BLACK COUNTRY WOMEN The legacy lives on ... BE INSPIRED
Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler
Author, Poet and Children's book writer.
Born 9 April 1860
If you are interested in the changes in literature over time, you may like to investigate Ellen Thorneycroft who some
say used her own background as reference to the stories she wrote and maybe ironically, used her privileged
background to show society and the difference in class at the time.
Christened on 9 May 1860, Ellen was the daughter of Henry Hartley Fowler from Sunderland and Ellen Thorneycroft
Her father was the son of a Wesleyan minister and nephew of the Mayor of Wolverhampton in 1858.
Ellen also had the Industrial Revolution running through her veins because the Hartley family were glassmakers.
Her father had started his working life as a solicitor, became the Mayor of Wolverhampton and was elected as the
Liberal MP for the area in 1880.
Ellen was the youngest of three children in the family and lived a somewhat privileged life as the family had a wet
nurse, cook, two housemaids and a groom, Their Methodist upbringing gave them a lot of empathy for those from
However she was not a socialist and this can be seen in the theme and dialogue in her book The Farringdons where
Alan Tremaine, a rich young man, tells Caleb Bateson, a puddler, why it is important for the rich man to have
responsibility for the poor, who could not cope with being rich.
PASSAGE FROM THE FARRINGDONS
‘And so it would be hard, sir, if this was the end of everything, and it was all haphazard … But when your rightly understood as it’s all the Master’s doing, and that He knows what He’s about a sight better than we could teach him, it makes a wonderful difference. Whether we are rich or poor, happy or sorrowful, is His business and He can attend to that: but whether we serve Him rightly in the place where He has put us, is our business, and it’ll take us all our time to look after it without trying to do His work as well … (people) have got to do the work that the Lord has set them to do, and not … go after each other’s. Why, Mr Tremaine, if at our place the puddlers wanted to do work of the shinglers and the shinglers wanted to do the work of the rollers, and the rollers wanted to do the work of the masters, the Osierfield wouldn’t be for long the biggest of ironworks in Mershire.”
Ellen younger siblings were Edith Henrietta, born in 1865 and Henry Ernest, born in 1870. She and her sister were home educated and probably followed a set path of Methodist based learning. Edith also became a writer and their subsequent books relate aspects of their lifestyle and Methodist principles.
In her late teens Ellen attended a private school in London. Her brother became an Oxford undergraduate but Ellen returned home where she remained, apart from three months in London every year, until she was 43.
She and her sister were always encouraged to write. Ellen wrote poems, short stories and novels which were semi-autobiographical in a number of ways.
Her fiction, generally set in the Black Country is characterised by the wit and humour which runs through the Methodism and spiritual crisis of her characters.
EXTRACTS FROM VARIOUS BOOKS
Concerning Isabel Carnaby (1898)
Lady Farley Laughed. “I think our conversation is realty affected by clothes.” She remarked. “I can never administer a social snub properly unless I am wearing either fur or diamonds; and I couldn’t possibly pray in a hat, or without a veil.”
Fuel of Fire (1902)
“She hasn’t had much waiting on in late years, poor lady!” said Faith with a sigh. “No more she has miss; and it don’t seem becomin’ somehow. I shall niver forgit the first time I saw her come inta the kitchen at Poplar Farm to give an order herself, instead o’ ringin’ the bell for the footman to take it, as she us to du up at the Hall. I remember onst when I was in service it give me such a turn as niver was when I see the kitchenmaid mix the mustard in one o’ the room teacups. ‘Yew must always use a kitchen tea-cup for mixing the mustard in, yew careless hussy,’ I says; ‘and niver let mesee yew speek disrespectfully o’ one of the room tea-cups agen’. And it gave me such another turn when I see her leddyship come inta the kitchen at Poplar Farm.”
Her Ladyship’s Conscience (1913)
“But never mind inequalities of position,” continued Westerham, “think of inconsistencies of character, they are also explained by my reincarnation theory. Look at yourself, for instance; you are partly a pantheistic nymph and partly a devout nun – by no means suitable spirits to be packed into the same envelope. But explain it by the idea that you have been both a nymoph and a nun, and some of the attributes of each still survive in your character.”
On 16 April 1903 Ellen married Alfred Laurence Felkin, the son of the manager of Mander’s Paint. He became a senior teacher at the Royal Navy School at Mottingham, now Elthan College. He later became a School Inspector. Ellen and her husband wrote a love story together in 1904 (Kate of Kate Hall).
In the midst of the First World War, Ellen and Alfred moved home to Westbourne in Bournemouth where she remained for the rest of her life.
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