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William Matthew Scott
Portrait of Will Scott
Will Scott, 1925
Born William Matthew Scott
30 September 1893
Leeds, Yorkshire
Died 7 May 1964 (age 70)
Herne Bay, Kent
Pen name Will Scott
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, playwright, children's writer
Nationality British
Period 1920–1964
Genre Detective, thriller, mystery, children's, short story
Notable works The Cherrys series, Disher Detective, The Limping Man

William Matthew Scott (30 September 1893 – 7 May 1964), pen name Will Scott, was a British author of stories and books for adults and children, published from 1920 to 1965. Towards the end of his life he was best known for The Cherrys series, written for children and published between 1952 and 1965. However, in earlier years he was known for his detective novels, his stage plays which were made into films, notably The Limping Man in 1931 and 1936, and for the 2,000 short stories that he contributed to magazines and newspapers; believed to be a record for the United Kingdom during his lifetime. As of 2011, his books are out of print.


Ancestry and youth

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Oatland Lane 2011, the site of the demolished Camp Road where Scott was born

William Matthew Scott was born at 128 Camp Road (now Oatland Lane) in Little London, Leeds, Yorkshire on 30 September 1893. Camp Road was demolished in the 1960s. His place of birth was next to the poor Jewish immigrant area of tailors and shoemakers, called the Leylands, in the All Souls district of Leeds. At least until 1911 Scott lived in the working-class areas of Little London and Woodhouse, next to Meanwood Beck. The area has a history of poverty, and within living memory were the Woodhouse cholera epidemic of the 1840s, and the typhoid epidemic in nearby Headingley of 1889. When Scott was born, the middens and ashpits which had nurtured the diseases were being replaced by communal water closets. That meant that inhabitants of the back-to-backs had to walk to the end of the row to use the lavatory or empty a chamber pot but they would not catch cholera; communal outside lavatories and cobbled streets with washing lines overhead persisted while Scott lived there. However it should be remembered that street communities were strong, public transport was efficient and good quality education and libraries were available for working people. All the addresses at which Scott lived in his youth were demolished in the early 1960s slum clearances to make way for new council estates, but it should be remembered that many of these buildings were known to be repairable, so that "slum" was often a misnomer.

Ashfield leather works Leeds 31 Jan 1938
Will Scott lived as a young child in a street adjoining Ashfield Leather Works, seen in the background of this 1938 image

His father was William Scott, a joiner, born in Leeds in 1861. His mother was Eliza Anne (or Eliza Annie) Scott nee Hibbard, born in Nottinghamshire in 1864. In 1891 the couple were living alone at 4 Clayfield Street in the All Souls parish of north Leeds, and Eliza Anne was a tailoress. This street of Victorian back-to-backs ran between Cambridge Road and Ashfield Leather Works; the area is now a playing field. This tannery would have been odiferous during smog or to houses downwind of it; also the nearby Meanwood Beck had in those days a history of industrial pollution. This may be the reason why William and Eliza Anne Scott took over the tobaconnist's from Samuel Cooper at 128 Camp Road in 1893 and their son was born there.

However the 1901 Census records W.M. Scott aged seven years with his parents and no siblings close to the tannery again at 20 Stonefield Terrace, in the All Souls parish of north Leeds, Yorkshire, and only four streets away from the Scotts' previous home in Clayfield Street. It was a four-room corner house in a back-to-back row on the corner with Cambridge Road. This was a street of back-to-back houses, but is now a row of trees on a playing field. In the 1911 Census he was aged 17 years, he had no siblings and he was a lithographic artist apprentice, living with his parents in a back-to-back house at 49 Ganton Mount at Woodhouse, Leeds; the street is now rebuilt as modern houses. In 1911 his father was a journeyman joiner, and his mother a housewife. The 1911 census enumerator recorded that the house had eight rooms instead of the regular back-to-back four rooms, so no. 49 must have been a larger corner house.

