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Saturday, December 02, 2017

T. M. R. Whitwell

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

The name of T. M. R. Whitwell was once very familiar to readers and collectors of boys’ school stories, and also to readers of the boys’ magazine The Captain, for which Whitwell illustrated numerous school stories, in particular the early school stories written by P. G. Wodehouse, some of which were subsequently used when the stories were issued in hardback

Whitwell was born on 11 July 1868 at 136 Victoria Park Road, Hackney, north London, and christened Thomas Montague Radcliff Whitwell. His father, Thomas L. Whitwell (born in Stepney in around 1837), was, at that time, a law student (he later became a solicitor’s clerk), who had married Eliza Birt, the daughter of a financial agent, in Bethnal Green in 1865. This was Thomas senior’s second marriage, his first wife, Marian Birt, whom he had married in Bethnal Green in 1860 and with whom he had two children, William Clarence Birt Whitwell (born in 1861), and Edith Marian Whitwell (born in 1863), having died in 1864. A third child, Ruth Eliza, was born in 1867. At the time of the 1871 census, the family was living at Montague House, Clarendon Street, Walthamstow (with T.M.R. Whitwell recorded as simply “Montague”).

It is not known where Whitwell was educated, or where he received his art training (if, indeed, he received any). There is no trace of him in the 1881 census. However, he was working as a professional artist at the time of the 1891 census, where he was recorded as one of 10 boarders at the Swan Hotel, Doddinghurst, Essex. In 1892, he was recorded as a correspondent for the magazine Cycling, with his earliest known work, The Cycling Album: Being a Selection of Sketches from “Cycling”, appearing in 1893. (He was, at around this time, a member of the Hainault Cycling Club along with his brother, who was at that time a solicitor’s clerk, and later a member of the Essex Wheelers Cycling Club). Two years later, he provided almost 100 illustrations for Industrial Explorings in and around London, written by R. Andom (i.e. Alfred Walter Barrett, who had published the comic novel We Three and Troddles the previous year). The book was a humorous look at “workaday” London, taking in “such industrial concerns as piano manufactories, rope works, gasworks, paper works, and wire works, in the chatty and lively descriptions of which the author is materially helped by the effective drawings of his co-explorer, Mr T.M.R. Whitwell.” (The Daily Telegraph).

On the 30 April 1896, Whitwell, who was then living at 15 Parma Crescent, Clapham Junction, married Sarah Jane Hanson Southan at the Holy Trinity Church, Hastings. Born in Wellington, Shropshire, in 1875, she was the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Southan – Thomas, a civil engineer, had died in 1889, and Elizabeth was running the Washington Hotel in Hastings. The couple subsequently moved to 50 Lancaster Road, Stroud Green, in north London. (The marriage certificate recorded Thomas’s father’s profession as “solicitor”, as did his brother William’s marriage certificate in 1898, suggesting that he had moved upwards from being a solicitor’s clerk).

Three years later, Whitwell began his long career as an illustrator of boys’ school stories. He illustrated a short school story by R.S. Warren Bell in the very first issue of The Captain, published by George Newnes, in April 1899, and he went on to contribute illustrations throughout the magazine’s complete run until the last issue in 1924, illustrating 31 serials and numerous short stories. Many of the serials were subsequently issued as hardback novels with Whitwell’s illustrations, although most were issued by publishers other than Newnes. His best-known work was associated with P. G. Wodehouse – he illustrated his school story serials The Gold Bat (1903-04), The Head of Kay’s (1904-05), The White Feather (1905-06), and Jackson Junior and The Lost Lambs (1907 and 1908, re-issued in hardback as Mike). These were followed by The New Fold (1908-09, re-issued in hardback as Psmith in the City) and Psmith, Journalist (1909-10). Some of his original Captain illustrations were subsequently used in the early hardback editions of these stories published by A. & C. Black. He was also one of the illustrators of Wodehouse’s short story collection Tales of St. Austin’s, published in 1903.

In 1916, Whitwell began providing illustrations for Cassell & Co.’s story paper Chums, and in 1919 he began a six-year association with The Boy’s Own Paper, published by the Religious Tract Society, again with some of the serials he illustrated being subsequently published in hardback. He also provided illustrations for a handful of novels, all school stories, published by James Nisbet & Co., Blackie & Son and the Oxford University Press. His only illustrative ventures outside the field of school fiction, apart from the two Psmith books mentioned above, were for an adventure story by Argyll Saxby (in 1900), and another R. Andom book, On Tour with Troddles, in 1909.

