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J.P. Martin

J.P. Martin (1880-1966) was born in Scarborough in the English county of Yorkshire and became a Methodist minister in 1902 before serving as a missionary in South Africa and as an army chaplain in Palestine during the First World War. After the Second World War he lived in the village of Timberscombe in Somerset, where he died in 1966. His Uncle stories were first told to his children before he was persuaded to write them down for a wider audience. When they were first published in the late 1960s and early 1970s they were hailed as modern classics of children's literature, and although their fame has faded considerably since then some of the stories have recently been re-published in the United Kingdom (ISBN 0099438690). The Uncle of the six books in the Uncle series is an millionaire elephant with a purple dressing-gown, a B.A. from Oxford, and a clean-living past marred by a single, never-to-be-forgotten discreditable incident. He has many friends and supporters, including the Old Monkey, the One-Armed Badger, the cat Goodman, Noddy Ninety, Cloutman, the King of the Badgers, and Butterskin Mute. He is also the owner of an enormous castle-cum-circus-cum-adventure-playground called Homeward:

Homeward is hard to describe, but try to think of about a hundred skyscrapers all joined together and surroudned by a moat with a drawbridge over it, and you'll get some idea. The towers are of many colours, and there are bathing pools and gardens amongst them, also switchback railways running from tower to tower, and water-chutes from top to bottom.

Uncle is the sworn enemy of the inhabitants of Badfort, an enormous fortress-cum-council-estate-cum-dark-satanic-mill that blights the landscape in front of Homeward. Living in Badfort are the Badfort gang, nominally headed by the Hateman family, Beaver, Nailrod Snr, Nailrod Jnr, Filljug, and Sigismund, with the support of Flabskin, Oily Joe, the dwarvish, cowardly, skewer-throwing Isidore Hitmouse, the scheming ghost Hootman, and Jellytussle, an animated mound of purplish jelly. The Badfort gang, their hating tablets, constant plots against Uncle, constant schemes to raise money, and spasmodic low feasting and drunkenness, are a large part of what make the Uncle books unique, and the illustrations drawn by Quentin Blake for first publication of the books have frequently been praised for capturing the exuberance and surrealism of Martin's prose.

Obituaries of J.P. Martin

The West Somerset Free Press, Saturday, April 2, 1966

Death of the Rev. J.P. Martin

Methodist Minister and author of the "Uncle" Stories for Children

A varied and interesting career

His many friends in this country and South Africa were very sorry to learn of the sudden death on Thursday of last week of the Rev. John Percival Martin, Methodist minister of Homestead, Willow Bank, Timberscombe. He was, as he liked to remark to his friends, 'only a modest age of 86'. He had had a most active and in some respects unusual career, culminating in unexpected fame, when he was past 80 as the author of the "Uncle" series of books, for children. Born at Scarborough, Mr Martin was educated at Halifax and than entered the Methodist Church, Headingley. He commenced his ministry in the Halifax and District Mission in 1902 and a few years later went out to the Transvaal, South Africa, to a small primitive village called Pilgrims Rest, and it seemed fitting that many years later he should retire to a small village like Timberscombe. He had remarked many times that he had made a circular tour in his life, starting at a quiet little place and ending it also in a quiet village. He was a pioneer in missionary work and soon built up a wonderful congregation in South Africa. Young and keen, on many occasions he was forced to swim across rapid rivers to reach his church, with his clothes tied in a bundle on his head. For many years he was without a manse, and slept in the vestry of his small church.

Returning to England in 1912, Mr Martin went to the Mid Gloucester Mission where be became Chaplain of Whitcliffe College for boys. He was then appointed to Burnham on Sea, and subsequently chaplain to H.M. Forces in Palestine. This experience provided him with opportunity to preach about the Holy Land, and whenever he had free time he would organise trips to the famous places of the Bible. Irrespective of race or creed, Mr. Martin was a friend of all, always willing to help. The work he did included the teaching of French to the soldiers.

