Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Riddle of Robert Justin Lambe

The Boyhood Days of Guy Fawkes
by Robert J. Kirkpatrick
ROBERT JUSTIN LAMBE was a popular author of historical tales for Edwin J. Brett in the 1870s and 1880s, with many of his serials appearing in Boys of England, Young Men of Great Britain and The Boys’ Comic Journal. At least 18 were reissued in weekly parts and then as complete volumes. He sometimes used the pseudonym “Tom Floremall” — indeed, this was the name given to the editor of Brett’s Boys’ Guide, Philosopher and Friend, which was launched in October 1888.

But other than him being a writer, nothing was known about his life and background, and he has always been an elusive and overlooked figure. This is not surprising, as it turns that his real name was William Arthur Clarence Lamb.

He was born, to John and Hannah Lamb, in the parish of St. Clement Dane’s, Westminster, in 1853, and baptised on 24 July 1853 at the church of St. Clement Dane’s. His father was born in Waterford, Ireland, in around 1821. He married Hannah Neville (born in Witney, Oxfordshire in 1827) on 20 January 1851 at St. Clement Dane’s. At the time of that year’s census, the Lambs were living at 20 Vere Street, St. Clement Dane’s, with John described as a clerk. They had also already had their first child, Jane, born in 1849. Both John and Hannah were recorded as having been born in Oxfordshire — however, all subsequent census returns gives his place of birth as Ireland.

They went on to have 9 further children: Thomas (b. 14 November 1851, baptised at St. John the Evangelist, Lambeth on 30 November 1851), William (exact date of birth not known), John (b. 23 September 1856, baptised 23 November 1856 at St. Clement Dane’s — as were all the subsequent children), Martha Mary (d.o.b not known, baptised 24 December 1854), Annie (b. 24 January 1858, baptised 15 February 1858), Emily (b. 1 July 1860, baptised 29 July 1860), Edwin (b. 13 May 1865, baptised 9 July 1865), Hannah (b. 7 May 1867, baptised 28 July 1867), and Arthur (b. 30 May 1869, baptised 15 August 1869).

By 1861, the family was living at 3 Grange Court, St. Clement Dane’s, with John Lamb working as a newsagent’s assistant. Ten years later, the family was still at 3 Grange Court, with John still working as an assistant newsagent. William also had the same job.

It was around this time that William turned to writing as a career. This was the profession he gave when he married Louisa Elizabeth George at the parish church of St. Mary’s, Lambeth, on 6 November 1875. (His father’s profession was stated to be a journalist.) Louisa, born in Marylebone in 1854, was the daughter of Henry George, a tin mould maker, and his wife Harriette.

William and Louisa moved to 103 Gray’s Inn Road, Camden, where they had two children: Jessie Frances Maud (b. 10 March 1876, baptised at St. Andrew’s, Marylebone on 18 March 1877), and Rose (b. 11 May 1878, and baptised at St. Andrew’s Church, Marylebone on 9 June 1878). While the baptism record for Jessie gave her father’s trade as that of a writer, the record for Rose stated that he was a booktrader.

Lamb appears to have started writing for Edwin J. Brett in the mid-1870s. One of his first serials was Tom Floremall’s Schooldays, serialised in Boys of England in 1876. This was followed by Tom Floremall in Search of his Father. He then began specialising in historical tales — at least 16 of these were issued in weekly parts:

The Armourer’s Son, or The Mysteries of the Tower of London
The Black Cavalier, or The Banner of England
The Boyhood Days of Guy Fawkes, or The Conspirators of Old London
The Boyhood Days of Jack Straw, or The Sword of Freedom
The Bravos of Alsatia, or The Fortunes of Felix Ferdinand
By Command of the King, or The Days of the Merry Monarch
The Captain of the Guard, or The Mysterious Horseman
Dark Deeds of Old London
The Five Swordsmen, or The Royal Guard
The Hunchback of Old St. Paul’s, or A Romance of Mystery
The Man of Mystery, or Under the Royal Warrant
The Smuggler’s Terror, or The Mystery of the Old Abbey
The Sword of Fate, or The Headsman’s Doom
Traitor’s Gate, or The Headsman on the Old Tower
The Wandering Apprentices, or The Secret of the Diamond Casket
B0ys’ Guide. In October 1888, Brett gave Lamb the editorship of a new weekly boys’ paper, The Boys’ Guide, Philosopher and Friend, which was an attempt at a more up-market paper. Whilst it contained serial stories, it also carried lofty feature articles on subjects such as boys’ careers and heraldry. Not surprisingly, it failed to catch on, and it folded after only 19 issues.

At the time of the 1881 census, William Louisa, Jessie and Rosie were living at 27 Hunter Street, Gray’s Inn Road, William being described as a journalist and Louisa as a corset maker. In the 1891 census, William is recorded under his pseudonym of Robert J. Lamb, living at 2 Blandford Place, St. Marylebone, with Louisa and his two daughters, and again described as a journalist.

His daughter Jessie married Augustus Richard Garland, an actor, in the parish church at St. Marylebone on 1 July 1895 — her father’s name on the marriage register was initially given as Robert Justyn Lamb, but the Justyn has been crossed out and replaced with William.

Meanwhile, John Lamb was apparently continuing his career as a journalist. In the 1881 census, he was recorded as such, having moved from 3 Grange Court to 4 Grange Court, although rather strangely his age was given as only 45 (he would actually have been around 60); similarly, his wife’s age was given as 43, when she was actually around 54. At the time of the 1891 census, John and Hannah were living at 16 Clare Court, St. Clement Dane’s, with John working as a newsagent. This time, his age was given as 76, with Hannah’s given as 64. His son, Edwin, then aged 25, was also working as a newsagent (having been recorded as a confectioner in 1881).

As far as can be ascertained, Robert Justin Lamb died in 1899 in Marylebone, his name given at his death as Robert William Lamb, aged 46. There is no record of a burial, nor of a will. The date of Louisa’s death is not known, unless she was recorded as the Elizabeth Louisa Lamb who died, aged 54, in Willesden in 1910. Again, there is no record of a will.

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