Who Do You Think You Are?
How one prolific storyteller enthralled our forebears
Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace was born on 1 April 1875 at 7 Ashburnham Grove, Greenwich, the illegitimate son of two actors. Fostered by a fish porter’s family in Billingsgate, he left school at 12 to sell newspapers on a corner of Fleet Street.
In 1894, Wallace joined the Army, and it was on service in South Africa that he started writing, contributing articles to the local press. He reported on the Second Boer War (1899–1902) and, leaving the Army, became the Daily Mail’s correspondent; on his return to England he worked for that newspaper as a reporter.
Wallace’s first novel, Four Just Men (1905), marked the start of a prolific writing career. He penned adventures, science fiction and romance, but was best known for his thrillers.
In total he wrote 170 novels, 18 stage plays and 957 short stories, his prodigious output accelerating as he rushed to produce books to pay off gambling debts. On one occasion, he wrote a novel in just 24 hours – for a bet. At the time of the census, Wallace was frequently found at the Carlton Hotel and may well have been enumerated there.
In 1931 he moved to Hollywood, where he died in
1932 while working on King Kong.
A memorial plaque commemorating him at
Ludgate Circus reads: “Of his talents he gave lavishly to authorship – but to Fleet Street he gave his heart.”