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Monday, January 25, 2010

Edith Blair-Staples

From little acorns...

John Herrington noted an undated novel included in Crime Fiction Bibliography credited to Edith Blair-Staple published in the "My Pocket" Novels series produced by Hornsey Journal in the 1920s. The novel (actually, at 64 pages, probably more correctly a novelette) dates from 1923 and was the work of Edith Blair-Staples (with an additional 's' not on the novel). A Google search of her name results in only a handful of hits, most often in connection to a short story co-authored by romance authoress Hermina Black, herself a prolific contributor to the "My Pocket" Novels series, and once in a biographical sketch of dancer and dance director William Chappell.

The latter reveals that William Chappell, born in Wolverhampton on 20 September 1907, was the son of Edith Blair-Staples and actor William Chappell. "His parents separated and his mother, Edith Blair-Staples, moved the family to Balham, South London, c.1913 and became a fashion journalist."

From this little acorn we have been able to reconstruct a little of the family tree. William Chappell, the father, was born Archie Walter Chappell in Stourbridge in 1879. This leads us to his marriage in 1905, in Devonport, Devon, to Edith Eva C. Black.

Working backwards, we find that Edith Eva Staples married George Frederick Black in Prestwich, Lancashire, in 1892.

In the 1881 census, we discover that Edith E. Staples was the daughter of Frederick I. G. Staples, born in Ceylon in c.1838, and then a Chief Constable working in Stockport. Edith's mother was Julia Mary Wilhelmina Staples (nee Waller), born in East Grinstead, 1844, and the family included a number of siblings: Mary Hermina H. Staples (b. St Helens, Channel Islands, c.1864; married 1888), Frederick H. M. Staples (b. Ceylon, c.1866), Edith E. Staples (b. Ceylon, c.1868), Alice Maud W. Staples (b. Ceylon, c.1870). Arthur Durnford Staples (b. Stockport, Cheshire, 1875; a Corporal with the 18th London regiment (London Irish Rifles) when he died 12 April 1917) and Edwin G. H. Staples (b. Stockport, c.1877). Frederick's brother-in-law, Christian Waller, was also living with the family at Victoria Park, Stockport.

The 1891 census lists the father as Fred Blair Staples, a Commission Agent still living in Stockport with wife Julia and their three youngest children Maud, Arthur and Edwin, who were all still in school. In 1901, Frederick, Julia and Maud had moved to St. Leonard, Wandsworth, south London. Frederick was now described as a "Colonel in Army (retired)". Frederick died in 1909, aged 71.

Frederick can be be found in the ranks of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment. The London Gazette reveals that, on 24 April 1855, Frederick Blair Staples, Gent., was to be made Ensign, without purchase, of that regiment. Ensign Staples then rose to Lieutenant, by purchase, on 1 August 1856. On 21 January 1874, it was noted that Captain Frederick Blair Staples, late of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment, was to made Captain of the 80th Foot; a year later, on 6 January 1875, Captain Staples retired on temporary half-pay. On 21 June 1879, Captain Staples, late 80th Foot, was made Brevet Major of the 93rd Foot, and Major from 14 July 1879. On 25 February 1880, Captain and Brevet Major Staples retired on a pension with the honourary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

Edith's mother died in Wandsworth in 1931, aged 87.

Piecing all this together, we discover that Edith Staples was born in Colombo, Ceylon, probably in 1868 and returned with her family to England in around 1873, living firstly in Stockport. Although she cannot be found in the 1891 census, Miss Edith Blair Staples appeared at the Theatre Royal, Stockport, in 1891 in the play Proof which set a local record in receipts. She married in 1892 and had a daughter, Emma Hermina Mary Black, born in Stockport on 9 June 1893—better known as the romance writer Hermina Black.

Edith then married Archie Walter Chappell in 1905. In 1911, Hermina is living with her grandmother, Julia, in Wandsworth, her occupation given in the census as actress. Edith and Archie, meanwhile, were living in Kings Norton with their son William but they separated soon after and Edith and William moved to Balham, where Edith took up a career as a fashion writer.

Archie had served three years with the Staffordshire Yeomanry but saw no war service until signing up for the South African Expeditionary Forces on 14 March 1916. Archie listed his next of kin as Edith Eva Clara Chappell (wife) of 10 Coalbrook Mansions, Bedford Hill, Balham, London S.W.; the records say he is married and has two children. The two children are likely to be their son William and Hermina, Edith's daughter from her previous marriage.

What happened to Edith? I did have a theory that Edith had married a third time, to Alfred E. Goodman in Lewisham in 1914. However, this turns out to be incorrect and the marriage relates to Edith Clara E. Chappell, born in Greenwich in 1871, who died in Bromley, Kent, in 1959, aged 88. Just goes to show you have to be careful with this kind of research.

Rather, I now believe she died in Kensington in 1952, aged 84, her death registered under the name Edith E. C. Chappell.

(* With the usual thanks to John Herrington and Jamie Sturgeon for helping piece this together.)

Update: 26 January 2010
Jamie Sturgeon has found Edith's birth records in Overseas Army Returns, confirming that she was born at St. Peter's Church, Fort Colombo, Ceylon, in 1868.

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