To quote the Stanford Companion to Victorian Literature, compiled by John Sutherland:
BARRETT, A[lfred] W[alter] ('R. Andom', 1869-1920). Barrett was born in London, and as an adult worked there mainly as a journalist ... He wrote jolly, heavily illustrated, lightweight fiction under the pseudonym 'R. Andom', and enjoyed some success in the 1890s with his 'Troddles' series of tales of London life.I've slimmed down the entry because I'm trying to make a point. Not at John's expense, I should add, as he's a very nice man and has written some very admirable books (including the biography The Boy Who Loved Books and the just published Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction). My point is that the information given is widely known and nobody has questioned it. The entry for R. Andom in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction gives Barrett's dates as 1869-1920. So does his entry in Crime Fiction Bibliography. Bill Lofts, in Men Behind Boys' Fiction gives a place and date of birth: London on 1 May 1869.
But where does that year of death come from?
I first flagged the problem a few months ago when I tried to find out where Barrett had died and discovered that there were only two Alfred Barrett's registered in 1920-21 (the law allows six weeks for a registration, so deaths in 1920 can be registered as late as February 1921).
1Q 1920 Alfred L. Barrett Swansea, aged 34
4Q 1920 Alfred E. Barrett Lewisham, aged 33
As you'll see, neither of them are anything like our man. Different middle initials and the ages don't match even closely. So if he didn't die in 1920, what happened to him?
Well, he got arrested. In 1915, Barrett launched a new monthly paper called Link. The magazine was based on an idea from T.P.'s Weekly to bring lonely people together, a lonely hearts magazine which published letters from people seeking friendship. Unfortunately, amongst the 20-30,000 advertisers Barrett published over the next few years, a number had, let us say, more than friendship in mind. Barrett, as editor and proprietor, was taken to court in June 1921 and found guilty of conspiring to corrupt public morals. Mr. Justice Darling, sentencing Barrett and three other defendants to two years hard labour apiece, and the Judge reserved his greatest ire for Barrett, saying:
There can be no graver attack on the morals of this country than to establish a paper as you did for the purpose of allowing men and women to commit immorality, and the result of your attack is seen in the presence of these three miserable creatures who stand beside you. I shall pass on you the severest sentence the law allows. I wish it were possible to send you to penal servitude becuase you have set out deliberately to corrupt the morals of the people of this country.Such was the fate of Barrett, whose attempt to appeal the decision was refused. Barrett had had a long career as a writer and editor prior to launching Link. He had been an assistant on the staff of the Christian World and Family Circle, assistant editor of the Literary World (1895-1900) before joining the firm of James Henderson where he had edited Henderson's comics/story papers, Scraps, Nugget and Garland for ten years. He was then the editor of Mary Bull (1912-14).
In addition—and the connection was confirmed by Barrett's council during the trial—he was the author 'R. Andom' who had written We Three and Toddles and about 50 other works, which I'll list here...
Novels as R. Andom
We Three and Troddles. A tale of London life, illus. Alec Carruthers Gould. London, Tylston & Edwards, 1894.
Martha and I. Being scenes from our suburban life, illus. Alec Carruthers Gould. London, Jarrold & Sons, 1898.
Side Slips; or, Misadventures on a Bicycle, illus. Arthur Frederic. London, C. A. Pearson, 1898.
Troddles and Us and Others, illus. Charles Harrison. London, Jarrold & Sons, 1901.
The Identity Exchange. A story of some odd transformations, illus. Charles Harrison. London, Jarrold & Sons, 1902; as The Marvellous Adventures of Me; or, The Identity Exchange, London, Jarrold & Sons, 1904.
The Cruise of the 'Mock Turtle', illus. Harry Evans. London, Jarrold & Sons, 1904.
The Burglings of Tutt. Being some exploits on the life of an expert, illus. Louis Gunnis. London, Jarrold & Sons, 1905.
Four Men with a Van, illus. Harry Evans. London, Cassell & Co., 1907.
Lighter Days with Troddles, illus. Louis Gunnis. London, Cassell & Co., 1907.
