Thursday, March 14, 2019

Nicholas Olde

Nicholas Olde (b. Hampstead, London, 8 October 1879; d. reg. Thorrington, near Colchester, Essex, July-Sep. 1951)

[Updated 9 August 2020]

The pseudonymous "Nicholas Olde" is remembered primarily for one book, The Incredible Adventures of Rowland Hern (London: William Heinemann, [March] 1928). The copyright registration in the U.S. fortunately gives the author's real name, A.L. Champneys, thus allowing  us to find some biographical information on the author.

Amian Lister Champneys was the oldest of four children (two sons, two daughters) of Basil Champneys (1842-1935), a well-known architect of many collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings, and his wife Mary Theresa Ella Drummond (1858-1941), who were married in 1876. Basil's father and one of his brothers were clergyman (his father was very late in life made the Dean of Lichfield). Basil had been one of eight children of a hard-working old county family with only a modest income; at his death he left an estate valued at nearly fifty-thousand pounds. Amian's youngest sibling was Adelaide Mary Champneys (1888-1966), who published a number of books, some of which were fairly popular in England and America, including Miss Tiverton Goes Out (1925), which appeared anonymously. Adelaide also co-wrote a pseudonymous book with her other brother, the clergyman Michael Weldon Champneys (1884-1957). (I have written in more detail on Adelaide here.)

Amian attended the Charterhouse school in Godalming, Surrey, and in 1898 matriculated at New College, Oxford (B.A. 1902). He followed his father's footsteps and became an architect. Under his own name he published one book, Public Libraries: A Treatise on Their Design, Construction and Fittings (1907).

Under the pseudonym "Nicholas Olde" Amian published three books. The first was The Incredible Adventures of Rowland Hern. It collects fifteen episodes of crimes studied by Rowland Hern and his Watson-like unnamed narrator.  The cases themselves are tinged with humor and paradox in the manner of G.K. Chesterton.  Aside from the reprinting of one story ("A Collector of Curiosities") in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in July 1942, no other stories were reprinted until Jack Adrian selected "The Windmill" for his Twelve Tales of Murder (1998).  The whole collection was reprinted by Ramble House in October 2005.

In 1933 "Nicholas Olde" published Essex Verses and Others: In Tendring Hundred and the Pageant of Progress, a slim volume of poetry (39 pp.), which in 1934 was expanded to be (at 86 pp.) The Last Goddess (Essex Verses and Others). 

Update: Chris Harte has shared the below photograph of the author, which he discovered while working on his third bibliography, The Captain Magazine 1899-1924. Chris notes: his main claim to fame was that he was a top boxer at University. 


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