In the meantime, Whitwell’s marriage had floundered within only three or four years. In the 1901 census he was recorded as a boarder at 7 Acris Road, Wandsworth, with Arthur Trespass, a saddler’s manager, and his family, and his wife was back at the Washington Hotel in Hastings with her mother. (In 1902, Whitwell was listed in The Post Office Directory as an artist at 12 New Court, Carey Street, Holborn, presumably a studio address.  He was still there in 1916).

In June 1910 Sarah Whitwell petitioned for her conjugal rights, claiming that her husband had refused to “live and cohabit” with her – she was living at the Washington Hotel and he was living at “Lyndale”, Cambridge Road, Wanstead, Essex. Her petition was upheld and in October 1910 Whitwell was given 14 days to return to her. However, he failed to do so, and so at the end of November 1910 Sarah filed for divorce, on the grounds that, firstly, her husband had failed to comply with the earlier order, and, secondly, that he had committed adultery with an Olive Henderson – they had been living together as husband and wife at 98 Mantilla Road, Tooting Bec Common, Surrey, since 3 November 1910. The marriage was subsequently formally dissolved in September 1911.

Shortly before this, the 1911 census had recorded Whitwell living at 6 Tabley Road, Holloway, north London, with a son, Thomas Montague Radcliff, born in Islington on 10 January 1911, and Olivia Henderson (rather than “Olive”), described as a housekeeper. Sarah Whitwell was, at that time, the manageress of the Washington Hotel. Thomas and Olivia (actually Olivia Philippa Henderson, born in Poplar, London, 1869, the daughter of Charles Henderson, a coach painter) subsequently married in Islington in the summer of the following year.

Whitwell died, of cardiac failure associated with a chest tumour, on 16 February 1928 in the General Hospital in Northampton, without leaving a will. His home at that time had been in Great Linford, Buckinghamshire. His first wife died in Hastings in 1939, and his second wife died in Tonbridge, Kent, in June 1955. His son, who had married Winifred Biggin in Croydon in 1935, was recorded in 1939 as a poultry farmer, market gardener and part-time solicitor’s clerk – he died in Shaftesbury, Dorset, in 1983.

Whitwell’s brother William became a solicitor’s clerk (1891 census, when he was living with his aunt, Emma Whitwell, in the City of London, along with his father), before becoming an author and journalist (1901 and 1911 census records). However, the only piece of writing that has been traced attributed to him is an article, “Round Rochester in Dickens Land”, in the magazine Cycling in August 1905.

Whitwell was a particularly distinctive artist, and his illustrations are almost all instantly recognizable. However, his work has not been universally liked – writing in 1966, Richard J. Voorhees (in his biography of P. G. Wodehouse, published in New York) commented:
... the illustrations [in Wodehouse’s school novels] are atrocious. Once they must have attracted readers; today they could only repel or amuse. Whether black and white or in color, they make the schoolboys look at least thirty years old; one character, who wears glasses, looks fifty. Not only fashions in drawing, but also fashions in dress give the boys a formal appearance in the least formal circumstances. When they are cheering on a runner as he lunges toward the finish line, when they are painting a statue in the park with tar, even when they are smashing windows, their high collars and tight jackets suggest not so much a scene of vigor or violence as a posed picture of a school group.
This was, it must be said, rather harsh. Whitwell was responding to the texts he was illustrating, and he did so with a certain degree of style and authenticity, in a style that was frequently different to most of his contemporaries. His pencil drawings in particular were often meticulous in their detail, and very delicately drawn. He was clearly well-regarded by the publishers who used him – he illustrated around 40 public school novels  –  and also, presumably, by the authors whose work he illustrated. Perhaps one measure of the esteem in which he was held was the generous number of plates which appeared in some of the books he illustrated – Tales of Greyhouse, for example, written by R.S. Warren Bell, had 16 black and white plates, and three other of Bell’s books had 12 plates. P. G. Wodehouse’s Mike contained 12 plates, and The Gold Bat and The Head of Kay’s 8. This compared with an average of 4-6 plates in most other books.

Yet despite his output, and his association with P. G. Wodehouse, he has been ignored by all the standard reference books. Why this was the case is a mystery.


