29 December 2007

Cyril Britton and Family (at present under continual review)

Cyril was the brother of Lionel Britton. During his early marriage he lived at 19 Luard Street, where he was a journeyman baker and then a draper's porter. Some time later he had a business at 88 William Road, London N.W.1, and later 53 Robert St, Regents Park N.W.1, where he blended incense and manufactured church and sanctuary objects. He married Ada Mary Hunt in 1913. Below (as far as we know) are the children of Cyril and Ada Britton, and (again where known) their grandchildren:

Mary Agnes Kathleen Britton, b. 1913, d. 1914 (at 8 months: marasmus)

Cyril Lancelot Britton, b. 1914, d. 1922 (measles 11 days, broncho-pneumonia 6 days).

Mildred Helen Britton, b. 1916, m. Edward Henry Waugh 1938, d. 1999

Douglas Thomas Martin Britton, b. 1918

Herbert Ronald Britton, b. 1921

Leslie R. Britton, b. 1924

Joan Constance Britton, b. 1926, m. Ronald Arthur (?) Frederick Hall 1947

Peter Robert Dominic Britton, b. 1928, m. Violet May Dangerfield 1953

Eric Michael Britton, b. 1931, d. 1932 (whooping cough)

Dorothy Ruth Britton, b. 1933.

Children of Mildred Helen Waugh and Edward Henry Waugh:

Ronald Edward Waugh, b. 1941

Margaret Mary Waugh, b. 1946, m. Richard G. Law 1966.

Children of Peter Robert Dominic Britton and Violet May Dangerfield:

John R. Britton, b. 1957

Patricia M. Britton, b. 1959

Paul D. Britton, b. 1961

(Many thanks once more to Robert Hughes for digging up all this information.)

22 December 2007

The Literary Gene in the Britton Family

Robert Hughes (aka Snatch), the great-nephew of Lionel Britton, seems a little disgruntled – or possibly perversely proud – that there have been so many published writers in his family, but not himself: the first known one was John James Britton, who was an amateur journalist at a very young age, later developing into a poet of some note, and also writing a novel. His son Herbert Eyres Britton published three works of poetry, and Herbert's nephew Lionel Britton of course published a colossal novel and three plays. There may well be other published Brittons of whom I'm unaware, but certainly Robert Hughes's mother Flora (née Britton) published some poetic works. Robert too appears to be asserting his literary credentials, because he has sent me the following rhyming couplet via email (pace John Hegley):

'Unlike every other Britton
There isn't anything I have written.'

I may well use this in my biography: it certainly shows promise, but it is above all indicative of the literary gene in the Britton family.

21 December 2007

Justin Thomas (aka Adam Keith), Cecil Thomas and Lionel Britton

This rather unlikely title – Justin Thomas's autobiography How I Overcame My Fear of Whores, Royalty, Gays, Teachers, Hippies, Psychiatrists, Athletes, Transvestites, Clergymen, Police, Children, Bullies, Politicians, Nuns, Grandparents, Doctors, Celebrities, Gurus, Judges, Artists, Critics, Mothers, Fathers, Publishers and Myself (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1979) – conceals a surprising amount of information about Lionel Britton's background, although Britton himself is not mentioned. In 1964 Britton formed the Park Group with two partners with the specific purpose of publishing his unpublished works. The other two men were Cecil Thomas (a first cousin of Britton's) and Justin Thomas (Cecil's foster son). Justin was at the time known as Adam Keith, a 25-year-old former songwriter and small-time night club impresario with a history of physical and mental abuse by his parents. Cecil, a business consultant who had been sexually abused by his mother, took Justin into his home at a time when Justin was undergoing a nervous breakdown.

Justin's autobiography also mentions Cecil's (and Lionel's) maternal grandparents: he writes that Marie Antoinette Goffin was raised in the royal palace in Brussels and due to take her vows as a nun, although she escaped over the convent wall to elope with Samuel Thomas junior of Redditch. Much later, the staunch atheist Samuel agreed to buy some land in the town for the Congregational Church on the understanding that his tomb be placed in such a position that all members of the church should be forced to walk past it before entering the church.

