Sunday, 17 October 2010

Arthur Mee

Its occurred to me, rather late in the day I admit, that I haven't explained who Arthur Mee was and what he did. From the dust jacket of one my earliest editions comes this:

The Most Complete Picture of a Country Ever Presented to Its People

A remarkable event has been going on quietly and unguessed at for many years in our countryside. There has been nothing like it before; it is the first census of the ancient and beautiful and curious and historic possessions of England since the motor-car came to make it possible.
It is a book of every town and city, every great and visitable place, and of ten thousand villages. It takes us to them shows us what is in them. It opens ten thousand doors for us in the richest countryside on earth. We see our famous people where they lived and worked.

We challenge comparison with any book existing for the contents of the King’s England volumes. There has never been such a book of journeys before.

It will inform and entertain you wherever you go. It will tell you what there is to see and all about it. It is the indispensable companion of the Motor Age.

Every ride brings you to the scene of its stories
Every signpost points you to its wonders.

Later editions are rather more prosaic:

Under the editorship of the late Arthur Mee these 40 county books with over 6,000 photographs give the most complete picture of a country ever written for the general public. Each volume in turn (with the exception of Arthur Mee's introductory book Enchanted Land) is being fully revised by a distinguished expert in local history and will be re-issued with a new set of superb illustrations.

I prefer earlier editions since the changes between now and then are more pronounced. According to Wikepedia:

He was born on 21 July 1875 at Stapleford near Nottingham, England, to a modest family. As a boy he earned money from reading the reports of Parliament to a local blind man. He left school at 14 to join a local newspaper, where he became an editor by age 20. He contributed many non-fiction articles to magazines and joined the staff of The Daily Mail in 1898. He was made literary editor five years later.

In 1903 he began working for publisher Alfred Harmsworth's Amalgamated Press. He was appointed general editor of The Harmsworth Self-Educator (1905–1907), in collaboration with John Hammerton.

In 1908 he began work on The Children's Encyclopaedia, which came out as a fortnightly magazine. The series was published and bound in eight volumes soon afterwards, and later expanded to ten volumes. After the success of The Children's Encyclopaedia, he started the first newspaper published for children, the weekly The Children's Newspaper, which was published until 1965.

Although he made money from these works, he did not receive a fair share. He had a large house built overlooking the hills near Eynsford in Kent. Its development from design to the final building was depicted in later editions of The Children's Encyclopaedia.

Mee had one child, but, despite his work, declared that he had no particular affinity with children. His works for them suggest that his interest was in trying to encourage the raising of a generation of patriotic and moral citizens. He came from a Baptist upbringing, and supported the temperance movement.

He died in London and his books continued to be published after his death, most noticeably The King's England, a guide to the counties of England, which is being progressively republished. Mee's works were successful abroad. The Children's Encyclopaedia. was translated into Chinese and sold well in the United States under the title The Book of Knowledge.

The books are a truly monumental body of work and, particularly with the early editions, offer an opportunity to compare what we have now with what we had then - an example of which is the frequent reference to elm trees. I can remember, vividly, the onset of Dutch Elm disease and its consequence but would be hard pressed to identify an elm today; time has left me with memories of dead trees and hedgerow gaps rather than the living trees.

1 comment:

  1. A subscriber to "Evergreen" wants to know what happened to Athur Mee's daughter, Marjorie. Born in 1904 c. Perhaps an e-mail to to help this ladies quest.