When I was a young kid, I often dreamed of finding a secret room – especially one only I could get into. There was a section of wall in the house which always seemed like a good candidate for finding such a hidden room, right by the doors to my and my sisters’ rooms, never mind that my parents’ room was on the other side of it. It made sense in six-year-old dream logic.
I grew up in a Victorian terrace, which was in truth replete with nooks and crannies: a cupboard under the stairs akin to the one Harry Potter grew up in; an oddly-shaped attic; a huge cellar… another secret room seemed plausible. And the houses in books like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe seemed very much like my childhood home* – just with older furniture in them than we had.
Then the belief in secret and hidden rooms was reinforced by visits to my grandparents’ houses. My mother’s parents lived in a bungalow** with hidden rooms in the cellar, and then my paternal grandparents lived in an old*** bakery in Oxfordshire which had started out as a complicated enough building (as conversions of industrial buildings often do) but had been added to and extended over the years so that everywhere you went there was another hidden room behind a narrow door and a vertiginous stair.
So it never seemed so improbable to have a hidden room, somehow – magical, perhaps, but a mundane magic rather than a wild fantasy.
Then it happened to me.
When I bought a house in Britain my then partner and I viewed the house and we believed that we’d seen all the rooms – three bedrooms, kitchen, a couple of reception rooms, and so on. It was about two weeks after taking possession that I closed the door between the scullery**** and kitchen and there it was: a door I had never seen before.
It was just a cupboard under the stairs, but still: it was a new room where none was expected and I felt that thrill of finding something unexpected and a glimmer of hope that it would be as wonderful as I had hoped.
That’s the kind of wonder you don’t get often in your life.
[*] which was of course wrong, because we didn’t live in a big house in the country, we lived in a narrow terrace in a small town. And I am pretty sure that the professor’s sprawling pile was built a lot earlier than 1890. But, again… six.
[**] in the British sense of being a single-level house, rather than the American sense of being an architectural style with as many floors as you like. I once viewed a house in Portland which was billed as bungalow but had four floors.
[***] as in actually old – 17th century, I think.
[****] too grand a word for a connecting hallway, but it was where the washing machine lived so it’s appropriate.