Saturday, August 25, 2018

S. Clarke Hook (1857-1923)



Robert J. Kirkpatrick

S. Clarke Hook was one of most popular boys’ story paper writers of his era. He was best-known for his stories of “Jack, Sam and Pete”, a trio of rich adventurers whose comic exploits took them all over the world, and which began in Alfred Harmsworth’s The Marvel in 1901, and ran until 1922.  He also wrote countless other stories, mainly school stories, for many other Harmsworth papers. For a long time it was thought that his first name was Samuel, until Bill Lofts, writing in The Collectors’ Digest in November 1973, revealed that it was actually Sydney. Yet, despite his popularity and longevity – his working career spanned around 35 years – nothing has been written before about his life.

S. Clarke Hook was born on 7 July 1857 and baptized, as Sydney Clarke Hook, on 14 August 1857 at St. Anne’s Church, Hornsey (then a village in Middlesex north of London). His father was Adam Clarke Hook, born on 12 October 1824 in Clerkenwell, and baptized at the Wesleyan Methodist Registry in Paternoster Row, London, on 9 November 1824. His father, James Hook, was a draper and later a judge in Sierra Leone; his mother, Eliza Frances Clarke, was the second daughter of Dr Adam Clarke (hence the family’s second name of Clarke), a Methodist theologian and biblical scholar. James and Eliza had 13 children, the first of whom, James Clarke Hook (born in 1819, died in 1907) became a highly-respected artist.

Adam Clarke Hook became a Land Agent and Surveyor. He married Charlotte Ann Hennell, born in Kensington in 1830, the daughter of Charles Hennell, a Special Pleader (i.e. a law practitioner who specialized in writing legal pleadings for prosecuting or defence barristers), on 2 October 1851 in Kensington. At the time of Sydney’s birth they were living in Dartmouth Park, Maiden Lane, Hornsey. Adam was sufficiently well-off to be able to afford two servants a nurse (1861 census).

Sydney was the fourth of their 10 children. The others were a son who died shortly after his birth in 1852, Ada Francis (born in Putney St. Mary, Wandsworth in 1853), Evan James (born in Hornsey in 1855);, Louisa Mary (born in Wandsworth in 1859), Harry Lionel (born in Malden, Surrey in 1863), Beatrice Maud (born in Epsom, Surrey in 1866), Ella Caroline (born in Chichester, Sussex in 1869), Edith Charlotte (born in Staines, Middlesex in 1871), and Constance Elizabeth, born in North Dulwich in 1874).

At the time of the 1871 census the family was living at Mulgrave Road, Sutton, Surrey, with Adam again employing two servants and a nurse. Sydney was being educated at Ewell College.

On 30 November 1876 Sydney Clarke Hook married Alice Elizabeth Gray at Holy Trinity Church, Gray’s Inn Road, London. Born in London in 1858, she was the daughter of Charles Gray, an architect, and was living in Shepherds Bush.  Sydney was described on the marriage certificate as a merchant.

Sydney and Alice subsequently moved around the country (Bill Lofts claimed that Hook also “travelled round the world many times” – Collectors Digest, November 1973), as evidenced by the births of their children. Their first child, Sydney Victor, was born in Brixton in the summer of 1877, and baptized at St. Matthew’s Church, Brixton, on 27 January 1878, when Sydney and Alice were living at 14 Atlantic Road, Brixton, with Sydney working as a Spanish translator. Two years later, they had moved to High Cottage, North Road, Hendon, Middlesex, where their first daughter Beatrice Madeline was born in the summer of 1880, and subsequently baptized at St. Lawrence’s Church, Little Stanmore, on 8 May 1881. In the 1881 census, Sydney was recorded as working as a Notary’s Clerk.

Sadly, Beatrice Madeline died in West Ham in 1882, and Sydney Victor died in Brentford the following year.

Sydney and Alice’s second son Herbert Clarke was born in Brentford on 23 April 1883, and later baptized at St. Mary’s Church, Acton, on 8 June 1884. The baptism record gave their address as 5 Avenue Gardens, Acton, with Sydney rather oddly recorded as an engineer. Two years later, they had moved to Brighton, where Evelyn Irene was born in early 1886, and Mabel Inez in late 1887.

At the time of the 1891 census, the family was living at 15 Croppers Hill, Eccleston, Preston, Lancashire, with Sydney working as a Spanish Corresponding Clerk for a glass works in St. Helens. Their last child, Sybil Dora, was born in St. Helens in the summer of 1893, and baptized at St. Helen’s Parish Church on 5 November 1893, with the family address given as 106 Prescot Road, St. Helens.  Sydney was then working full-time as an author. In 1895, Hook was listed in the local Kelly’s Directory living at 106 Cropper’s Hill, St. Helens.

