Human Wales

All who would study the conditions of the worker in modern industrial Wales should purchase Human Wales said the Daily Mail in 1907.

grsimsgaietyThe author, George R. Sims was an English journalist, poet, dramatist and novelist and had come to Wales in 1907 to write a series of articles. He had been commissioned by the Western Mail and Evening Express to look at how the people live in the cities, on the plains and the towns on the hills of Wales.

He was well qualified for the job. “No man,” said the Express “has devoted more time and attention to the study of the social conditions of the people.”

Sims was a prolific writer covering numerous topics and had written extensively on the conditions of the poor particularly in London. He also published a number of ballads attempting to draw attention to the predicaments of the poor. His most famous being “It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse” (1877) which has been widely parodied.

As he travelled around Wales collecting material for his articles Sims sometimes added descriptions of his travels:

“I spent Empire Day [1] motoring among the Welsh mountains. A splendid car, whose motto was ‘Excelsior’ in the matter of climbing, was most kindly placed at my disposal by Mr. Edward England, of Cardiff, and Mr. England, jun., drove me, taking the torrents and precipices with a nerve and a skill that won my intense admiration. So with England at the helm – wasn’t that splendid for Empire Day? – and the British Flag flying at the prow, we rode triumphantly into Tonypandy, and so to the heart of the valley. There such a terrible storm burst over us that we made a wild dash for a colliery, and the manager very courteously had us lowered to the bottom of a shaft, where we remained snug and dry among the black diamonds until the storm was over. We took the British Flag down the mine with us to keep it dry. It was the only time it was lowered on that day of days.

“I have the greatest difficulty this week in preparing the weekly salad which it is my privilege to offer to my kind friends in front. But it is all the fault of wonderful Wales. I have been in the Principality all the week, and am still there while these lines are being written. I have been whirled about Wales, and putting in some nice, healthy mountain-climbing under the expert guidance of my friend Mr. John W. Evans, of the Western Mail. I have been to Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil and Dowlais, Ebbw Vale and Tredegar, Pontypridd, Tonypandy, and the Rhondda Valley. I have been down a coal mine and up in a balloon. I have been attending eisteddfodau and Hibernian sports, to say nothing of a service in a Chinese Temple and a Somali wedding in the Arab quarter of Cardiff. These things are absorbing, and leave little time for the serious occupation of life. But I hope to be back in London on Sunday, after which it will be my endeavour to drop back again into the ordinary routine of conventional nose-to-the-grindstone life.”

Part of that grindstone was finishing Human Wales. “My endeavour,” he said in the introduction “will be to present a true and faithful picture of things seen in certain areas and districts, where the need for reform is frankly acknowledged by all who have become acquainted with the facts, officially or otherwise.” And he added “This, then, is a record of a journey through a land of contrasts in which wealth and poverty gaze at each other across the way, in which the mighty mountains towering to the sky look down upon miserable hovels in which human beings herd in squalor, and sometimes sleep, packed together in damp, dark dens, into which the light of day has never penetrated.”

Human Wales is something of a grim read but deserves its place in list of publications about Wales. Get the free e-book here

[1] 24 May. It later became Commonwealth Day

Stuart, the Male Patti

To celebrate Swansea Sparkle this weekend I thought I’d share an article which appeared in the Welsh press one hundred and sixteen years ago. In 1900 the South Wales Daily Post had a chat with a ‘famous artiste’ – Stuart, the Male Patti who was appearing at the Swansea Empire.

“Born 27 years ago, of Italian parents at Dallas, Texas,” said the Daily Post Stuart “is an artiste to his finger tips. The warmth of applause accorded him at the Swansea Empire this week testifies to his skill, but he has been equally lionised in London and many Continental cities.

“What do I think of English and Welsh audiences?” he said in answer to a “Post” reporter. “I think they are very kind indeed. When I came over to England last January I was engaged to appear for one week at the Palace, London, but was compelled to stay for seventeen weeks. The audiences were always very appreciative, and I have the same to say of the folk of Cardiff and Swansea.

“My voice? Well, really, I think it came to me from my mother, who was a singer of note, but, strange to say, she lost her vocal powers at my birth, whilst I grew up – I believe I may say it without egotism – the possessor of the wonderful voice you have heard. It is certainly extraordinary to find a soprano voice of such compass in a man. I can reach from B below to E in alt. The notes, too, are quite legitimately produced there is no straining or effort.”

“Was your rise to the front rank a rapid one?”

“Yes, wonderfully quick. I only made my first appearance on the stage eight years ago. My real name? Ah, that, I cannot tell you. My parents were strongly opposed to my going on the stage, and only assented on my promising to hide my identity. That is why I am and shall continue to be, known simply as ‘Stuart’”.

In Paris, Berlin, and other Continental cities the artiste tried an interesting experiment. Assuming that the audiences would believe him to be an Englishman, he decided to sing in English, although he understands French, German, Spanish, and Italian, and see whether art, purely and simply, would carry him through. It did with wonderful success. In. Berlin, especially, the, musically-cultured Germans were delighted with him. They compared him with some of the prima donnas.

