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Walton, Mrs O.F. (1849-1939)

Mrs Walton was born Amy Catherine Deck in 1849, the daughter of the vicar of St Stephen's Church, Spring Street, Hull. In February 1875 she married her father's curate Octavius Frank Walton, and was subsequently known as Mrs O.F. Walton.

Portrait of Mrs Walton from The Quiver

Portrait of Mrs Walton from The Quiver, 1906, p.676. Shelfmark: PP.268.cb © The British Library Board

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Amy's first book, My mates and I, was sent to the Religious Tract Society under her father's name in 1870. My little corner: a book for cottage homes was the first to be published in 1872. The narrator of this story is a young mother who writes about life in the new terraced streets of a place like Hull, where the town has expanded rapidly into the countryside and destroyed it. The story concerns her backsliding from church-going, and her re-conversion after her daughter is burned to death while she is gossiping in the street. Also published in 1873 was Little Dot, about the death of a child who has looked forward to heaven.

The next year, 1874, saw the publication of one of her most lasting stories, which is in a very similar vein, Christie's old organ, or Home sweet home. Christie is an orphan who helps and converts Old Treffy, a forlorn old organ-grinder, whose organ plays "Home, sweet home." This was the last tune Christie's mother had sung before dying and going to her eternal home.

Soon after marriage, Octavius Walton took up an adventurous appointment in Jerusalem, in a church on Mount Zion, from 1875-9. His wife wrote Angel's Christmas about a poor little girl who lives in dire poverty and converts her hard-worked mother. Before conversion the house had been dirty. "Yet one could hardly blame poor Mrs Blyth very much, for she had a hard life, and plenty to do. A drunken husband, a mangle, and five children! No wonder she had not time to look after spiders." Mrs Walton is certainly sympathetic to the plight of poor wives and mothers, especially those who have been deserted by husbands who drink, gamble and then run away, leaving them with children to look after, and sometimes others on the way.

A Peep behind the scenes

A Peep behind the scenes. London: Religious Tract Society, [1877]. Shelfmark: 4419.cc.25. Frontispiece © The British Library Board

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Mrs Walton's most famous and popular book, A Peep behind the scenes, was published in 1877. This is the story of Rosalie, a delicate, pretty child of 12, who acts in a travelling theatre within a fair and is worked hard by her father, who also ill-treats her mother, whom he accuses of malingering, though she is in fact dying of consumption. There are several powerfully melodramatic themes. The first is that of "reality behind the scenes of make believe." The fair may look attractive, and it may seem exciting and glamorous to be on the stage, but the reality is very different, including hard work, illness, exhaustion and the exploitation of children. Rosalie must perform even while her mother is dying. There are women who bitterly regret running away from home, where they went to church, to join the supposed glamour of the fair. This story became one of the most popular girl's stories of its time. The fair folk are also sympathetically drawn, particularly a family of kindly dwarves. The dialogue is natural, as in all of Mrs Walton's stories, and somehow the characters, despite being so one-dimensional, retain our sympathy.

The Waltons spent a few years in a living in Cally, Kirkcudbrightshire, on the West coast of Scotland. In 1879 a shorter novel for young children was published, Saved at sea. This is about Alick Fergusson, a boy who lives in a lighthouse, with his grandfather, the lighthouse keeper. Grandfather is shocked into conversion by the drowning of a friend. During a violent storm a baby is thrown into the lifeboat, and turns out to be pretty Little Timpey, who is not too young to have learned a prayer. A typically miraculous surprise occurs when Alick's father, a sailor presumed lost at sea, turns up.

In 1883 Octavius Walton obtained the living of St Thomas', in York, where he stayed until 1893. Shadows: scenes and incidents in the life of an arm-chair was published in in 1884. The arm-chair starts its life with a young married couple, but the husband soon goes astray. The arm-chair has pretty strict evangelical opinions about the strong language which begins to be heard in the home. It is even more shocked when the husband comes home drunk. In another episode an unpleasant miser hides all his gold in the arm-chair, and when he dies his daughter and her children nearly starve until, after prayers, one of the children providentially finds the gold in the chair.

Poppy's presents (1886) is a short novel for older girls set in a poor overcrowded part of York. Poppy's mother, deserted by her husband, produces two "presents" for Poppy, twin baby brothers, and although Poppy loves them, it is a struggle to care for them as her mother is exhausted washing for a living. "Poppy's babies were never quiet, except when they were asleep, and unfortunately it was very seldom that they were both asleep at the same time." She prays for help with the washing, and wonders how it might come, "for she never heard of an angel washing up cups and saucers, or cleaning a house, or nursing a baby." Help does come, for her dying mother has written to Granny, and Granny turns up with some good country food and puts them all in clean clothes. Mother is not afraid to die, as she has been converted, (and will get a rest from the washing) and Granny is also converted before taking them home to the country.

In later life Mrs Walton widened her scope and style and wrote books with more of a story, copying other genres for older children, either the adventure or the mystery story. While her evangelical themes were not neglected, they no longer dominated the story so entirely. Winter's folly (1889) is a story for girls about the charming twin daughters of a vicar, who befriend a reclusive old man named Winter. He was forced by poverty to give up his daughter for adoption by his brother, but in the end, helped by divine providence, the grown up daughter returns home to care for him.

In 1893 the Waltons moved to a new parish in Wolverhampton, St Judes. Mrs Walton gives a very dramatic description of the hell-like industrial wasteland to be found in this area of the country in her mystery story The Lost clue, published in 1907. Octavius retired in January 1918. Mrs Walton died in Leigh, in Kent in 1939 and is buried in the Anglican churchyard there.

For a list of her works search Explore the British Library under the name Walton, Amy Catherine.

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