The Enchanted Ship. A story of mystery and a lot of imagination, illus. Louis Gunnis. London, Cassell & Co., 1908.
The Genial Rascal, with Reginald Hodder. London, Jarrold & Sons, 1909.
On Tour with Troddles, illus. T. M. R. Whitwell. London, Cassell & Co., 1909.
The Runaways. Being some early adventures of Troddles and Us. London, Greening & Co., 1909; as At School with Troddles. Being the adventures of the runaways. London, Greening & Co., 1911.
Our Flat, illus. Louis Gunnis. London, Cassell & Co., 1910.
In Fear of a Throne. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1911.
Cheerful Craft, illus. Louis Gunnis. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1912.
Neighbours of Mine, illus. Louis Gunnis. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1912.
Adrift with Troddles. London, George Newnes, 1913.
Troddles' Farm. London, Jarrold & Sons, 1914.
Troddles—Not to Mention Ourselves. London, Jarrold & Sons, 1914.
Three Men—and Troddles, illus. Bernhard Hugh. London, George Newnes, 1916.
The Same Old Troddles. A book of laughter. London, Jarrolds, 1919.
Troddles in the Trenches. London, George Newnes, 1919.
Out and About with Troddles, illus. Louis Gunnis. London, Holden & Hardingham, 1920.
Collections as R. Andom
The Fortune of a Spendthrift, and other items, with Fred Harewood. London, Constable, 1895.
The Strange Adventure of Roger Wilkins and other stories, illus. A. Carruthers Gould. London, Tylston & Edwards, 1895.
The Magic Bowl and the Blue-Stone Ring. Oriental tales. London, Jarrold & Sons, 1909.
Non-fiction as R. Andom
Industrial Explorings in and around London, illus. T. M. R. Whitwell. London, James Clarke & Co., 1895.
During his time working for James Henderson, Barrett wrote numerous serials for the papers he edited. "The Waltham Wobblers", the misadventures of a boys' cycling club, was originally published in Comic Life and subsequently reprinted as "Our Silkie Club" in Nuggets. Other serials for Nuggets included "The Irrepressibles of Exminster School" and "The Three Pickles". Two serials featured his famous Troddles character: "Good Old Troddles" (Boys' World, 1905) and "The Runaway Schoolboys" (Boys' World, 1906), the latter later reprinted in hard covers.
Barrett received an entry in Literary Yearbook in which his address was given as Elbury, Tunley Road, Balham, London S.W.17.
My usual first line of enquiry is census records for authors active around the turn of the century. So I was quite pleased when I very quickly discovered a 20-year-old author named Alfred W. Barrett in the 1890 census, living in Hampstead, the son of an actor, comedian and theatre manager called Wilson Barrett. I managed to track him down in the 1881 census, living in Kensington, and then to the 1871 census where he was staying with his grandma while his mum and dad were performing in South Shields.
Unfortunately, I was on completely the wrong track. Wilson Barrett was one of the best-known actors of his day (he even has an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography and on Wikipedia). He was born William Henry Barrett and his son, born in Streatham, Surrey, in 1870 (although commonly given as 1871), was christened Alfred William Barrett at St. Mark's , Kensington, in November 1870.
Alfred William later became better known as Alfred Wilson Barrett, under which name (often styled A. Wilson-Barrett) he wrote novels and plays, most notably The Jew of Prague. A lot of digging later, I eventually discovered that he died at his home, Silverton House, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, on 16 November 1945.
But where does that leave us on Alfred Walter Barrett. Um... not sure. A search of every Alfred Barrett in the 1901 census—by which time he was working as an assistant editor or editor—turns up one possible suspect: a 33-year-old journalist/author born in Stockwell and living in Leytonstone with his wife and two children. If Barrett was born in 1869, one would expect him to be 31 at the time of the 1901 census, but ages have an annoying tendency to fluctuate on census records
He may have been working on the staff of Christian World by 1891 but I don't see any mention of him in the census.
