Arthur Ransom – Journalist, Novelist and Philosopher
by Linda Ayres
Early Years in Hastings
Arthur Ransom was born on the 18th June 1831 at George Street, Hastings. He was one of the five sons of Mary and William Ransom. His siblings were William (born 1823), Walter (1825), John (1827) and Frederick (1839). Arthur’s father was born in 1796 at Battle, Sussex. He moved to George Street, Hastings in 1819 and set up his own printing and publishing firm. By 1835, the family moved to 59 George Street. His father ran the firm from 60 George Street. In 1838 the Hastings Literary and Scientific Institution and Museum opened at 42 George Street; William leased part of the building for the family home and his print works.
Mary and William were members of the Church of England. They never preached to their children, but led them by example. Arthur and his brothers were free to choose their own activities, and their own friends. Thus, they were brought up under a regime of what Arthur termed, “philosophical liberty.” The home atmosphere was a literary one. Arthur and his brothers spent much of their time at the Hastings Literary and Scientific Institution. The museum had a collection of preserved plant specimens, stored in large drawers. For hours, Arthur examined these plants. He often said they fed his imagination and awoke in him that passion for the study of nature. On the library table was exhibited a copy of the Bayeux tapestry and from that, he learnt by heart the story of the Norman Conquest as told in pictures.
Until Arthur was twelve years of age, he attended a small private school where the only subject taught was English. He was thankful to move to another school where he studied Greek and French. When Arthur and his brothers Walter and John left school, they joined their father in the printing business. His eldest brother, William, was the founder and first editor of the Hastings and St. Leonards News, first published on the 5th May 1848. Frederick went on to be a bank clerk. On the 28th November 1855, their father died of tuberculosis. He was aged 59 years. Their mother died on Christmas Day 1868. She was 70 years old.
In 1855, Arthur composed “The Music of the Stream,” a song on Fairlight Glen near Hastings. He was also the composer of a song, “Let us cheerily wait for the Spring”. He composed the songs to raise money for the Patriotic Fund, set up in 1854. Queen Victoria was concerned for the welfare of the widows and orphans of British servicemen dying in the Crimean War and made an appeal for public donations. The State did not take on the responsibility for the dependants of its soldiers and sailors lost in battle.
When Arthur was a young boy he joined the Hastings Temperance Movement. In 1856, he became its President. For the rest of his life he remained an abstainer but he never endorsed total abolition. He claimed the only way to reduce drunkenness was to improve the economic and social conditions of the people.
Life as a Minister
In 1858, Arthur was ordained a Wesleyan Methodist Minister. In the 1861 Census for Huntingdonshire, Arthur is lodging at Upwood Lane, Bury. On 28th August 1862, Arthur married Frances Ann Coleman. She was the only daughter in the family of six sons of Elizabeth and Israel Coleman. The family lived at High Street, Walmer, Kent. Her father was a farmer, market gardener and milkman as well as a parish clerk. After their marriage, Arthur and Frances moved to Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Sadly, in 1865 Frances died. They had no children.
In 1866, Arthur moved to Llanelli, to take up the appointment as Wesleyan Minister of the Carmarthen Circuit in South Wales. In 1869, Arthur gave up his ministry because of the constraints of the Wesleyan Church. In October that year, he became the Pastor of the Independent Chapel, Conduit Street, Lynn, Norfolk. He subsequently left to become a Unitarian Minister.
Translator of German
In 1872, Arthur went to Germany to study science at the University of Giessen. He was there for about two years, but he refused to study for a degree. At that time, the German “Ph.D.” carried little weight in England. He had little time for study as he was attending twenty or thirty lectures a week. During his time in Germany, he studied the German language and he translated the third volume of Dr. Theodor Keim’s “Geschichte Jesu von Nazara,” (History of Jesus from Nazareth).
Arthur returns to England
When Arthur returned to England, he lived for a few years in Hastings and contributed to the “News” articles signed “A.R.” and “A Hastings Boy.” He reported many of the important meetings. He also gave lectures on chemistry and Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar. He subsequently went as the managing editor of the “Leicester Chronicle and Mercury.” On 3rd January 1879, he resigned and the staff presented him with a floral album and a writing case. He moved to Bedford and joined his friend Joshua Hawkins, (5 times Mayor of Bedford) in the running of the Bedfordshire Times and Independent, at 26 High Street, Bedford. Those who worked alongside of him said that he was very kind, patient and helpful with young journalists.