“Do you know,” he observed, “I think you English are greatly in error in believing that the whole world is opposed to you. I found little or no evidence of that feeling on the Continent, and as for America, although there must always be diplomatic differences, I think the two nations would come together immediately either was in serious trouble.”

We have said that Stuart, is an artiste to his finger tips. He is so much so that having so long performed as a female impersonator, his mannerisms have become quite effeminate. He wears his female attire with admirable grace, and even after talking to him for an hour you find it difficult to persuade yourself that he is a mere man. A gentleman of artistic instincts, he goes into raptures over the historic remains in the Old World, and it is interesting to note that he considers Cardiff Castle equal to anything in Europe.”

Despite his reticence in not giving his name Stuart was actually one of America’s most noted female impersonators.  His real name was Everett Stuart a former postal worker in Wichita, Kansas. He joined the McIntyre & Heath minstrel show in 1887 and became known by his stage name “Stuart, the Male Patti” – in reference to Adelina Patti a famous coloratura soprano (who made her home in Wales at Craig-y-Nos in the Brecon Beacons). His first big number was, ironically, a song entitled ‘The Letter That Never Came’ – and wags quickly nicknamed him the ‘Mail Patti.’

stuart-the-male-pattyIn 1898 Stuart gained fame when he appeared in the New 1492 a sort of comic re-enactment of the discovery of America in which he played Queen Isabella. Reviewers however were anxious to reassure their readers that Stuart was “inoffensively articulate in his female impersonation.”[i] A theme followed by other media coverage. The South Wales Daily Post reassured their readers that:

 “attired as a lady – his robes are very elaborate, by the way – he sings a trio of songs in a rich contralto voice that would deceive anyone were his sex not stated on the programme. Stuart is certainly a wonder, a freak perhaps; he is yet a deservedly successful music-hall artiste, and is worth going a long way to see and hear.”

The Western Mail noted:

“He (or she) has been described as the “male Patti,” and his soprano singing on  Monday certainly left one in doubt as to which sex he (or still she) rightly  belonged … but in the third section he removed all doubt by ejaculating “What, ho! Bill,” with a loud genuineness that no mere lady could touch with a fishing-rod. He won the applause of pit and gallery.”

Two years later when Stuart appeared in Cardiff the Evening Express also reassured its readers that although his “soprano singing is almost too realistic … he takes care to prove his identity.”

Stuart toured Europe between 1899 and 1908. It’s unclear what happened to him after that.

[i] Atkins, Gary 2003 ‘Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging’

Images from Library of Congress

Noises in the street

Originally written for ‘Save the Coal Exchange’


On a November morning in 1900 a man entered the Cardiff Coal Exchange and asked to put up a petition on their notice board. He was undoubtedly hoping to attract the attention of the men in the many offices throughout the exchange – several of whom were powerful ship or coal owners. Not only that but swathes of people came in and out of the exchange on a daily basis. After some difficulty he was granted permission and he duly put up his petition. He was seeking signatures to an appeal demanding Cardiff Council do something about the dreadful level of noise in the streets.

This certainly was nothing new. People in towns and cities throughout the UK had been complaining about street noise for decades.

Street noise in the late 19th-early 20th centuries could be overwhelming. Horses and carriages on cobbled or stone streets clattered loudly and everywhere were people shouting wares, yelling the latest news, carrying out business matters or just walking and talking. Numerous suggestions looked to counter the problem such as giving horses India rubber shoes (never happened). In 1894 a deputation of merchants asked Cardiff council to relay a road with wooden blocks from the Taff Vale to the pierhead. The noise of the traffic, said the merchants, was so great that at times it was difficult to make themselves heard in their offices. Some were even considering moving away from the dock area due to the noise. The council however was reluctant to consider the higher cost involved. But the merchants argued that if there were noiseless roads the value of the property would greatly increase. The council remained unconvinced and refused the application on the grounds that other Cardiff inhabitants would want the same.

Two years later the Chamber of Commerce proposed to Cardiff Corporation that they should pave Mount Stuart Square with wood (their offices were in the Coal Exchange so had a vested interest). The corporation approved and decided ont-morel Australian hard wood until it was pointed out that the wood was so hard it would make as much noise as the stones. So the Corporation agreed to spend £4,140 on asphalting but this was not carried out until 1897. The ship-owner, magnate and Mayor of Cardiff, T. Morel was the man who pushed through the modernisation
of the pavements and streets in Mount Stuart Square and others.

