Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ella M. Scrymsour

Ella Scrymsour has been something of a mystery to researchers for many years. A relatively minor author, her work nevertheless falls into a number of categories where people keenly seek out information: science fiction, horror and crime. As the bulk of her output was romances, often only a single work falls under the microscope, usually her novel A Perfect World. Researchers dig a little, find nothing, and move on.

Well, it seems that it's now my turn to dig a little. I figure that any book that John Clute considers "remarkable" is worth a look. So it is with The Perfect World that we start, and I'm grateful to Ned Brooks for allowing me to reprint a review of the book he wrote for It Goes On The Shelf (July 1995, online here):
I mention this book in connection with The Night Land because they are similar in several ways—both are from the same period, both are utterly humorless, and both make use of the idea of dehydrated water (Hodgson's is a powder that turns to water when the air hits it, while Ms Scrymsour's is a 1-inch cube of what looks like camphor that makes a quart of water when heated).
__The lack of humor makes these books hard to plow through, though The Perfect World is written in conventional English prose and reads far more easily than the obsessively-detailed pseudo-archaic first person narrative of The Night Land. In a way this makes the technical howlers in Ms Scrymsour's book more startling—her prose is conventional, her very British characters are conventional, and yet, in spite of her bizarre imagination, she apparently had a very dim grasp of physical reality.
__The story starts off as a supernatural thriller—our heroes come to a small village to learn the coal-mining business, as their uncle and guardian (who in his spare time is buiding an airship powered by a mixture of "petrol, radium, and theolin") owns the mine. They apparently set off a local curse (dating from Henry VIII's seizure of the monasteries) that forbids strangers in the village, but the link of this curse to subsequent events is never explained and is soon forgotten when one of them vanishes and the other is lost in a mine cave-in. As soon as the action moves underground, Ms Scrymsour's deficiencies in physics become noticeable—the hero lost in the cave-in finds himself by an underground stream and throws in a piece of coal to see how deep it is! "There was a slight splash, but no sound came to tell him that it had reached the bottom". He eventually comes upon humanoid creatures—"no more than three foot six inches", with purple skin, flaxen hair, and a ten-inch horn in the middle of the forehead. One of these attacks him—"he beat his horn in Alan's face". I find this impossible to visualize.
__The horned purple midgets (the High Priestess has "small and pretty" features, "almost of English mould") turn out to be the descendants of ancient Hebrews swallowed up by the earth for defying Moses (see Numbers 16, v.31); and our heroes (the one who vanished is found by the one lost from the mine—he had been dragged down into the bowels of the earth by an incomprehensible sort of electric rope that the troglodytes have for that purpose), who have had proper classical educations at Queens College, Cambridge, soon learn to speak their corrupted Hebrew. Moses is dated to 1400 BC here, so the people of the underworld have had 3300 years to turn purple and grow horns.
__After further underground adventures our heroes escape to the surface with one of the midgets, who turns to dust as soon as the sunlight strikes her. They find that five years have passed, they have missed WWI, and they are in Australia.
__As with the Curse, the plot now abandons the purple midgets. One of our heroes takes his Australian nurse home as his wife, and they find that the uncle, in his grief at their disappearance, has become a hermit and perfected his 900-foot aluminium aircraft, the Argenta. They take it up for a spin and then the world is destroyed.
__Fortunately, the Argenta is fitted with an optional outer hull that "unfolds and clips into position by means of strong clasps" at the pull of a lever. The space between the hulls is then filled with a "mixture of gases of which ether is the chief component". The ship with our heroes, wife, baby, uncle, and an engineer and a mechanic is hurled into outer space. After a year or so they reach Jupiter, almost dead of hunger and thirst. The mechanic goes out too soon and dies of the sulfurous gases of the upper atmosphere.
__Oddly enough, the basic data on Jupiter is about right—it is five times as far from the Sun as the Earth and our heroes realize that this would give it only 1/25 the solar radiation. The pleasant climate is explained by a crude version of the greenhouse effect. The surface gravity of Jupiter is given as three times Earth normal, and that checks with my reference book as well.
__Jupiter has a planet-wide advanced civilization of humans descended from an Adam and Eve who did not sin and so were never cast out of their garden. Sin, however, is not absent. After a battle with a devil-worshipper for the hand of the princess, our unmarried hero marries her and eventually becomes King of Jupiter and lives happily ever after.
__It would make a great movie...
A brief series about psychic investigator Shiela Crerar appeared in Blue Magazine in 1920 was rediscovered by Jack Adrian and reprinted in 2006.

Nothing is known about Ella M. Scrymsour beyond the information appearing in Who's Who in Literature, which gives her year of birth as 1888, a brief list of books and magazines contributed to—Pearson's Weekly, Novel Magazine, Blue Magazine, Corner Magazine, Lady's Companion, Woman's Companion, etc.—and an address c/o Literary Year Books Press, Ltd., 21 Breeze Hill, Bootle, Lancs., who were the publishers of Who's Who in Literature.

Bizarrely, a small clue to her identity may appear in the Spanish ABC magazine published in Madrid on 22 November 1925, which translates as:
ABC in New York.

