Monday, September 29, 2014

Ralph Rollington’s Marriage

[1] A.J. Allingham, aka ‘Ralph Rollington

   by Robert J. Kirkpatrick
‘Ralph Rollington’ – the name was familiar to many readers of boys’ story papers throughout the 1880s, as both an author of school and adventure stories and as an editor/publisher of a range of cheap periodicals, in particular The Boy’s World and Our Boys’ Paper. He later became well-known for his anecdotal A Brief History of Boys’ Journals, published in 1913. Rollington, whose real name was Albert John Allingham, painted a rather rosy picture of what was, in the late 1800s, a time of intense and often bitter competition between rival publishers, and he himself came across as genial, benevolent and mild-mannered. But behind the air of bonhomie and easy friendship that Allingham portrayed lay a dark secrethis troubled marriage to an American woman which started with tragedy, then presumably settled into a state of stability, only to descend into acrimony and violence, with Allingham being accused of both cruelty and adultery. But that was only half the story…

[2] Marriage.

SECRETARY. Albert John Allingham, born in Southwark, UK, on 26 June 1844, began his working life as a compositor alongside his older brother James (who went on to launch The Christian Globe in 1874). In 1866, he travelled to New York, where he was later to meet up with the author Bracebridge Hemyng, and where, on 9 August 1868, at the Presbyterian Church of the Sea and Land, he married Eva Leoni Smith, a 23 year-old secretary. Their first child, Albert William, was born in New York in May 1869, but he died aged only 5 months. The couple then settled in London, where they had four further children: Eva Leoni (b. June 1870), Nellie Grace (born January 1873), William Albert (b. May 1875), and Violet May (b. May 1880).

BOYS’ PAPERS. Between 1879 and 1888 Allingham devoted himself to writing for and publishing boys’ papers, enjoying only limited success. He was usually struggling financially, although unlike many of his contemporaries he managed to stay out of the bankruptcy courts. It may have been that life in London was not as glamorous as Eva had been led to believe it would be, and the family’s relative poverty may well have created tension between the couple.

CLAIM. On 16 October 1890 Eva filed a petition for divorce. At the time she was living at 131 Ruckledge Avenue, Harlesden, Middlesex. In her affidavit, sworn on 15 October, she claimed that her husband had been mistreating her since around 1877in her own words:
Albert John Allingham has habitually treated me with unkindness and neglect and cruelty and that he has habitually used coarse and offensive and insulting language to me and swore at me and threatened me and (…) has dragged me out of bed and downstairs in the middle of the night and that on divers occasions he has assaulted and struck me.Read the full petition HERE.
She went on to highlight three specific incidents of violence, at their homes in East Dulwich in 1881, Heston, Middlesex in 1882 and Dulwich in 1883, which culminated in Allingham walking out on her in 1885. Furthermore, she claimed that since 1879 Allingham had habitually committed adultery with a woman calling herself Mrs Lilley, Mrs Lilian English and Lilley Tempest at various places including Islington, Dulwich, Nunhead and Tottenham.

Ava’s solicitor continued to act for her between October 1890 and July 1891. In March 1892 a new solicitor filed a notice that he was now acting for her, but when the case was finally called at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand on 25 October 1892 no one appeared, and the judge ordered that it be struck off. The divorce was therefore never finalised.

CENSUS. At the time of the 1891 census, Eva and her daughter Violet May were recorded as visitors at an address in Chipping Barnet, Hertfordshire, staying with a Henry Dixon, a 50 year-old carpenter, and his family. Albert Allingham was absent from the census, possibly having returned to New York with his other children, as there is no trace of them in the census either.

Whether or not Albert was a violent and/or adulterous husband as Eva claimed cannot be proved. Under the then existing legislation (the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857) if a husband wanted a divorce he had only to prove his wife’s adultery, whereas if a wife wanted a divorce she had to prove not only adultery but also cruelty or desertion.

Ironically, direct evidence of cruelty came to light three years after Eva had filed for divorce, but this time it was on the part of Eva herself.