Justin lives in Toronto. He has a PhD in Psychology and is the creator of Label Liberation, an enabling principle devised to free the mind from the constraints of labelling which are placed on it by self and others. In a long phone call I had with him, he was surprised to discover how much his work touches on that of Lionel Britton.

When in London in 1972, Justin intended to visit Britton. But by chance, he met Herbert Marshall and his wife Fredda Brilliant, (who sculpted the Gandhi statue in Bloomsbury as well as a bronze bust of Britton). From them, Justin learned of Lionel Britton's recent death, and that the purpose of their visit was to ensure that Britton's literary effects were shipped to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, where Marshall was working.

Many people in many different fields have commented very favourably on Justin's work, of whom the following are just a few: Truman Capote, Federico Fellini, Andy Warhol, Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, Prince Phillip, Sir Laurence Olivier, John Wayne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Northrop Frye.

Justin Thomas plans a second edition of his autobiography.

15 December 2007

Lionel Britton and the Jewish Working-Class Intellectual in London and New York as Seen by Simon Blumenfeld and Peter Martin

Reception of Lionel Britton's work varied widely, as the two fictional representations below clearly show.

Simon Blumenfeld’s protagonist Alec in Jew Boy (1935) is very disparaging towards Britton (and the recent plays of Bernard Shaw), and pretends to believe that Shaw is dead and that Britton is now writing under his name:

‘If you take the trouble to compare [Shaw’s On the Rocks (1933) and Too True to Be Good (1932)] with Lionel Britton’s Brain and Spacetime Inn, you’re bound to see that they’re written, all four, by the same verbose, muddled, amateur sociologist’ (1).

Peter Martin’s protagonists in The Building have a rather different reaction:

‘In brief, vivid phrases Max began talking of a novel he had just read from cover to cover, a long and cruel book, quite upsetting, whose theme he could not accept, but neither could he put the book down. It traced the life of a London orphan from boyhood through his death in the war. Evidently a crushing experience, Max described it as being the ultimate in novelistic revolt against the war.

Philip said he would like to read to (remembering Uncle Leo Sociable’s remark, “Next time they wanna shoot me, let ‘em do it right here on this side”), and Max said he would give him his copy of Hunger and Love.

“Some title,” Julian said.

“Bigger than War and Peace,” Max replied.

“I have read it,” Paul announced, knocking the ashes out of his pipe.

“And you felt it slightly overdone?”

“Completely. It made me cry. It’s the best goddam best novel ever written in the twentieth century.”

“Thank you,” Max said, delighted. “Since the minute you opened your mouth, I’ve been trying not to tell you you’re a bag of wind. You’re all right”.

Philip found the book extremely difficult, but impossible not to discard. He kept it in the bathroom, reading steadily in it. He knew the author, Mr. Lionel Britton, had overwritten but refrained from skipping as much as possible lest he miss one of the frequent flashes of towering irony directed at the blind forces intent upon the destruction of the insectlike hero, Arthur Phelps. Arthur, a super-human Oliver Twist, gained Philip’s undying sympathy in his struggles to gain minuscule creature comforts such as cooling his inflamed feet on his brass bedposts after a day of running the London streets delivering books from one bookstore to another, reading meanwhile whatever lay closest to his hand.

The book made an indelible impression, partly because of its subject matter and also because he knew Max worked at Kemer’s [a New York bookshop]; the mustiness of the store, the Londonish feel of Fourth Avenue, the dirt of Greenwich Village, and his own good fortune to have been born so high in the world made him rail at Julian to forget Slameroo! [a play he's working on] long enough to crack into Hunger and Love.

After a hundred pages Julian gave up.

