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 First the bare facts.  

Margaret Storm Jameson was born in Ladysmith Avenue on Whitby's West Side in 1891.

Her house is now part of the Saxonville hotel complex. Her father and grandfather were successful shipbuilders, although at the time her father's firm had been liquidated and he had turned to work as a ship’s captain.


Her mother, Hannah, from the town's well to do, Tory and ship owning, Galilee family, was always conscious of Whitby’s social divisions and tensions, and this, it seems, led to a troubled childhood for their daughter, caught as she was between warring factions and left mainly to the care of a mother who thought nothing of thrashing Margaret and her siblings for any mild transgressions or misdemeanours.

However, she was allowed a  high degree of intellectual freedom, based around church activities (her aunt was a Deacon in the local Congregational Church),

a freedom which allowed her to meet and be informally taught by Haydn Williams, a man whose activities were chronicled in her 1938 novel "The Moon is Making" with Williams appearing as the thinly-disguised arch-nonconformist cleric 'Handel Wikker' ministering to a community that, in the words of the author H.E Bates, reviewing it in the arch Conservative Morning Post, was "wretchedly narrow and fiercely parochial in their capacity for small feuds",

a description still resonant for anyone who has been involved in small town politics.

The above from “Storm Force Ten, Storm Jameson and English socialism.” The website is  H E R E

Storm Jameson was living in Whitby during the period of Haydn Williams’ most energetic activities to aid and defend the poor and oppressed. She took her place at Leeds University to read English Literature in 1909 the year before Haydn Williams’ death. As proper historians like to say “it seems impossible therefore” that an already politically inclined novelist in the making would be unaware of Haydn Williams’ activities in and around Whitby. Certainly she moved in the social and religious circles he moved in; how well she knew the man himself must be a matter of conjecture. Our interest in her novel is not to search out absolute historical facts about Francis Haydn Williams rather it may give us insights into the colours of his mind and the trepidations of his soul as imagined forth by a woman who knew him and who was also a highly successful creator of twentieth century fiction. She places him front and centre in her novel which begins thus;

In the Kirkus Review “The Moon is Making” is reviewed as follows:


“This is a morbid, Caldwellian picture of an English coast town in which there seems to be no normal character. The Wikkers, central figures, are all a bit odd, -- Handel, who threw away his birth-right for a flash of passion, and lived in remorse at its untimely end; Semiramis and Ezekiel, each ogre inhumanly stingy and meaner than the other; their unnatural offspring; and the villagers, friends and enemies, and most of them off color or off balance. There seems to be no depth, no reality to the picture as a whole, and the story is out of focus and confused.”

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1937

Publisher: Macmillan

Certainly the book is populated by characters some might find grotesque,the Wicker children do behave like some of Dickens’ quirkier characters “on speed”. Their behaviour is never really explained and they seem to have little or no capacity for growth or change.

Jameson has constructed characters who are savage in their mean spirited grasping after “the things of the world” and their every action and word is one of calculated cruelty and complete failure of empathy.

However  these ogres are entirely fascinating creations and not as unreal as the Kirkus reviewer suggests.

Handel Wikker is completely unlike the rest of his family and fairly quivers with sensitivity and care for others.

Beauty and Art, particularly music, move him to the core and he interests us in that a number of his actions  and passions mirror those of Francis Haydn Williams.

For a taste of Jameson’s construction of Haydn Williams, read the extracts below.

Money is the character who represents power and, hardly surprisingly, money in the town of Wick (Whitby) and Handel Wikker, as afore mentioned, is Jameson’ version of Haydn Williams.

Margaret Kirk (pictured above) is the minister at Flowergate Chapel and is a huge fan of Storm Jameson’ s novel for the particular reason that it offers so many insights into the behaviours and thoughts of the real Francis Haydn Williams but also because it it is a hugely entertaining “read”.

I append some extracts from a talk she gave about Jameson’s fictional construction of her predecessor, Francis Haydn Williams.

In Storm Jameson’s autobiography Journey From the North this is what she says:

`I wrote a long novel that was in reality a retreat into my mother`s past and my own.  It was a Breughel like novel…full of violently individual men and women…whom my mother remembered from her childhood. Some of them were still alive in mine, in particular one, a Unitarian Minister called Haydn Williams. His hatred of poverty and injustice devoured him.

