Tuesday, 26 July 2011

News - Bygones: Arthur Mee (Stapleford)

FUNDED by the Stapleford and District Local History Society, the plaque at the Arthur Mee Centre in Stapleford reminds us of the extraordinary man who wrote the Children's Encyclopedia and founded and edited the Children's Newspaper.

Arthur Mee was born in Stapleford on July 21, 1875, at a house now demolished on Church Street. He was the second of ten children of Henry Mee, a railway fireman, and his wife Mary.

Subsequently they lived at a house on Orchard Street, and also at 7 Pinfold Lane where, in the 1881 census, Arthur Mee was described as a scholar.

All these sites have subsequently been re-developed.

Young Arthur attended the local school, now the Arthur Mee Centre. When he was 14, in 1889, the family moved to 237 Woodborough Road, Nottingham, and at the time of the 1891 census they were living at 126 Manning Street.

By then Arthur had left school and become a copy-holder on the Nottingham Evening Post. In 1891 he became an apprentice reporter on the Nottingham Daily Express, and in 1895, aged just 20, he was appointed editor of the Nottingham Evening News.

Arthur's journalism star was rising rapidly. By now he was already contributing articles to magazines, and Nottingham was no longer big enough for his expectations.

Arthur moved from Nottingham to London in 1896 when he was 21, and the following year he married 19-year-old Amelia (Amy) Fratson.

By 1901 they were living at 27 Lanercost Road, Tulse Hill, Lambeth, where their daughter, Marjorie, was born that same year. It was a substantial house and must have been relatively new when the Mees lived there. Surprisingly for the time, they had no servants, but they did have a boarder. Arthur was obviously stretching himself!

Mee moved to London because he had contacts. The Nottingham Daily's Express's Evening News was owned by John Hammerton who encouraged Mee's career, including his regular contributions to Tit-Bits. Mee worked for the magazine when he moved to London.

In 1898 he joined the staff of the Daily Mail for which he became literary editor in 1903.

Mee seems to have grown tired of journalism. In 1903 he began working for Alfred Harmsworth's Amalgamated Press, and he was appointed joint general editor in 1905 with John Hammerton, of The Harmsworth Self-Educator. This took him away from newspaper work towards more general writing.

As a result, London was no longer so important to Mee and in 1905 he and his wife and daughter moved to a house in Hextable, Kent, where they lived until 1914.

Financially secure, Arthur Mee was now able to devote himself to full-time writing, and in conjunction with Hammerton he produced The History of the World (1907-9), Natural History (1909-11) and The World's Great Books.

In 1908 he began work on The Children's Encyclopaedia (1908-10) which came out as a fortnightly magazine, and was later published and bound in eight volumes, subsequently increased to ten.

Mee was now skilled at popularising general knowledge and assembling vast quantities of documentation from which to write his material.

He wrote extraordinarily fast – something in the region of 3,000 words a day, every day, for 50 years!

His My Magazine appeared from 1910 until 1935, and he edited the weekly Children's Newspaper from its beginning in 1919 edited until his death in 1943.

The Children's Newspaper continued publication until 1964.

The British Library has well over 400 items, including second and later editions, of works attributed to Mee.

How he found time for his only other interests of gardening and DIY, is remarkable.

In 1914 Mee commissioned a house at Eynsford, near Sevenoaks, in Kent.

The designs were depicted in later editions of The Children's Encyclopaedia. He lived there for the rest of his life.

Apart from the Children's Encyclopaedia and the Children's Newspaper, Mee wrote The Children's Bible, The Children's Shakespeare, an edition of The Pilgrim's Progress, and A Children's Life of Jesus, and numerous other books.

Mostly they were moral, pious and, especially in the 1930s, patriotic, reflecting the values of the day.

In 1936 Mee started a new venture, called The King's England, a series of county studies designed to be "a new Domesday Book of 10,000 Towns and Villages".

Mee and his researchers set out to record the ancient, beautiful and curious historic possessions of England since the motor car made it possible.

The researchers were to include the obvious glories, the strange, the odd and the unusual, and they were expected to pick up a good anecdote along the way.

Mee wrote of Stapleford that "Fifty years ago it was a quiet village", but now it has "given away its rural charm and accepted its place in industry".

Many of the county volumes are still available, and The King's England Press was founded in 1989 to reprint them as classic guides to 1930s countryside as well as historical documents in their own right.

Mee died in 1943 but his legacy lives on and he is now officially commemorated in his home town.


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