“Lissen,” he said in unconscious aping of Pop, “you call this life? I’d rather be an African cannibal” (2).

(1) Simon Blumenfeld, Jew Boy (London: Cape, 1935; repr. Lawrence & Wishart, 1986), p. 245.

(2) Peter Martin, The Building (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1960), pp. 77–78.

12 December 2007

Hunger and Love and the Secondhand Book Market

I noticed this description of a secondhand copy of Lionel Britton's Hunger and Love on Amazon.com for $123, and imagine that the fictional secondhand bookshop assistant Arthur Phelps (as well as Britton himself, who worked for many years in a secondhand bookshop) would have been amused by it:

'1931 Harper & Brothers Publishers (New York & London) unjacketed hardcover 1st edition. Faded burgundy cloth spine showing 3/4" onto the front and back of the case. The front and back sides of the case are of silver paper, which is badly scarred. The spine is very loose, with the front of the case almost separated from the book block. Interior and outer pages are tanned from age. It looks like a little beetle or something started to drill through the 1st 50 pages or so, at the bottom front corner. Text pages are in nice shape, other than the tanning.'

10 December 2007

John James Britton’s Family

John James Britton was born in Handsworth in 1832. He died in Halford, Warwickshire, in 1913.

Catherine Erskine Britton was John James’s first wife, born in Birmingham in 1839 and the daughter of James Smith (a factor) and Elizabeth Smith (née Nimmo). John James and Catherine were married in 1858 in Handsworth. She died at Cookham in 1879.

John James's and Catherine’s children:

Richard Waddams Nimmo Britton, born Gravelly Hill, Erdington 1859, died Bournemouth 1894

Ethel Alice Britton, born Accrington, Lancs, c.1860

Lilian E. C. Britton, born Petersfield, Hampshire, c.1863

Arthur Henry Britton, born Newcastle on Tyne, c.1864

Maud May Britton (née Coward) was John James’s second wife, born in Huddersfield (date unknown) and the daughter of James Eyres Coward (a surgeon) and Elizabeth D. Coward. John James and May were married in Huddersfield in 1882. She died in 1956.

John James’s and Maud May’s children:

Herbert Eyres Britton, born Alcester, 1883

Ruth Eliza M. Britton, born Alcester, c.1885

Reginald Ernest James Britton, born Alcester, c.1888

Elizabeth Hilda D. Britton, born Alcester, Warwickshire, c.1889.

Edith L. Britton, born Halford, c.1896.

Richard married Irza Vivian Geraldine Thomas in Birmingham in 1885. They had four children: Kathleen Ethel Ivy Britton, born in Astwood Bank in 1886; Lionel Erskine Nimmo Britton, born in Astwood Bank in 1887; Reginald Percy Leopold Britton, born in Levallois–Perret, France, in 1989; and Cyril Lancelot Douglas Britton, born 1891 in Christchurch.

Lilian married Frank G. Allen, a dental surgeon in Cheltenham. In 1901 they had one child, Lorna C. P. Allen, aged 15.

Ethel married Thomas Perkins, a clerk in holy orders, in Belgrave, Leicester, in 1891.

Arthur Henry became the rector of Frodesley in Shropshire and married Haidee (maiden name unknown). In 1901 they had a daughter, Haidee C. E. Britton, aged 9, and a son, Arthur G. H. Britton, aged 7.

As ever, any further information regarding any of these people is most welcome.

