The truth about HG Wells' "Morbid" Bromley
PUBLISHED: 09:34 10 December 2010
An archaeologist who came across a letter written by H G Wells turning down the offer of the freedom of the borough says it reveals the author's distaste for his hometown.
Brian Philp, director of Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit, wrote to the Times last week to tell readers how he came across the letter written to Mr Heyward, a wealthy local dignitary, in 1934.
The letter, currently on display in Bromley Museum, in the Priory, is barely legible and reveals the contempt the author of The War Of The Worlds and The Time Machine had for Bromley, where he was born.
In the letter, Wells writes: “Bromley has not been particularly gracious to me nor I to Bromley and I don’t think I want to add the Freedom of Bromley to the Freedom of the City of London and the Freedom of the City of Brissago — both of which I have.”
Mr Philp found the letter tucked into an autobiography of H G Wells given to him by the daughter of Mr Heyward in 1986, 20 years after his archaeological unit began excavating the Roman tombs at Keston, on land donated to Bromley council by Mr Heyward in 1926.
The archaeologist said: “H G Wells was from Bromley but he clearly didn’t like it and he was very pleased to leave when he could.
“In one of his books, Wells describes the place as a ‘morbid sprawl of population’.”
After finding the scathing letter in Wells’s almost illegible handwriting, Mr Philp presented it to the Borough of Bromley the author so detested in January 1987.
He added: “Ironically, the borough had unveiled a plaque to him only months earlier, in May 1986.”
Mr Heyward lived in Keston, near the site of the Roman tombs which he donated to the council. The mausoleums, open to the public twice a year as part of Open House London, are the biggest example of Roman tombs in Britain.
Collections assistant Christine Alford, form Bromley Library, said: “It is quite funny that we have this exhibition but once he left Bromley he wasn’t at all proud of his roots.
“I was in two minds whether to include the offending letter but the exhibition is about his experience in Bromley.
“We still love him at the museum because he is one of the most famous writers from here. We are proud of him but he is not so proud of us apparently.”
Another exhibit which reveals Wells’ previously unknown dark side is a postcard written to contemporary local historian William Baxter, who had apparently been badgering the author for information about growing up in Bromley.
H G Wells, in his spidery scrawl, wrote; “I am sorry I do not remember being born. I’m sorry to tell you that my wife died of cancer yesterday after five months struggle (a very valiant struggle) against pain and depression. We have been together all the time.”