The 1901 census records the family living at Alexandra Villa, Prescot Road, employing a 19 year-old servant.

They then moved to the south coast – between 1905 and 1909 they were living at Hollingside, Stanley Road, Hastings (Kelly’s Directory). In October 1909 Hook placed an advertisement in The Evening Standard:

WANTED to Rent, with option of Purchase, a gentleman’s COUNTRY HOUSE, standing in secluded grounds of 2 acres, not isolated, near a good town, not clay soil, not less than 50 or more than 100 miles from London, unless having exceptionally fast service of trains; containing at least 3 rec., 6 bed rooms, bathroom (h. and c.); rent £50-£60 p.a., with option of purchase; freehold preferred; purchase would be made at end of first year if house found suitable. S. Clarke-Hook, Esq., c.o. The Property Editor, “The Standard”.

This advertisement was clearly successful, as by the time of the 1911 census the family had moved to The Hawthorns, Elton Road, Clevedon, Somerset, where they were employing a cook and a maid.

By 1918 they had moved again, to St. Adhelm’s Grange, Leicester Road, Poole, Dorset, Two years later, they were living at 31 Surrey Road, Bournemouth (then in Hampshire but now in Dorset).

Sydney Clarke Hook subsequently died at Rogate Lodge, Surrey Road, Bournemouth, on 14 August 1923, leaving a small estate worth £730 (around £38,000 in today’s terms).

His widow, along with her daughters Mabel and Sybil, subsequently moved to The Cottage, Russells Green, Hailsham, Sussex (1939 Register). (Rather strangely, they gave their dates of birth as 13 December 1859, 10 September 1899, and 13 August 1903 respectively – these do not tally with earlier records).

Alice died in Sussex in September 1947. She did not leave a will.

Although S. Clarke Hook was working as a translator in 1891, he had already began his career as a writer – his novel Victor Gonzalez’s Secret had been published by the St. Helens Printing and Publishing Company in 1890. In 1893, he had two short stories (The Maiden’s Vow and For His Sake) syndicated to local newspapers, such as The Hertfordshire Illustrated Review and The Newcastle Courant, and his stories subsequently appeared in other local newspapers, such as The Weekly Irish Times, The Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, The Cardiff Times and Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper. In November 1893, he provided the very first story, Dead Man’s Land, in Alfred Harmsworth’s first boys’ story paper, The Halfpenny Marvel. He went on to contribute numerous stories to this and other subsequent Harmsworth (later the Amalgamated Press) papers, including The Union Jack Library, Pluck, The Popular, The Boys’ Friend, Comic Cuts, The Gem, The Magnet, The Nelson Lee Library, Young Britain, Dreadnought, The Boys’ Friend Library and The Ranger. He also had stories published in United Newspaper’s Lloyd’s Boys’ Adventure Series and Lloyd’s Detective Series, C. Arthur Pearson’s Big Budget, Trapps Holmes’s Funny Cuts and The World’s Comic. He was best-known for his “Jack, Sam and Pete” stories, which ran in The Marvel from March 1901 until January 1922, with many other stories of the trio appearing in The Boys’ Friend Library between 1906 and 1924. He also wrote a series of school stories for The Gem, set at “Stormpoint College”, under the pseudonym of Maurice Merriman.

According to Brian Doyle (in his Who’s Who of Boys’ Writers and Illustrators, published in 1964), Hook retired from writing in 1922, and was awarded a small pension by the Amalgamated Press in recognition of his services.  It was possibly ill-health that led to his retirement, as he died the following year, aged 66.

Of his five surviving children, Herbert Clarke Hook became an author, working for the Amalgamated Press from around 1907 onwards. (He was recorded in the 1911 census as an author, living with his parents and three sisters). He enlisted in the army in May 1916, transferring to the Royal Flying Corps in May 1916, and then to the RAF in April 1918. Afterwards, he returned to writing. Amongst the story papers he wrote for were The Boys’ Magazine, Pluck, The Magnet, The Gem, The Boys’ Herald, Boys’ Realm, Boys’ Friend, Chums and The Scout. Many of his stories appeared under his pseudonym of Ross Harvey. He apparently married, although no details of when and to whom are known. He died in Hastings in September 1957.

His sister Evelyn Irene had died, unmarried, in Eastbourne in 1930. His two other sisters, also unmarried, Mabel Inez and Sybil Dora, died in Hailsham, Sussex, and Hastings, Sussex, in 1960 and 1977 respectively.