Children's books: The Cherrys series

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The Cherrys series

The Cherrys series consists of 14 books, published from 1952 to 1965, the last being published after Will Scott died. Numbers 1–12 in the series were illustrated by Lilian Buchanan who also illustrated some of Enid Blyton's children's books. Numbers 1–12 in the series contain various pictorial maps of the stories' fictional settings, for example Market Cray and River House, on the end papers. These twelve books are illustrated throughout with black and white drawings. The stories are about a family of children whose middle-class parents, especially the father, play with them and encourage adventures, some of which are imaginary. The series is aimed at a reading age of about 10 years in the middle classes of the 1950s to 1960s era. Many of the stories are set in the fictional village of Market Cray, which may have some reference to St Mary Cray, or even an indirect or hidden reference to St. Mary Mead, the fictional home of Agatha Christie's sleuth Miss Marple. The characters are: Captain and Mrs Cherry; Jimmy Cherry; Jane Cherry; Roy Cherry; Pam Cherry; Mr Watson the monkey; Joseph the parrot; Mr and Mrs Wilks the neighbours; Sally Wilks; Mr Wilks’ brother from the Isle of Wight; Mr and Mrs. Pringle; Joe Pringle; Betty Pringle; Mrs. Pearl the cleaner from Marigold Cottages; Mr Mount the baker. The fictional father Captain Cherry is a retired explorer whose name may be a reference to Apsley Cherry-Garrard.

First: The Cherrys of River House (1952)

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The Cherrys series nos 1–6

The dedication says, "A book for Mike to remind him of the days when all of us – and Daisy's sister – dashed about, like The Cherrys themselves, all over the place, from the beginning of Kent to the end of the Windrush, having a high old time". The story is about children who have happenings "as they called their adventures", and this may be the first written example of the usage of the word, "happening" in this way. This book was published in French by Editions G. P. in 1962 under the title La famille Cherry de la maison sur la Riviere, translated by Genevieve Meker and illustrated in colour by Pierre Le Guen. Happenings: (1) Their first happening (Orienteering in setting inspired by Dawes Folly at East Blean Woods near Dargate, Kent); (2) Through hostile territory (Escaping under cover, set at fictional St Mary Cray); (3) Treasure Island (bivouacking up a tree, set in St Mary Cray, mentions 1951 Great Exhibition); (4) If only we’re in time! (Car rally quiz, fictional St Dennis Bay setting inspired by Minnis Bay at Birchington-on-Sea, first Black Jack story); (5) Nothing at all to do (sending messages via animals, set in St Mary Cray); (6) Find me who can! (First manhunt for Black Jack, set in St Mary Cray, dares); (7) He must be somebody (second manhunt for Black Jack, set in St Mary Cray, keeping covert watch); (8) Black Jack strikes again! (third manhunt for Black Jack, set in St Mary Cray, treasure map); (9) Clue upon clue (fourth manhunt for Black Jack, set in St Mary Cray, fingerprints); Unmasked! (final instalment of Black Jack story, set in St Mary Cray, disguises).

Second: The Cherrys and Company (1953)

This edition was reprinted four times, in 1953, 1956, 1957 and 1961. The dust jacket carries a quotation from The Times Literary Supplement, "The Cherrys are a lively, likeable family of four children, their mother and their father, a retired explorer, who thinks he likes a quiet life in the country, and is constantly inventing "Happenings" which keep the family on the move round the countryside in their old car". This book was published by American Book Company in 1962 in French under the title Les Cherry Et Compagnie; illustrated by Pierre Le Guen. Happenings: (1) The games they get up to (the game of left-right, set in fictional St Mary Cray); (2) Man in armour (description of gale inspired by North Sea flood of 1953); (3) Adventure on See-Saw Mountain (polar conditions and relief expedition, set in St Mary Cray); (4) Disappearing trick (first instalment of Black Jack Junior story, set in St Mary Cray, setting false trails); (5) Black Jack Junior, Pirate (second instalment of Black Jack Junior story, set in St Mary Cray, boat-chase) (6) Kidnapped (pirates, set in St Mary Cray); (7) Mystery of See-Saw Mountain (mountain-climbing, set in St Mary Cray); (8) The Empty House (night-searches, set in St Mary Cray); (9) Little clue, big clue (intruder identified, set in St Mary Cray); (10) Biggest clue of all (blindfolded Mystery tour).

Third: The Cherrys by the Sea (1954)

The happenings or adventures all take place at the fictional St Denis Bay, inspired by Minnis Bay at Birchington-on-Sea, which setting may be partly informed by Scott's residence nearby at Herne Bay. The map of St Denis Bay on the book's endpapers, possibly by Scott himself, shows similarity to Minnis Bay along the beach, but the town is imaginary. The stories start with a message in a bottle and end with a haunted sea front. It was published in French in 1963 by Rouge et Or Dauphine as Les Cherry au Bord de la Mer, illustrated by Pierre Le Guen. In 1970 it was published by Estudios Cor in Portuguese as Uma aventura na praia (A Familia Cherry). Happenings: The message in the bottle; The watch on the coast (coastguarding); On the trail of the Oozlum (reference to Oozlum bird, description of wanted man and manhunt, coastguarding); Alone on a desert isle (shipwreck and rescue); Follow my leader (how the Cherrys met the Pringles, inspired by the Woozle story by A. A. Milne, i.e. people tracking each other in a circuit); Look out for Smiths! (avoiding an imaginary fifth column made up of people called Smith); The slap-dash carnival (probably inspired by the 1950s Herne Bay Carnival; story includes hostile characters typical of contemporary children's comic strip tales); This way or that? (cipher); Seaside Christmas (children fund purchase of their dinghy, the Sandman); The haunted sea front (red herrings).

