Arthur Morrison – Depicting Life in the East End

Arthur George Morrison was born on November 1, 1863 in Poplar, East London. His father, George, was an engine fitter, who died during Arthur’s youth from tuberculosis. He was raised by his mother, along with his two siblings, in the East End which became the setting for many of his stories. Morrison began working in the architect’s department of The London School Board, in 1879, and frequented the Whitechapel market for used books.

In addition to reading, he loved physical activity and began to cycle and box in 1880. That same year he published his first piece, a humorous poem, in the Cycling magazine. He continued contributing to other cycling publications, and in 1885 his first newspaper article was published in The Globe.

Morrison was appointed a position as a third-class clerk at People’s Palace, Mile End, in 1886, and this presented the opportunity to read documents that were kept at the British Museum. As his knowledge of history expanded his published works did likewise, with a collection of thirteen sketches, Cockney’s Corner, which described life in several districts in London, including SoHo and Whitechapel.

In 1889, Morrison became editor of Palace Journal, and his duties included writing comments about books and articles describing the life of the poor in England’s capital. Within a year, he had moved to The Strand and accepted a position at The Globe. Morrison took one more step in the development of his writing career shortly after, by releasing his first book, The Shadows Around Us.

In 1892, Morrison married Elizabeth Thatcher, at Forest Gate, and she gave birth to their son, Guy Morrison, the following year. After being introduced to Japanese art by a friend, Morrison became an expert in the area and began collecting and writing about it. His collections were sold at separate times, and the British Museum received a few of the pieces that he owned.

Morrison began writing detective stories and in 1894, published his first short story collection featuring Martin Hewitt. This detective was referred to by one reviewer as a ‘low-key, realistic, lower-class answer to Sherlock Holmes.’ Hewitt was not the only detective that Morrison invented, but each was memorable in his own way. Horace Dorrington, another of the characters in Morrison’s stories, was described as ‘a respected but deeply corrupt private detective.’ His short stories featuring Dorrington were published as a collection in 1897.

In 1913, Morrison retired from journalism and moved to High Beach, Epping Forest. During WWI his son, Guy, joined the army and he contributed by becoming a special constable in Essex. Morrison made his last move to Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, in 1930. He passed away at home on December 4, 1945, leaving instructions that his library be sold and his papers burnt. In honour of his legacy, the Arthur Morrison Society was formed in 2007, and a blue plaque has been erected near his house in Loughton. The society has organised talks and other events as part of Loughton Festival each year since its inception.