Saturday, October 23, 2010

P R Shore

Here's an example of how a bit of research can turn up a surprise. It began last Saturday when Steve Lewis of Mystery*File posted a review of The Bolt by P. R. Shore. Reviewer Curt J. Evans noted that his first assumption about this long forgotten mystery novel, originally published in 1929, was that it was written by a woman "because the tale is one of those English village 'cozies' and it is narrated by a female character, a thirty-nine-year-old 'spinster', one Marion Leslie".

The evidence was against him, as P. R. Shore had an entry in The Author's and Writer's Who's Who and Reference Guide, 1935-36 which revealed his full name as Peter Redcliff Shore, born Hampton, 1892, educated privately and at Oxford University and listed rock-climbing as a recreation.

There was also an occupation (adult education) and an address: Lower Caswell Farm, Clapton-in-Gordano, Portishead. With this wealth of information, it should be a simple of matter of plugging the name into various genealogical databases to turn up some further details.

Except it wasn't such a simple matter... as far as official records were concerned, Peter Redcliff Shore didn't exist. No Peter Shore born in 1892, no appearances in census records and no marriage or death.

Jamie Sturgeon, who's a regular contributor here at Bear Alley, pointed out that the Lower Caswell Farm address received a mention in Catholic Who's Who as the address of Miss Mary Dorothy Rose Leys, who went to Somerville College, Oxford, and was a teacher. She also wrote several non-fiction books, which all seemed to fit the information given for P. R. Shore. Except her birth: she was born in Tyles Green, Buckinghamshire, in 1890.

My contribution to this little mystery didn't begin well. I managed to find out that Caswell Farm, Portishead, was the home of one R. Withers who was... a farmer. Living on a farm.

However, following up on Jamie's discovery was more fruitful. Mary Dorothy Rose Leys was the daughter of John Kirkwood Leys and his wife Ellen (nee Holligan) who had married in Hendon on 3 September 1889. John Kirkwood Leys, born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1846, was a barrister-at-law, lodging in Newcastle-upon-Tyne at the time of the 1881 census. Leys had been previously married to Glasgow-born Mary King Munsie and had a son, Norman MacLean Leys, baptized at Willaston near Great Neston, Cheshire, on 1 August 1875. Mary King Leys died in Newcastle upon Tyne the following year aged 37.

Ellen, born in Barbados, West Indies, in 1858, the daughter of James Richard Holligan and his wife Mary Jones (nee Taylor), was living with her widowed mother, in Warwickshire by 1871 at the house of her paternal grandmother, Caroline Holligan, as were her siblings, James, Thomas, Fred, Caroline and Katherine, all also born in Barnados. Mary and daughters Ellen and Caroline were living in Finchley, Middlesex, by the time of the 1881 census.

James and Ellen had their first child, Mary Dorothy Rose Leys, in Tyles Green, Buckinghamshire, but were soon living in Hampton Hill, Middlesex where four more children were born: Helen Madeline Leys in 1892, Colin MacLaren Leys in 1894, Duncan Gerard Leys in 1897 and John Alan Leys in 1898.

John Kirkwood Leys died in 1909, but before we leave him we should note that he became a prolific author in his later years and wrote a number of novels.

The Lindsays. A romance of Scottish life. London, Chatto & Windus, 3 vols., 1888.
Under a Mask. London, R. Bentley & Son, 2 vols., 1897.
The Lawyer's Secret. London, Warne & Co., 1897.
At the Sign of the Golden Horn. London, G. Newnes, 1898.
The Black Terror. A romance of Russia. London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1899.
A Suburban Vendetta. London, C. Arthur Pearson, 1900.
A Sore Temptation. London, Chatto & Windus, 1901.
Held in the Toils. London, Ward, Lock & Co., 1904.
The Prisoner's Secret. London, Ward, Lock & Co., 1904.
The Broken Fetter. London, Digby, Long & Co., 1905.
A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. London, Ward, Lock & Co., 1905.
The House-Boat Mystery. London, Ward, Lock & Co., 1905.
A Desperate Game. London, Digby, Long & Co., 1906.
Children of Mammon. London, Digby, Long & Co., 1908.
The Missing Bridegroom. London, Digby, Long & Co., 1908.
By Creek and Jungle, illus. Geo. Soper. London, S. W. Partridge & Co., 1909.
Underground. London, Greening & Co., 1909.
Shackled by Fate. London, Aldine Publishing Co., (Mascot Novels 123), 1919.

A Complete Time-table of Rules under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1875, shewing all the periods fixed by the rules within or after which any proceeding may be taken. London, 1875.
A New Natural History of Birds, Beasts and Fishes. London, Walter Scott, 1886.

Bringing our story back to its origins, the clue to the identity of P. R. Shore is in the birth records for John Kirkwood Leys' children. Shore was born "Hampton, 1892", and so was Helen Madeline Leys. Although not educated at Oxford University, it seems likely that she attended Somerville College, Oxford, around the time of the First World War, as did her older sister, and quite possibly became a tutor to the Society of Oxford Home Students, like her sister.

That she followed in her father's footsteps and became an author is already known: as Eleanor Scott she was the author of a number of novels and short stories, this fact established by copyright records in the USA, which list Scott as the pseudonym of Helen Magdalen (sic) Leys, Clapton-in-Gordano, nr. Portishead, Somerset.

Ellen Leys, Helen's mother, was living at Clapton-in-Gordano in 1938 when her son, John Alan Leys, married Miss Rosamond Joscelyne Mitchell, so it would appear that Helen was living with her mother whilst she wrote her novels. Both she and her older sister Mary eventually moved to Devon where Helen's death, at the age of 72, was registered in Exeter in 1965.

Novels as Eleanor Scott
War Among Ladies. London, Ernest Benn, 1928; Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1928.
The Forgotten Image. London, Ernest Benn, Apr 1930; Garden City, NY, Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1930.
Beggars Would Ride. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1933.
Swings and Roundabouts. London, Hamish Hamilton, Mar 1933.
Puss in the Corner. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1934.

Collections as Eleanor Scott
Randall's Round. London, Ernest Benn, 1929.

Non-fiction as Eleanor Scott
Adventurous Women, illus. J. P. Paterson. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1933.
Heroic Women. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1939.

Novels as P. R. Shore
The Bolt. London, Methuen & Co., 1929; New York, E. P. Dutton & Co., 1929.
The Death Film. London, Methuen & Co., 1932.

(* My thanks to Curt Evans for initiating the hunt, to Jamie Sturgeon, Al Hubin and Steve Lewis for providing the leads and to Bill Pronzini who provided the pictures.)

1 comment:

  1. Hi, my name is Sophy Leys Johnston. My great-grandfather is Duncan Leys and my grandfather (John Adam Leys)'s aunts were Helen and Mary Leys. I have just begun some research into my family history and I wanted to thank you as this has provided some incredible context and insight into my family's background and it's amazing to understand a little bit about who they were.



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