Books illustrated by T.M.R. Whitwell
The Cycling Album: Being a Selection of Sketches from “Cycling” Dangerfield Print Co., 1893
Industrial Explorings in and around London by Robert Andom, James Clarke & Co., 1895   
The Tiger-Man of Burma and Other Adventure Yarns by Argyll Saxby, “The Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1900
Tales of Greyhouse by R.S. Warren Bell, George Newnes, 1901
Acton's Feud: A Public School Story by Frederick Swainson, George Newnes Ltd., 1901       
Tales of St. Austin's by P.G. Wodehouse, A. & C. Black, 1903       
The Gold Bat by P.G. Wodehouse, A. & C. Black, 1904           
The Head of Kay's by P.G. Wodehouse, A. & C. Black, 1905       
Green at Greyhouse by R.S. Warren Bell, Chapman & Hall, 1908
Mike: A Public School Story by P.G. Wodehouse, A. & C. Black, 1909
For the Sake of His Chum by Walter C. Rhoades, Blackie & Son, 1909 (dustwrapper)
On Tour with Troddles by R. Andom, Cassell & Co., 1909
Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse, A. & C. Black, 1910
Black Evans: A School Story by R.S. Warren Bell, A. & C. Black, 1912
One of the Awkward Squad by Tom Bevan, James Nisbet & Co., 1912       
The Feats of Foozle by Gunby Hadath, A. & C. Black, 1913       
Dormitory Eight by R.S. Warren Bell, A. & C. Black, 1914       
Rob Wylie of Jordon's: A Story of Public School Life by F. Cowley Whitehouse, Blackie & Son, 1914   
The Skipper of the XI by John Barnett, Blackie & Son, 1915       
The Secret Seven by R.S. Warren Bell, A. & C. Black, 1915       
Sheepy Wilson: A Public School Story by Gunby Hadath, James Nisbet & Co., 1915
Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse, A. & C. Black, 1915
Greyhouse Days by R.S. Warren Bell, George Newnes, 1918
The Three Prefects by R.S. Warren Bell, A. & C. Black, 1918       
Joe Doughty by M.M. Guy, A. & C. Black, 1918           
The Adventures of Two Runaways by Ascott R. Hope, A. & C. Black, 1918 (re-issue of All Astray: The Travels and Adventures of Two Cherubs, 1902)   
The New House Mystery and Other tales of School and Country Life by Ashmore Russan, “The Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1918   
The McKickshaws at School by Ascott R. Hope, Ascott R., A. & C. Black, 1919 (re-issue of Half-Text History: Chronicles of School Life, 1897)
Forge of Foxenby by R.A.H. Goodyear, Blackie & Son, 1920
The Boys of Sancotes: Some Yarns of School Life by Harold Murray, “The Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1920       
Schoolboy Pluck by Harold Avery, Nisbet & Co., 1921
The Sporting House: A School Story by Richard Bird, Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press, 1921
The Boys of Castle Cliff School by R.A.H. Goodyear, Blackie & Son, 1921
Pickles of the Lower Fifth by Rowland Walker, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1921   
The Prefects' Patrol by Harold Avery, James Nisbet & Co., 1922
The Shadow on the School by Frank Elias, Frank, “The Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1922
The Four Schools by R.A.H. Goodyear, Blackie & Son, 1922       
The Greenway Heathens: A Public School Story by R.A.H. Goodyear, Nisbet & Co., 1922   
A Fifth Form Mystery by Harold Avery, “The Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1923
Tom at Tollbar House by R.A.H. Goodyear, Blackie & Son, 1923
The Two Captains of Tuxford: A Story of Public School Life by Frank Elias, “The Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1924   
His Serene Highness: A Public School Story by A.L. Haydon, Robert South Ltd., 1925       
On the Ball: A Football Story by Sydney Horler, Blackie & Son, 1926   
According to Brown Minor, or The Feats of Foozle by Gunby Hadath, Hodder & Stoughton, 1924 (re-issue of The Feats of Foozle)       
The Moreleigh Mascot by Richard Bird, Blackie & Son, 1927   
One of the Best by R.A.H. Goodyear, Nisbet & Co., 1930 (re-issue of The Greenway Heathens)   
Every Inch a Briton by Meredith Fletcher, Blackie & Son, 1933 (re-issue)
Tales of Wrykyn and Elsewhere by P.G. Wodehouse, Porpose Books, 1997

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