Another big problem was the street tradesmen – so much so that the Hayes had been nicknamed the ‘Hayes Market.’ “Queen street on a Saturday night,” said one man “is often nothing less than Bedlam, and the banks in St Mary’s street complain most intensely of the annoyance in the daytime.”[1]

Traders were joined by orators who were “splitting their lungs in order to explain to a mixed crowd of men, women and children things any man would blush to speak of in private. … our ears, eyes, noses, and moral sense are to be offended by the nightly doings of this olla podrida [2] of Jacks-of-all-trades, who wheel their trucks into the town and are privileged to compete with the regular tradesmen, who pay rents, rates, and taxes the whole year round.” [3]

By 1900 the situation had escalated until a group of business men formed an anti-noise movement. They organised the petition put up in the Coal Exchange asking Cardiff council to put down ‘street shouting’. Thomas Bowden Green the secretary explained that they wanted to “put a stop to the noise that goes on in Cardiff streets – boys shouting newspapers, matches, and other things.”[4] Members, he said, were mainly bankers, merchants, professional gentlemen, shopkeepers, etc and drew attention to the fact that Birmingham, Brighton and marketing-housewife2twenty other towns had passed by-laws dealing with street noise. “Cardiff,” he said, “has been defined as the worst town in the kingdom for street shouting. Bankers and others cannot conduct their business because of the terrible shouting in the streets …” Newsboys it seems were the worst offenders, “the worst of the nuisance is the war-whoop that follows the cry … It is not only the newsboys. There are the milkmen as well. They don’t content themselves with crying ‘Milk!’ It is more like caterwauling.”

The newsboys however had their own views. In response to the petition one told The Western Mail, “…course, them as is down is most put upon. Us newsboys ain’t got no money to advertise what we sells, and we ain’t got no shop windows to ‘xhibit the papers … us can only shout wiv our voices, ‘cos it’s the only thing we’s got. Blokes with money ‘tract ‘tention in their own way, and ‘cos we can’t do it the same they don’t want us to do it not at all.”

“But can’t you,” said the journalist, “Sell your papers without shrieking out what’s in them?”  The boy gave the journalist a look of pity. “It’s wot’s in it wot sells,” he said, “Blokes only wants a paper when there’s something new in it … Blokes wot wants a paper regular gets it delivered at ‘is house: other blokes don’t want no paper at all ‘ill they hears us call the new news.”

Supposing, said the journalist that the bye-law is passed? “If they does that” the boy replied, “it’ll take the Salvation Army all its bloomin’ time to keep me straight.”

Thomas Bowden Green also writing in The Western Mail said, “there is now a gradually increasing number of those who altogether decline purchasing their papers of street newsboys on account of the very unseemly manner in which they persistently thrust their wares in the faces of their would-be customers, and the still more unseemly noise they make in the public streets and thoroughfares of the town and suburbs. That the nuisance is a very real one may be gathered from the fact that during the few days more than one hundred professional firms, bankers, merchants. etc., and a similar number of hotel and theatre managers, leading tradesmen, etc., have joined in the petition to be shortly presented to the Mayor and Corporation of Cardiff, urgently requesting the street-singer3passing of a bye-law-as adopted in many other towns – to abate and control street cries and noises, including barrel organs, the milkman’s yelps, the fish and vegetable screamer, coal-bells, and the all-pervading “Echo,” “Express,” with its subsequent war-whoop! I should be glad to send you a choice collection of a hundred phrases and epithets upon the matter under discussion from the pens and mouths of Cardiff ratepayers, etc.”

Not everyone however was supportive of the anti-noise movement. Back at the Coal Exchange the petition was not favourably received – many business men expressed their disapproval of the petition having been brought inside their building. Some wags decided to draft a counter petition which was put up next to the original.

“Petition against cocks being allowed to crow, canaries to sing, dogs to bark, animals of the bovine species to bellow, people to talk, bells ringing, poor little newsboys to earn an honest living, frequenters of the football field to shout, and other unnecessary noises hurtful to the ears and understanding of the great and high-minded old women of Cardiff.”

The secretary was asked to have the original petition removed which he did. The petition however went ahead with 330 signatures over a dozen sheets. Only one man made a comment alongside his name and that was Robert Drane the well-known chemist of Queen Street. “These demons,” he wrote, “have long tormented me with their pandemonium of raucous noise, paying no rates for their privileged trade, while I am heavily taxed and may not cry ‘Bunkum’s pills, a penny a box,’ even from my own doorstep.”

The petition achieved very little and street noise did not abate until a variety of changes. The motorcar replaced the noisy horse and carts, streets were tarmacked, laws controlling child labour, taxation on sales, etc. When you walk the streets now and a noisy car blasts past – remember it was ten times worse when your great-great grandparents walked these streets.


[1] The Western Mail 1900 ‘Street Shouting’ November 14, 1900

[2] Stew

[3] Evening Express 1896 ‘Feathers and Fluff’ June 17, 1896

[4] The Western Mail 1900 ‘More trouble for the Cardiff Council’ November 13, 1900

The dragon clock and the refugee

Originally written for ‘Save the Coal Exchange’

In the beautifully preserved hall of Cardiff Coal Exchange is a clock. Flanked either side by strikingly carved dragons it has the words Tempus Fugit (time flies) underneath and in the centre is the word Spiridion. It is a word which sums up so much – fleeing refugees, determination to overcome adversity and a tale which has as much resonance today as when it began in 1819 when Wladislaw Spiridion Kliszczewski was born.