When what had been a piece of common land on the West Cliff was enclosed to become part of the Spa gardens, he went there and tore down the iron railings. He was fined, jailed and as soon as he was free, tore them down again and again…….

I was very young then, and assumed that he was mad and said so to my mother.  To my astonishment and mortification, she said, contemptuously,

“You don`t know what you`re talking about, you little fool.  What he does is useless and silly, but he`s a brave, good man.`

And I think the `brave` and `the good` and her natural sympathy for rebels shaped the way in which she portrays him in her novel.  It goes by the strange title The Moon is Making.  I`ve already mentioned that in the novel she calls him Handel Wikker.  The life of Handel Wikker is very different from the life of Haydn Williams but the values that inspire him and shape his life are very similar.

In the novel he is removed from the Church of England because of a scandal concerning his relationship with a young girl before their marriage.  The people of Whitby, called Wik in the novel, are stern, unforgiving and judgemental.  That view is based on what Margaret Storm Jamieson experienced herself but even more is it based on what her mother described to her.

Francis Haydn Williams, unlike Handel Wikker, didn`t begin life as an Anglican; he began it as a Congregationalist  minister on the Isle of Wight but he`d become a Unitarian quite some time before he arrived at Whitby and he was passionate about social justice.  When she refers to him, there`s one sentence that stands out in Margaret Storm Jamieson`s autobiography:

 ` His hatred of poverty and injustice devoured him.`

Talking to his son in the novel Handel Wikker says:

`I`m only certain of one thing nowadays.  We must not accept injustice.  Even if we can do nothing, if the force against us is too great, we must rebel.`

From the mid nineteenth century all of Whitby’s major traditional industries; whaling, alum, jet, shipbuilding and fishing were in decline
but the thing that would have been most apparent to Haydn Williams was that it was also a town of two halves.

The west side of the River Esk housed the professional classes: business men, solicitors, lawyers, bankers etc.  In contrast, the east side of the river was a ghetto of small mean houses, stacked together lining narrow streets and yards clinging to the east side cliffs.  

It provided accommodation for the poor of Whitby, the destitute, the unemployed, the unskilled and skilled artisans. They were the people who provided the labour for the town’s shipbuilding and fishing industries and serviced the growing needs of the west side businesses, residents and tourists.  

And, as Haydn Williams never tired of crusading against, the east side of Whitby was taxed more heavily than the west side.The east side paid rates of one shilling and sixpence in the pound, whilst the West side only paid eight pence.

Margaret Storm Jamieson centres her character`s rebellion on the Spa railings put up on the West Cliff to enclose common land and so prevent ordinary people from the east side of the town using it.

In the novel Handel Wikker is battling with a ship owner called Thomas Money, who wants to enclose the land:

He says: “I have no quarrel with Money himself.  I don`t want him to be kicked and humiliated. But if he puts railings round common land which has always belonged to the Under Wik children, I shall go on pulling them down. At the same time I shall talk to people and explain why I`m doing it.`

In the novel Handel Wikker becomes more intensely determined to address meetings, to stand up against authority, to do what he feels the true message of Christianity is requiring him to do – to defend the poor against the power of the establishment.  His health suffers; he becomes weak and emaciated; he becomes a laughing stock in the eyes of many who had supported him and his friends plead with him not to give any more public speeches;  not to pull down the railings again; one of his closest friends asks him to give it up.

After this friend leaves, he experiences a sense of acute aloneness. Late in the night, close to midnight, after wandering for hours, he finds himself in Upsal Wood. He stumbles on the ground, teeth chattering with cold but feverishly warm, he thinks

`if in all Wik he is the only man to whom it seemed worthwhile to struggle against injustice could he be in his right mind? In his agony he could not be sure that he was not mad.`

He asks for help and a moment of conviction comes to him as he kneels on the earth and feels strengthened.


I am what I am, and what I shall be; I am not alone after all.”

When as a child,  Margaret Storm Jameson said to her mother that she thought the Unitarian Minister of Flowergate Chapel must have been mad, I don`t think she  ever forgot her mother saying to her,

 “You don`t know what you`re talking about, you little fool. What he does is useless and silly, but he`s a brave, good man.`

Without that courage and the courage of people like Jesus of Nazareth and Martin Luther King, and many many others much less well known who challenged the vested interests of the powerful, our society would be much impoverished.

Here at our chapel, we shall continue to put Haydn Williams centre stage, so that more people discover what an extraordinary man he was.