The Secret Staircase at 40

The year is 1983, following on from the success of the first four seasons of Brambly Hedge in 1980, Jill embarked on her next adventure. It would take her illustrations to a new level of detail and her imagination down the many corridors and spiral staircases of the Old Oak Palace. Book five, or as it’s now known, The Secret Staircase, marks its 40th anniversary this winter.

Jill’s midwinter tale follows Wilfred and Primrose’s adventure through the Old Oak Palace after they find a key to hidden door that leads them to a long-forgotten grand hall high in the upper reaches of the palatial tree. Here they find vintage hats and costumes, perfect for their starring role in the midwinter celebrations due to take place that evening.

We all have our traditions at this time of year, the mice of Brambly Hedge are no exception. The midwinter log is hauled along the frosty hedgerow by the mice, the centre piece of the midwinter celebration. Once lit, a toast is made to the coming summer, followed by an evening feasting and making merry by the fire.

“Roast the Chestnuts, heat the wine,

Pass the cups along the line,

Gather round, the log burns bright,

It’s warm as toast inside tonight”

 From The Secret Staircase

The Brambly Hedge mice celebrate their midwinter festival ‘when the days are the shortest and the sun is the weakest’, on the day of the year when the Earth’s pole in the northern hemisphere is furthest from the sun, Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. This usually falls on the 21st December, but varies from year to year and place to place. In 2023 here in the UK it will fall on the 22nd December…at 3.27am to be precise.

We will be celebrating The Secret Staircase throughout December with illustrations, throwbacks, and sketches on our social media. If you’ve not yet read The Secret Staircase, you can find it here. If you would like to share your thoughts, photos, and memories feel free to tag us or use #SecretStaircase40.


Winter 2023 Update

Our winter season started with a suitably seasonal frost and a freezing wind. The cold weather arrived just in time for the Toadflax family to take centre stage on the front cover of Country Life magazine. Wilfred, Teasel, Clover, and Catkin formed the backdrop to the advent calendar edition of the magazine, with various seasonal wildlife behind each calendar door.

Talking of calendar dates, the 2024 calendar has just sold out, however you may still be able to find one at bookshops across the UK including Waterstones. There will be a new calendar coming along next year, but that’s a wrap for the 2024 edition! There are still a few 2024 pocket Year Planners available in case you need to note down dates for your 2024 midwinter celebrations!

Elsewhere at Brambly Hedge we had very busy autumn. The launch of the new Jigsaw Book, which features the ‘Gathered Around the Hearth’ illustration from The Secret Staircase, amongst many other 12-piece seasonal jigsaws to complete.

The Winter Story puzzle has proved incredibly popular, so much so that it has also sold out as I write, but we have a managed to get hold of a couple more boxes (which hopefully will have arrived when this goes to press), once those are gone, that’s it for this year’s puzzle deliveries.

It has been a great year for the Brambly Hedge Hornbeam tree, after being rediscovered, it has featured on TV and in various newspaper and magazine articles. In November it was featured as a ‘Hornbeam Hero’ for a Country Life magazine write up on the history of the Hornbeam tree. A cross-section print of the Brambly Hedge Hornbeam has been commissioned in celebration of the rediscovery of the Toadflax family home.

We have been busy preparing for 2024, there’s plenty of very exciting plans for Brambly Hedge on the way. Many of you have been asking for this one…there will be a Brambly Hedge Colouring Book coming in 2024!

There will be a new Brambly Hedge Trail launching in Spring! Details to follow in the New Year.

We also have new products on the way, including a notebook and a pencil case. There will be more jigsaws, prints, and cards too.

The rain and wind has turned the frosty ground to a muddy mire here, but it’s time to bring the outside in (and not just on our muddy boots!). We are getting ourselves ready for the festive celebrations, collecting ivy, holly, and wind fall tree branches to hang our decorations from.

The Winter Solstice is an event often overshadowed by Christmas, but it has long been celebrated throughout history, especially on these weather-beaten isles. It was an important day for Jill, a day that signalled hope, and for her mice it’s the main event…from there on the days get lighter!

So here’s to 40 years of The Secret Staircase and Merry Midwinter to you all!



“When the days are the shortest, the nights are the coldest,

The frost is the sharpest, the year is the oldest,

The sun is the weakest, the wind is the hardest,

The snow is the deepest, the skies are the darkest,

Then polish your whiskers and tidy your nest,

And dress in your richest and finest and best,

For winter has brought you the worst it can bring,

And now it will give you

The promise of SPRING!”


From The Secret Staircase

Pete Barklem

Mid-December 2023