Wladislaw was born in the small Polish town of Iłża on 26 December 1819. His father Peter was a landed proprietor and something of a hero fighting for Polish independence. One evening as the thirteen year old Wladislaw was going home he met a travel-stained, bearded man with his arm in a sling. The stranger asked about the boy’s family and on hearing that Wladislaw’s mother had died promptly burst into tears. Taking him into the house to recover Wladislaw discovered this was none other than his elder brother who had limped and begged his way home from the battlefield. Peter promptly hid him but put it about the local area that his son had died. But the Russians had introduced a new mandate demanding the names of boys attending schools in order to conscript them. Rather than turn Wladislaw over to the Russians Peter decided to send both boys to Kraków which at this time was a free city under the Treaty of Vienna.

Disguised as peasants the two boys walked 188km (116 miles) – about the same distance as recent refugees who walked from Hungary to Austria. However once there they found the city surrounded by enemy forces and decided to split up. The eldest brother would head for Volhynia in the hope of making it to Turkey but was unfortunately captured on the way. But Wladislaw, dodging the enemy, managed to make it into Kraków.

He stayed for two years amongst the Polish refugees studying at a school founded by Jesuits. For a time Peter sent him money but it became too dangerous as letters were being intercepted. Following his father’s example Wladislaw joined the Polish resistance fighters and did some spying for them but was betrayed by one of the school professors. He was arrested and beaten with a knout, a type of vicious whip, which nearly killed him. He recovered and was released but just as the Treaty of Vienna was being breached. Austria now controlled Kraków and demanded that all inhabitants prove they were natives – those unable to do so would be arrested. Friends tried to conceal the boy for as long as they could but it soon became necessary to surrender him to the Austrian authorities.

Sometime later Wladislaw managed to escape disguising himself as a cook’s boy. Several times he was arrested for not having a passport and several times he escaped but was finally recaptured and imprisoned at Trieste as a “state prisoner”[1]. Asked if he would like something to do rather than sit around all day Wladislaw applied to be a watchmaker and was allowed out of prison one day a week under military escort.

An English visitor managed to befriend the boy and with the aid of a bribe acquired his freedom. He sent Wladislaw to join Captain Elliot the master of a British ship and Elliot took the boy charging him £6 passage to Britain. But he liked the young refugee so much that on arriving home he gave him the money back. The route however was not a direct one and took a year. Wladislaw had to be dropped off at various locations, where he made his living as a watchmaker, before being collected by the ship again. Parts of the voyage were fraught with danger. Spending some time in Africa he caught a fever and once again nearly died and was then was involved in skirmishes with Algerian pirates. He finally arrived in Britain in 1837 – at eighteen years of age.

Settling into London Wladislaw joined the society ‘Friends of Poland’ of which Lord Dudley Couttes Stuart, the great-uncle of Lord Bute, was patron. Lord Stuart, at his own cost, apprenticed Wladislaw to a London watchmaker but once qualified he left for Cardiff. Possibly this was on the suggestion of Bute who owned substantial estates in South Wales. In Cardiff Wladislaw went to work for jeweller Henry Grant in Duke Street – eventually marrying his boss’s sister. When Henry retired in 1856 Wladislaw who was nearing forty bought the business and decided to use his middle name, Spiridion, rather than the harder to pronounce surname Kliszczewski.

The business thrived and he soon acquired a wide reputation as an expert optician, watchmaker and jeweller. He supplied timepieces throughout south Wales and was the custodian of the clock on Cardiff City Hall. There was a thermometer outside the shop which journalists read every day and reported temperatures in the south Wales newspapers. He made bronze medals and won awards at eisteddfodau for his designs and he supplied barometers for use in coal mines.

In 1885 Wladislaw’s son Joseph met a young Polish sailor called Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski who had recently docked in Cardiff. Józef had got their address from another Polish sailor, Andrezej Komorowski who, in order to avoid military service, had left Poland as a refugee in 1880/1. Finding his way to Cardiff Andrezej arrived penniless and unable to speak a word of English. He was rescued by Joseph who gave him a pound[2], some new clothes and got him a job aboard a ship. When Andrezej later heard that Józef intended to visit Cardiff he asked him to visit Joseph and thank him for his support.

The two Joseph’s became good friends for they had much in common. Both families had fought for Polish independence and suffered accordingly and both Wladislaw and Józef had fled as refugees. Józef later wrote to Joseph facing the bitter truth that it was unlikely he would be able to return to Poland and that he should look to Britain to offer him refuge. And, possibly adopting Wladislaw’s idea of simplifying his name he signed himself J. Conrad the first time he had used the pen name with which he would become so famous.

A few years later Józef, or Joseph Conrad as he was now calling himself, returned to Cardiff and spent several days at the Spiridion home. He had by then given up the sea and turned to writing although he had struggled to get his second novel published. The publisher had required Conrad to pay a £60 deposit but he was £10 short – so his friend lent him the money. Whilst staying with the family Conrad began his third novel and Joseph went to the trouble of preparing him a quiet room to write at 78 Cathedral Road. Joseph Conrad went on to be regarded as one of the greatest English language novelists and was granted British citizenship in 1886.