Arthur’s second marriage to Maria Burr
Soon after he arrived in Bedford Arthur married his second wife Maria Burr in 1880 at Croydon, London. She was born in 1839 at Finedon, Northamptonshire. She was one of the nine children of Susanna and Joseph Burr. Maria and her siblings were educated at home with a private tutor. The family lived at Finedon Lodge. Her father was a miller and farmer. He farmed 100 acres and employed eight men.
The Latter Years
In 1893, Arthur retired from the Bedfordshire Times. He continued to contribute a series of articles on the towns and villages of Bedfordshire published under the title of “Round the County.” In the introduction, he wrote of Bedfordshire: “It contains pleasant types of genuine English rural life and landscape, such as older poets delighted in. It has for so small an area, a great variety of natural features – hilly downs, extensive woods, spreading corn lands, broad meadows, and fine reaches of meandering river. It possesses interest alike for the antiquary, the naturalist, and the lover of the quiet country. It has produced men who have made their mark upon the history of the world. And what concerns us most here in our study of Bedfordshire for Bedfordshire people, it possesses an abundance of those elements that can attach intelligent and rightly appreciative denizens to their home. One aim of these papers will be realized if they discover and enjoy the natural beauties and the higher associations of their surroundings.”
The Bedfordshire Times published his last article posthumously on 31st May 1912.
He was a lover of animals. His dog and cat were his companions, and at one time, he had a couple of geese, which seemed gifted with almost human intelligence. One of the geese, called Sappho, used to sit at the table, perhaps encouraged to eat scraps of food from Arthur’s plate. For some years, Arthur was one of the Hon. Secretaries of the local branch of the R.S.P.C.A.
Arthur often talked about Foster Hill Road Cemetery. He said, “Whoever laid the town out, had allotted the best and most beautiful spot for the dead”. Sometime in the distant future, he believed, when cremation had become the general practice, the boundary would be removed, and the cemetery opened out as an extension of the park.
Throughout his lifetime, Arthur enjoyed walks in the countryside. He always walked some six miles a day. His youthful step, white hair and rosy cheeks made him a cheerful sight.
Arthur wrote his first novel at the age of 79 entitled “The Rector of St. Jacob’s”. It was published under his pen name of ‘Senex Rusticanus’. Arthur said, “The chief motive in the book is intended as a protest against clerical insincerity – against rushing into matters before a young man knows his mind”. “It is not autobiographical at all,” Arthur explained, “but the subject has been suggested by my own experiences. I left three Churches because of my opinions. Up to the age of 41, I was a minister of religion. I went from one church to another – first the Wesleyan, then the Independent, and lastly the Unitarian.” Soon after, his second book entitled “The Bosbury People” was published.
Arthur lived at 1 St. Loyes Street, where he had a magnificent library that occupied the long hallway and covered the walls and the desks and floors of his study. He also held meetings in his house for reading and discussion. From these meetings grew the Bedford Arts Club, of which Arthur was the founder and the first President and elected a Hon life member. He also held private botany classes at his home. These were a full course; extended over three terms, which included botany and the study of British wild plants.
On 6th February 1903, Arthur’s wife, Maria died aged of 64 years. Arthur survived his wife by 9 years. He died on 4th July 1912, aged 80 years. Maria and Arthur had no children.
Arthur had left some detailed instructions about his funeral. He requested no flowers, but his housekeeper, Miss Barby, did accept some flowers from Moggerhanger School. He insisted on the exclusion of any form of Christian burial service as he had dissociated himself from all forms of dogmatic teaching.
On 6th July at 11.30 a.m., the day of the funeral, the cortege made its way slowly through the busy streets from his house. A small group of men stood together just inside the gate of the Cemetery. Bearers drew the plain oak coffin on a small glazed bier to the graveside. He was buried in the grave next to Maria. Their graves are unmarked perhaps at their request. They did not want a memorial stone. Grave Ref: C2.69 and Grave Ref: C2.79
Charles Granville, Arthur’s friend and publisher, took the collection of books from Arthur’s home and kept them in his library at his home near London.
Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser 22nd May 1855
Sussex Advertiser, Surrey Gazette, 29th April 1856.
West Sussex Gazette and County Advertiser 6th December 1855
The Berkshire Chronicle Saturday 1st September 1866
Northampton Mercury Saturday 30th October 1869
Chronicle & Leicester Mercury 11th January 1879
Hastings and St. Leonards Observer 13th July 1912
Bedfordshire Times and Independent Friday 16th October 1936
Bedfordshire Times 29th March 1929
Bedfordshire Times & Standard 6th April 1952
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