13 Sep 1916 – the date on which Roald Dahl was born, in Llandaff, Cardiff, to parents Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Hesselberg.
Did You Know?
Roald’s name is not pronounced “Ro-ald” or “Rold” as is commonly heard in English. The correct, Norwegian pronunciation is actually “Roooo-al”, with a long stretched “Roo”, “all” like the end of ball, and a silent D.
£1.45m – the price at which Roald Dahl’s birthplace Villa Marie (now named Ty Gwyn) was put up for sale, in 2013.
Above: The former Norwegian Church in Cardiff, built in 1868 by the Norwegian Mission to Seamen, in which Roald Dahl was christened in late 1916. It was originally in Bute West Dock but was dismantled in 1987 and rebuilt in its current location in 1992, two years after Dahl’s death. Dahl was the president of the Norwegian Church Preservation Society. (Credit: Eirian Evans, via Wikimedia Commons).
Did You Know?
Roald Dahl was named after the famous Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen, who, 5 years before Dahl’s birth, led the first expedition to reach the South Pole (on 14 December 1911).
1918 – the year in which the Dahl family moved to Radyr, and into Ty Mynydd (Welsh, meaning ‘Mountain House’), an imposing Victorian farmhouse (now demolished) that Roald would later describe as “a mighty house with turrets on its roof and with majestic lawns and terraces all around it” (Boy).
150 acres – the size of the farm that came with Ty Mynydd, which included a number of farm outbuildings (including a piggery), as well as large gardens, a croquet lawn, and large greenhouses.
1967 – the year in which Ty Mynydd was demolished, when Roald was aged 50.
Above: Roald Dahl and his sisters photographed whilst on holiday in Tenby, Wales, circa 1924 (L-R: Asta, Else, Alfhild, Roald).
5 – the number of children born to Harald and Sofie; Roald and his sisters Astri, Alfhild, Else and Asta. Roald also had a half-sister, Ellen Marguerite (b: 1903), and half-brother, Louis (b: 1906), from his father’s first marriage.
Harald and Sofie’s Children
|Astri Dahl||Dec 1912 – 1920|
|Alfhild Dahl||1914 – 1967|
|Roald Dahl||13 Sep 1916 – 23 Nov 1990|
|Else Kirsten Dahl||15 Dec 1917 – Dec 1998|
|Asta Dahl||1920 –|
3 – Roald’s age when his older sister Astri died of appendicitis, aged 7, in February 1920.
He adored her beyond measure, and her sudden death left him literally speechless for days afterwards. He was so overwhelmed with grief that when he himself went down with pneumonia a month or so afterward, he did not much care whether he lived or died. – Roald Dahl on his father’s grief over Astri’s passing, from ‘Boy’.
57 – the age at which Roald’s father Harald succumbed to pneumonia and died (about a month after Astri’s death).
6 – the number of children that Sofie Magdalene Dahl (then aged 35) was left to bring up on her own; Roald, his sisters Alfhild and Else, his step-siblings Ellen and Louis, and Asta, with whom Sofie was pregnant at the time of Harald’s death. Sofie moved the family back to Llandaff and into a smaller and more modest home, Cumberland Lodge (now part of Howell School).
1921 – the year that Roald started attending kindergarten, along with his sisters Alfhild, Else and Asta, at the Elmtree House nursery school in Llandaff.
Above: The playing fields of Llandaff Cathedral School, with the cathedral in the background.
Cathedral School Llandaff
7 – the age at which Dahl left kindergarten and moved up to Llandaff Cathedral School, a Preparatory School for boys, starting there in 1923.
100 – the approximate number of boys at the Cathedral School, spread across six school Forms.
6 – the age of the youngest, First Form pupils.
12 – the age of the oldest, Sixth Form pupils.