Fourth: The Cherrys and the Pringles (1955)

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The Cherrys series nos 5–10

The Cherry children are joined by their new friends, the Pringle children, and their father Captain invents happenings or adventures for them. All stories are set in fictional St Mary Cray. Happenings: The great reception (the children lay on a reception committee greeting); Let it rain! (snakes and ladders game on the staircase); Mr. Pringle has a go (attempt by Pringle to create a happening); The Crocotosh (the children hide under a raincoat); Early birds (following a newspaper trail); The other house (the first Littles and Bigs story - the children leave a clue to a prize for the adults); The torn treasure chart (the Bigs and Littles each receive two quarters of the chart - each must fight for the other two quarters to find the treasure); The battle Of Bigs And Littles (Bigs and Littles creep up on each other to see the pieces of chart); Let them have it! (Roy gives the Littles' pieces of chart to the Bigs); I know where! (the race to the buried treasure).

Fifth: The Cherrys and the Galleon (1956)

An island becomes a make-believe galleon, with a pictorial map on the endpapers showing the island. Happenings: The get-on-with-its; The great cross-over; The well-I-never place; The seaside at home; The peculiar periscope; The famous think; The big idea; The big mystery; The big work; The big day. There could be literary references in these subtitles to ancient ideas of transition and perception.

Sixth: The Cherrys and the Double Arrow (1957)

The story starts with Captain Cherry organising the children to find an elm tree in a wood; written before the second wave of Dutch elm disease in 1967 caused most of these to be lost in the UK. There were 3 editions of the book in 1957–1973, including two impressions in 1957 and 1961. It was published in French in 1963 by Rouge et Or Dauphine as Les Cherry et la Double Fleche, illustrated by Pierre Le Guen. Happenings: This way to anywhere; The double arrow; Adventures of Jimmy's party; Adventures of Joe's party; Again and again; Roy in his own; Public notice; After him!; Strange disappearance of Mr Wilks; This way to the Bang Kwit.

Seventh: The Cherrys on Indoor Island (1958)

This is perhaps the definitive Cherrys series happening: a rainy day on which the interior of River House becomes an imaginary indoor island for the children, organised as an adventure for the children by their father Captain Cherry. Happenings: The wreck; The castaways; The cave; Exploring the jungle; Mountain rescue; The mysterious footprint; Yes, it's pirates!; A sail! A sail!; But where can it be?; Buried treasure.

Eighth: The Cherrys on Zigzag Trail (1959)

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The Cherrys series nos 6–12

There were two impressions in 1959 and 1962. The story starts with a game of Silly Golf, which may have been informed by the crazy golf entertainment at Hampton-on-Sea near to Will Scott's home at Herne Bay. Happenings: Mr Wilks cries ‘Look!’; Mr. Nobody; Nothing but mysteries; The standstill race; The Society For Finding Things Out; Old sailor from over the water; Away they go; Smart work; The same-sounding words; The end if the trail.

Ninth: The Cherrys’ Mystery Holiday (1960)

One edition was published in English in 1960. The title may have been informed by the novelty of the mystery tours being run by coach companies at the time. Passengers paid for a day out at an unknown destination which could be a pleasant surprise but which sometimes brought them to their home area. Happenings: Keep your eyes open; The mystery of Mr Wotherspoon; The mystery of the pirate chief; Spik no English!; The great seaweed mystery; The writing in the sand; The mystery of the Jumping Jacks; The mystery of Neptune Island; Most mysterious of all; It's a mystery!

Tenth: The Cherrys and Silent Sam (1961)

This story is based on the mystery-man plot. Happenings: A very peculiar affair; He must be watched; Red hot news!; The next move; At it again; Caught!; What a surprise!; Then who is it?; I know who it is; Oh no, it isn't!

Eleventh: The Cherrys’ Famous Case (1962)

Two editions were published in 1962 and 1972, in English and another language. The story starts by examining the idea of clues and evidence. Happenings: The day that woke up; Missing!; The Home-made Police-Force; Hot on the trail; The footprint again; The light in the window; That third clue; Clue all the time; Action!; Portrait of the Queen.