When next he returned to England, Mr. Martin was appointed to the Camborne Circuit in Cornwall, just as the area was hit by the tin mine slump, and he inaugurated a gift scheme whereby clothes, etc. were sent from more fortunate areas to the needy people in the Camborne district. He was next appointed to Carlisle, and after more Circuit working years, which took him to Bristol, Clevedon Manchester, and Northampton, he became a supernumerary and retired to Timberscombe 17 years ago. He was, in fact, a most active supernumerary, preaching in the churches of the Kingsbrompton and Minehead Methodist Circuits, and he was occupying a pulpit on the Sunday before his death. He was a popular figure and could often be seen walking or cycling.

Perhaps one of Mr Martins most joyous and unexpected experiences was in recent years when his "Uncle" books were published. He first told his stories of Uncle (who is an elephant) to his own four children and they persuaded him to write them down for the sake of his grandchildren. The stories got into circulation when a schoolmaster member of the family wrote some of them down and used them for end of term reading to boys at Colchester Grammar School. They were an enormous hit, and were published when Mr, Martin was 85. He had suddenly become an author of note, and received good deal of television and press publicity. These story books for children were immensely popular and were soon being published abroad, including America and Holland. Only the day before his death, Mr. Martin had been informed that they would be published in Japan. The B.B.C. is at present featuring them on "Story Time" programme for children. It gave Mr. Martin much pleasure to know that his books are to be printed in Braille so that blind children will be able to enjoy them.

Mr Martin loved to take his children and friends on walks. He also enjoyed painting local landscape. Children loved him, and used to visit him every day to hear his 'Uncle' stories. He loved to tell the story of his life to children and young people, and would do so in the most graphic manner.

Mr. Martin was married in South Africa in 1906 to Miss Nancy Mann, who died in 1943. He remarried and his second wife died two years ago. There are four children. Among his many connections, Mr Martin was a member of the Society of Authors, and had been a vice-president of Timberscombe Cricket Club.

Somerset County Gazette, Friday, April 1, 1966

Achieved fame as author at age of 84

There were two funeral services for the man who achieved fame as an author at the age of 84, the well-loved Methodist minister of Timberscombe, the Rev. J.P. Martin. He died at the age of 86 on Thursday, March 24th, after a short illness, at his Timberscombe home, here he had lived for 17 years faithfully serving neighbouring chapels as the supernumerary minister in the Kingsbrompton Circuit.

On Sunday night the coffin was taken to the tiny village chapel in Timberscombe where he had so often preached. Family and friends sang the minister's favourite hymns and a moving sermon was preached by the circuit minister, the Rev. J.E. Melling of Roadwater. The vicar the Rev. J.H. Bury, was also present to pay tribute to "a dedicated man of God".

But because the village chapel was too small to accommodate the many friends who wished to attend, a second funeral service was held in The avenue Methodist Church, Minehead, on Tuesday. Nearly 100 people were present.

Children's stories

Mr Martin, who was also an amateur artist, had been writing stories for many years, first for his own children, then for his nieces and nephews and afterwards for his grandchildren- but not for publication. His efforts at authorship induced others to try their hand. His sister Mrs Dora Fowler Martin published a novel, and so did his son, Hal. His daughter Mrs Stella Martin Currey, was successful with half a dozen novels and her husband, Mr R N Currey, had several books of poems published.

It was not until two years ago that a relative handed one of the minister's manuscripts to a representative of the publishers, Jonathan Cape. It concerned the adventures of "Uncle", a suave, well-dressed elephant who rode about town on a traction engine.

Two "Uncle" books were published and a series of six were envisaged from the manuscripts Mr Martin had accumulated over the years. Press, radio and television interviews meant little to this kindly sober-faced minister with a pungent sense of humour, but he took endless delight in the thought that his words were entertaining children of many lands. His books were published in America and on the continent. The day before he died he was happy to learn that they had just been translated into Japanese.

External Links

Lion Tower: Uncle Appreciation Society

J.P. Martin biography and bibliography