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Geographers Use Computer to Find Castle

September 5, 2003

LONDON (AP) _ Blandings Castle, the stately home where Lord Emsworth daydreamed and the porcine Empress wallowed, has been found _ maybe.

The castle, setting for a series of books by comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse, is fictional _ but that has not stopped obsessive fans from trying to locate it.

Drawing on descriptions in Wodehouse’s novels, a pair of geographers from University College London used computer modeling to pinpoint the location of the castle where vague Lord Emsworth lived with his fearsome sisters and his prize-winning pig, the Empress of Blandings.

It’s Apley Hall, near Telford in the central English county of Shropshire.

``It’s no surprise to me,″ said the home’s owner, Neil Avery. ``We knew all along Apley Hall was Blandings Castle.″

Wodehouse, creator of buffoonish Bertie Wooster and his all-knowing manservant Jeeves, spent his teenage summers in Shropshire. He said in a 1971 interview that ``Blandings was a sort of mixture of places I remembered.″

In books such as ``Pigs Have Wings″ and ``A Pelican at Blandings,″ Wodehouse describes Blandings as lying near the Severn river, a 45-minute ``not very fast″ drive from Shrewsbury. The nearest railway station, Market Blandings, was said to be three hours and 41 minutes’ journey from London.

Ian Greatbatch and David Lloyd, who presented their findings at the Royal Geographical Society’s conference in London this week, fed the clues through computer software more commonly used to help supermarkets choose locations for new stores.

``We thought it would be interesting to see whether modern computer cartography techniques could be applied to the science of literature,″ said Lloyd, 25.

They came up with Apley Hall, an early 19th-century Gothic mansion within an 8,500-acre park a few miles from Wodehouse’s childhood home.

``It looks exactly how I imagined Blandings to look,″ said Greatbatch, 31. ``It’s weird.″

Unsurprisingly, given the obsessive devotion of Wodehouse fans, this is not the first attempt to locate the comic castle.

The late Wodehouse scholar Richard Usborne thought it was Buildwas Park, a few miles west of Lloyd and Greatbatch’s site.

Norman Murphy, in his 1981 book ``In Search of Blandings,″ argues for nearby Weston Park as the setting, though he thought Sudely Castle in neighboring Gloucestershire was the model for the house.

``He was looking at architecture, we were looking at geography. The fact we’ve come up with something different is not surprising,″ said Lloyd.

``We were never out to show that the previous research was wrong. We’re just adding to the knowledge.″

Avery, who bought Apley House two years ago and is restoring it after years of neglect, said Wodehouse fans had contacted him about setting up some kind of memorial to the author, who died in the United States in 1975.

``Somebody wants to have a P.G. Wodehouse theme park here,″ he said. ``If it was done in good taste, it could be OK.″


On the Net:

Apley Hall: http://www.apleyhall.com

Wodehouse’s Shropshire connections:


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