William Hale White

the elder (22 December 1831 - 14 March 1913)
A Victorian writer using 'Mark Rutherford' as a pen-name, briefly resident
in Epsom at Flint House and much later in Street Farm, Ashtead.

William Hale White
William Hale White
Crayon portrait in 1887 by Athur Hughes
in the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Bedford.

Particulars of the life and career of this individual are summarised on Wikipedia whilst a much longer article appears in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography accessible via the Surrey Libraries website. Additional information is available from 'The Mark Rutherford Resource' and numerous books, including those published by his second wife and relict Dorothy Hale White who died on 27 July 1967, aged 90.

This piece will focus on local connections.

The author, who had a succession of homes, moved during the Spring of 1862 into a house in West Street, Carshalton, Surrey, which was later demolished in order to build Carshalton railway station. He is reported then to have taken up residence in Stream or Spring House otherwise known as Wandle Cottage and Honeywood (now Sutton's Museum and Heritage Centre). The dates of his tenancy span 1864 to 1867 with a break in 1865 when he stayed in Flint House, 58 Worple Road, Epsom. From 13 February 1865 until 10 July 1866, Hale White was the Parliamentary correspondent for the Morning Star, writing a column 'Below the Gangway'.

58 Worple Road in October 1971
58 Worple Road
Photographed by L R James in October 1971
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection

58 Worple Road (right hand side of building)
This end view of 'The Flint House' was taken from the junction of Ashley Road with Worple Road.
The building is split from end to end rather than front to back with
58 Worple Road to the right and 39 Ashley Road to the left.
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2011

The building called Flint House as depicted above is assumed from the bricked up windows to have been erected before abolition of window tax in 1851. The recent photograph has been taken of a flank wall, which is the end of 39 Ashley Road on the left hand side, and of 58 Worple Road to the right. The early OS maps suggest that a larger structure had been divided before 1866 to produce two back-to-back houses so that William Hale White would only have occupied the half facing Worple Road.

Flint House on the 1866 OS Map
Flint House on the 1866 OS Map
Red=58 Worple Road, Yellow=39 Ashley Road

Later in 1867, the family were at 4 Park Villas, Isleworth whilst waiting to have a new house built in Carshalton - Wensum Lodge, 19 Park Hill (listed Grade II). The family remained there from 1868 until 1889, the property having been advertised for sale by auction in The Times of 7 April 1888.

On 23 January 1889, Hale White announced in a letter that he was to take a farmhouse in Ashtead, leasing Street Farm into which they moved in February of that year.

Street (also known as Village or Ashtead) Farm had been one of the largest in the district but was broken up on sale of the manorial estate. A rump of 108 acres with the farmhouse, pictured below, had been acquired by an architect, Henry Cowell Boyes, who built a number of large houses on the land including Hockham Lodge at the northern end of Woodfield Lane on the east side. In 1890, Boyes sold the Street Farm Estate on to Ashtead Land Company Ltd. It would have been this company that rented the old farmhouse to Hale White.

Ashtead Street Farm
Ashtead Street Farm c.1900
Image source 'Ashtead, a village transformed' published
by Leatherhead & District Local History Society 1977

As shown by the following Estate Agent's particulars for a much later sale of the premises, the accommodation was extensive.

1925 Street Farm Sales Particulars 1925 Street Farm Sales Particulars 1925 Street Farm Sales Particulars
1925 Street Farm Sales Particulars

'Miriam's Schooling' was published during 1890. William married Harriet Arthur in 1856 and they had 6 children. Harriet is reported to have been ailing for the best part of 30 years - and there was apparent marital estrangement. A nurse had formed part of the household from before 1871 and one was also enumerated in the 1891 census at Ashtead. On 1 June 1891 Harriet died in her 'invalid quarters' at Street Farm and was interred at Carshalton.

