Charles E. Pearce

Charles Edward Pearce was born in Wood Street, Cheapside, London, on 15 February 1843, to Charles Pearce, a shirt maker, and Mary Ann Pearce née Nobbs. He had two older and two younger sisters, and all five children were baptised on 26 June 1849 in the parish of Bromley St. Leonard.

He began his career in journalism as a reporter on a county paper at the salary of £1 a week.

In January 1861, James Henderson started the Weekly Budget. Pearce would be associated with two spin-offs of the Budget, and other Henderson publications, for many years.

Pearce started writing fiction for children in 1871, when Henderson created Our Young Folks Weekly Budget. He wrote at least five serials for the publication, including “Billy Bo’swain,” “Frank the Fisherboy,” “The Golden Island,” “The North Pole,” and “Arthur Merivaile.” After serialisation, they were published by Henderson as cheap books, retaining the many illustrations.

In 1871, Pearce got married for the first time, to Louisa Thaxter Allen, making him the brother-in-law of the photographer Valentine Blanchard, who was married to Louisa’s older sister Mary Ann. In 1874, Blanchard was commissioned to take portraits of some of the editors and writers of OYFWB, to be published in the Christmas number. John Adcock includes a scan of this page in Yesterday’s Papers. As poor as this picture is, it remains the only photograph I’ve seen of him.

In 1874, Henderson created a second spin-off from the Weekly Budget, called Funny Folks, under the editorship of William Kingston Sawyer, who also edited the South London Press (established in 1865), and had previously edited Henderson’s Mirror. When Sawyer became ill with typhoid fever in 1882, Pearce became acting editor. He took over full time when Sawyer died in November, and continued in the post for almost exactly four years.

At the time of his death, Sawyer was president of the Whitefriars Club. Pearce was a member of the Urban and Whitefriars clubs, which made him, in their language, a resident of both Urbania and Alsatia. The Urban Club was founded as a social and literary club in 1858. It used to meet at St. John’s Gate, Clerkenwell, but moved to Anderton’s Hotel, on the north side of Fleet Street, in 1881, after a short stay in Covent Garden. Anderton’s was demolished in 1939.

In 1883, Blackie & Sons published Pearce’s first story that hadn’t first appeared as a serial, when they printed his tale of a mysterious heirloom and a lost heir, The Ball of Fortune.

As well as editing major titles such a Funny Folks and the South London Press, Pearce was associated with many titles that had a much shorter lifespan. Among these was a weekly newspaper called Marrow Bones and Cleavers, owned by William Harris the “Sausage King.” The paper was established to criticise a certain member of the City Corporation whose dealing with Smithfield Market had annoyed Harris. This paper ceased as soon as its object had been attained.

On another occasion, Pearce edited a paper started by a provision merchant. His business, and paper, was unsuccessful, and when the merchant went bankrupt, Pearce and his sole assistant were told that they would be paid in kind. They were supplied with enormous quantities of pickles and jam from the merchant’s remaining stock but on testing them, the unfortunate journalists found that they had been kept too long, and were unfit for eating.

In the 1891 Census, Pearce for the first time describes himself as “author and journalist,” instead of just “journalist” or “reporter.”

After about 1895, Pearce appears to have retired from journalism and devoted himself full time to writing books. He had a great fondness for the theatre, and John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera in particular, and many of his later books explore topics in this area. Polly Peachum, a biography of Lavinia Fenton, The Jolly Duchess, about Harriet Mellon, and Madame Vestris and Her Times all deal with actresses who played Polly in the Beggar’s Opera.

He wrote two sporting novels; Corinthian Jack (1920), about boxing, and A Queen of the Paddock (1922). Corinthian Jack was made into a film starring Victor McLaglen in 1921.

One of his last books was a biography of the singer Sim Reeves, which he referred to as his magnum opus in a letter to a friend.

Pearce died in Chiswick Hospital on 9 November 1924. He was survived by his second wife, Catherine, his oldest son St John and his two daughters, Mabel and Catherine. His second son, Edward, died in France in November 1918, just three days before the Armistice.