Sunday, February 01, 2009

Alfred Walter Barrett (R. Andom)

In my occasional role as researcher for the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Crime Fiction Bibliography and other tomes, I stumble across a name where the information that has been appearing for years can't be verified. Now, I've come across many, many errors while I've researched one thing or another (and, in fairness, I've added a few of my own to the great mass of "knowledge" that turns out to be wrong) so it shouldn't come as a surprise. The real frustration starts to kick in when you're pretty sure something's cock-eyed but you can't prove it. That's not the case of Alfred Walter Barrett, as I think I have my proof.

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.
TroddlesNot to Mention Ourselves. London, Jarrold & Sons, 1914.
Three Menand 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

1901 census return for Alfred Barrett (journalist) and family

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.

1871-91 census returns for Charles & Jane Barrett and family

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).

So if Alfred Walter Barrett didn't die in 1920, and was still alive in 1929, 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.

Update (3 Feb 2020):  the mother's maiden name of the Alfred Walter Barrett born in Lambeth registered in 2Q 1869 is Goodsell. This would be Edith Goodsell, who married Leonard Barrett in 2Q 1867. There seem to be no other births from that marriage.

Edith can be found in the 1871 census living with her widowed father, Samuel Goodsell (a master carpenter), born in Salehurst, Sussex, and then living at Park Street, Lambeth. Others in the same household include:

William Goodsell (son), aged 42
Charlotte Goodsell (daughter-in-law), aged 42
Eliza Goodsell (daughter), aged 48
Edith Barrett (daughter), aged 22, born in Stockwell (c.1849)
Edith Goodsell (grand-daughter), aged 14
Anne Goodsell (grand-daughter), aged 9
Leonard Barrett (grandson), aged 3

Now, Edith is described as a governess, born in Stockwell, Surrey, and her son Leonard Barrett is also listed as born there in c.1867.

Edith Sarah Goodsell was baptized on 6 January 1864, at Clapham, Surrey, by her parents Samuel and Mary Goodsell, when her year of birth was given as 1848.

The family can then be traced to the 1881 census when they are living at 10 Coleworth Road, Barnetts Terrace, Low Leyton, West Ham.

Leonard Barrett, aged 35, born in Exeter, Devon (c.1845)
Edith Barrett, aged 30, born in Stockwell (c.1851)
Leonard Barrett, aged 13, born in Stockwell (c.1868)
Alfred Barrett, aged 11, born in Stockwell (1869)
Mabel Barrett, aged 8, born in Gerrans, Cornwall (c.1872)

This ties in with the death of Edith Barrett who died in Paignton, Devon, in 1928, whose executors were Alfred Walter and Mabel Edith Barrett. A Mabel E. Barrett, reputedly born 7 October 1883, is listed in the 1939 Register as living in Paignton, Devon, and living on private means. She is almost certainly the Mabel Edith Barrett, of Herons Ghyll, 32 Burrows Park, Braunton, Devon, who died on 20 June 1963, aged 89 (i.e. born c.1873).

Mabel had still been living with her parents at the time of the 1891 census when the family lived at Hermon House, Wallwood Road, Leyton, West Ham:

Leonard Barrett, aged 44, manager of a rope factory
Edith Barrett, aged 40, head teacher (London School Board)
Leonard Barrett, aged 22, clerk (postal telegraph)
Mabel Barrett, aged 18, pupil teacher (London School Board)

Leonard Levis Barrett, born in Exeter, Devon, in 3Q 1846 was living with his wife at 9 Eastfield Road, Brentwood, Essex, in 1911. At 64 he was a retired mercantile marine while his 62-year-old wife remained a teacher with the London County Council School. He eventually died in St. Thomas, Devon, in 3Q 1933, aged 87.

Leonard (the son) was a visitor at the home of John B. Smith in the 1901 census, aged 33 and working as a civil service clerk with the Board of Education. He married Milan Land Barrett (c.1864-1950), and was living at the home of his wife's widowed mother in Wandsworth in 1911. They had a daughter, Eileen Milan Land Barrett, born in 1905.


  1. Absolutely fascinating.It's great to see the actual leg work involved in such a search.And illustrates how many dead ends it can throw up.I wish you luck in your quest.

  2. Really interesting. It shows how involved searches can be & many people many errors (which lead to further errors thus compounding the initial mistake) when researching their family tree. A bit like Cinderella's Ugly Sisters who force their feet into the wrong slipper; if the fact looks as if it could be right, then it must be right!(But it frequently isn't!)

  3. Brilliant detective work Steve. I always think it's a good idea to show workings. I learned a long time ago that there is no methodology published to tell me how I should have researched all that Frank Bellamy stuff I've listed, but my experience says how to do it now, with hindsight!
    I personally would love to know what reference books and sites you visit regularly as this info will be invaluable for those that follow on after we've gone!

