Kids like having a special place to play away from the prying eyes of adults. When I was a kid we went underground, or under the house. It was too low for adults, and we got pretty dirty crawling around, but that’s what made it special. My brother, the future techie, hooked up tin cans with string so we could communicate even though it was easier to just call out. And besides, he was a boy so I didn’t talk to him much anyway. Bu I loved hearing the distant voices, the adult footfalls above us, as if from a different planet.
The ultimate den has to be a treehouse, where they can be far above the world, inventing stories and rules for their own special realm. Jane Field-Lewis has published what looks like a fascinating book, ‘My Cool Treehouse: an inspirational guide to stylish treehouses.
She describes a simple DIY treehouse from the Netherlands that can be strapped to a tree, two built on an organic lavender farm in Italy, a Brooklyn backyard house built from scavenged materials, built around an old mulberry tree, and a bird apartment in Japan.
But my favourite is this one, claimed to be the oldest – in the grounds of one of England’s finest Elizabethan houses, the Grade I listed Pritchard Hall. It was first recorded in 1692, renovated in 1760 and 1980. It rests in the heart of an ancient large leafed lime tree, with steel columns for support. It echoes the style of the main house, with its exposed wood outlining white panels. But has a single Gothic shaped window on each side, with a half glazed door. Princess Victoria, aged 13, visited the house in 1832, describing it as “a curious looking but very comfortable house” She climbed it to view the local hunt, which suggests the origin of these houses. The Tudor age saw the decline of royal hunts as training and leisure for the king and court, as hunting with bows and arrows was replaced with guns, and hunts became more managed, more entertainment, so animals were directed to hides or stands where animals could be easily killed, especially by the rich, with little or no training.