the muniment room, in the days when the family papers were kept in locked chests in the castle rather than deposited in a national storage facility. But if you come with us on the treasure hunt, I’m sure you’ll agree that the new name suits it better.

First, we unlock a heavy wooden door with a huge key. We are leaving the parts of the castle used by the family: there is a cold draft seeping through the keyhole. Stooping under the low stone lintel, we find ourselves in a dark, arched passage. Why, you might ask, are there those corroded iron rings hanging at intervals from the ceiling? Your guess is as good as mine….

At one end, the passage is lit by pale light filtering down the spiral staircase of an empty tower.

Deep-set windows help to show us our way towards the dungeon. Beware, though: there are creatures lurking here that have stood guard since long before you or I were born.

At the darkest end of the passage, we come at last to the dungeon. It is at the base of the oldest tower in the castle, with walls many feet thick and no windows. We can’t see its door in the gloom, so we have to fumble for the handle and reach into the cold, cobwebby blackness within to find the light switch. (Can you tell that this is my worst moment? Thank goodness for the stout-hearted electrician who installed the light.) By the dim bulb, we can make out that the door is built of ancient oak planks studded with iron nails. There are ragged holes where the old latch used to be; an incongruously domestic-looking brass door handle has been substituted at some point. Around the old latch, you can still see the remains of coloured sealing wax on the wood. Presumably the muniments were kept sealed up to prevent theft or tampering. Let us hope that the scribe was not sealed up with them…

But what is this we can glimpse within? Not a skeleton, but something almost as astonishing. Under the low vaulted roof, blackened by fire generations ago, the room is packed with broken suitcases, cardboard packing cases, an old wicker laundry basket, and…. well, what do you suppose our young pirate thought this was?

This was worth a quest down any number of spooky dark passages. It is, as anyone can see, quite obviously a real treasure chest. It even has an old label, stained with some mysterious green liquid, saying in which part of the ship’s hold it should be stowed:

'Butlers Pantry'

Squeaky with excitement, the pirate captain gives orders to his daddy to break open the chest. At last the buckle is undone, the lid is creaked back. Inside, gleaming slightly where it catches the light, is a large pile of carefully folded tissue paper. Under the tissue paper…more tissue paper. And more tissue paper. And at the very bottom, lining the chest: a copy of The Times from September 1935.

Of course, it would have been very nice if the treasure chest had been full of pirate gold. Once over the initial anticlimax, though, the pirate and his parents came away well pleased. I love old newspapers. This one tells us what Mussolini is up to in Africa, and advertises that The Times Diary of The Season, 1935, is now available, price sixpence. We read that, for six guineas, the discerning gentleman can find the perfect summer suit from Harrods,

and that he can relax after a hard day’s fishing with a smoke in the bath.

' "Do you smoke in your bath?" "Yes, but only Wills's Gold Flake." '


The pirate himself, meanwhile, is extremely content. He has finally tracked down a real, full-size, antique treasure chest. His father is happy too, because the pirate has requested the treasure chest for his birthday, which sorts out the annual present headache. It seems, then, that there be treasure in this here dungeon after all. Towers, treasure chests and dungeons: no wonder our littlest boy spends half his days dressed as a knight or a pirate. I feel very lucky to be able to share this childhood with him.


See also: A-vast! (birthday cake, that is)

28 Comments leave one →
  1. Erika W. permalink
    June 16, 2011 6:11 pm

    Completely enchanting.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 16, 2011 7:09 pm

      Thank you, I’m glad.

  2. June 16, 2011 6:14 pm

    He is the luckiest little boy pirate that ever lived.

    and that newspaper is priceless! the idea of discussing smoking in the bath while fishing…. words fail.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 16, 2011 7:11 pm

      Isn’t he – and isn’t it? The ads are my favourite bits of old papers, they provide such an amusing social commentary.

  3. hmunro permalink
    June 16, 2011 6:46 pm

    What a MARVELOUS post you’ve treated us to, DB! beautifully written and illustrated — I felt as if I’d been there with you. What a privilege. Thanks so much …

    (P.S.: I really do hope to be able to pay you a visit someday. Those dark passageways and empty-tower staircases look ever so mysterious and alluring!)

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 16, 2011 7:11 pm

      Hah, thought they’d tempt you! 😉

  4. June 16, 2011 6:57 pm

    I’m super jealous of your pirate chest and dungeon!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 16, 2011 7:13 pm

      Aw – at least I can share the pictures and the story! Thanks for dropping by again.

  5. Margie permalink
    June 16, 2011 8:11 pm

    I just love your tales from the castle!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 16, 2011 9:16 pm

      Great, thank you! I do keep meaning to write more about it…

  6. Margaret Lambert permalink
    June 16, 2011 9:24 pm

    This was delightful, we all enjoyed following along behind, through cobwebs and past the Fox Guardian. I’ll share this one with daughter and grandsons. They will all wish for towers and treasure chests.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 17, 2011 12:31 pm

      Oh, thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the fun. This is certainly a fabulous place for children, and my boys love thundering up the towers with their friends to show them the best (i.e. spookiest/ most cobwebby/ most -dangerous-as-far-as-parents-are-concerned) bits.

  7. June 16, 2011 9:55 pm

    Love love love those first two shots!! And have I mentioned how jealous I am??

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 17, 2011 12:33 pm

      I don’t know whether to say thanks or sorry! 😉

  8. June 17, 2011 3:58 am

    Loved your opening sentence! Great post and pictures. I always wanted to live in a lighthouse, and those steps remind me of one. What a way to live!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 17, 2011 12:34 pm

      Thank you very much. Yes, it’s certainly an unusual life, which is why it’s fun to write about it sometimes. Thank you for visiting!

  9. Toffeeapple permalink
    June 17, 2011 1:22 pm

    What a super story. I’d have loved living in a castle but I never did get the chance. What a lucky boy you have.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 21, 2011 12:07 pm

      Thanks. I used to dream about living in a modest little 15th Century tower house. This place started like that, but sprawled out over the centuries. I always thought – and still do – that the most important addition to home comfort would be to have a hoover on every floor! 😉

  10. June 20, 2011 8:33 pm

    This is not the first time since reading this blog but…wish I’d grown up in a castle!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 21, 2011 12:08 pm

      Castles are headaches for parents, but very heaven for children!

  11. June 20, 2011 10:12 pm

    The journey seems as exciting as the discovery. And fathers are delighted when a present is found for free.

    I’m more enthralled by the copy of The Times. It seems incredible now that doctors used to endorse cigarette smoking. I’ve just finished reading ‘The Thirties’, by Juliet Gardiner – very good, but a bit challenging to read in bed. Extremely sophisticated reading-in-bed technique required.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 21, 2011 12:13 pm

      You recognise the father type, then!

      Old newspapers keep me happy for hours. I once found a small stash of copies of The Tatler from the thirties, too: fascinating. Your description of reading in bed is very entertaining. There are so many wonderful hard-back books and weighty tomes here that I have yet to read: bedtime is the only time I get, really, and I get fed up with being hit on the nose by heavy books. I have, perforce, become a (literal) literary lightweight.

  12. June 26, 2011 11:32 am

    Oooh thank you for letting me share in the adventure! What a magical place to grow up in and live in as an adult too! (though I know the thought of the upkeep is ever present and I don’t envy you THAT my dear!)

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 26, 2011 11:56 am

      It is magical – even for weary old adults!


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