4 – the number of boys with whom Roald walked to and from school, and who formed the gang involved in his most notorious childhood prank, The Great Mouse Plot. (see panel, below)
2 – the number of memories of Llandaff school that Roald recounts in his autobiography Boy (1984); these were of idolising a senior boy who came hurtling past Roald one school morning, riding a bike hands-free, and of the sweet shop that would later be the scene of his Mouse Plot mischief.
6p – the amount that Roald and his friends received in pocket money each week, most of which was spent at the sweet shop.
2 – the number of varieties of sweet that Roald favoured; Liquorice Bootlaces and Sherbert Suckers.
Did You Know?
One of Roald’s friends, a boy named Thwaites, had a father who was a doctor. The boy would recount his father’s claim that Liquorice Bootlaces were made from rats’ blood, extracted by boiling and pulping the vermin into ‘rat-mash’. The doctor also claimed that the rats were killed using a poison that remained in the sweets, and which turned children into pointy-teethed, rat-tailed, ‘ratitis’ suffers. Thwaites avoided the sweets, but they remained a firm favourite with Roald.
2p – the amount that Dr Thwaites claimed a Ratcatcher got paid for each rat delivered to the Liquorice Bootlace Factory.
2 – the number of Bootlaces the boys could buy for a penny, the same price as two Sherbert Suckers. These were the cheapest options in the shop, the reason they were Roald’s favourite sweets.
1 – the number of Gobstoppers a penny could buy.
1 hour – the length of time Roald could suck a Gobstopper.
4 – the number of colours that a Gobstopper would go through; pink then blue then green then yellow.
Above: The former site of the sweetshop in Roald Dahl’s boyhood home of Llandaff, Wales, in which the young Roald played his prank on the proprietor, Mrs Pratchett. A blue plaque was erected in 2009 to commemorate the role that the shop played in Dahl’s life and autobiography, Boy (Credit: Jvhertum / Eirian Evans, via Wikimedia Commons).
The Great Mouse Plot
The sweet shop that Roald and his friends frequented, in the village of Llandaff, was run by a frightening woman called Mrs Pratchett, who Roald would later describe as “a small skinny old hag with a moustache on her upper lip and a mouth as sour as a green gooseberry” and who would fish out sweets with hands that were “disgusting…black with dirt and grime” (Boy, 1984).
9 – Roald’s age at the time of the incident.
September 1925 – the month and year in which the Plot took place.
6p – the minimum amount you had to spend in Mrs Pratchett’s shop if you expected to be given a bag; otherwise your sweets were given to you wrapped in old newspaper.
1p – the amount that Thwaites spent to distract Mrs Pratchett, buying just one Liquorice Bootlace and one Sherbert Sucker.
After Roald and four accomplices received a severe caning for ‘The Great Mouse Plot’ (in which they terrorised the village sweetshop owner, Mrs Pratchett, by placing a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers), his furious mother Sofie first reprimanded the headmaster and then withdrew Roald from Llandaff the following term.
St. Peter’s Preparatory School
1925 – the year that Roald was removed from Llandaff Cathedral School by his mother and moved to a boarding school, St. Peter’s Preparatory School in Weston–super–Mare, aged 9.
Repton Public School
1930 – the year in which Roald, now aged 13, moved on to Repton Public School in the village of Repton, Derbyshire. He joined in the January, a term later than most of the other pupils, and stayed in The Priory on High Street (still a boys’ house for the school today).
2 – the number of pet mice that Roald kept at this time, Marmaduke and Montague. He had to leave them at home when he left for Repton.
12 – the typical number of new chocolate bars that the confectioner Cadburys would occasionally send to Roald and his fellow Priory House boys at Repton Public School, for the purposes of sampling and reviewing. The boys would taste the chocolate ‘blind’ and complete a checklist to give marks for each new product.
17 – the age at which Roald left Repton Public School, in July 1934.
No, thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to wonderful faraway places like Africa or China. – Roald’s response to his mother when offered the option of going on to study at either Oxford or Cambridge.