The International, founded and directed by Irma Kraft, finishes its inauguration shiningly. For the opening an interesting Chinese atmosphere work was chosen, written by two English. It is called, symbolically, The Bridge of Distances, and is by authors John and Ella Scrymsour.
So we now know that she had a husband called John. Checking for information on this play we find that The International Playhouse was founded by Irma Kraft in 1925 with the object of performing plays from around the world in New York. Kraft travelled around Europe before the first season began on 5 October 1925 buying plays and the 8 June 1925 issue of the New York Times announced that "Tsu Tsan or The Bridge of Distance" was to the International's first offering after an opening at the Morosco Theatre on 28 September). The cast, announced later, was led by Ullrich Haupt, Mary Newcomb, Beryl Mercer, Stephen Wright and Ray Collins.

The Bridge of Distances proved a little controversial as it featured a white woman having an affair with a Chinaman. Ned Brooks, again writing in It Goes On The Shelf (January 2000, online here), describes the novel thus: "This was published 2 years after her The Perfect World, mentioned in a previous issue. The first part of it is a standard racist pulp adventure involving two British rogues stealing a princess and a priceless jewel from a noble Chinese family in 1873—and the second part is theosophy about the karmic consequences of this adventure in 1923. Much better written than The Perfect World, but not as much fun!"

A big clue appears twice in the pages of the New York Times: the paper's "News and Gossip of The Rialto" column on 7 June 1925 notes that "Martin Lewis and Evan Thomas, of London, who aquired the world rights of an Anglo Chinese play by John and Ella Scrymgeour, have sold the American rights to the International Playhouse of New York." The paper's "Theatrical Notes" for 11 September 1925 also gives the authors' names as John and Ella Scrymgeour.

If I'm right, Ella M. Scrymsour is actually Mrs. John Scrymgeour and the best match I have been able to find in UK records is Edith M. Scrymgeour (nee Brett), possibly born Edith Mary A. Brett in Wayland, Norfolk, in 1870. Edith married John M. Scrymgeour in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1913. J. M. Scrymgeour was in the phone book living at 19 Moor Road South, Gosforth, Newcastle, in 1932-34; I believe he died at Castle Ward, Northumberland, in 1933, aged 57. He is therefore likely to be the John MacLaren Scrymgeour born in Ludlow, Shropshire, in 1876.

The phone book then lists Mrs. E. M. Scrymgeour at that address in 1935-48; she then moved to 44 Rectory Road, Gosforth, in 1949-50, then disappears from the phone book, which makes me wonder if she is the Edith M. Scrymgeour who died in Winchester, Hampshire, in 1950, aged 80.

This unfortunately contradicts one of the known facts about Ella... that she was born in 1888.

I may have taken a wrong-turning somewhere but I think there's a good chance that Ella M. Scrymsour was actually named Scrymgeour. A copy of her marriage or the death certificates of Edith or John might shed some light, should anyone care to take a punt.

UPDATE: 28 June 2010
Jamie Sturgeon suggests an alternative to my identification of Norfolk-born Edith Mary A. Brett which is a slightly better fit to the birth date. There was an Edith Mary Brett born in Durham, Gateshead, c. 1881 (which fits the age for the Edith M. Scrymgeour who died in 1950). She was a secretary to her father, a glass merchant and was living in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1911. John Maclaren Scrymgeour was a partner in a St. Lawrence, Newcastle, based Size making firm, the Gelata Products Company. One of the partners dropped out in December 1914 but the other two, Scrymgeour and Turner Crankshaw, continued the business. Scrymgeour held a patent in 1915 (renewed in 1923) for an invention entitled "Improvements in or relating to rosin size for paper making".

Again, I should note that Edith and John Scrymgeour may be a red herring and we have yet to find Ella and John Scrymsour.

The Perfect World. A romance of strange people and strange places. London, E. Nash & Grayson, 1922; New York, Stokes, 1922.
The Bridge of Distances. London, P. Allan & Co., Mar 1924.
'Neath Burmese Bells. London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1925.
Love's Crucifixion (as C. M. Scrymsour). London, Hornsey Journal (My Pocket 124), 1927.
Bungalow Love. London, Hornsey Journal (My Pocket 156), Apr 1928.
When Wings Are Folded. London, Mills & Boon, 1933.
The Girl Who Came Between. London & Dublin, Mellifont Press, 1933.
GayA Good Time Girl. London & Dublin, Mellifont Press, 1934.
Love Untold. London & Dublin, Mellifont Press, 1934.
Love Above All. London & Dublin, Mellifont Press, 1935.
Shiela Crerar, Psychic Investigator, ed. Jack Adrian. Ashcroft, BC, Ash-Tree Press, 2006.

(* My thanks to Ned Brooks for permission to reprint material from It Goes On The Shelf, a full run of which can be found here on the Fanac Fan History Project website.)


  1. Hoping you got my two emails. I am Ella's granddaughter. And yes - you are onto a red herring as to who she was and I reckon I can help you in your research on her !!!
    Please do get in touch.
    Pippa Rush

  2. Fantastic to see our Grandmother Ella Scrymsour "revisited" You are now definately on the right track - thanks to Pippa. We were thrilled to receive copies of Shiela Crerar The physic investigator, when it was published a few years ago. Maybe we will see more of her work revisited soon.
    Micaela Hobbs



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