18 March 2016

Frank Attfield Fawkes: Victorian Writer, Carpenter, Industrialist, Engineer, Anti-Spiritualist, Pharmacist, "Blue Teapot" Man, and Utopian (1849-1941)

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a review of an early sci-fi novel by Frank Attfield Fawkes (though he wrote it under the pseudonym of "X"). The Science Fiction Encyclopedia calls him an "industrialist," and I was curious what this actually meant, and soon began to discover a whole set of information that seem largely nonexistent elsewhere. (Fawkes doesn't even have an entry in Bleiler's usually comprehensive Science-Fiction: The Early Years.) So, here for you, I'm going to assemble everything I could find out in one place.


First off, he was a prolific writer, and his works spanned a ton of genres. Here is as near a complete list as I can manage, in publication order.

1879: Triumphal March for the Pianoforte (musical score)
1881: Horticultural Buildings: Their Construction, Heating, Interior Fittings, &c., with Remarks on Some of the Principles Involved and Their Application 
1882: Hot Water Heating on the Low-Pressure System: Comprising Some of the Principles Involved; An Explanation of the Apparatus and Its Parts; Also Its Application to Buildings of Various Descriptions
1883: Babies: How to Rear Them in Health and Happiness: A Few Unconventional Suggestions to Parents for the Physical Treatment, Religious Education, and General Training of Their Infants
1888: Architects' Joinery and its Ornament (revised and enlarged in 1896 as Architects' Joinery and its Ornamentation)
1890: Photographs of a few Chimney Pieces, Overmantels, Doorways, Panelling, &c.
1890: Three Christian Tests
1895: Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe: Being a Record of Some Strange Adventures in the Remarkable Career of a Political and Social Reformer Who Was Famous at the Commencement of the Twentieth Century (published under the pseudonym of "X"; translated into German in 1896 as Der Kaiser von Europa*)
1903: The Mystery of Human Life: An Attempt to Throw a Little Light Upon the Great Problems: What Am I? Whence Do I Come? Why Am I Here? Whither Do I Go?
1912: Found—a Man: The Romance of a Dream and Its Realisation
1920: How to Organize Bazaars, Concerts, Fêtes, Exhibitions and Various Charitable and Other Functions
1920: Spiritualism Exposed
1923: The Riddle of Life after Death
1924: Shaping a New World: A Philosophy of Tools
1928: How to Live Long and Keep Young, etc.
1931: Adventures of a Chemist: A Series of Unusual Detective Short Stories Embracing Drama, Comedy, Tragedy, Love, Humour, Infatuation, Passion, and Revenge

As one can see, Fawkes published many books on diverse topics. His books fall into a few distinct categories: most are nonfiction about his line of work, or catalogs/advertisements for it. But starting in 1883, he branches out into other kinds of nonfiction, with a guidebook on the rearing of children. In 1891, he publishes the first of his most consistent sideline: Christian texts. This sticks with him through to the end of his life, including a number of books arguing against spiritualism. As far as I can tell, he wrote only two works of fiction: the proto-sf Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe and the collection of detective stories, Adventures of a Chemist. (I'm not sure what Found—a Man is, though; all I can discover about it is that it exists.)

Incidentally, "X" is what Eric Blair wanted to publish Down and Out in Paris and London under, but his publishers told him no, resulting in him coining "George Orwell" instead. But 1984 by X has a certain appeal to it!

Early Life and Marriage

Frank Attfield Fawkes was born in 1849 to Thomas Fawkes and Harriet Attfield Fawkes, in Camberwell, then considered part of Surrey, but now a district of South London. I haven't seen a whole lot about his early life, but by 1861, he's living with his mother's father, John Attfield, on the other side of London, in Whetstone. Thomas's occupation is variously recorded as plumber, gas fitter, builder, and decorator, so it would seem that young Frank was following in his father's footsteps when he entered into a partnership to manufacture horticultural equipment. We don't know when the partnership was created, but it was dissolved in 1878. The next year brings his first publication, Triumphal March for the Pianoforte, a musical score, at the age of 30.

