Discovered in Windsor: the hidden home of Roald Dahl’s BFG
A BBC documentary about the life of Roald Dahl, airing for the first time on Tuesday 13 September, the centenary of the author’s birth, will shed light on the true home of one of his best-loved characters, the BFG. The house is revealed as none other than former royal residence and hidden gem of Windsor Great Park, Cumberland Lodge.
At the end of The BFG, fresh from helping the Queen of England by rounding up the world’s man-eating giants, the BFG and his friend Sophie are rewarded with lavish gifts from around the world, including a “special house” from the Queen.
The book reads: “The Queen herself gave orders that a special house with tremendous high ceilings and enormous doors should immediately be built in Windsor Great Park, next to her own castle, for the BFG to live in. And a pretty little cottage was put up next door for Sophie.”
The “special house” almost certainly alludes to the largest property in the Great Park, Cumberland Lodge. The beautiful Grade II listed building has been part of the Crown Estate since the second half of the 17th century and since 1947 has housed an educational foundation with a mission to facilitate open discussion and the exchange of views on some of the big ethical and social issues of the day.
It was King George VI who granted the building to the foundation back in 1947, an arrangement continued by The Queen, who is the foundation’s Patron.
The reference to Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park appears to have been a private joke on the part of Dahl, who spent much of his childhood living in a relatively modest house in Cardiff, also called Cumberland Lodge.
In his autobiographical book, Boy: Tales of Childhood, Dahl describes how his mother moved the family to Cumberland Lodge, Cardiff, shortly after the death of his father. It is described as “a smaller and more manageable house…it was nothing more than a pleasant medium-sized suburban villa”.
The seemingly unlikely connection was highlighted by Ann Alston and Heather Worthington in the essay they contributed to Roald Dahl: Wales of the Unexpected, a collection of academic essays published by University of Wales Press this year and edited by Professor Damian Walford Davies, Head of the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at the University of Cardiff.
Dahl’s own complex relationship with his Anglo-Welsh heritage is present in subtle ways throughout his writings for children and adults and in his wider world view. The book reveals the place of Wales in Dahl’s imagination and the many different ways in which his Welsh identity was expressed.
“Dahl would almost certainly have known of Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park and the connection with the name of his former childhood home In Llandaff, Cardiff is no coincidence”, explains Professor Walford Davies.
“As Wales of the Unexpected shows, the figure of the Big Friendly Giant in The BFG, and his trajectory from the ‘margins’ to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Great Park, can be read as Dahl’s anxious reflection on his own cultural trajectory – from Cardiff boy to ‘English’ author. In imagining an ‘Establishment’ English home for the BFG at the end of the book, Dahl is also summoning a Welsh location. The tension is characteristic of his work.
“He was a man characterised by multiple identities (Welsh, English, Norwegian, American), moving between contrasting locations and social circles. He never stopped reimagining Wales in his work and struggled with conflicting desires to champion the underdog while craving Establishment approval.”
Canon Dr Edmund Newell, Principal of Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park, said: “As a fan of Roald Dahl myself, I was intrigued to discover that Cumberland Lodge is actually the BFG’s fictional home.In real life we’re an educational charity and while we don’t round up disruptive giants and store bottled dreams in our cellar like the BFG did, we do seek to inspire creative thinking and stimulate debate around important issues like how to respond to the challenges of extremism and divisions in society and build more cohesive communities. We’re very fortunate to have been granted the use of this former royal residence by Her Majesty the Queen.”
Professor Walford Davies continued: “Wales is present in Dahl’s work in ways that are not necessarily explicit. The unspoken, hidden ‘in’ joke at the end of The BFG is a profoundly serious one – the expression of a dual identity. His childhood Cumberland Lodge is now part of Howell’s School here in Cardiff, and Dahl’s links with the property are well-known and still celebrated.”
The BFG is also the subject of a film co-produced by Steven Spielberg, released in July 2016 to coincide with Roald Dahl’s centenary year.
Great Welsh Writers: Roald Dahl, the new BBC television documentary, will air this Tuesday evening on BBC Wales at 10.40pm and will be available on BBC iPlayer afterwards.