The Short Stories of William...
William Pett Ridge
William Pett Ridge was born at Chartham, near Canterbury, Kent, on 22nd April 1859.
His family’s resources were certainly limited. His father was a railway porter, and the young Pett Ridge, after schooling in Marden, Kent became a clerk in a railway clearing-house. The hours were long and arduous, but self-improvement was Pett Ridge’s goal. After working from nine until seven o’clock he would attend evening classes at Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institute and then to follow his passion; the ambition to write. He was heavily influenced by Dickens and several critics thought he had the capability to be his successor.
From 1891 many of his humorous sketches were published in the St James's Gazette, the Idler, Windsor Magazine and other literary periodicals of the day.
Pett Ridge published his first novel in 1895, A Clever Wife. By the advent of his fifth novel, Mord Em'ly, a mere three years later in 1898, his success was obvious. His writing was written from the perspective of those born with no privilege and relied on his great talent to find humor and sympathy in his portrayal of working class life.
Today Pett Ridge and other East End novelists including Arthur Nevinson, Arthur Morrison, and Edwin Pugh are being grouped together as the Cockney Novelists.
In 1924, Pugh set out his recollections of Pett Ridge from the 1890s: “I see him most clearly, as he was in those days, through a blue haze of tobacco smoke. We used sometimes to travel together from Waterloo to Worcester Park on our way to spend a Saturday afternoon and evening with H. G. Wells. Pett Ridge does not know it, but it was through watching him fill his pipe, as he sat opposite me in a stuffy little railway compartment, that I completed my own education as a smoker”.
With his success, on the back of his prolific output and commercial success, Pett Ridge gave generously of both time and money to charity. In 1907 he founded the Babies Home at Hoxton. This was one of several organizations that he supported that had the welfare of children as their mission.
His circle considered Pett Ridge to be one of life's natural bachelors. In 1909 they were rather surprised therefore when he married Olga Hentschel.
As the 1920s arrived Pett Ridge added to his popularity with the movies. Four of his books were adapted into films.
Pett Ridge now found the peak of his fame had passed. Although he still managed to produce a book a year he was falling out of fashion and favor with the reading public and his popularity declined rapidly. His canon runs to over sixty novels and short-story collections as well as many pieces for magazines and periodicals.
William Pett Ridge died, on 29th September 1930, at his home, Ampthill, Willow Grove, Chislehurst, at the age of 71.
He was cremated at West Norwood on 2nd October 1930.