Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler, poet and novelist, was born on 9 April 1860 at 7 Summerfield Road, West Park, Wolverhampton. Her mother, Ellen, was a daughter of George Thorneycroft, successful ironmaster and first Mayor of Wolverhampton. Her father, Henry Hartley Fowler, a solicitor, was a Councillor and Mayor, before entering Parliament in 1880. His distinguished career led him to being knighted and made First Lord Wolverhampton. He had a large house built for the family at Wergs Road, Tettenhall, called Woodthorne, to which they moved in1867. (This was eventually demolished by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the 1970s). Her sister, Edith Henrietta Fowler, was also a novelist.
Ellen and her sister Edith were educated mainly at home, although Ellen later attended a private school in London in her teens. The girls were encouraged by their father to be involved in sharp and witty conversation, and to write from an early age. Ellen made up stories and poems, and contributions to magazines and periodicals were soon followed by two volumes of poetry: Verses grave and gay (1891), and Verses wise and otherwise (1895). Her sonnet Wulfruna's Hampton, for the 900th anniversary of St Peter's first Charter, still appears in the church guide book. A book of short stories was followed by her first novel Concerning Isabel Carnaby in 1898, which combined wit, Methodism and Society, and was a success with readers and critics, selling a million copies. Her next two novels, A double thread (1899) and The Farringdons (1900), built on the success with stories that also found favour, with the added interest for local people of seeing settings they knew thinly disguised:Wolverhampton, Tettenhall and Sedgley. Scenes further afield, such as Tong and Weston-under-Lizard, also featured.
Ellen still wrote poetry and short stories in between the novels, which appeared regularly over the next few years. Fuel of Fire (1902) and Place and Power (1903) used Tettenhall and Wolverhampton for scenes.
Her marriage to schoolmaster Alfred Felkin in 1903 resulted from friendship between local prominent families. Alfred's father managed Mander's Paint and Varnish Works. They moved to London, but still visited the family locally, and Ellen continued to use scenes she knew in her novels Miss Fallowfield's fortune (1908) is mainly set in Weston-under-Lizard and Weston Park, and The wisdom of folly (1910) has scenes at Dunston.
Ellen and Alfred moved to Westbourne, Bournemouth, in 1916, partly for the sake of her health, and from thereon she did not write so frequently. However she did write Beauty and bands (1920) which is set in Bridgnorth. She passed away in 1929 and is buried with her husband at All Saints, Branksome Park.
Her imaginative writing, with a Christian outlook but without preaching, is sprinkled with interesting characters from all classes of society and plenty of the Fowler wit learned from her family. Romance, mystery, drama and twists in the stories accompany the use of scenes we can still recognise today. Ellen was known to be a good conversationalist and speaker, with as much wit as she put on the pages of her books.
© Anthony Perry
Books marked with an asterisk (*) are available in the West Midlands Creative Literature Collection:-
Verses grave and gay (1891)
Verses wise or otherwise (1897)
Cupid's garden (1897)
Concerning Isabel Carnaby (1898)
A double thread (1899)
The man with transparent Legs - Twenty six ideal stories for girls (1899)
The Farringdons (1900)
Love's Argument & other poems (1900)
The Isabel Carnaby birthday book (1900)
The angel and the demon & others (1901)
How to make an angel (temperance tract) (1901)
Sirius & other stories (1901)
Fuel of fire (1902)
Place and power (1903)
Kate of Kate Hall (with A. L. Felkin) (1904)
Verse wise or otherwise, incorporating - Verses grave and gay (1905)
In subjection (1906)
Miss Fallowfield's fortune (1908)
The wisdom of folly * (1910)
Her ladyship's conscience (1913)
Ten degrees backward (1915)
Beauty and bands (1920)
The lower pool (1923)
Signs and wonders (1926)
A sample chapter and the complete text of The wisdom of folly are available on this website.
The following studies have been produced by Anthony Perry:-
The Fowler legacy (1997)
Ellen's forgotten mercia (1999)
Ellen's Bournemouth years (2000)
Page created 17 April 2002 and last updated
28 October 2002
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