Friday, May 18, 2012

Uel Key

Uel Key (b. Bilbrough, Yorkshire, 20 September 1874; d. Fulford, Yorkshire, 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 Haileybury College and Wesminster College, before matriculating at St. John’s College, Cambridge University, 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 Church of Chislehurst, Kent, 1902-3; and the Church of Lee, 1903-5.  He was the Vicar of Cleator, Cumberland, 1905-10; Vicar of All Saints, Ipswich, 1910-22; Rector of Great Blakenham, Suffolk, 1922-8; and Vicar of Fulford, Yorkshire, 1928-48.

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 as a series of five long tales concerning Dr. Arnold Rhymer, an occult detective sometimes employed by Scotland Yard. They appeared in The Broken Fang and Other Experiences of a Specialist in Spooks (London: Hodder & Stoughton, [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]). In The Vampire Hunters' Casebook (1996) Peter Haining attributed the first Dr. Arnold Rhymer stories to "Pearson's Magazine during the closing years of the 1914-18 War" but a search of these issues found no such appearances, and the attribution must be considered another of Haining's numerous fabrications. Two later uncollected Dr. Arnold Rhymer stories, did in fact appear in Pearson's: "The Inaudible Sound" (January 1921) and "Buried Needles" (February 1922).

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. 


  1. I managed to find a copy of Broken Fang; however, I'm not having any luck with Yellow Death, either in hardback or as an electronic file. Might you, Douglas, or any visitors to this blog have advice? (I'm in the U.S.)

    1. John Pelan had plans to issue a volume collecting all of the Arnold Rhymer stories in his Midnight House imprint, which seems to have gone moribund, though some of the titles planned for that imprint have moved over to his Dancing Tuatara Press line at Ramble House. The original editions of the Uel Key books are pricey, if you can find them. And for that kind of money I don't think they are worth it. I'd suggest reading other things until they get reissued at reasonable prices, by John or anyone else.

  2. I just read "Buried Needles" and found it very poor stuff -- the "impossible" element of the criminal's alibi actually being explained by the existence of a supposedly dead twin brother working with him. Bah. / Denny Lien