Saturday, June 08, 2024

Charles T. Podmore — Writer and Decorator


By Robert J. Kirkpatrick

The name of Charles T. Podmore (or C.T. Podmore) may be familiar to some students of 19th century boy’s story papers – he contributed several stories to papers published by Samuel Dacre Clarke, alias Guy Rayner). He also wrote at least four novels, three stage plays, and was a local journalist for several years. Yet he spent his entire life living in Manchester and working full-time as a painter and decorator.

He was born on 3 April 1870 and baptised, as Thomas Podmore, at St. Jude’s, Ancoates, Manchester, on 26 February 1871. His father, Joseph Podmore (1818-1894) was a paper hanger and decorator, who had married Eliza Pickford (1834-1890) in Macclesfield, Cheshire, in 1858. Charles was the last of five children.

In the 1871 census the Podmore family was recorded at 11 Grosvenor Street, Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester; ten years later, they were living at 26 Legh Grove, Ardwick, Manchester; and in 1891 they were living as boarders at 32 Clifford Street, Chorlton on Medlock, when Joseph was described as a decorator and Thomas was described as a journalist and author.

His first venture as a writer appears to have been the short-lived The Young Author’s Journal, edited in partnership (as C.T. Podmore) with W.J.R. Carey, which was launched in Manchester on 1 May 1887 when Podmore was only 17. A year later he began contributing to some of the story papers published by Samuel Dacre Clarke (under his pen-name of Guy Rayner). Amongst his contributions to The Young Briton’s Journal were The Golden Dragoon; The Story of an Outcast; Dick Arden’s Quest; and Sylvester Strood. For The Boys’ Popular Weekly he wrote St. Bartholomew; and for Guy Rayner’s Boy’s Novelette he contributed A Man of Mystery – A Tale of the Pressgang Days; and Porlock the Jew, or The Spectre of the Abbey. His stories appeared under the names of Chas. T. Podmore and C.T. Podmore. Why he added “Charles” to his name is a mystery.

He appears to have published nothing in the years immediately following 1890. He went on to marry Blanche Sarah Roberts, born on 29 April 1874 in Tipton, Staffordshire, at St. Thomas’s Church, Ardwick, on 20 April 1898. Blanche was the daughter of Edward Roberts, a railway station master, and his wife Sarah. The marriage certificate gave Podmore’s name as Charles Thomas Podmore, and his profession that of a decorator, having belatedly, perhaps, decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. They went on to have three children: Cecilia Florence (1900-1987), Thomas Edward (1901-1972), and Charles Arthur (1904-1923).

His first novel, A Cynic’s Conscience, which portrayed the tragic consequences of an affair between a married man who has left his wife and another woman, was published by Edward Arnold in 1900, under the name of C.T. Podmore. This was followed by A Trombone and a Star, also issued by Edward Arnold, in 1905; and The Fault, published by John Long in 1909. A review of The Fault in the London-based newspaper The Era described Podmore as “a well-known Manchester journalist,” although what publications he wrote for has yet to be determined.

At the time of the 1901 census, he was living at 22 Albert Place, Ardwick. He was recorded as Charles T. Podmore, and was described as house decorator. By 1909, he had moved his family to 14 Meade Grove, Longsight, Manchester (where he was listed in a local trade directory as a decorator), and where he remained for the rest of his life.

In the 1921 census, he was described as a house decorator, with his sons Thomas Edward working as a house painter (continuing the family tradition), and Charles as an apprentice fitter.

As was the case before, there was a long gap between his last novel and his next work, which was a stage play, The Real Jeff Carbury, performed in Manchester in 1926, along with Labour on Top, also first performed in 1926. A year later came Put It There.

In 1932 he began writing for The Era, mainly contributing pieces on the theatre, music, and reviews. Another novel, Three Strange Men, was subsequently serialised, in 1938, in several local newspapers in the UK and in Australia. But he continued in his trade as a decorator, being recorded in the 1939 Register as a “grainer painting trade”. (A grainer was a painter who painted imitation of wood or marble grain).

Charles T. Podmore died on 27 March 1952, aged 82, at his home in Meade Grove, and was buried in the Southern Cemetery, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, on 1 April 1952. He did not leave a will. His wife died just five weeks later, on 8 June 1952, being buried four days later alongside her husband, leaving an estate valued at £223 1s. 5d. (just over £7,000 in today’s terms), with administration granted to her daughter Cecilia.

It is widely known that writing can be a very precarious occupation, and many authors supplement their income from writing by working in other jobs. This is as true today as it was in the 19th and early 20th century, although many writers were so wedded to their craft, and spent so long on it, even if for very little reward, that a second job was out of the question, and they were content to live in poverty. Podmore clearly had ambitions to be a writer even at the early age of 18 – witness his boys’ stories. Why he stopped writing them can only guessed at. Was he disappointed with the fees he received, or did he run out of ideas, or were his stories not well-received?

His novels received mixed reviews. The Leeds Mercury, while praising Podmore’s style, said “A Cynic’s Conscience is a disagreeable and entirely unattractive book,” and The St. James’s Gazette found it “loosely constructed and slovenly written; while The Athanaeum called it “a remarkable piece of writing,” with The Sphere declaring it “an excellent story, full of truth and insight, full of beautiful human touches…..thoroughly convincing.”

A Trombone and a Star, the story of a musician and his only daughter, was described by The Daily Telegraph as “a distinctly clever book without being remarkable,” and by The East Anglian Daily Times as “an extremely clever and unconventional novel, marred only be certain affectations of style which prevent entire enjoyment.” And The Fault, a novel about the romantic entanglements of two young men, was either “a forcible and dramatic one” (The Bookseller), or “rather pompous, and lacks verisimilitude in some of its details.”

Perhaps these assorted opinions convinced Podmore that he could never become a major novelist, and, after his brief foray into writing for the stage, he focused on local journalism, while relying largely on his income from his job as a painter and decorator.

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