Albert Rhodes – village author

Our blog of 10 March 2021 remembered the village’s blacksmithing business of Ernest Rhodes and Son, through one of their identifiable works – Brimington Parish Church railings. This blog looks in particular at the son – Albert Rhodes and the novels he wrote, two of which were almost wholly based in Brimington.

Albert Rhodes as pictured in 1969.

There’s a short feature about him the Derbyshire Life and Countryside of February 1969 – from which the photograph of him here is taken. It notes that he had just had his third novel published – ‘Calico bloomers’ .

Albert was born in Sheffield in 1916. He moved with his family to Brimington when he was three – his father taking up the blacksmith’s business in Brimington. This was the start, according to the DLC, ‘of the family business which has grown to a welding and steel fabrication firm of twenty employees, with Albert in control as Managing Director’. More about this company in a later blog.

When interviewed in 1975 Albert said that he wrote his first book when he was 18 but that he ‘didn’t remember what happened to it’.

A founder member of the erstwhile Chesterfield Writers’ Circle, Albert started writing short stories, but gained little success with them. He decided to try longer writing. His first novel ‘Butter on Sunday’ was the result. Apparently, he picked out the publishers, Dennis Dobson of London, by ignoring publishers beginning with As, Bs or Cs – he thought most writers would try these first.  Denis Dobson liked the book and published it in January 1964.

The dust-jacket from 1964’s ‘Butter on Sunday’ , was Albert Rhodes’ first published novel and was well received. The village portrayed in the book – ‘Baneton’ – was based on Brimington in the 1920s.

‘Butter on Sunday’ is based on Brimington (Baneton in the novel), in the 1920s. The general strike of 1926 had apparently made a real impression on the then 10 year old Albert, so the period around this time is particularly portrayed.  The book was well received by critics, but has largely been forgotten – even locally. This is a pity as it is a good read.

Albert was already at work on a follow-up when ‘Butter on Sunday’ was published. This was ‘A summer of yesterday’, published in 1967, also based in Brimington. His next novel ‘Calico bloomers’ was published in 1968, but is mainly based on another fictional Derbyshire mining community ‘Netherfield’.

The Rhodes family originally lived next to the their blacksmiths forge at 3 Ringwood Road. Albert later lived in a bungalow at the top of Troughbrook hill, with his wife Eileen (they had married in August 1939). She typed all his scripts ‘acting as secretary and critic at the same time’.  She was actually credited jointly with Albert for one play.

‘A summer of yesterday’ followed in 1967 and revisited Baneton in the 1920s.

In 1969 the Derbyshire Life and Countryside reported that Albert was working on a novel based in 19th century Sheffield. The magazine commented on ‘the tremendous amount of work [which] goes into his writing’. It was also reported that he had had a play for radio accepted by the BBC at Leeds. (This was probabaly ‘A napple and a norage’.) He also spent time during the week collaborating with three other writers on ‘three-act comedies’. Clearly Albert was busy in this period, running both the metal working business and writing. He said that he rose at 6.30 am to commence his writing.

In July 1972 the Morning Telegraph reporter Alister MacDonald, in a feature about Staveley, met the author, then described as ‘…fifty-five year old engineer Albert Rhodes…’.  His play ‘Don’t whistle for me’, about Derbyshire lead mining, had recently been performed at Chesterfield Civic Theatre (now the Pomegranate). In the same year Albert was listed as living in the Derbyshire village of Curbar, so had presumably moved from Troughbrook fairly shortly after being interviewed in the Morning Telegraph.

‘Calico bloomers’ was Albert’s last locally based novel, though this time the story moves mainly to ‘Netherfield’ just before the start of the Second World War. It was published in 1968.

In February 1975 Wendy Hill, again of the Morning Telegraph, interviewed Albert on his retirement. He told the reporter that he had seen an advertisement in the same newspaper and was off to a house ‘just outside Bournemouth’ that he had purchased as a result. Albert was handing over the business of Rhodes Engineering to his son Peter, but was to carry on writing, at the age of 58. He told the newspaper that he had suffered many years from a sinus and bronchial condition – he hoped the change in climate from Curbar to the south would assist in this.

The dust jacket front from the last of Albert’s novels, which was published in 1975. ‘Shout into the wind’ was based in the south Durham coalfield throughout the 20th century. Albert cannot be described as a prolific novelist, but it should be remembered that his activities had to be shared, up until 1975, with running his engineering business. He also devoted time to writing plays.

We don’t know what happened to his book on Sheffield, but we do know his last book was ‘Shout into the wind’, which he was writing in 1972. This was published by Dennis Dobson in 1975. As the book jacket tells us, it is the story of ‘an old man and his grandson… through the South Durham Miners’ century of struggle…’

Albert died on 1 March 1977 at Bournemouth. Sadly, his retirement and writing were seriously curtailed by his premature death.

Albert Rhodes’ books are fairly readily available, second-hand, from such sites as Abebooks (https://www.abebooks.co.uk/).  Recently you could buy an ex-library copy of ‘Calico Bloomers’ in fair condition for around £5, whilst ‘A Summer of yesterday’ would cost you arround £16.00 plus postage. ‘Butter on Sunday’ would cost you a bit more at around £38 including postage.

Sources for this blog include the following, Morning Telegraph, 21 February 1975 and 12 July 1972, Derbyshire Life and Countryside, February 1968 and February 1969, ‘Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire authors today’ (1972).

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