The 'Oakmead Road' Gang

For a period of time beginning about 1906, Arthur Sarsfield Ward lived the London life of a Bohemian. In Master of Villainy, Cay Van Ash and Rohmer's wife, Elizabeth describe "Sax and his vagabond associates."

Although his home base was still in Stockwell, Sax now found himself spending much of his free time at a flat in Oakmead road, Balham. The flat was a kind of headquarters for three other young rebels against society, named Cumper, Bailey and Dodgson.  It was the latter who actually lived there. Dodgson, who looked like a pugilist, was a nephew of Lewis Carroll and a student at medical school who has thus far failed to obtain his degree three years running (Master of Villainy, 31-32).

Not wishing to enter into real employment, they tried any number of schemes.  At one point they tried discovering and managing a comedian, one "Hal Sherry, the Different Comedian," -- without success. Even more amusing was their attempt to market a new type of mothball called the "Wonderful Moth Ball," from a formula concocted by Rohmer -- again without success. Van Ash notes that "Among the outlaws of Oakmead Road, he himself [Rohmer] for some totally obscure reason had been known as 'Digger' " (252). Robert E. Briney connects this name to Rohmer's work.

This nick-name was perpetuated in a series of Cockney-dialect humorous sketches, which included "Digger's Aunt," " 'Rupert', " and the much reprinted "Narky."  The narrator of the Crime Magnet stories . . . was also called "Digger" (298).

There were five of the Cockney-dialect humorous sketches in all:

Digger's Aunt
The Pot Hunters
The Treasure-Chest

R. E. Briney sheds additional light on the stories.

Four of the five are known to have been published anonymously, probably in the popular paper Yes and No, circa 1909-1910.  The fifth title was most likely published as well.  The "probably" and "most likely" are the fault of Rohmer's record-keeping, or lack of it.  He, or whoever kept the records of his published work, would extract the pages from the magazine, trim the edges (thereby losing information about magazine title, page numbers, etc.) and paste the pages in a scrapbook.  According to Cay Van Ash, who had photostats made of some of these pages, no information about place or date of publication was kept with the tear-sheets.   Many years ago, Bill Lofts showed the photostats of the Narky stories to Christopher Lowder, a long-time editor at IPC Magazines, Inc.; Lowder said that the typography and general page layout were typical of Yes and No.  So there the matter rests. (Email, June 12, 1998)

"There the matter rests," indeed, until someone can locate copies of Yes and No to confirm their publication and provide the dates.


Copyright 1997-99 Lawrence Knapp. All rights reserved.

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