Bristol is a city and county in South West England. It is England's sixth and the United Kingdom's eighth most populous city, and the most populous city in Southern England after London.

Bellairs in Urbs

Following his year-long teaching stint at Shimer College, Bellairs decided he was "going to go to England to write for a year or so.[1]" There was of course the matter of where he would live. At some point he settled in Bristol and lodged at 13 Cotham Gardens[2], a boarding house owned and/or operated by a woman named Elizabeth Pimm. The Cotham Gardens neighborhood – not to be confused with the similarly named city park about a half mile to the northeast – was experiencing a distinct downturn in its profile during Bellairs's time, though now reversed. Much as it was during the 1960s, the area has numerous flats and boarding houses for visitors to rent.

While there Bellairs made a friend in David Morris, described as a "very distinguished-looking older man" and who may have earned his living as a security guard in a factory or hotel – in short, "a job for which he had a uniform, but he was a committed amateur artist and traveler." Bellairs and Morris would meet up again when Bellairs took his family overseas in 1975[3].

Bellairs's original plan of a year overseas was cut in half when in January he returned to the United States on the Queen Elizabeth II[4]. Taking up residence in Boston, Bellairs explained his decision to his friends, including Bowen, of how the money didn't exactly pour in and told of "being cold and wretched in Bristol, constantly needing a shilling to put in the gas meter." Bowen believes he made the decision to come back when he was, to use an English expression, "cutting his suit to fit his cloth.[5]"

From this holiday, however short, Bellairs returned with early drafts of a story he had been tinkering with involving a new character named Prospero. Bristol and a number of landmarks would later go on to feature in his 1990 novel, The Secret of the Underground Room.

Bellairs Corpus

The Secret of the Underground Room (1990) is centered almost entirely in southwest England, with major stops in Bristol:

  • Cabot Tower
  • Clifton Suspension Bridge
  • Church of Saint Mary Redcliffe
  • Christmas Steps


  1. Correspondence from John Bellairs to Shimer College administration (Nov. 30, 1966).
  2. Correspondence with John Drew.
  3. Correspondence with Priscilla Bellairs.
  4. Correspondence from John Bellairs to John Drew (Jan. 16, 1968).
  5. Correspondence with Charles Bowen.