The best match I can find is an Alfred W. Barrett born around the right time in Bermondsey, the son of Charles (a boot & shoe healer) and Jane Barrett and sibling of Bertha, Esther, Charles, Clara, Annie, Edith and Walter. I can track him through to 1891, when he was working as a lighterman on a barge, but no further unless the previously mentioned journalist is our man. Lighterman to assistant editor feels like an awfully big leap... but plenty of authors can list half a dozen menial jobs in their biographical sketches.
One way to test the theory, I guess, is to see how many Alfred W. Barretts were born in that period, allowing two years either side (1867-71):
4Q 1867 Alfred William (b. Brentford)
3Q 1868 Alfred William (b. Uxbridge)
2Q 1869 Alfred Walter (b. Lambeth)
4Q 1870 Alfred William (b. Wandsworth)
The Christening record for Alfred William (aka Alfred Wilson) Barrett proves that he's the fourth person on this list. What about the Alfred W. Barrett I managed to find in the 1871-91 census records?
Well, I can rule out the 1868 birth: Alfred William is in the 1871 census, the 2-year-old son of Edward Barrett (an agricultural labourer) and his wife Sarah, born in Hayes, Middlesex (which isn't far from Uxbridge). And the 1867 birth is almost certainly the 3-year-old son of Henry Barrett (a coachman), whose birth is listed as Brixton.
Alfred Walter Barrett's birth was registered in Lambeth; the sons and daughters of Charles and Jane were born in Bermondsey—which is in the same London post code (S.E.1). It's a pretty good fit, especially as we can rule out the nearest suspects.
In March 1929, Alfred Walter Barrett and Mabel Edith Barrett were named as the executors of the estate of Edith Barrett, late of 3 Carlton Villas, Grosvenor Road, Paignton, Devon (who died on 31 December 1928).
Now, the only Edith Barrett registered at that time is one Edith L. Barrett (maiden name Fazakerley) who died in W. Derby. She was married a couple of years earlier—her name registered as Edith H. Fazakerley—to Arthur Barrett in W. Derby in 1926. I somehow doubt that Alfred and Mabel, named as executors, would be their children, so they would be... what? Father and mother of the husband, perhaps, or siblings of the husband?
Whether this is "our" Alfred Walter Barrett is, of course, impossible to say.
So if Alfred Walter Barrett didn't die in 1920, when the hell did he die? I started looking at death records from 1920 and carried on listing suspects up to 1960, excluding a couple of AWBs who died as children:
3Q 1923 Todmorden (aged 65) born c.1858
3Q 1925 Woodbridge (aged 74) born c.1851 — Alfred William Barrett (died 23 August 1925)
4Q 1928 Fulham (aged 66) born c.1862
3Q 1932 Tendring (aged 72) born c.1860
3Q 1933 Brentford (aged 66) born c.1867
1Q 1942 Gloucester R. (aged 66) (born c.1876)
4Q 1945 Stratford (aged 75) —this is Alfred William (aka Wilson) Barrett
4Q 1948 (W. J.) Kensington (aged 64) (born c.1884)
4Q 1952 Thanet (aged 84) (born c.1868)
1Q 1955 Haverfordwest (aged 80) (born c.1875)
It's at this point (if he's still alive he's 90) that even I give up. The nearest match is 1933, although the age and place make me think that a likelier suspect is Alfred William Barrett (born Brentford, 1867). So although I've managed to prove (hopefully to everyone's satisfaction) that Alfred Walter Barrett didn't die in 1920, I'm no closer to finding out when he did die. There could be many reasons for this: there's a chance that he was registered without an initial, or a misspelling (H, N and W can often get mixed up) has hidden him from view; he may have moved abroad or to areas of the UK (Scotland, the Isle of Man) which have their own records; he may have simply been missed out or someone wrote down the wrong age at death. These things happen.
And my apologies for all the rambling lists. Like my old maths teacher used to say at exam time: "Show your workings". The notes are more for me than to enlighten you, dear reader, because when I return to this mystery (as I inevitably will), at least I won't have to repeat some of the work.