Monday, June 01, 2015

Justin Atholl

(I'm pleased to mark this one as "Mystery Solved", although I've retained the original notes I posted on 20 December 2014. For the resolution, just keep reading.)

Justin Atholl is one of my long-standing "Mysteries That Have Me Mystified" authors. He appears to be a real person, probably a reporter as he contributed to a variety of newspapers (Reynolds News, Derby Daily Telegraph, Hull Daily Mail, Yorkshire Post) in the decade after the war. In the 1950s he also contributed to Boy's Own Paper.

Atholl came to my attention as an author of slim novels and short stories published during and soon after the Second World War, including a couple of science fiction and fantasy titles. There were nine titles in all, published by Everybody's Books in 1943-44 ranging from the short novels The Man Who Tilted The Earth (1943) and The Oasis Of Sleep (1944), along with shorter novelettes The Perfect Murder (1943), Land of Hidden Death, The Grey Beast and There Goes His Ghost (all 1944) and a number of pamphlets that were barely longer than short stories—Death In The Green Fields, The Trackless Thing and The Swastika Murder (all 1944).

His earliest known non-fiction book is probably Millionaire Crooks: True Stories of Famous Financial Racketeers was published by F. J. Hoskins, which is dated 1931 by some sources online. I'm not convinced this is true. The British Library dates the book "194-?". Hoskins was the manager of Reynolds News and appears to have been the publisher of a number of trade magazines in the 1950s.

Atholl went on to write a number of other non-fiction books, including How Stalin Knows (1951), a story of the atomic spy conspiracy, and three well-received books about prisons and hanging: Prison On The Moor (1953), the story of Dartmoor Prison, Shadow of the Gallows (1954) and The Reluctant Hangman (1956), the story of James Berry, a 19th century executioner.

His last known book was How To Borrow Money (1961), co-written with Leslie Benjamin.

It was his books on hanging that would eventually lead to his identity being revealed. In 2015, Mike Ashley spotted a copy of Hang By the Neck: The legal use of scaffold and noose, gibbet, stake, and firing squad from colonal times to present by Negley K. Teeters an d Jack H. Hedblom (Springfield, IL, Charles C. Thomas, 1967) on sale that was inscribed by author Teeters “To T. S. Denham (Justin Atholl) whose / efforts regarding the practice / were most helpful and appreciated / Negley K. Teeters / Hartwick College / Oneonta N.Y. – USA / June 10th 1967”.

Clearly Teeters had contacted Atholl about his books and had received a response from Denham. And Denham was a known contributor to the same kind of publications as Atholl. In fact, as Sidney Denham he had been contributing short stories to a variety of publications during the 1930s. As a journalist, his career dated back to at least 1929.

Thomas Sidney Denham was born in Chester in 1906, and was baptized at Christ Church, Chester, on 15 April 1906. He was the son of Thomas Denham, a professor of history, and his wife Helen Duncan Denham. Thomas pere was the fourth son of John Barden Denham (1819?-1874), born in London on 23 April 1856. He was educated at St. Mary's School, Islington, and Queen's College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1885 and M.A. in 1889.

Thomas travelled to Madras, a thriving city on the Bay of Bengal on India's east coast, where he met Helen Duncan Webb, the daughter of another teacher, James Webb. Thomas (35) and Helen (23) were married in  Madras on 5 March 1892.

Over the next few years they had a number of children: Isabel Amelia Denham (b. 15 June 1894), Thomas Barden Denham (b. 12 October 1896) and Phyllis Helen Denham (b. 3 May 1900), all born in Madras. It would appear that their son died early and Helen returned to England for the birth of Dorothy Maud Denham, born in London on 3 August 1902. Thomas Sidney Denham followed in 1906, his parents giving their address as 50 Bridgestead Row, Chester, when their son was baptized.

Thomas pere became Principal of the Maharaja's College, Mysore, in 1910 and, in 1916, he and Indian educationalist C. R. Reddy (who succeeded Denham as Principal that year), prepared a report for Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the Maharajah of Mysore, based on a five year study of higher education around the world they had undertaken. It helped establish the University of Mysore, which combined the best elements of American, Australian and British universities, and was the first outside British administration in India.