Meanwhile thespiridion aging Wladislaw was pining for his beloved Poland. He had applied many times for visas to return but they were always denied. Eight years before his death he managed to visit Kraków in order to catch a far-off sight of surviving relatives and friends. But suffering from Bright’s disease he died aged 72 in February 1891.

Time flies – refugees still cross borders in search of safety, freedom from wars and the chance of a good life. And refugee journeys are still often long and fraught with danger. But how we benefitted from these particular refugees. South Wales had a wonderful watch and clock maker in the Spiridion family and Joseph Conrad found peace and stability in Britain to become a renowned writer.

Tempus fugit indeed.

[1] Then a city under the Austro-Hungarian Empire now in Italy

[2] About £100 in today’s money

The strange world of Dr. Price

It was whilst looking at Welsh examples of men cross-dressing as women that I came across a reference to Dr. William Price. That extraordinary character described as “one of the most significant figures of 19th-century Wales, and one of the most unusual in Victorian Britain.” (Wikipedia)

During his long and often bizarre life he had on one occasion been involved with the Chartist riots and a warrant had been issued for his arrest. In order to escape he disguised himself as a woman and boarded a Cardiff ship bound for Liverpool from which he subsequently made his way to France. Despite being the only example of his cross-dressing he was obviously so successful at it that nobody suspected – at least according to him. “I was assisted,” he said “on board by Police-inspector Stockdale, who, deeming I was a lady, showed me every courtesy. He little thought when he handed me so politely on to the deck that I was Dr Price, for whom he was at that very moment on the look-out. Having, however, got on board, I at once went down below, and when the vessel was at sea, I came on deck in man’s attire, but yet disguised.”

Having read the interview in the Cardiff Times I soon realised that although the piece by Gwilym Hughes had been quoted in almost every work on Price the original has never been made publically available. I have therefore extracted the complete interview and include it here. As it is a transcript the spellings are the original.

For the free e-book click here

In addition very little has been published on the author Gwilym Hughes who wrote predominantly under his bardic name of Ap Idanfryn. A short biographical piece on him appeared in English in the Pontypool Chronicle and Workman’s News in 1893 and in Welsh in Papur Pawb in 1895.

To summarise his life:

gwilym-hughes2Gwilym Hughes was born in LLanrhaiadr-yn-Mochnant, Powys. The second son of seven children to John Hughes, a schoolmaster originally from Brynsiencyn, Anglesey. John had gained a reputation for himself as a writer under the pseudonyms of ‘Vox’ and ‘Idanfryn’ and Gwilym’s bardic name ‘ap Idanfryn’ meant ‘son of Idanfryn.’ His mother was the eldest daughter of Captain Hugh Owen, of the Belt area of Bangor. He was one of the first deacons of the Calvinistic Methodist chapel Twr-Gwyn (now a Grade II listed building).

Gwilym lived with his parents at Bangor, Amlwch and Carnarvon but in the summer of 1876 whilst only 12 his father died. In 1878 he entered the service of John Evans and Company at the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald where he began in the printing department. In 1880 he left and went to work at the Y Genedl Gymreig. Ever restless Gwilym would hop from paper to paper seeking new opportunities and only six months after starting at the Genedl he was invited to take a post as a reporter on the North Wales Express. So successful was he that he was invited to cover new areas for them reporting from Rhyl to Denbigh in the Vale of Clwyd.

He moved to Denbigh to better report for the Express however his old newspaper the Herald offered him another job reporting in the districts covering Llandudno, Conway and the Vale of Conway. He subsequently left the Express and became the chief reporter for the Llandudno Register and Herald, the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald and the Herald Cymraeg.

In 1883 he moved to south Wales to start a penny Conservative weekly called The Brecon Free Press. However a Radical and Liberal he did not share Conservative’s views and so returned to North Wales. He joined forces with H. Edwards the chief reporter of the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald and together they formed a Radical weekly journal the Bangor Observer. However before long he was back as chief reporter at his old stamping ground at the Herald where he remained for four years. Never still for long he then moved back south and in June 1888 he succeeded ‘Adfyfyr’ as the Pontypridd and Rhondda district representative for the South Wales Radical a daily paper.

As well as a reporter Gwilym was involved in numerous other activities. Along with David Edwards, the editor and manager of the Nottingham Express, he founded the Women’s Liberal Association at Carnarvon. And he acted as a Welsh interpreter at the assizes. During one case where six women between 80 and 90 years old had to be interviewed the judge, Mr Swetenham, said after 35 years of experiences in the Wales courts Gwilym was by far the best interpreter he ever had.

In 1887 he married Miss E.J. Roberts of Segontium Terrace, Carnarvon. She was the great-granddaughter of Angel Jones, of Wyddgrug (Mold) about whom Glan Alun had written a poem. He was also immortalised by the Rev. Daniel Owen in his novel Rhys Lewis – “generally agreed to be the first significant novel written in the Welsh language, and is to date one of the longest.” (Wikipedia) One of the leading characters, Abel Hughes, was based on Angel Jones.