In a letter dated 22 October 1891, the author remarked "We are as far off as ever from finding a habitation for ourselves. We can see nothing to suit us, and I dread more than I can tell the dullness and isolation of a suburb like Ashtead or Carshalton..." The following year he retired from the Admiralty, moving away to 9 High Wickham, Hastings. [2011 - The site of Street Farmhouse remains, on the A24, cleared in anticipation of development as a supermarket for Tesco but the planning application has been stalled.]

Whilst living in Ashtead, Hale White had become acquainted with Sophia Susan Partridge (1844 - 1918), a neighbour residing with her brother and family at Hockham Lodge, a house mentioned above. She was an unmarried lady of independent means with whom a deep friendship developed as reflected in correspondence which lasted from 1893 until 1912.

According to her obituary in The Times, "In 1907, Dorothy Smith's first novel, Miss Mona, fell into the hands of William Hale White who thought it full of faults but determined to meet its author. The outcome of the meeting is well known to readers of biographies of Mark Rutherford. She was thirty, he was seventy-five: they fell in love at first sight; three and a half years later he rose from his invalid couch to marry her; two years later he died."

The DNB presents the situation rather differently: - "White the widower, always on the move in search of the ideal abode, was greatly attracted to literary women in his several localities. One of these many admirers, Dorothy Vernon Horace Smith, a novelist in her early thirties, sister of the headmaster of Sherborne School, sister-in-law of Humphrey Milford, the 'printer' to the Oxford University Press, a devout Anglican who worked for a church mission in Beckenham, became his companion and, after cancer set in, his nurse. On 8 April 1911 they married in the church at Groombridge, she thirty-four, he almost eighty. He made her abandon her Sunday Bible class for young men, but not her devoted church attendance. He died on 14 March 1913 at The Cottage, Groombridge; he was cremated and his ashes were buried in Groombridge parish churchyard."

William's Obituary in The Times, 17 Mar 1913


We regret to record the death of Mr. William Hale White ("Mark Rutherford"), which occurred on Friday at Groombridge.

Twenty years ago, while the books which bore the name of "Mark Rutherford" on their title-page were being widely read and discussed, few people knew that the author's real name was William Hale White. The employment of a pseudonym, and sometimes of two (for some of "Mark Rutherford's" work was "edited by his friend Reuben Shapcott") was sufficient to prove a retiring disposition, and Mr. Hale White was little before the world in person.

He was born at Bedford in 1829. His father, William White, was a printer and bookseller in that town, a village preacher, a Sunday school teacher, and a trustee of the famous Bunyan Meeting, then called the Old Meeting; a keen Liberal politician, and an orator of great power and persuasion. In 1848 his son, William Hale White, joined the Bunyan Meeting, and in the same year was approved as a future minister, and sent to Cheshunt College for training. From Cheshunt he passed in the following year to Kew College, St. John's Wood. His career there was brief. In 1851 he and two other students fell under suspicion of heresy on the subject of the inspiration of the Bible, and he was expelled, His father hoped that Mr. John Jukes, then minister of the Bunyan Meeting at Bedford, would take up the defence but hoped in vain, William Hale White gave up all idea of the ministry, and the family broke its connexion with the Bunyan Meeting. The story, slightly disguised, is told in the most autobiographical of "Mark Rutherford's" novels, "The Revolution in Tanner's Lane," where his father appears as Isaac Allen, and Mr. Jukes, in a portrait none too flattering, as the Reverend John Broad.

William White, the father, seems to have been an able man who had worked his way up. His son wrote of him many years later as "a compositor in a dingy printing office," who "repeated verses from 'Childe Harold' at the case"; and the love of Byron (which we find transferred to the Zachariah Coleman, of "Tanner's Lane") descended to his son. But he does not seem to have been a. successful man in business. He gave up printing and stationery and started a tannery. Later (owing, it has been hinted, to the interest of the Bedford family, who, while admiring his ability, found him a thorn in the flesh) he became doorkeeper to the House of Commons. Here his remarkable gifts were recognized by John Bright, Disraeli, and many other members, who used frequently to find their way to him for a talk. Some papers on the House, which he wrote for the Illustrated Times, were collected many years afterwards by Mr. Fisher Unwin, the friend and the chief publisher of his son, and issued under the title of "The Inner Life of the House of Commons."

