Arthur Ernest Attride

Peckham in 1866 was not the unpleasant joke it has become; King John would not have recognised the place he hunted across and its later days as an orchard and market garden centre were also over but it was a pleasant little town (not yet an inner London suburb) attracting the better off clerks working in the City of London who appreciated the parks and open spaces where they could spend weekends with their families. Arthur Ernest Attride was born on 5th May 1866 at his parent’s home, 8 Nunhead Grove, Nunhead, Peckham. His father, Henry, was a clerk at the Bank of England and his mother, Sarah, was the daughter of a prosperous Kent farmer. There were no servants in the Attride household, however—a fact we should bear in mind when we see what a pompous fathead Arthur later became. (Speaking of pompous fatheads, here he is in 1917).

Arthur Ernest Attride

In 1894 when he was 28 and a clerk he sailed to New York on the SS Umbria; the passenger list said he was heading for Illinois and he got there because on 5th September 1894 in Chicago he married José Johnson who was also English and four years younger than him. They sailed home to England in 1896, giving their occupations on the passenger list as actor and actress; I’d love to have been an observer when Arthur introduced José to his mother. Although José used the name Johnson when she married Arthur, she was illegitimate and usually known as José Shalders. (Everything I know about the Shalders family I know from fellow researcher Ann Shalders). José’s mother was Lucy Steel who, at the age of 25, married a 70 year old widower, Richard Shalders, with whom she was probably living at the time as his servant and by whom she already had two children with another on the way. Richard Shalders died on 7th April 1864. Ann Shalders says, “Under the terms of his will, Richard Shalders left Lucy provided for, with income from various properties, provided she did not re-marry. There is evidence that very soon after Richard’s death Lucy was living with Henry Johnson.  Their son Henry Johnson or Shalders was born in 1866, May Shalders in 1868, Jose Shalders in 1870, Percy Shalders in 1873 and Cossie Shalders in 1875. In the 1871 census, Lucy lists herself as Lucy Johnson, aged 32, when in fact she is at least 35 or 36. Her children by Richard Shalders are listed correctly but her children by Henry Johnson are listed as having the surname Johnson.” José Shalders/Johnson was a singer and actress with the D’Oyle Carte; here she is as Banyan in The Nautch Girl.

Jose Shalders

Four years after Arthur and José married, they divorced. At this distance we can’t know the facts with certainty; José’s petition cited repeated adultery by Arthur with someone called Annie Gatland and violent attacks including a threat to cut her throat with a razor. Arthur denied it all, saying that José was “a woman of violent and ungovernable temper and drunken habits and that if he did use force it was in self-defence and to restrain the petitioner from doing herself injury.” Choose the version you prefer. Arthur soon abandoned acting for the commercial world. In 1899, even before he was divorced from José, he appeared in court on a charge of obtaining goods on credit by false pretences. He was said to have ordered large quantities of wine and spirits, representing that he was carrying on a bona fide business, and immediately pawning them. His business career ended, perhaps inevitably, when he was made bankrupt. What I really love about this man’s story, though, is what he wrote in large letters in green ink on the 1911 census enumeration sheet:

NOTE: Owing to emigration, servants are not to be got in this county town. We have been 3 months without one, though advertised in all papers so called [illegible] offices. This emigration of females should be stopped.

He refers to “this county town”; he was living in Lambeth at the time and gives his occupation as General Manager to opal designers in opal mill manufacturers/Commercial traveller. Now you see why I called him pompous. He’d been declared bankrupt, charged with obtaining goods under false pretences, was divorced and was living at the time he wrote this message with a woman he called his wife but whom he was not to marry for another 11 years, and yet he wrote this message—for whose benefit, I wonder?
Oh, the second wife? He married Alice Beatrice Stoffel at Camberwell Register Office on 7th September 1922. Alice was 41 and a spinster; Arthur was 54 and described on the marriage certificate as a widower. But on that 1911 census page he said the woman he was living with was his wife, Alice Beatrice Attride, aged 30. So either he married two women, both called Alice Beatrice and both born in 1881 – which I do not believe – or they were living together as man and wife but not actually married.

You could not, as they say, make it up. But with people like this in the world, why would you need to?

Read more Invisible Lives here.

 

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