As a journalist Gwilym travelled extensively throughout Wales and regularly reported on the Welsh National Eisteddfod, the chief synods and assemblies of the various Nonconformist denominations, and the Welsh National Conferences for the journal he represented. He was commissioned by the South Wales Daily News to represent them at the conference of the Miners Federation of the Great Britain in Birmingham in January 1893.

He died in 1933.

A ‘gay’ story from 1901

In June of 1901 the Welsh newspaper the Evening Express published a short story by an unnamed writer. At this time gay literature was starting to appear more regularly in mainstream literature and art but this does appear to be one of the first ‘gay’ stories from Wales.



Arthur Pagewood and Henry Varcoe had become close friends and intimates, although their acquaintance was by no means one of long standing. In fact, it had commenced about twelve months before the period at which our story opens in the smoking room of a Westminster club of which they were both members.

They were Varsity men – Pagewood hailing from Exeter College, Oxford, and Varcoe from Gonville and Caius, Cambridge – and moreover litterateurs in a small way. Some startling and unconventional short stories, of the decadent type, from the pen of Pagewood which had appeared in a certain eccentric magazine whose life had been a short and merry one, had caused a considerable flutter in the devocotes of Philistia; and Varcoe had contributed to the still surviving “Tyburnia” six or eight fugitive sketches of London life, admirable in style and technique, but lacking in power of “vision” and imagination.

Extremes meet, they say; and Arthur Page wood and Henry Varcoe, contrasting strongly in physique and line of thought, separated by nature to all outward appearance as widely as the poles, had not been long in each other’s society before they became conscious of a subtle and mysterious aura of mutual attraction, when the world would have looked for a wave of mutual repulsion. Each man was, as it were, the complement of the other.

The romantic friendship which resulted presently led to a literary partnership.

The collaborators scored many successes, but they were, after all only minor ones. Each had a soul above the short story – which is often regarded as the most effectual test of literary ability – and each aspired to produce a work which should make Stanley Weyman and Conan Doyle tremble for their laurels.

One breathless evening in late August, when the Parks were deserted and Pall Mall and Piccadilly disconsolate, Arthur Pagewood, in his usual casual way lounged into his friend’s Bayswater chambers, and, flinging the soft felt American hat which he always affected upon the table, while he jerked the butt-end of a cigar out of the open window, threw himself listlessly into an easy chair.

“Varcoe,” he said, fixing his bright eyes eagerly upon that gentleman’s face, “I have been haunted by it in the visions of the night. It will make the world grow pale – readers with delirious horror, rivals with delirious envy.”

“You mean the plot of our projected historical novel, no doubt,” said Varcoe with his accustomed phlegm.

“Why what else would rouse my enthusiasm in this weather? I have the ‘root of the matter.’ But to attempt to develop it here – in London – in this stifling, pestiferous atmosphere, with the thermometer at 80 deg. in the shade – would lead to ruin, disaster, idiocy, and asphyxia.”

“What do you propose to do, then?” inquired his coadjutor rather ruefully, for he by no means relished the abandonment of his cherished idea.

“Briefly this: to ‘fly these cruel lands, this avaricious shore’ – pray excuse mixed reminiscences of Virgil and Savonarola – and seek larger ether,’ larger inspiration, and local colouring.”

“A brilliant project, indeed!” cried Varcoe, affected by the other’s enthusiasm. “But can’t you tell me something more about the plot?”

“Not here – not here, my friend. The city dust would besmirch, the brazen glare of the city streets would scorch the radiant butterfly wings of the Iris of my fancy. As I have said, William de la Marck is the hero. For the rest, let it suffice that the leit-motiv is the old, yet ever new one of a ‘woman weeping for her demon lover.’ Once more I adjure you not to be alarmed, for I pledge you my honour as a literary Bohemian that there is not a souneon of Moore’s ‘Love of the Angels’ nor a trace of Maturin’s ‘Melinott the Wanderer’ in my highly original plot.”

“Have with you, then, Pagewood. I place myself unreservedly in your hands. You have a right, I suppose to play the autocrat, for you supply the literary ‘hegemonic spark.’ Let us see. This is Monday. Well, I shall be ready to accompany you in your quest of the ‘larger ether’ and the ‘local colouring’ on Wednesday.”


From place to place in the picturesque woodland Ardennes district did the friends wander through the shortening days of the golden autumn. Adhering to their programme, they made a pilgrimage to Liege, followed the windings of the Meuse, visited grey old Namus perched above the river, stayed for some days at the Tete d’Or in lovely Dinant, and explored the grottoes of Hun. But their steps always gravitated towards the forest, and when its greenery had given place to russet they settled down at a sleepy little hotel in St. Hubert, which, as every Belgian traveller knows, lies in the very heart of the Ardennes.

