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Saturday, September 22, 2018

W Bryce Hamilton

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

W. Bryce Hamilton was possibly best-known for his work as a Sexton Blake artist for the Amalgamated Press in the 1950s. He had earlier been a popular artist for the illustrated newspaper The Sphere, producing several colour covers in the 1920s, and he also illustrated around 30 children’s books between 1921 and 1953. His early life, however, is something of a mystery.

He was born on 28 October 1894, probably at 54 Lyme Street, Manchester and baptized, as William Bryce Hamilton (the baptism record gave his second name as “Brice”) on 24 March 1895 at St. Paul’s Church, Brunswick Street, Manchester. Little is known about his father, James Hamilton, who was a designer when William was born and a former ship’s engineer, born in Scotland in around 1857. His mother, Emily Elizabeth, was born on 24 July 1862 in Manchester, although again nothing else is known about her.  There appears to be no trace of the family in either the 1901 and 1911 census records, both in England and Scotland.

It is not known where Bryce Hamilton was educated, although he studied art at the Glasgow School of Art.  He first appeared as an illustrator in 1921, when he provided the frontispiece for a school story, Margery Finds Herself, by Doris Pocock and published by Blackie & Son. (The title page erroneously gives the illustrator as H. Coller). In 1923, he illustrated an adventure story by D.H. Parry, “Deathless Dynasty”, for Chums, and in 1924 he illustrated the first of several girls’ stories for Thomas Nelson & Sons. He went on illustrate twelve more books for Blackie & Son, as well as handful of books for other publishers. Most of the books he illustrated were girls’ stories, by authors such as Kathleen Rhodes, Evelyn Everett Green, Ethel Talbot, Geraldine Mockler, Jane Paterson Milne, Dorita Fairlie Bruce and Rita Coatts. Amongst the few boys’ stories he illustrated were a re-issue of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, Ralph Arnold’s On Secret Service, and a re-issue of Skelton Kuppord’s school story Hammond’s Hard Lines.

He also contributed to a number of children’s annuals between around 1928 and 1940, including Blackie & Sons’ The Girls’ Budget, The Boys’ Book of School Stories, Blackie’s Children’s Annual and The Prize Budget for Girls, and Oxford University Press’s The Oxford Annual for Boys, The Oxford Annual for Girls, The Big Book of School Stories for Boys and The Splendid Book for Girls.

Meanwhile, in 1924 he had begun a long association, lasting until 1941, with The Sphere, providing illustrations for stories and of social and sporting events, including many colour illustrations both for inside the magazine and on the cover. Other periodicals to which he sporadically contributed were The Graphic, The Bystander, and Mine.

Hamilton lived for a few years in the 1920s in Maida Vale, London, firstly at 10 Randolph Road and then at 125 Maida Vale. He returned to Manchester in 1929 when he married Margaret (“Maggie”) Winifred Burroughs, a dressmaker born on 7 November 1883 in Manchester and the daughter of Joseph Beaumont Burroughs, a shopkeeper, and his wife Martha Alice. They lived at 125 Maida Vale until around 1933, moving to 149 Maida Vale and then, in 1937, to 37A Abercorn Place, Marylebone, where they remained until Hamilton’s death in 1955. (He was recorded as an “Artist Illustrator” in the 1939 Register, living there with his wife and widowed mother.)

In around 1949 Hamilton began working for the Amalgamated Press (he had earlier illustrated the series “Dane the Dog Detective in Chips in the 1930s). One of his first works was for the comic strip “The Three Musketeers: The Adventure of the Iron Mask” in Knockout (reprinted as the first number of Thriller Comics in 1951, with a different ending – in the original strip the Musketeers all died, but this was changed so that they could appear in further stories). He went on to draw for The Comet, Cowboy Comics Library, Super Detective Library and The School Friend. He also produced the cover for the first, and only, issue of the Australian comic library Captain Flame in 1949. In December 1953 he became the main artist of Knockout’s Sexton Blake stories, going on to produce 80 strips until his death 18 months later, which occurred at his home in Abercorn Place on 26 May 1955. He left an estate valued at £2,207. His wife died at Tooting Bec, Wandsworth, on 3 December 1963, leaving just £250.

Hamilton’s artistic legacy is not exactly huge, although it may be that he did a lot of work which was uncredited (it is known, for example, that he produced paintings for posters and advertisements, and that he painted in oils). This may explain why he was ignored by the major reference books, other than Alan Clark’s Dictionary of British Comic Artists, Writers and Editors (1998). He may not have been a brilliant illustrator, but he was fairly versatile, and able to change his style to suit his audience, and perhaps more worthy of recognition than his neglect suggests.


Books illustrated by W. Bryce Hamilton
Margery Finds Herself by Doris Alice Pocock, Blackie & Son, 1921
Young Felix by Frank Swinnerton, Hutchinson & Co., 1923 (dustwrapper)
At the Sign of the Windmill by Ierne L. Plunket, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1924
Mollie Hazeldene’s Schooldays by Maude S. Forsey, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1924
The Head of the House by Kathleen Rhodes, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1924
The Adventures of Ulysses by Cecily M. Rutley, E.J. Arnold, 1924
Esther’s Charge by Evelyn Everett Green, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1924 (re-issue) (dustwrapper)
Patsey at School by Pamela Hinkson, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1925
Patricia, Prefect by Ethel Talbot, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1925
Christal’s Adventure by Alice M. Chesterton, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1925 (dustwrapper)
Jake’s Birthday Present by Geraldine Mockler, Blackie & Son, 1925 (re-issue)
The Wild Bird by Margaret Stuart Lane, Oxford University Press, 1926
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, Blackie & Son, 1926 (re-issue)
Carol’s Second Term by Ethel Talbot, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1928
Lifting the Cloud by W.P. Shervil, Oxford University Press, 1928
Margery Merton’s Girlhood by Alice Corkran, Blackie & Son, 1928 (re-issue) (dustwrapper)
The Wolf Runner by E.E. Cowper, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1929
On Secret Service by Ralph Arnold, Blackie & Son, 1935
Harriet G. at St. Hilary’s by Jane Paterson Milne, Blackie & Son, 1936
Sidney Seeks Her Fortune by Catherine Mary Christian, Blackie & Son, 1937
The Mysterious Term at Merlands by Jane Paterson Milne, Blackie & Son, 1937
Prior’s Island by Marjorie Taylor, Blackie & Son, 1939
The Holiday They Didn’t Want! By Laurie Munro, Blackie & Son, 1940
Dimsie Carries On by Dorita Fairlie Bruce, Oxford University Press, 1941
Hammond’s Hard Lines by Skelton Kuppord, Blackie & Son, 1941 (re-issue)
The Triumphs of Three by Bessie Comfort, Blackie & Son, 1942
Margery Finds Herself by Doris Alice Pocock, Blackie & Son, 1942(?) (re-issue)
Demon Island:  A Tale by Cecil R. Baldock, George Newnes Ltd., 1946
Little Miss Pinch by Catherine Buckle, E.J. Arnold & Son, 1948
Lots of Pluck by Rita Coatts, W. & R Chambers, 1948
A Madcap Brownie by Sibyl B. Owsley, Blackie & Son, 1953 (re-issue)
The Lost Galleon: A Story of the Times of George I by C. Bernard Rutley, (1950s)
Attic Tales by Alfred Dunning, E.J. Arnold (1950s) (re-issue)
Some Legends of Greece and Rome, E.J. Arnold & Son, (?)

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