The life of his son, the subject of this memoir, was less eventful the ministry being closed to him, he became a hack writer. He contributed articles to the "Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography," among which his life of Franklin is especially good, For many years he practised journalism, supplying weekly letters to provincial papers; and a connexion with John Chapman, the remarkable editor of the Westminster Review, brought him acquainted with Chapman's assistant editor, George Eliot, among whose circle of friends he moved. His earliest separate publication was a letter to George Jacob Holyoake on Parliamentary Reform. Meanwhile he had obtained a post in the Admiralty, rising at last to that of Assistant Director of Contracts; and, as his improving means allowed him, he gave up journalism and began to write his books. He lived, first, at Carshalton, and later at Hastings, and at Groombridge, Kent. He married, and by his first wife became the father of Dr. William Hale White, the well-known physician. A few years ago he married Dorothy, daughter of Mr. Horace Smith, the metropolitan magistrate.

Of his love for Byron we have spoken. Carlyle to whom he wrote a boyish letter about himself and "Latter Day Pamphlets" in 1850, and Ruskin, who is said to have incorporated White's own description of his house in the original edition of "Fors Clavigera," were also among his admired authors. But there is little of any of them in his own work. The individuality of that work may help to explain why the public that knew it was comparatively small and intensely enthusiastic. H. D. Traill was one of the first to see its merits; Mr. W. D. Howells wrote that it marked a new era in fiction; there are those who acclaim "Mark Rutherford" as greater than Meredith. The books that have won such opinions are these :- "The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford" (1881); "Mark Rutherford's Deliverance" (1880); "The Revolution in Tanner's Lane" (1887); "Miriam's Schooling and other papers" (1890): "Catherine Furze" (1894); and "Clare Hopgood" (1896). In point of construction none of them are strong, and their pure and graceful diction must have been old-fashioned when they were written; but what we might call their idea-plot - the development of the ideas which underlie the action-is always complete and shapely; the characterization is at once a cute and profound, implying an eye that noticed details and a mind which saw deep into the workings of the human heart and spirit; and the reader who is surprised at the omission of an apparently important episode will always find on reflection that he and not the author has misjudged its importance. There are certain subjects on which "Mark Rutherford" writes peculiarly well; of Dissent, past and present, and particularly of Calvinism, which he admired though he could not accept it (it has been well said of him that he had "an intimate knowledge of orthodoxy and a warm sympathy for heretics"); of mean, trivial, and malignant women, and the tortures they inflict on their husbands; of the lower middle class; of the tyranny of conscience; of country life in the "hungry forties," and of the misery of diffidence and self-distrust. He has an extraordinary knowledge of loneliness and depression, and of self-deception and humbug; and, for all the primness of his manner, he has said some things about religion and love which have startled more than the Dissenters who formed his first and perhaps his chief public. And a prominent quality in him is his pity for the poor and oppressed, for the lonely and the sensitive, for the unhappily married - for all the world, indeed, except hypocrites and landlords. All his life he was a Radical and something of a rebel; and it seems as if in the Bedford of his boyhood (the period of which he liked best to write) his mind must have taken a. certain cast which it retained through all its later developments.

Next to his novels he is best known by a translation of "Spinoza's Ethic." which he made with Amelia. Hutchinson Stirling, by his "Life of Bunyan" and by his "Pages from a Journal." This collection of essays, stories, notes, and criticisms, to which a new volume was added recently, show many sides of the author's mind and add much to the revelation of it that can be had from the novels. He wrote also an able "Examination of the Charge of Apostasy against Wordsworth," a description of Mr. T. Norton Longman's collections of Wordsworth and Coleridge manuscripts, and a preface to his own selections from Johnson's Rambler.

Brian Bouchard © 2011

Link: The Mark Rutherford (William Hale White) Resource

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