Now, Pagewood was eccentric – eccentricity, we know, is the hall-mark of genius – and cherished some peculiar fads, which he had been known to sacrifice on the altar of friendship, or even on that of love. The most aggravating of these fads was a literary one, as Varcoe had learnt to his cost. You might urge him with the most frenzied entreaties, you might demonstrate the utter futility of his line of action, but you could never induce him to disclose the denouement or peripety of a story until its conclusion was virtually reached. “I must keep the bonne bouche for the last’’ was his invariable reply to the remonstrance of Varcoe on the subject. Men may and do laugh at fads, but they often lead up to strange and unpleasant consequences – a truism destined to receive a specially melancholy exemplification in the present case. Arthur Pagewood was by no means a strong man; the fiery and ceaseless workings of his soul had already well-nigh frittered out the frail constitution which he had inherited from consumptive parents. To make matters worse, he was one of those Quixotic individuals who scorn to adapt their clothing to the weather. Cold blasts were not unknown in the Ardennes in October, but Pagewood rejected an overcoat as effeminate. The consequence was that during a walk one day, when the wind blew from the east, he contracted a severe chill. Pneumonia set in, and in less than a week Henry Varcoe stood weeping bitterly, for all his Anglo-Saxon phlegm, over the corpse of a friend whom he loved as few brothers are loved.

This, then, was the end of all their pleasant intercourse. Thus had their partnership terminated. The bright star or fancy was extinguished, the sparkling foam of imagination choked up for ever. Those eyes, eternally closed, would never again thrill him with the impassioned fervour of their gaze; that white cold, delicate hand would never again hold his own in the grasp of friendship. And what of the dream of literary distinction, than which none other is more fascinating? Death, grim harlequin of life’s pantomime, had smitten the illusory fabric with his icy wand, and the glistening rainbow battlements, the golden towers, the fairy cupulas, had trembled, tottered, fallen in ruin, like so many stage properties beneath his resistless hand. Neither man nor angel could rear again the palace of delight in which the vanished spirit had so revelled.

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,

And burned is Apollo’s laurel-bough.


Henry Varcoe was stricken to the heart by the death of his friend, and yet he could not tear himself away from the scene of his loss. Some spirits are so constituted, and they suffer most acutely of all.

Alone he roamed the dreary and sodden woodlands, now thickly carpeted with fallen leaves, missing his dear companion at every step; alone at night in his solitary chamber wherever his eye rested he was reminded of Pagewood. On the mantel lay his favourite meerschaum; the few volumes which had accompanied his wanderings – Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, AEchylus, Schopenhauer’s “Parerga” – were ranged on a shelf hard by; and on a small in a corner of the room was deposited the treasured MS. whose progress had been interrupted by his death.

That chief d’oeuvre, Varcoe feared, would never see the light. His mental powers were in abeyance – under eclipse. More than once, when the burden of his lonely sorrow had seemed utterly insupportable, he had sat down and tried to write; if for no other purpose, at least to distract his thoughts; but his brain was torpid and barren, no ideas would come to him and the useless pen was quickly laid aside in despair.

The master hand which had so jealously retained the clue that led through the labyrinthine maze of the plot right to its heart lay stiff and cold in the grave. Varcoe might have been hypercritical, too distrustful of his own powers, but no solution – only a few, indeed, occurred to him – of the mystery hanging around the fate of the hapless heroine who had surrendered herself, body and soul, to the embodied demon. William de la Marck, commended itself to him as satisfactory, or even remotely probable. And then he caught himself wondering whether there was out in the vast unknown universe a mystic treasure-house wherein were deposited those thoughts of the mighty thinkers of the earth which seemed to perish on their decease, and wishing that, if such there were, he knew the open sesame that would compel it to disclose its secrets. Musing thus, he bethought him of Lytton’s “Pausanias,” of Dickens’s “Edwin Drood,” of Louis Stevenson’s “St. Ives,” and then, looking back through the centuries, of

Him who left half-told

The story of Cambuscan bold.

All these inspired ones, like that Pagewood whom he mourned, had wended their way to the “bourne from which no traveller returns,” and others had endeavoured, with scant success to place a coping-stone shaped by alien hands upon the fabric which the mighty dead had left unfinished, and which they alone could have adequately completed.

One night – it was November, and the rain, driven by violent, intermittent squalls, beat furiously against the casement – Henry Varcoe, as if in protest against the wild weather, his own gloomy thoughts, and no less gloomy surroundings, braced himself up for a supreme effort. He read and read again the latter part of the MS.; he tried to think whether the dead man had ever dropped a casual hint which might lead him to the discovery of the intended denouement; he marshalled for the hundredth time before his menial vision the various possibilities of the case. All was in vain; his brain whirled like a lonely sphere of fire, desolate, unproductive, tormented.

He buried his face in his hands, and moaned aloud, “Oh, Pagewood! Pagewood! friend of my heart. I have lost you, and with you, I have lost all – hope, energy, intellect. I am not man enough to complete the monument of your genius, which owes so little to my poor efforts. And yet how gladly would I give my life, my soul, to place before the world – not, Heaven knows, for my own sake, but yours – in a manner worthy of you, our last labours.”

The bells of the Abbey Church of St. Hubert, which was within a stone’s cast of the hotel, at this moment, in tones muffled by the battling wind and rain, slowly chimed the midnight hour.