[3] Cruelty.
Eva, described as a lady of independent means, living in Twickenham, on 12 February 1894, at Brentford Police Court, was charged with having cruelly ill-treated her daughter, May, aged 13, in a manner likely to cause her unnecessary suffering. May (actually Violet May), had been living with her mother since the previous August. The Pall Mall Gazette (13 February 1894) reported:
The child stated that she could not remember a day for the last six months when she had not been beaten. She had been struck with switches, with a blind-roller, with a carpet stick, with a violin bow, and with the back of a hairbrush. Once she bought a cake with twopence belonging to her mother, and for that she had been put in a cold bath, her head being held under water until she was quite exhausted, while she was afterwards beaten with a knotted rope until she was covered with weals, which were rubbed with salt.
Other newspapers, including Reynolds’s Newspaper, reported that her evidence included that she was only ever given breakfast and tea, and no dinner; that she was compelled to keep pieces of soap in her mouth for up to half-an-hour; and that Eva had scrubbed her teeth with a scrubbing brush such that her gums bled. The Pall Mall Gazette continued:
She had several times run away from home in consequence of the treatment she received from her mother. The punishments she had mentioned were inflicted for various small offences, such as neglecting her household work, making mistakes in errands, or telling stories.
Corroborative evidence came from May’s elder sister (named as Mary in some reports, but presumably Nellie), who witnessed some of the acts described whilst staying with Eva the previous year.

DENIALS. When Eva reappeared before the Court a few days later, she denied having beaten her daughter as alleged, claiming that she had only ever beaten her with a stick taken from the garden. She also denied the other accusations. However, the magistrates did not believe her, and she was found guilty and sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour, and fined £10 (half of which would go to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children).

When she was released from prison Eva went to live in Battersea, from where, at the end of June 1894, she summonsed Albert Allingham for non-payment of maintenance totalling £36 15s. It appears that at some point after separating from Eva Albert was required under a court order to contribute 35 shillings a week to her support. In his defence to the summons, Albert said that he was not aware that he was obliged to provide for her maintenance whilst she was in prison.

The magistrate told him that he was liable under the court order, and that it was no defence to say that she was being supported by the state. Despite Albert then claiming that he was unable to pay, an order for payment was made, although Albert was then allowed to take out a summons against his wife to show cause why the order should not be varied, on the grounds that he was paying for his daughter’s education. The outcome of this is not known (London Standard, 29 June 1894).

FINAL. The final act in this rather sad saga came in March 1895, when Eva was charged with obtaining relief from the Wandsworth and Clapham Poor Law Guardians by falsely representing herself as destitute. The magistrates were satisfied that, despite her claim that the allowance she was receiving from Albert was very small, Eva had made a false declaration of her circumstances, and she was sent to prison for 21 days with hard labour (Pall Mall Gazette, 13 March 1895).

What happened to Eva after that is not known. She does not appear in any further census returns, nor is there is any record of her death in any of the online indexes. Violet May Allingham married James Charles Reynolds, an actor, in Barnet in 1905. Albert Allingham appeared in the 1901 census, described as a widow, and living as a boarder in Hammersmith with the family of Nicholas Boyce, a professional musician. He died in Hammersmith on 24 August 1924, aged 80, and was buried in the Essex village of Chappel, home to his daughter Nellie Grace.

[4] Sentenced.


  1. What an excellent piece of research though very distressing. All I can remember is hearing from Joyce Allingham (who was particularly close to Grace Allingham, the oldest daughter) that 'wild uncle John' (RR) "used to throw his children in the water trough if they displeased him" - but this was clearly thought of as eccentric and funny rather than cruel. There's nothing funny at all about the story of the youngest daughter. .

    1. Thank you that is most interesting, albeit very sad - particularly as Violet May was my great-grandmother.
      Your article has confirmed my suspicion that the divorce was not finalised and sheds some light on what Eva did next as I had been unable to track down any details after the 1891 census. RR/Albert John, often just going by the name John became rather a Hammersmith gypsy but managed to reside in impressive properties and he spent time with his daughter Grace at Popes Hall in Chappel. He died at 20 Ryelett Crescent W12 with Florence Eleanor given as his wife, but I doubt they actually married.
      Violet May did not marry James Reynolds - she married Albert Edwards Watts, a Commercial traveller/Musician, at Brentford in 1902. Sadly she died aged just 50 caused by pneumonia and chronic alcoholism - no doubt her unhappy childhood played its part in this.

  2. This is excellent and very sad. Violet May was my great-grandmother and your article confirms my suspicion that the divorce was not finalised and provides some shocking additional detail on Eva Leona as I have been unable to find any details on her after the 1891 census. I can tell you though that Violet May did not marry James Reynolds, she married Albert Edward Watts (Commercial Traveller & Musician) in 1902 at Brentford. Sadly she died aged just 50 of pneumonia and chronic alcoholism - no doubt her childhood may have contributed to her state of mind!