Thomas Sidney Denham was educated at The King's School, Ely, and Kings College University, London. As T. S. Denham, he was a prolific writer of popular science articles which were syndicated around newspapers in the north from 1929 and throughout the 1930s. A sampling of titles would include "The Moon Helps Us On Our Way", "Things to Do and Make", "If the Earth Hits a Star", "Voice Made in a Laboratory", etc., which were to be found in the Sunderland Echo, Burnley Express, Lancashire Evening Post, Derby Daily Telegraph, Gloucester Citizen and Hull Daily Mail.

At the same time he was also writing short stories, usually bylined Sidney Denham (occasionally, and probably unintentionally, Sydney Denham). His first book, Speed!, a history of the Schneider Trophy, appeared in 1929.

At that time Denham was living with his parents at Innisfallen, Green Lane, Camberwell, London SE22 [fl. 1928-29]. In 1929 he married Mary Hull and the newly married couple lived at 162 West Hill, Putney, SW15. Denham was in his early thirties when the Second World War began, although nothing is known about his wartime service.

It might be speculated that he created the name Justin Atholl in order to write rather fanciful stories for the wartime markets, leaving "Sidney Denham" free to write straight fiction. However, Atholl seems to have proven popular and the byline appeared on a number of non-fiction books after the war, whilst Sidney Denham remained active writing about cats in books and for Our Cats magazine.

Denham married his second wife, Helen Frangopulo (1919-1969), in Holborn in 1948 and she occasionally collaborated with her husband and published some of his works.

Denham died at London Hospital on 13 April 1968, aged 62.


Novels as Justin Atholl
The Perfect Murder. London, Everybody’s Books, 1943.
The Man who Tilted the Earth. London, Everybody’s Books, Dec 1943.
Death in the Green Fields. London, Everybody’s Books, Feb 1944.
The Trackless Thing. London, Everybody’s Books, Feb 1944.
The Swastika Murder. London, Everybody’s Books, Mar 1944.
There Goes His Ghost. London, Everybody’s Books, Mar 1944.
The Grey Beast. London, Everybody’s Books, May 1944.
The Oasis of Sleep. London, Everybody’s Books, May 1944.
Land of Hidden Deaths. London, Everybody’s Books, Jul 1944.

Collections as Sidney Denham
Background to Murder and other stories, London, Mitre Press, Jan 1944.
The Grand National Mystery and other tales. London, Mitre Press, Jun 1944.

Non-fiction as T S Denham
Speed! The Story of the Schneider Trophy, with an introduction by Professor A. M. Low. London, Pilot Press, May 1929.

Non-fiction as Sidney Denham
Child of the Gods. Notes on the Abyssinian cat to-day and yesterday, with Helen Denham. London, H. Denham, 1951.
Cats Between Covers. A bibliography of books about cats. London, H. Denham, 1952.
Let’s Keep a Pet. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1955.
Our Cats, ed. Arthur E. Cowlishaw, text by Sidney Denham. London, Nicholas Kaye, 1958.
The Cat-Lover’s Week-end Book, with K. R. Williams, illus. Beryl Irving. London, Seeley, Service & Co., 1961 [1962].
The A to Z of Pets. London, Max Parrish, 1964.
101 Key Points of Cat Care, with Helen Denham. London, Dickens Press, 1968.

Non-fiction as Justin Atholl
Millionaire Crooks: True Stories of Famous Financial Racketeers. London, F. J. Hoskins, 194?.
How Stalin Knows. The story of the great atomic spy conspiracy. London, News of the World (Pocket), 1951.
Prison on the Moor. The story of Dartmoor Prison. London, John Long, 1953.
Shadow of the Gallows. London, John Long, 1954.
The Reluctant Hangman. The story of James Berry, executioner, 1884-1892. London, John Long, 1956.
How to Borrow Money, with Leslie Benjamin, illus. Stewart Marshall. London, Museum Press, 1961.

(* Greatly expanded from it original appearance on 20 December 2014.)


  1. How can a person die in 1968, at 68 years of age, when he was born in 1906?

  2. Through a typo, now corrected.



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