The last stroke was still vibrating through the troubled air, when the door of the chamber was noiselessly opened, and a tall, cloaked figure as noiselessly glided in and took the seat at the table before the open manuscript which Varcoe had been perusing. The visitor next, with a well-remembered gesture, flung off his broad-brimmed felt hat and seized the pen which had so lately fallen from the watcher’s nerveless grasp.

From his post beside the stove Varcoe gazed in much terror upon the features of the newcomer, which were fully revealed by the removal of his headgear. The face he beheld was, and yet was not, the face of Pagewood. It was a livid and horrible mask, which simply reproduced and travestied, as a wax replica might have done, the cast of his features as his friend remembered them in life, but left them utterly devoid of expression. Sorrow and joy were equally banished from the passionless lineaments of the dead; and in those fixed and glassy eyes there was neither speculation nor recognition.

Varcoe, naturally a strong man, and by no means given to sentimentality and imaginative crazes, was now an altered being. He was unnerved by the constant presence and tensions of his grief, his prolonged vigils, his utter loneliness in a foreign land, and the gnawing haunting sense of a complete paralyses of his literary powers, and, consequently of his literary ambition. The sight of the melancholy apparition, which seemed unaware of his presence and yet bent upon the performance of some important task, so wrought upon him that his consciousness forsook him, and he slipped helplessly from his chair to the ground in a deep swoon.

When Varcoe come to himself the weird eidolon of what had once been Pagewood had vanished. Time had not stood still, although he had been unconscious of its progress, for the candles on the table burned low in their sockets.

Feebly he arose, and fearfully he drew near the open manuscript. He remembered that the instant before he fainted he had seen the shade take up a pen and bend eagerly over it. Judge of his amaze when he beheld page after page, from the point where the narrative had broken off, filled with the handwriting of his dead friend! Was he waking or dreaming? That night, at all events, he would not – he could not – sleep.

He replenished the stove, procured fresh candles, and addressed himself to the perusal of the concluding portion of the MS.

The story was finished! Yes, finished by the hand of the dead, which had dispensed with his feeble help.

The plot culminated in scenes suggestive of the lurid splendours of the Hindu Padalon when the doomed Kehama made his descent thither. The mystic and terrible things of the spiritual world were, for once in the history of literature, described by a spirit. The frantic efforts of the wretched Yolande, the heroine to rescue the demon soul of the outlawed William de la Marck, whom she loves in spite of all the threats and judgments of the angry heavens; the supreme sacrifice which her luckless passion claims and receives; the ghastly horrors of that night when the nameless tragedy is consummated and the silver planet of love is quenched, as it were, in a lake of blood and fire; all these things were portrayed in words and imagery that lived, that breathed, that stood out as grim, objective realities from the pages, like the ghostly pylons of Karnac silhouetted against the pure indigo of the midnight Egyptian skies – the words and imagery of a spirit, redolent of that higher sphere wherein spirits exist.

When Henry Varcoe had ceased reading, the hair on his head stood up, he was bathed, despite the warmth of the apartment, in a cold sweat, and his countenance was as livid as had been that of his phantom visitant.

Some lines traced on the last page of the MS. now arrested his attention. They ran thus:-

“Our collaboration, the action and reaction of our spirits each upon the other, seemed to, but, did not cease upon my death. The agony of your heart, the cry of your sorrow, the bitterness of your disappointment – these are influences that reach from earth to other worlds, and they have brought me to your side to-night.

“The story, which was begun so gaily and hopefully has, alas! been finished by the hand of the dead. You can use it or destroy it as you please. To me it matters not; for to me earthly triumphs are indifferent. But remember that conditions are annexed to your choice, whichever that may be. If you destroy it your life will be as that of others – the normal threescore years and ten; if you use it, unparalleled success – which your collaborator is not destined to share and enjoy – awaits the book and its author. But then you must die, in the zenith of your fame, a year after its publication.

“Ponder and choose. In either event, beloved friend,

“Be thou assured I shall not fail

To meet thee in that hollow vale.”

That night Henry Varcoe made his choice.


The grand sensation of the Christmas literary season that year was “A Romance of the Ardennes.” written in collaboration by Arthur Pagewod and Henry Varcoe. Edition after edition was called for and exhausted. The glories of the popular Corelli waxed pale and were eclipsed by the splendour of its success. It took the hearts and souls of men captive, and yet it was more “triste et terrible,” more awful in its diablery, than the weird masterpiece of the uniue Maturin. It was a wail from the regions. Of eternal dolour – a wail in which was heard the death-shriek of a woman’s love, which had vainly essayed to plumb those sunless depths.

The world, of course, knew that Arthur Pagewood was dead; but it looked for other work from the pen of his brilliant confrere. The world was disappointed. Long ere it had ceased clamouring for fresh editions of “A Romance of the Ardennes,” Henry Varcoe had re-joined that friend to immortalise whose name he had cheerfully laid down his own life. Those who had bent over the pillow of the dying man to catch his last words had seen a smile light up his face as he faintly whispered-

“Be thou assured I shall not fail

To meet thee in that hollow vale.”