Southchurch Hall, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Ann Limond, Secretary

I came to England from Calcutta as a small child and grew up in Southend, a seaside town full of fun places for children to go. But when I revisited the place, it was Southchurch Hall I most wanted to see and when I walked through the gates I was transported back in time.

I’m about twelve years old. It’s a cold November afternoon with a hint of watery sunshine. My friend Joan and I are on our Saturday pilgrimage to the library. Ah, but what a library – an Elizabethan manor house set in a wooded park. We cross the bridge over the moat. Here come the black swans gliding into view, haughtily looking down their magenta bills and swishing their curly tail feathers like Victorian ladies in mourning.

We push open the heavy oak door of the library and go inside. The old dragon of a librarian glares at us but even she cannot spoil the charm of the place – the warmth, the silence and the smell of beeswax, books and ancient oak.

We head for the children’s section and spend the next hour lost in a world of make-believe, but how am I to choose just two books to borrow? When it’s closing time, I shyly put three books on the counter, expecting the dragon to spit fire, but she just stamps them and gives me a little wink.

It’s dusk now and we hurry home, kicking our way through the piles of fallen leaves. It’s cold and I’m longing for the warmth of home, dinner and then the joy of reading ‘til bed time.

I loved that library then and I love it now, even though the black swans and the old librarian and her books are long gone and it is now just a museum. Could there ever be a more evocative, magical place? Not for me.