Twelfth: The Cherrys to the Rescue (1963)

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The Cherrys series books

It was published in English in 1963 and reprinted in 1970. This story is a follow-my-leader tracking game. The pictorial map on the endpapers has some reference to Winnie-the-Pooh and the Woozle story in which Pooh and Piglet are following their own footprints. Happenings: Where has he got to?; To the rescue!; Strange tale from a stranger; Which way now?; Here's your jungle!; Escape!; False trail; All meet at One-Tree Hill; Lost in the fog; Rescue!

Thirteenth: The Cherrys in the Snow (1964)

It was published in English in 1964 and reprinted in 1970. The British Library holds a reference copy. In the winter of 1962–1963 there was an unusually thick snowfall and the surface of the sea froze along the shoreline close to Scott's house, Windermere, on Westcliff at Herne Bay. It is possible that this book was a response to that winter. Happenings: Nothing but nothing; Enter Mr. Misery; The start of a rumour; The search from end to end; You'd never guess!; "Keep him out of sight!"; Tell-tale trail; If only it works; Vanished!; Away again.

Fourteenth: The Cherrys and the Blue Balloon (1965)

A posthumous publication. The phrase, "last appearance" in the final chapter heading may be significant. The British Library holds a reference copy. Happenings: First appearance of the blue balloon; What the littles thought; What the bigs thought; But what did the man think?; Watched; Where is Augustus?; The amazing truth; The light in the window; The night watch; Last appearance of the blue balloon.

Other children's books

Half-Term Trail (1955)

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Half Term Trail

This book is illustrated by Mary Willett. The British Library holds a reference copy. It is set in a recognisable version of Herne Bay, Kent and Hampton-on-Sea. These are given the fictional names of Sandilands and West Bay respectively, and bear no resemblance to Sandilands in Lincolnshire. Herne Bay's clock tower and adjoining public gardens appear in the story, as do Hampton-on-Sea's jetty, concrete shelter, the beach and the boating lake as it was in 1955. Swalecliffe Avenue appears in the story under the name of Matchbox Lane, and as of 2011 the area of scrub mentioned in the book still exists. Pleasant Cottage (later called Hampton Bungalow) in Swalecliffe Avenue appears in the story as Dilly Dally cottage in Matchbox Lane. Mary Willett's drawings within the book bear little or no resemblance to Herne Bay or Hampton-on-Sea, but the hand-drawn map at the end of the book – possibly by Will Scott – is clearly derived from OS maps of Hampton-on-Sea. The endpapers-drawing shows an idealised Swalecliffe Avenue. Two names used in the story, Bottle and Sticky, may have been suggested by local Herne Bay names, although the characterisations are fictional. In the 1950s there was an antique shop in Herne Bay High Street called Len Pottle, and the caretaker at Hampton Primary School was Mr Stickels. Chapter headings: The Very Beginning; The Tuckers and the Tanners; Mystery!; And More Mystery!; The Knife; First Clue to Tim; Rings Round Dilly Dally; Surprises; Sticky's Story; The Chase Begins; Big Clue to Mary; The Trail of the Chalk Crosses; Tim Alone; Only One Missing; "I've got it!"; The Case is closed; Map of West Bay, Sandilands.

The Great Expedition (1962)

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The Great Expedition

The author intended this to be the thirteenth in The Cherrys series, but the agent discouraged the idea of a thirteenth novel for children, and the new publisher declined to produce a matching cover for the previous series. The British Library holds a reference copy. The book contains 13 coloured and black and white illustrations in the text, one frontispiece and a cover illustration, all by C. Clixby Watson, plus 4 coloured and black and white maps by Henry West and others. The dust-jacket summary says: "A wise old night-watchman convinced Dick, Mick and Henry that any unvisited place is uncharted territory – and that there was no need to climb Everest or track through dark jungles to enjoy the thrill of discovery. In fact, they found the tracing of an unnamed river to its source a most exciting adventure." The story is set near Newbury, Berkshire. Chapters: 1. Somewhere – But Where? 2. The End of Somewhere; 3. The Beginning of Nowhere; 4. Several Questions; 5. The Second Camp; 6. The Relief Expedition; 7. The Rising at Million Bridges; 8. The Expedition Moves On; 9. The Last Camp; 10. Green Hat's Game; 11. No Time to Lose; 12. The Last Lap; 13. The Top of All; 14. Back to Somewhere.

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