Born 1883 Died 1971
Ralph Hale Mottram was born in Norwich on the 30th October 1883, the eldest son of James Mottram and his second wife, Fanny Ann Hale. His father, like his grandfather before him, was the resident chief clerk of Gurney's Bank, and Ralph was born 'above the shop' at the Bank House in Norwich. He was largely educated at the City of Norwich School but also spent one summer at M. Rosselet's school in Lausanne, Switzerland improving his French, before he began work as a clerk at Gurney's Bank on the 3rd December 1899, shortly after it was acquired by Barclays Bank. when World War I began in 1914 Mottram joined the Norfolk Regiment, where he was given a commission and posted to Flanders. Although he did see active service on the front, thanks to his ability to speak French, he was later transferred behind the front line as a liaison officer dealing with complaints by the locals of damage inflicted by British troops.
As result of his senior position within the bank, his father was trustee of the marriage settlement of Ada Galsworthy, the wife of the novelist John Galsworthy. It was with Ada's initial encouragement that Mottram began writing, and two slim volumes of poetry appeared in 1907 and 1909 under the name of 'J. Marjoram'. When the war ended Mottram returned to the bank, and sought to relieve the boredom of life as a bank clerk by writing fiction. With the help and guidance of John Galsworthy, he produced what was to be his first novel, The Spanish Farm (1924), a fictionalised account of his experiences during the war, which featured the character of Madeleine Vanderlynden and her struggles to maintain her father's farm.
The book was awarded the Hawthornden Prize for 1924 and the publicity made the book into a best-seller. The success of his first book encouraged Mottram to produce two sequels, Sixty-Four, Ninety-Four (1925) and The Crime at Vanderlynden's (1926), with all three books being repackaged (together with some related short stories) as The Spanish Farm Trilogy 1914-1918 (1928). The sale of the film rights to Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, who produced the Roses of Picardy in 1927, enabled him to retire from the bank.
At the age of forty-four Ralph Hale Mottram therefore embarked on a second career as a professional writer. Although he never wrote anything that approached either the commercial or critical success of The Spanish Farm, he became an extraordinarily prolific author, producing a stready stream of work. He later wrote that he "imported into my production, the habit of the bank clerk and the discipline of the temporary soldier" and claimed to produce around 200,000 words a year. Amongst the works that he produced were, two further volumes of poetry, histories of the Westminster Bank and the British East India Company, three volumes of autobiography, together with additional volumes of reminiscences, and various guide books on Norfolk and the surrounding area. He also wrote the official account of the air raids on Norwich during World War II and the volume on East Anglia in the About Britain series commissioned to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951, two biographies of his mentors the Galsworthies and a number of further novels.
Mottram was also active in Norwich civic members. He was one of the founders of the Norwich Society and acted as the society's secretary for twenty years, became a local councillor and a member of the Norwich Public Libraries Committee from 1929 to 1963. He also served as a local magistrate and became Lord Mayor of Norwich during the coronation year of 1953.
He was married for fifty-two years to Margaret Allan, and had two sons and a daughter. His wife died in 1970 and with his own health failing he went to live with his daughter in King's Lynn and died shortly afterwards on the 16th April 1971.
As J. Marjoram
As R.H. Mottram
With John Easton and Eric Partridge
This bibliography which is undoubtedly not complete was constructed from information on such wesbites as AntiQbook and ABE.
Stanley Weintraub, ‘Mottram, Ralph Hale (1883–1971)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Dictionary of Literary Biography© on R(alph) H(ale) Mottram