Herbert Eyres Britton's First Book, and His Article on His Father, the Poet John James Britton

Herbert E. Britton's first book of poems was The Visions of a Dreamer: Sonnets, Poems and Lyrics (Kidderminster: Edward Parry, 1912), with a Foreword by his father John James Britton. He published two more books: Diane: And Other Poems (London: A. H. Stockwell, [1920]), and The Way of Loveliness: And Other Poems (London: Erskine Macdonald, 1922). In 1940, he sent the Reverend Basil Ainley a copy, along with a poetic commentary, from his home in Moira Road, Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

Below is Herbert's entry for John James Britton in Staffordshire Poets. The date of the death of John James's first wife, Catherine Erskine Britton (née Smith), is incorrect: she died in 1879:

'John James Britton

John James Britton was born at Handsworth in 1832. He was educated at King Edward’s School, New Street, Birmingham, and for a time practised as a solicitor at Newcastle-on-Tyne. The failing health of his wife, however, necessitated a change; and, with this object in view, he bought a practice at Maidenhead. Unfortunately, this did not have the desired effect, and she died in 1872. Although he had just built himself a house in this beautiful Thames-side resort, he took a dislike to the place, and, selling his home and the practice, went to Normandy, where he lived for some years. On his return to England he resided for a time in Alcester, where he again married. The later years of his life, however, were spent at Halford Bridge, some seven and a half miles from Stratford-on-Avon.

Whilst still an articled clerk he was a writer on The Critic, and in 1859 he published his first book, Tales for a Cosy Nook, which was a collection of short stories.

In 1867 Carélla, a poem in suave blank verse, supported by a number of lyrics, was produced, and in 1882 The Lay of the Lady Ida and other poems appeared. This was followed in 1884 by A Sheaf of Ballads.

He was also author of a novel entitled Flight.

Many of his prose and poetic productions appeared in English periodicals, whilst others saw print in America. He was acquainted with Michael Rossetti and Robert Browning. A Greek, Latin, and French scholar with a wide knowledge of English classics, he was a most delightful companion, the more so as he had an unfailing sense of humour.

His death took place in 1913, and he was interred in the churchyard of Halford Bridge. Although most of his published poems are somewhat lengthy, the following poem gives some idea of the felicity of his style and his mastery of rhythm. [The poem is Chastity.]

Herbert E[yres] Britton' (1)

(1) Russell Markland and Charles Henry Poole, Staffordshire Poets (Lytham: N. Ling, 1928), p. 209.

3 December 2007

John James Britton (1832—1913), Poet and Solicitor

I had envisaged a rather boring drive to Burton on Trent Public Library to consult a copy of Staffordshire Poets by Russell Markland and Charles Henry Poole (Ling, 1928). However, although they didn't have the copy mentioned in their catalogue anyway, Stafford Public Library did, and, over the phone, one of the Local Studies staff very kindly read me the passage which interested me. It was a piece about Lionel Britton's paternal grandfather John James Britton, written by John James's son Herbert Eyres Britton, and much of the information was new to me. I learned, for instance, that John James lived for some time in the 1860s in Newcastle on Tyne, very briefly lived in a house in Maidenhead, and then lived in Normandy for some years before moving back to England. Lionel Britton's father would have been with him then, showing that his stay in Paris in later life was not the first occasion that he had lived in that country, and adding further detail to the very strong French connection between the Britton and the Thomas families (Richard married Irza Vivian Geraldine Thomas in 1885).

Significantly, Herbert Eyres Britton (born in Alcester in 1883) took after his father and published three books of poetry between 1912 and 1922.

Cecil Thomas (c.1905–?) and Lionel Britton

The indefatiguable Robert Hughes (great-nephew of Lionel Britton) has sent me census return details for a house in Winnipeg in 1911. Among others living there are Frank Thomas (born in in France in about 1876), his wife Gertrude (née Morris at Crabbs Cross near Birmingham), and their sons Samuel (11) and Cecil (4), both of whom were probably born in Redditch, again near Birmingham.

It is perhaps Cecil Thomas who is the most interesting to me because in 1964 Britton went into business with a Cecil Thomas (quite possibly the same person mentioned above) and an Adam Stanley Keith of 320 Tweedsmuir Road, Toronto, Canada; they were the three partners in the Park Group, designed to publish all of Britton's unpublished manuscripts. They had lofty visions of Lionel's name in prominent lights on Broadway, even of films being made of his plays.

They sank. Without trace?