October 25, 2019

Tome-ward bound: museum shopper reunited with childhood book


A garden on the Trentham Estate, Staffordshire, inspired by Burnett’s classic (Mainlymazza, WikiCommons [CC BY-SA 4.0])

Remember the chicken in trousers?

You know, the chicken in trousers. From 2018. The chicken. In trousers. Okay fine here’s the link. Revel in it, then return.

Anyway, the originators of the betrousered chicken story, The Museum of English Rural Life in Reading (a.k.a the MERL)—who boast perhaps the greatest museum social media team on this whole earth—are at it again. This week, they told the story, via Twitter, of a remarkable reunion.

The museum’s shop buyers, looking for a way to diversify their range, settled on second-hand books as an appealing addition to their stock. Scouring the local charity shops for inspiration, they happened upon a lovely old edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 masterpiece The Secret Gardenand acquired it for the shop.

The edition, it seems, was owned by sisters Zoe and Hannah Andrews, whose names were written in some kind of rudimentary hieroglyphics in the endpapers. The girls evidently loved and then outgrew the book, passing it on until it eventually ended up in Oxfam Books in Woodley.

So far, so unremarkable, right? Well it’s about to get crazy.

Because, while the now-adult Zoe Andrews was perusing the shelves of the MERL last Friday, some 25 years after she estimates she passed the book on, it returned to her. She picked it off the shelf and, seeing those distinctive inscriptions, realised it was the same edition she had owned all those years ago…

Rounding up the story, the Guardian quoted Andrews’ tweet on the subject:

“When things work their way back to you, they were never meant to leave you in the first place… it feels right to have the book back”

The MERL was promptly inundated with tales of books returning to their owners, which leaves us to conclude that books are, indeed, magic. But then, you knew that already.



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.