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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Isabel Thorne

Isabel Thorne has been a name I've known for some while as she was an editor with the firm of Shurey's, which published a wide range of magazines over a period of some forty years, starting in the 1890s. Isabel Thorne was the fiction editor at Shurey's when they were publishing Yes and No and Weekly Tale-Teller prior to the Great War. Her greatest discovery was Edgar Wallace, who, in 1909, was a struggling writer, recently dismissed by the Daily Mail.

Wallace was introduced to Thorne by Shurey's manager George Beech. Although she rejected his first efforts, she bumped into Wallace again on a bus. Wallace was on his way to talk at a meeting of the Congo Reform Association and, as they were talking, Thorne realised that Wallace's conversational stories would make the perfect basis for a series of tales. Thus was born Sanders of the River and Lieutenant 'Bones' Tibbetts.

Thorne was still working for Shurey's at the end of their existence, editing Romance in 1934. She was the founder and editor of many other journals for the same publisher as well as a writer of short stories, a novel and historical non-fiction, often about royalty, for which she adopted the pen-name Elizabeth Villiers.

The only known information about her life came from The Author's and Writer's Who's Who, and that included precious little. It noted her full name, Isabel Mary Thorne, her birth in Nottingham, but no year, her marriage to Edwin Thorne, that she had a daughter, and her address in London: 2 Tudor Road, S.W.19.

With no sign of an Isabel Thorne in census records, there wasn't really much to go on when I was asked recently whether I knew anything about her. The story about her involvement in the early career of Edgar Wallace I knew from Wallace's biography but little else. The usual genealogical websites weren't helping as there seemed to be no marriage between anyone called Edwin Thorne and a woman with the forenames Isabel Mary.

I did find Isabel Thorne in the phone book, at 108 South Norwood Hill, London S.E.25 in 1936-45. Thinking she may have died around that time, I did a search of death records without finding her. The address in Author's and Writer's did give me another clue: I managed to find her in the phone book... but under the name M. I. Thorne. It would seem that Mary was her first forename, not a middle name.

Then, a stroke of luck: a search Edwin Thorne in other public records turned up a record of probate under the name Edwin Quelch, otherwise Edwin Thorne, otherwise Edwin Quelch Thorne, of 107 South Norwood Hill, who had died on 2 November 1941. One of the administors of his estate was Mary Isabel Willoughby Quelch of the same address.

With this revelation, it was easy to track down their marriage, on 11 June 1889 at St. Leonard's, Streatham. On that day, 29-year-old Edwin Quelch married 25-year-old Mary Willoughby Harrison.

Mary Willoughby Harrison was born in Nottingham in 1864, the daughter of Thomas Willoughby Harrison and his wife Augusta Mary (nee Wilson). Thomas died in Hackney in 1865 and Augusta took her young daughter to live with her parents, William, a retired solicitor, and May Wilson. Augusta married again, in 1871, to Arthur William W. W. Fussell, but was widowed again by the time of the 1881 census, when she and her daughter, still named Mary W. Harrison, were living at 127 High Street, Battersea. Augusta was teaching music and Mary was described as an authoress and artist. Augusta died in Holborn, London, in 1900.

On their marriage certificate, Edwin Quelch was described as an actor, which may explain why he also adopted the alias Edwin Thorne. Their daughter, Mary Pauline Quelch, was born on 17 March 1890. Edwin was described on her baptism record as being an architect.

The writing career of Mary Willoughby Quelch remains something of a mystery. Already established by 1881, nothing is known of her work until she emerged as editor Isabel Thorne in the early 1900s and writer Elizabeth Villiers in the 1920s. Those latter decades of the 19th century saw hundreds of cheap fiction magazines published, few of which have been indexed.

In 1901, Edwin Thorne Quelch, a land agent and surveyor, and his wife Mary W. (of no given occupation), were living at 57 Brockley Road, Deptford. The couple were living at 2 Tudor Road, S.W.19 by 1927 and moved to 108 South Norwood Hill, London S.E.25, around 1935.

Following the death of her husband, it would seem that Mary Quelch moved to Canada. She was living at 526 Josephine Street, Nelson, British Columbia, when she died on 1 March 1950, aged 85. Her death was registered under the name Mary W. Thorne Quelch; a record of her death in the UK is under the rather more complex Quelch (otherwise Thorne, otherwise Thorne-Quelch, otherwise Quelch Thorne), Mary Willoughby (otherwise Isabel, otherwise Mary Isabel Willoughby, otherwise Isabel Mary Willoughby).


Novels as Isabel Thorne
The Nomad Breed. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1932.

Non-fiction as Elizabeth Villiers
The Mascot Book. A popular encyclopedia of bringers of luck with their attendant legends and beliefs. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1923.
Love Stories of English Queens. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1924.
Queen Alexandra the Well-beloved. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1925.
Riddles of Crime. Fourteen murder mysteries that were never solved. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1928; abridged as Unsolved Murder Mysteries, London, Mellifont Press, 1938.
Stand and Deliver. The romantic adventures of certain gentlemen of the High Toby, their times, their associates, friends and victims. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1929.
Our Queen Mother. London, Andrew Melrose, 1936.
Women of the Dawn. London, Heath, Cranton, 1936.

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