The 1881 census records Frank in the occupation of civil engineer. It also records him as living with his parents and unmarried, but on May 3rd of that year, he married Sarah Smith Hartridge; they were both 32 at the time. (Her father was variously a shepherd, a pub-keeper, a stationmaster, and a wine merchant.) They had their first child, a daughter named Avis, in December 1882. He must have felt pretty confident in his child-rearing abilities, because his child-rearing guidebook was published in 1883, before Avis even turned one year old! They have four more kids together: Marmaduke (born 1884), Attfield (1885), Irene (1886), and Norman (1891). You might notice that Marmaduke loans his name to the protagonist of Frank's sci-fi novel, Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe. He seems to spend the bulk of his adult life in Chelmsford; he's living there as of 1886, and resides there until 1910.

Professional Life

Like I said above, many of his publications are catalogs and advertisements. Photographs of a few Chimney Pieces (1890), for example, includes not just the promised photographs, but price lists and recommendations from former customers, which indicate that his work was usually received as tasteful and inexpensive. His work was displayed at the Tenth Annual Building Exhibition in Islington in March 1892; the Furniture Gazette's report of the event says he was "well known" for his "tasteful mouldings and enrichments" and said every furniture house ought to have Architects' Joinery and its Ornament (1888) in its library.

1908 advertisement for his firm, from the Gardeners' Chronicle
I want one of these on the side of my house!
Not everyone was quite so enamored with his work: a review of his book Horticultural Buildings (1881) complains that it reads too much like an advertisement and opines that, "There is a suspicion, indeed, that on the subject of 'art' [...] his is just a trifle tainted with the 'Postlethwaite' school, so much and so often satirised by 'Punch' of late. We should say Mr Fawkes was, if anything, a 'blue teapot' man. [...] [S]ome of his 'artistic' garden structures are tainted by the 'quite too—too'—overpowering—high art school." I have no idea what any of that means, but it sounds quite scathing.

Fawkes's most impressive piece of carpentry is that he was responsible for the design of the canopy behind the throne of Westminster Cathedral. The throne is a (smaller) replica of the papal throne in the the basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, but that throne has no canopy, and so Fawkes was hired to design it. (It's unclear to me exactly when this happened, but the throne arrived at the cathedral shortly after the cathedral architect, John Francis Bentley, died in March 1903, and Fawkes designed the canopy after that.) The same canopy is still there, and it looks rather nice from the photos I can find of it. No one ever takes a photo of just canopy, of course, but it's visible in wide photos of the throne itself:
photo courtesy Brian J. McMorrow
another good photograph can be found here

The canopy is "[c]onstructed in fumed oak and walnut, inlaid with holly and ebony" (Browne and Dean 67). Seems like quite a design coup for his little Chelmsford firm to get this commission. I did actually tour Westminster Cathedral back in 2007 (it's free, unlike the more famous Westminster Abbey), so I suppose I have seen his handiwork in real life!

Writing Career

Meanwhile to all this exciting building work, Fawkes built a career as a varied writer. Like I said, he has his guidebook to raising children, his science fiction novel, and a few Christian books such as Three Christian Tests (1890). His 1903 book The Mystery of Human Life: An Attempt to Throw a Little Light Upon the Great Problems: What Am I? Whence Do I Come? Why Am I Here? Whither Do I Go? (oh, what a way with titles he had, even for a Victorian) was apparently a revision of a lecture he gave to the Chelmsford Literary and Scientific Society.

A review in the Essex Review indicates that the book is well-argued, but based on flimsy foundations: Fawkes's arguments all stem from the idea that human beings are "fallen angels," which he apparently proves by recourse to Milton and Shakespeare. We do know from his books that Fawkes was Christian (Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe, for example, is about the coming of a Christian utopia), but he seems a somewhat unconventional Christian, given the review's explanation of one of his conclusions: "That there must be transmigration of souls through successive incarnations"; they get a little snarky when they say, "The writer at any rate seems well satisfied with his argument" and quote his statement that his "scheme of regenerative redemption [...] exactly fits the wants of a fallen world." From both reading Marmaduke and reading reviews of others of his works, I can see that the formation of a new Christian brotherhood was a paramount importance to him.

