Uel Key (b. Bilbrough, Yorkshire, 20 September 1874; d. Fulford,
29 January 1948)
“Uel Key” was the working name, for fiction only, of Samuel Whittell Key, the only child of Samuel Key (1848-1922) and Blanch Lefroy Whittell (1852-1940). He studied at
and Wesminster College,
before matriculating at St. John’s College, , in 1892. In January 1895, he migrated to St.
Catherine’s College, Cambridge
receiving his B.A. in 1898 and M.A. in 1901.
He was ordained a deacon in Norwich
in 1899, and a priest in 1901, thereafter moving around and serving under
various titles. He was at the Church of North Walsham,
Norfolk, from 1899-1902; the ; and the Church of Lee, 1903-5. He was the Vicar of Cleator, Church of Chislehurst,
Kent, 1902-3 Cumberland,
1905-10; Vicar of All Saints, Ipswich, 1910-22; Rector of Great Blakenham, Suffolk, 1922-8; and Vicar of Fulford, Yorkshire,
In the summer of 1899, he married Katherine Hilda Browne (1874-1967) in Chesterton, Cambridgeshire. They had three children, two sons and one daughter. During World War I, Key served as Chaplain in the Royal Army Chaplain’s Department. In a brief autobiographical entry from the 1930s Key listed his recreations as “painting and making art novelties”.
As a writer, most of his output dates from around the end of the Great War, as he published four books between 1916 and 1921. The first two, bylined S.W. Key, were small religious volumes, The Material in Support of the Spiritual: One Hundred and Three Similes or illustrations for Use in the Preparation of Sermons (1916), and The Solace of the Soul: A Sequence of Gems on the Study of Prayer (1919). Key’s fiction, signed “Uel Key”, began in 1917 in Pearson’s Magazine as a series of tales concerning Dr. Arnold Rhymer, an occult detective sometimes employed by Scotland Yard. Five of these stories were collected in The Broken Fang and Other Experiences of a Specialist in Spooks (London: Hodder & Stouchton, [May 1920]). A follow-up novel was Yellow Death: A Tale of Occult Mysteries, Recording a Further Experience of Professor Rhymer the ‘Spook’ Specialist (London: Books Limited, [April 1921]). As “S. Whittell Key” he published a few nonfiction articles in The Harmsworth London Magazine in 1903 and The London Magazine in 1905. He also contributed to Pictorial Magazine, among others.
The Arnold Rhymer tales are Key’s only work in the field of the fantastic. Blatantly derivative of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, they are unfortunately both dated and overfilled with anti-German sentiments prevalent during the Great War. E.F. Bleiler described the stories in The Broken Fang as “crude”, and “sometimes on the silly side”, a judgment which may be a bit too harsh. The stories are certainly readable, if crude in politics though not in the writing. There are at least a couple of uncollected Rhymer stories, “The Inaudible Sound” in Pearson’s Magazine for January 1921, and “Buried Needles” in Pearson’s Magazine for February 1922.