  1. 1. A wonderful and truly informative post! And how good to see that Clarke Hook’s first name has finally been corrected to ‘Sydney’, after decades of being labelled as ‘Samuel’ in various places. The popularity of Jack, Sam & Pete in the first twelve years of the last century is now long forgotten, but as Bill Lofts’ indefatigable researches showed in the past, these characters were the Amalgamated Press’s biggest money spinners for some years until Charles Hamilton in The Gem and The Magnet gained ground. Hamilton—creator of Billy Bunter, Greyfriars, St Jims and a host of other schools, a famously shy man who had little to do with any other authors at Fleetway House, made something of an exception of Clarke Hook, declaring him to be a ‘charming gentleman’ and Jack, Sam & Pete to be ‘delightful characters’. Bill Lofts even suggested that the two men went on holiday together, but produced no evidence for this.

    Clarke Hook was essentially a Victorian adventure writer, who at his best wrote with great gusto and comic élan; his style in the early years of the Halfpenny Marvel was somewhat crude, but he soon honed it to changing Edwardian sensibilities and created a kind of bewitching throwback to a late Victorian world with frontiers still to be explored, but siting it in the first twenty years of the 20th century instead. He was very forward thinking in some ways, making his central comic hero Pete black, a model of honesty, chivalry and frightening good humour in a world where colour prejudice and outright racism was endemic and unconscious, daringly making him the central character in a trio with an Oxford educated Englishman of the vaguely upper class—Jack—and a sporting American crack-shooter, Sam without any hint of racism on the part of the two white characters. (Hamilton did the same with Hurree Jamset Ram Singh as a member of the Famous Five of Greyfriars.) Together they toured the world—often going to remote parts of South America and Mexico, Clarke Hook’s day job having been that of a Spanish translator once—but also as far afield as Russia. At the height of their popularity in 1905, for about half a year each week in The Marvel the trio toured different towns and cities in England, it being advertised in advance where to boost local sales; probably readers looking for descriptive local colour were disappointed, as Clarke Hook was famously careless about geographical details! One assistant editor at Fleetway House once claimed that Clarke Hook took more liberties in this area than any other writer he knew.

  2. 2. But Clarke Hook offered his readers—who were probably located at the older end of the youth/young man market—something new in entertainment all those years ago, something that the young Charles Hamilton was to take to heart: an easy-going breezy comedy employing tricks, japes and the thwarting of opponents that sat side-by-side within an exciting and dramatic story arc, where the good triumph and the bad are justly punished. Pete’s laugh ‘yah, yah, yah!’ became Bunter’s ‘he, he, he!’ and the Famous Five’s ‘ha, ha, ha!’; Pete’s employment of skilful ventriloquism was used for both entertainment and to get out of dangerous situations, just as Bunter’s was; and the adventurous trio format was adopted many times as a working unit of friendship for Hamilton’s schoolboys. Indeed, in 1910, in a famous series in the Gem when Tom Merry left St Jims and was destitute in London, he meets Jack, Sam & Pete there who rescue him. Hamilton’s adoption of Clarke Hook’s voice is accurate in these scenes.

    The march of modernity was to defeat Clarke Hook in the end, though; school stories became the most popular vehicle for entertaining young readers and the old-fashioned essentially Victorian adventure story set in different parts of the globe fell out of favour. It was an era of youth speaking to youth, and in an attempt to bring his characters up to date, Clarke Hook introduced a fourth permanent companion to the trio, the lad Algy, which proved to be as fatal to the balance of Jack, Sam & Pete as the introduction of Talbot had been to the balance of Tom Merry and Co. in the Gem. Pete was reduced to being Algy’s stooge, and Jack and Sam became mere ciphers. The anachronisms of the stories showed through all too clearly by the First World War, and although they limped on in some form or other into the early 1920s, it is sad to report that Clarke Hook died in Bournemouth broken hearted that his once famous characters had lost their appeal. He seemed never resigned to it.

    On a personal note, I have come to believe that I am the last man standing left collecting and reading the stories of Jack, Sam & Pete in The Marvel and The Boys’ Friend Library, but would be delighted to be proved wrong. If anyone reading this would like to connect up with me to discuss the writing of Sydney Clark Hook and help me perpetuate his memory and that of his famous trio please get in touch! NickyGayle3 on Twitter.

  3. From someone who has never read a Jack, Sam and Pete story or even their introduction in that famous Gem story of Tom Merry destitute in London....I found the above commentary of great interest.