Weirdly, he's cited in Friedrich Heer's Europe, Mother of Revolutions (1964) as if one should just know who he is: "F. A. Fawkes writes of the same subject [world peace]: 'I believe that the speed of communication achieved through steam and telegraph has contributed more than all the books and newspapers, more than all the religions, to destroy the old, melancholy era of wars and to produce a new, sound morality...'" (227). Heer provides no citation for this quotation, and I can find no other trace of it; this is the only mention of Fawkes in the book. Heer was Austrian, though, so perhaps he read the German translation of Marmaduke (see first footnote below). Maybe Der Kaiser von Europa was popular enough in Austria that everyone there just knew who Fawkes was in 1964? And perhaps this sentence was translated from English to German and back to English and that's why I can find no other trace of it?

Retirement and Later Life

In 1910, he was listed as a co-owner of the Chelmsford horticultural building firm Crompton and F. A. Fawkes, Ltd., but by the 1911 census (at the age of 62), he had retired to Felixstowe, a seaside village in Suffolk (then a fashionable resort). He was active in his community, for example, organizing the 1920 Felixstowe Economy Exhibition. One supposes that this is when he became expert enough in organizing bazaars, concerts, fêtes, exhibitions and various charitable and other functions to publish a book on the topic.

His distinctive name makes it easy to trace him in Google Books, letting us discover, for example, that in 1911, "A Mr F. A. Fawkes, researching Siberia, wrote [to the Free Russian Library in Whitechapel] requesting information on how the internal exile system had been affected by the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway" (Henderson 80). Hard to imagine why he might have wanted such information, but goodness knows it has to be him! Maybe it somehow plays into the mysterious Found—a Man that came out the next year?

After his retirement is where things get a little hairy. In 1930, he published the amazingly-titled book, Adventures of a Chemist: A Series of Unusual Detective Short Stories Embracing Drama, Comedy, Tragedy, Love, Humour, Infatuation, Passion, and Revenge. This book exists in only one library in the world (the British Library, fact fans), but it received a review in the British trade periodical The Chemist and Druggist, which reveals that it's a "chemist" in the British sense of "pharmacist."† The book concerns, the review says, "several incidents being related to the personality of the proprietor of a shop in a small Midland town. The chemist has for his intimate friend a retired man of means, who makes a hobby of the discovery of crime. Given this setting, it can be easily conceived that many striking adventures befall the amateur discoverer of crime and his friend." Another review, in the Essex Review, claims that book has nothing "left out from the entire gamut of human expression, and yet so uniform are the strange vagaries of men's lives and characters that these fifteen tales cannot avoid showing a certain similarity." Oh, how I dearly wish I could read this book; it sounds incredible.

The Essex Review adds, "Mr. Fawkes, who was formerly well known at Chelmsford, now lives in East Anglia. The writing of this book, with its ingenious and humorous stories, must have been a congenial occupation of his retirement. [...] He tells a story well." So far, so good. But the review in Chemist and Druggist throws a wrinkle into everything we might claim to know about Frank Attfield Fawkes's career, as it claims he's a pharmacist! Did he turn to pharmacy after retiring from woodwork at the age of 62? Or is it simply a mistake? It's definitely the same guy, as the review gets his age right (approximately 80), and refers to him as the nephew of the late Dr. John Attfield-- and indeed, one of Frank's uncles was a professor of chemistry named John Attfield. Given the wide range of Frank's interests, it doesn't seem completely impossible that he would become a pharmacist, though it's awful late for a new career.

F.A. Fawkes in 1928, age 79
courtesy John Attfield
Frank's wife Sarah died in 1930, but he lived on until February 18, 1941, dying of bronchitis at the ripe old age of 91 in a nursing home in Cambridge. I suppose his long life justified the publication of his book How to Live Long and Keep Young, etc. in 1928, when he would have been 79.

Children's Lives

There are some interesting anecdotes in the life of his children. His first daughter, Avis, became a governess by 1911 (she would have been 28/29) and died, unmarried, in 1935.

Marmaduke became a medical practitioner; during the Great War, he served as a naval surgeon, and received an O.B.E. for his service. He married a woman named Linda Esperanza Funnell in 1910, and they had two children with the amazing names of Nirvana Ayscough de Fontenelle Fawkes and Marmaduke Ayscough Fawkes. Unfortunately, in August 1941, months after Frank died, Marmaduke died as well, due to "injuries caused by throwing himself from a window while of unsound mind." Linda never remarried.

His daughter Irene attended the Chelmsford School of Art and later worked as an illustrator in the 1920s and '30s. Her work includes a series of illustrations of Kew Gardens that were displayed in the London Underground. You can see one of her "Heather" posters to the right; the London Transport Museum website has a larger collection here.