  4. Norman,

    Most of the research is done on genealogy websites like Find My Past and Ancestry; plus a lot of footwork rummaging through books (Literary Yearbooks, Author's & Writer's Who's Who, and similar tomes), digging around newspaper archives, various national archives and the internet in general.

    Quite a few of these are pay-per-view -- findmypast and ancestry alone cost around £225 a year to subscribe to. Worthwhile as I use both almost daily and I can achieve more from home than I ever could travelling up to London to the Family Records Centre (now the other side of London at Richmond).

    So it's not just a case of the information being out there if you know where to look, it's also a willingness to spend money on your hobby. Most sensible people would spend that £225 on comics but someone's got to do the legwork if we're to ever know anything about the guys behind the strips... and it turns out that someone is me. Not that I'm complaining.

  5. Hello, I found this reference to Alfred W Barrett recently in the May 1970 edition of Essex Countryside Magazine, in a letter sent in by D. E Twitchett, 15 Weavers Close Billericay

    …if any reader can recall what happened to Barret after 1921 I would be very pleased to hear. I have checked the records at Somerset House and can find no record of his death up to 1945. He had one son and two daughters who could well be alive today. I have a hunch he may have gone to Canada but it is only a hunch. His books will apeal to anyone who can appreciate the writings of J. K. Jerome.

  6. Try Alfred Walter Barrett born 2nd quarter 1869, living in 1871 at 80 New Park Road Lambeth. Father Henry, Coachman born 1842 Woolhampton Berks. No spouse mentioned, but a 1-year-old Walter may be the reason. Other siblings James H age 8 (deaf), & William 6. Married Helen (Nellie) from Norwich () and had 3 children by 1911 census, Leslie, Phyllis & Kathleen when they were living at 98 Wallwood Road Leytonstone. Nellie is name on autographed books on sale as author's own (ABE).

  7. Thank you for all this information. I own a copy of "In Fear of a Throne" which is a splendid pastiche of "The Prisoner of Zenda" featuring Troddles and his companions having an adventure in a country east of Saarbruck (Saarbrucken). The novel features some wonderful illustrations by G. W. Wakefield and a preface by R. Hodder who had suggested the idea for the novel to Barrett.

  8. Nice to see my ancient Essex Countryside letter quoted above. Confirm that In Fear of a Throne was parody of Anthony Hope's Prisoner of Zenda. Side Slips was a parody on Jerome's Three Men in aBoat even to the extent of using Jerome's illustrator Arthur Frederic in a similar manner.Side Slips is based on the antics of the Essex WheelersCC formed1891 from an amalgam of other clubs including T.M.R.Whitwell's Hainault Cycling Club which drew its members from the area around Hainault Road in Leytonstone. Both Whitwell and Barrett lived in the area at one time. Whitwell features in the narrative of Side Slips thinly disguised as "Monty W" and "the artist who road a Bantam" Another club member, would you believe,was one R. Wilkins!!. Sound familiar? Side Slips received a terrible review in the CTC Gazette-penned by C. L. Freeston the assistant editor of the gazette. Barrett stood for CTC membership in June 1897.Four Men in Van was a parody on the two Caravan books of W.Gordon Stables.In December 1894 Barret twas acquitted of indecently assaulting Kate Kendall at Leytonstone I could go on. I have a large file gathered over the last half century. I return to it from time to time- usually in response to somebody's request for info. Sincerely Dave Twitchett

  9. For your further research. Go to Book "LONDON IN THE 19TH CENTURY" by JERRY WHITE ISBN 9780712600309 First Published in Great Britain in 2007 by Jonathan Cape
    Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA
    In Part Two: "People" Chapter IV "A City in Motion" [Quote "Alfred Barrett (a novelist and journalist who wrote extensively under the pseudonym R.Andom) was a true suburban. Born in Brixton in 1869, by the late 1890s he had addresses in Leytonstone, Woodford and South Woodford. In his comic novel (Martha and I: Being Scenes from Our Suburban Life (1898), his chosen suburb 'was known to landlords and tax and bill collectors as "Sloper's Island"'because of the number of 'moonshooters' around quarter-day, when rents and rates fell due"] end of quote. I leave the rest for your own 'follow up research'. I was searching on-line for his book "Martha and I:" as my own research for Family took in Leytonstone where many family members lived 1870 to recent times. My Gt Grandparents (Surname BRANCH) owned a Fish Shop at 505 Leytonstone High Street, from 1880's till 1914 when they joined other family members who had emigrated to Queensland, Australia. I came across your web-page and figured this item may interest you as it has confirmation of Alfred Barrett being also the novelist, R Andom and other details of his identity etc.

    1. Thanks for the tip-off. I shall see if my local library can locate a copy.



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