* The book was translated by Bertha von Suttner, a Czech-Austrian pacifist and writer, who was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize! She was already big in the Austrian peace movement in the 1890s; it makes sense that Marmaduke, which depicts a future where the German kaiser's demilitarization inspires the world to peace, would appeal to her. She corresponded with Nobel up until his death, and probably influenced him to include "peace" as one of his prize categories to begin with.
† The review, by the way, is credited to "Xrayser III." "Xyraser" turns out to be a pseudonym still used by the opinion columnist of the magazine (now called Chemist + Druggist) to this day-- he even has a Twitter!
‡ This is the only photo I've been able to find of him on-line; it comes from the frontispiece of How to Live Long and Keep Young.


"Artist - Irene Fawkes." Poster and Artwork Collection Online. London Transport Museum, n.d. Web. <http://www.ltmcollection.org/posters/artist/artist.html?IXartist=Irene+Fawkes>.
Attfield, John. Attfield Family Tree. 23 Aug. 2015. Web. <http://www.john-attfield.com/paf_tree/attfield_current/index.html>.
Bleiler, Everett F., with Richard E. Bleiler. Science-Fiction: The Early Years: A Full Description of More than 3,000 Science-Fiction Stories from Earliest Times to the Appearance of the Genre Magazines in 1930, with Author, Title, and Motif Indexes. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1990.
Browne, John, and Timothy Dean. Westminster Cathedral: Building of Faith. London: Booth-Clibborn, 1995.
"The Building Trade Exhibition." Furniture Gazette 30.706 (15 Apr. 1892): 70-71.
Clute, John. "Fawkes, Frank Attfield." SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 3rd ed. Ed. Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 25 Aug. 2015. Web. <http://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/fawkes_frank_attfield>.
Crompton & F. A. Fawkes, Ltd. Advertisement. Gardeners' Chronicle 1112 (27 June 1908): viii.
Fawkes, F. A. Photographs of a few Chimney Pieces, Overmantels, Doorways, Panelling, &c. London: B. T. Batsford, [1890].
"First he wanted to call himself 'X'." The Real George Orwell. Presented by D. J. Taylor. BBC, 14 Jan. 2013. iPlayer Radio. Web. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p013qs8w>.
Heer, Friedrich. Europe, Mother of Revolutions. Trans. Charles Kessler and Jennetta Adcock. New York: Praeger, 1972.
Henderson, Robert. "'For the Cause of Education': A History of the Free Russian Library in Whitechapel, 18981917." Russia in Britain, 18801940: From Melodrama to Modernism. Ed. Rebecca Beasley and Philip Ross Bullock. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. 71-86.
Langham, Mark. "The Cathedra." Solomon, I Have Surpassed Thee: A Blog from Westminster Cathedral. 6 Aug. 2007. Web. <http://westminstercathedral.blogspot.com/2007/08/cathedra.html>.
McMorrow, Brian J. Bishop's Throne - Westminster Cathedral. Digital Image. PBase. PBase.com LLC, 17 Mar. 2010. Web. <http://www.pbase.com/bmcmorrow/image/131326112>.
Nelson, E. Charles. "Miss Irene Fawkes's Heather the 'cover story'." Heathers 3 (2006): 19-21.
"Notes from the Papers." The Gardener June 1881: 263-67.
Rev. of Adventures of a Chemist: Unusual Detective Stories, by F. A. Fawkes. Essex Review 39 (Jul. 1930): 211-12.
Rev. of The Mystery of Human Life, by F. A. Fawkes. Essex Review 13.49 (Jan. 1904): 62-63.
Xrayser III. "Observations and Reflections." The Chemist and Druggist 114.1 (3 Jan. 1931): 13.

The usefulness of Google Books, UConn Document Delivery & Interlibrary Loan, and the Internet Archive in enabling me to assemble this entry cannot possibly be understated. The information technology of the 21st century is a helluva thing.


  1. All this research and you didn't create a Wikipedia entry for him...?

    1. Ha! That didn't even occur to me. I'd settle for the SFE entry for him replacing the vague and inaccurate "industrialist."

    2. You basically just have to reconfigure your work here to fit the Wikipedia "house style" and format--and you can use this very blog post as a cited reference!